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Celebrating PUNCH at 50

Celebrating PUNCH at 50
March 01
06:31 2024

Over the past couple of days, I have struggled with deciding what this column should be talking about today. Having given notice of my intention to rest the column to take a role, which constrains me from the absolute independence that I enjoy, I convinced myself that holding a public trust like this column without the capacity to take on issues without fear or favour would be a disservice to the good people of Nigeria and The PUNCH, easily Nigeria’s leading newspaper in many respects. I will come to this point later.

For over a decade, I have argued in this column that Nigerian politicians, like their counterparts all over the world, are essentially opportunistic. You would have caught me using two quotes of former French war leader and President Charles De Gaulle, more than a fair number of times in these years. The first is as follows: “Politics is too serious a matter to be left to the politicians.” And the second: “Since a politician never believes what he says, he is quite surprised to be taken at his word.”

The point is that no matter what politicians say, they cannot, by themselves, change a country. This is what it is all over the world, but more so in Nigeria, where politics, rather than being an instrument of service, has increasingly become a thriving industry in which some people would sell their mothers to have a part. Politics is business in Nigeria, and getting love struck on politicians because of some self-confessed personal principle or attribute is an aberration from which citizens must wean themselves. We cannot say this enough.

In “The Buhari hype and citizenship in Nigeria,” published on December 24, 2015, I wrote that: …governance is not so much about puritanism as it is about a miscellany of other competencies and character traits. It is correspondingly not enough reason to venerate any man. Every man remains susceptible to all sorts of influences and temptations, more so a politician. This is one reason why citizens of any democratic country cannot allow an elected official to get off their scrutiny for a moment. The British historian Lord Acton, who wrote that ‘all power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely’ had a taste of power. He knew what he was saying.”

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I concluded that piece, like this: “…Nigerians have never been short of promises made by leaders, even as they have found themselves beaten and raped at every turn in the last 50 years of the country’s independence. The difference, I suggest, this time is that Nigerians should pay more attention to those they elected to govern them. The next four years are critical to the chances of Nigeria rising from the dust of its current misfortunes and repositioning itself to take its rightful place in the comity of nations.” Many Nigerians continued in the error of believing that Buhari was infallible until the last day and see where we are!

The point is that for Nigeria to make progress, the people must become more involved in governance. Elections can’t be the only time that they are interested in what the politicians are doing, they must put fire on their feet and hold them to their promises.

Of course citizenship has improved tremendously lately, but much remains to be done in raising Nigerians’ consciousness to understand that elected leaders have a mandate to serve the people and make life better for them, and that they must be questioned without ceasing.

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The Buhari experience, where his loyalists terrorised Nigerians into silence while impunity reigned, must have taught us a lifetime lesson to never again assume that any politician is too good to be subjected to proper questioning and reprimand as required. We must also understand that the requirement for responsible citizenship shouldn’t end with the Federal Government. We must ask questions from state and local governments about what they are doing to educate our children, provide basic healthcare, put our youths to work, and food on our tables and so on.

When we however count our blessings over the new wave of awareness in the “third sector” of society in Nigeria, we must appreciate the contributions of media organisations like PUNCH Newspapers.

I have a close to three-decade history with The PUNCH, (having gained employment with the organisation in 1996), and I can tell that this newspaper serves the interests of the Nigerian people without compromise.

It starts with the training and orientation of its people. The PUNCH goes all out to build the capacity of its staff for absolute efficiency and integrity. When the Chief Ajibola Ogunsola led board and Mr Ademola Osinubu management took the decision that all reporters use the computer by a deadline, it put its money where its mouth was by funding or training.

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In those days when media owners owed salaries for months on end, thereby exposing them temptation, The PUNCH prioritised staff welfare. Salaries and transportation allowances were paid when due. The organisation had a health scheme for its staff, and it encouraged the culture of saving through a co-operative society, from which the staff had succour for their various emergency needs. Someone may be wondering if there is anything special about this, and the answer is yes, there is a lot!

Media men are in such a position of responsibility that they should not face the pressures of basic subsistence. Again, some may argue that personal discipline should restrain journalists from falling into temptation and making compromises when they get to this juncture, but I always refer such people to the reality of Abraham Maslow’s “Theory of Human Motivation.”

And how we deceive ourselves to imagine that there are any superhuman beings in the face of hunger and lack. What the PUNCH does is to protect its staffers from temptation, therefore earning their loyalty, building their confidence, and ensuring that they stand firm for the people in the face of temptation, refusing to compromise. The truth is that a society that allows its journalists to go hungry puts itself at risk.

It was a common sentiment amongst us then that the considerably fair conditions of service at The PUNCH turned the management into a slave-driving machinery. You did not only have to work hard at The PUNCH, management left very little margin for error and misconduct. It didn’t matter who you were. One of the most successful editors of the paper once told me that he counted every day a bonus because a common typographical error in a story could earn him a sack!

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Yesterday’s the glory of provided no lifeline for today at The PUNCH. You were as good as your conduct and productivity for the day at hand. I know of a reporter who sacrificed so much to provide a front page story one day and was out of the organisation upon a misdemeanour a few days later. The PUNCH kept you on your toes if you had the privilege of identifying with it!

We didn’t like it then, but I bet that many of those who passed through this great institution will testify that everything they learned at The PUNCH came in handy upon their exit. I can say that without any equivocation, even now, well over two decades after I dropped my badge as a staffer. PUNCH makes a thorough professional of everyone that passes through it, regardless of what industry they later find themselves. Let me share a personal experience as an illustration.

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I deputised as a line head in one of the organisations I worked with after I left The PUNCH. During our desk meeting one day, I assigned a reporter to do a story. This person told me, matter of factly, that they were not going to do the story. I was incredulous. The newsroom, in my experience, was so regimented that people hardly challenge their editors, so I thought it was a joke and waited for the person to turn in the story. It never came! So, as I had seen at The PUNCH, I wrote to send this person on a one-week suspension without pay, and that shook the entire organisation.

Journalists here never saw such a thing before, and they told me as much. I insisted the person must be disciplined because if everyone refused to do stories just because they didn’t feel like it, we would have no paper to produce. The message sank in, and this person, after “serving time,” never dared again! Everyone took the cue. Such a disciplined, reformist, people-centric mindset is what The PUNCH deposits in everyone who takes tutelage there.

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I feel particularly indebted to The PUNCH for the opportunities that I continue to have. And as sad as I am that I am not on ground to clink the glass alongside many senior, contemporary, and junior colleagues who congregate to raise a toast today, I celebrate the spirit of those who founded this institution, those who have managed it to the formidability that we see today, and everyone who has contributed to bringing the paper this far.

May The PUNCH remain that ever-present conscience that Nigeria needs.

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Adedokun can be reached via X:@niranadedokun



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