Home Interview CHIEF AYO OGUNLADE: I Appointed Babatunde Jose Pioneer Chairman of NTA...

CHIEF AYO OGUNLADE: I Appointed Babatunde Jose Pioneer Chairman of NTA Board Because of the Way He Built up Daily Times

Chief Ayodele George Ogunlade, one of the foremost journalists in the country, was Minister of Information during the military regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo. He has created a reputation for himself as a stickler for perfection, honesty and truth. The Oye-Ekiti-born politician pitched his tent with the National Republican Convention during the aborted Third Republic. In an interview with Correspondent DEMOLA ATOBABA at his country home, Chief Ogunlade, now 85, reflects on his time in office as minister. He also fields questions on digitization of broadcast stations, journalism as a profession and what he wants to be remembered for…

As a Mass Communication manager, how would you describe journalism as a profession?
Journalism is generally referred to as the Fourth Estate of the Realm. In my own view as a student of Mass Communication, as a practitioner of Mass Communication, as a manager at the highest level of Mass Communication, as a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, I think we are under-playing the power of the Fourth Estate of the Realm. It is like the cock selling its point of fear to the fox. Of all the four estates of the realm, the Executive, the Judiciary and the Legislature, the Fourth Estate of the Realm is the only one that can penetrate into people’s privacy with their own consent and cooperation. The others need to rely on the Fourth Estate of the Realm for them to be able to succeed at all. You spend your own money to buy radio or television and you put it in your bedroom listening to it, you are the one who tunes it on and whatever you get there is in the privacy of your own room, that press influences it and not only that, it influences the mind of the stack illiterate. The Fourth Estate of the Realm is the most powerful of the estates of the realm but then we are selling our power too cheaply under the guise of man-must-walk. That is what is rarely reducing the power of the Fourth Estate of the Realm. We have a code of conduct to seek the truth, to pursue it and publish and be damped but we hide under the cover of ‘he who plays the piper dictates the tune’, forgetting that the man is hiring the piper either he does not know how to play the pipe therefore needs the piper or he thinks that it is below his dignity to be seen to blow the pipe so he needs the piper as much as the piper needs him. So we forget about all those tyrants, the stack politician who believes he can buy people’s spirit, soul and heart will tell you this is the tune I want you to play and I am the one paying you. You have the right to say sorry by our own code of practice, code of conduct, oath of office that is a bad tune, which we don’t play. It is our duty to hold up the mirror to society and to disclaim responsibility for what the mirror reflects, it is what passes in front of the mirror that the mirror will reflects, but when the man says either you play that or I sack you the man capitulates, forgetting that he is more powerful than who is threatening him but then, his threat is of no effect because the man will just kick him out and there are people waiting outside there to hear about it. They have sworn to the same code of practise, code of conduct, code of ethics and so on. And here is another colleague who has sworn to that walking in to go and play the tune, which all his codes of his practise as a professional forbid, to hold up the mirror to society, to reflect the society to itself; that is our function. Any journalist who now decides what they would allow the society to see from the mirror is playing down the power of the Fourth Estate of the Realm. I’m a fanatic as far as that is concerned, when I was minister of information, I said we were the most powerful, don’t let us indulge in what I tagged adversary journalism. Adversary journalism is journalism that you practice according to your own caprices instead of saying I didn’t say it, I didn’t paint that picture. That issue of Watergate scandal that forced an American president to lose his job would not have happened but the freedom of the press in America. About the Watergate thing, no Watergate information in the Washington Post came out from Washington without cross-checking from at least 3-4 independent sources, so when you are saying this is what happened, you are just reflecting what is really happening, which is your duty and the secret of your power. 

What was your experience in cabinet as Minister of Information?

Well, Buhari was a cabinet colleague, he was in Petroleum Ministry when I was in Information and now he is the president of Nigeria. Buhari was a voracious newspaper man but his own favourite is entertainment. In fairness to my colleague, I got every newspaper as soon as they went to bed by 1 am, so the following morning I have seen what they have said about this government, what the state government has done wrong, which they did not have enough information about. I would go and give them and say if only you had known these days and so on and so forth. But I would tell the government that this is what they are saying about you not knowing that I was only trying to save the prestige and the standard of the press. I tried to make changes, which my predecessors in office, great men of their own right like Ayo Rosiju, Anthony Enahoro, Edwin Clark, then Major-General Haruna, which I took over didn’t do. At a cabinet meeting, I tried to influence my colleague by saying; if u wanted a good press, these are the ways to go about it and with all due respect, I don’t want it to be like I’m vetting what you want to do. One of the greatest powers of the Fourth Estate of the Realm is that it has its own mode of addressing every level, every section of the reading and listening audience. The one that was the final straw was the short-wave transmitters, which every state government was aspiring to have because Awolowo and Azikwe had it so the Biafran War taught them a lesson in which Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu was able to give his own story to suit himself and the world. There were three regions at that time but when I was minister, there were 19 states of the Federation and each one of them wanted to have the facility to be able to do international broadcasting, which was ridiculing us in the eyes of the world. I tried to prevent Nigeria from speaking with 19 tongues. When I was reading from my marshal in the state, there were over 2,000 radio stations in New York State alone but each one was licensed to broadcast within their area, which is not so in Nigeria and we subscribed to International Frequency Regulation Law of the world, which allocates frequencies to every nation of the world. You go there as you have many frequencies and the need for telegraphy, radio, television and for everything. The International Frequency Regulation Laws of United Nation does not say that you cannot get all the frequencies you deserve, they will give you and they will tell you that you cannot use in the Northern part of the country in order not to interfere with the government but you can use it in the South. We subscribed to that but we did not follow it and these are the things that I insisted that it must be followed, if you sign an international deal, endorse it, United Nations has approved it for the peace of the nation. That was my first offence with Governors, who the hell is this bloody civilian that keeps telling military governors what they can do or cannot do with their radio. Obasanjo went to the cabinet with a memo that no state is allowed to use short-wave transmitter because it is meant for Long Distance Broadcasting. These are some of the things until I became the seventh minister of information of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Nobody knew the Ministry of Information as very powerful then. Archive is under information, government press is under information, antiquities is under information because this was my field and I was able to exploit what this can do for the common good and everyone has his own part to play for the common good. They started boasting as to which part is the most important and I said “I am” if I close up, there will be nothing to feed you people and you will all wither. Nobody’s role is insignificant in the building of a nation; that is what I tried to do.

Radio appeals to the ear; television appeals to the eyes. For each of them to grow, everyone must be on its own so I took a memo to the council that created NTA instead of NBC-TV that was together. I told one of them to give me a memo on people to form the foundation member of the authority of NTA so he went and put in the name of famous personalities in the society and so on, I sat down, cross-examined everything and re-wrote it and made Jose (Babatunde) to be the pioneer Chairman of NTA. I made him the pioneer chairman because of the way he built up Daily Times.

What is your take on digitization of broadcasting stations in Nigeria?

This is an engineering problem and the world is moving and we are following. In my days, it was monochrome (black and white). When I became Controller of Programs, we were having 25 percent local contents to 75 percent imported contents. By the time I left broadcasting to become Chairman of Central Schools Board in 1975 February, we were now having 75 percent local contents and 25 percent imported contents; the Duro Ladipos, the Oyin Adejobis, the Fela Ransome Kutis. Nowadays, my 5-6 years old grandchildren are playing games with their I-pads and even trying to educate their grandmother on the difference between a computer and I-pad note. If digitization is the only thing that everybody is going into now, it would be rarely unhealthy for us and put us far behind the level of broadcasting worldwide if we do not move when people are moving, we should not be left behind.

What are the things people don’t know about you that you want them to know?

I don’t know what people don’t know about me but I am me and I belong to those who have the  background of people who call a spade a spade, that is the way I was brought up. There is no point saying that it is grayish white, if it is grey; it is grey and if it is white; it is white. But don’t say that white cannot become grey or black because it is possible for black to become white all you need to do is to bleach it but until you bleach it, it remains black and white can become black as well, all you need do is to dye it. Ekiti is predominantly an agrarian state, if well exploited, we will not only be the food basket, we will be the food exporter. We have rice in Igbimo-Ekiti, cocoa in Ikoro-Ekiti, cotton spread everywhere and so on. I set up a food processing factory here, which Professor Aluko told me does not make economic sense and they were proved right. Because we wanted to have an airport, we destroyed 6-square kilometres of farmland containing cocoa, palm tree, yam, cassava, et ceteral. The project is good but how about what the economist calls the alternative cost? What are those farmers going to get? The problem of Akure in Ondo State should have taught us a lesson because right now the airport at Akure is under-utilised.

Sir, what’s your advice to the media practitioners in Nigeria today?
Let all the media practitioners assert their right as the Fourth Estate of the Realm and let it be known that of all the estates of the realm, they are the most powerful because the others without them cannot propagate what they are trying to do or even display what they are going to do. Let them assume their rightful place. The way to go about this is to strengthen Nigeria Union of Journalists and each chapter of the union.

What do you want to be remembered for?
Let me put it in a way I put it when the Deputy-Governor came here, some people attacked my house here, they destroyed so many things and when the Deputy-Governor came to look at it, I said at 85, neither fire nor thunder, nor threat can make me relocate. I want to be remembered as one whose children would be told that this is where your father was killed while insisting on the truth, the honest, the just and freedom, instead of this is where your father was killed while he was running away. I want to be remembered as somebody who stood for the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth as I see it. I don’t make a boast that my idea of the truth is universal, and that everybody should see it from my own angle alone.

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