Adagbo Onoja is a journalist who wanted to be a radio DJ but ended up in the mainstream media job. He has been a media aide to Governor Sule Lamido of Jigawa State since the latter was foreign affairs minister. In this interview with LAWAL SABO IBRAHIM, he speaks on Lamido’s relationship with General Buhari; his alleged demonization of some northern elders and other issues.
There was a frenzied clamour for freedom of information. Now that there is an act for it, would you say people who asked for it are really utilizing it?
May be I have not been observant enough, but I don’t think we have been utilizing it with the same aggressiveness we demanded for it. But if we are not utilizing it, it doesn’t mean it cannot be utilized in the future. It is something to be happy about that it is there as only time and context would determine its utility for the profession and the country.
The traditional print and broadcast media are facing a fierce challenge from the online media; how would you project the future of both print and broadcast media against that background?
The rural nature of most of Africa makes the radio a very powerful medium in a way that no any other medium can compete with it in the near future. Television will equally retain its advantages for a long time. This will be so because the percentage of Africa in the global distribution of social media access is still miserable. And even when you come to Africa, those like South Africa, Egypt and Senegal have more developed facilities there. When talking about Africa, social media will be another competitor but not pose that level of challenge to the traditional media too soon. I am more concerned with finding out why even before face book, twitter, online publishing and all of that became pervasive, newspaper sales remained low in Nigeria, compared to even poorer African countries. Is it that the papers are not publishing what the readers want or that people simply do not have money to buy? Why is that the same readers who claim not to have money to buy newspaper send up doing exactly so on the occasion of a big soccer event or plane crash or coup day? Somebody has to do a research on this. I think basically the challenge is that of professionalism as there must be certain technical infusions into narrativity in the print media so that we don’t only drag people’s attention but also to sustain it. If I get a story and the intro is lousy, certainly I will drop it, but if it is captivating, I will have to read.
Two, the print media has the advantage of telling the whole story almost in an unrestrained manner if the creativity is there. Only problem is that what the universities are producing these days are terrible as far as narrativity is concerned. That is the where the problem lies but I think the traditional newspaper still has a better grip on the elite.
The New Nigerian used to be a source of pride not only to the North but the nation at large. How would you react to the state of the paper today?
I don’t have the details but I think on the general note, it is part of the tragedy of the north that such an institution that used to be very influential in the psyche of especially people around this area suddenly nosedived to death. I don’t see any reason why this should happen because the financial requirement is certainly not beyond the capacity of its stakeholders. But I have been waiting for a conversation with Mohammed Haruna on how the New Nigerian had to sell the Lagos printing press at some point. The trend nowadays is for most newspapers to print simultaneously in Lagos and Abuja. As at the time the New Nigerian came in the mid-sixties, those who planned it had anticipated this and put up the Lagos press so that they could print simultaneously. How come at a certain point in the journey it became imperative to sell the Lagos press?
You said universities now produce graduates that have no sense of narration, how then do we resolve that?
Nothing can be done separately for the universities as such. The Nigerian state has to decide what role they want universities to play in the developmental scheme and then manage the universities within that target. The Nigerian state seems not to have an idea of what it wants Nigerian universities to do for it. As long as that is the case, there is nothing you can do to the universities. So, it not just a question of throwing money into the universities and it is not the lecturers, students or the system that are bad but the fact that there is no role or agenda for them at the moment, complete with what it would take them to fulfill such an agenda, individually and collectively. Until we do that, the universities will remain bureaucracies for giving people all sorts of certificates to peddle. And we will never be able to do that until the country comes to terms with a development strategy. Right now, that is not the case. Instead of a development strategy, we are just collecting and spending oil rents based on technicist developmental templates. How can you have functional universities in that sort of a situation? Universities are not local for show. You cannot have universities in Nigeria now from which a first class degree is automatically a universal qualification if you don’t have an instrumentalist view of universities. That is why many Nigerian universities are producing graduates who cannot write their names in a hurry.
What exactly is the problem between Governor Lamido and General Buhari?
Well, I personally don’t see any fundamental problem between the two; General Buhari is a politician, Alhaji Sule Lamido is a politician and it is not unusual for one to try to de-campaign the other. I think the problem is basically of the followership. Each time the governor engages in his criticism of General Buhari, the followers of General troop to one radio station or another to rain abuses or magnify it as some kind of enmity or something. But it ought not to be unusual in politics. Of course I am not ignorant of the fact that the old PRP activists tend to look at the 1983 coup as targeted at the PRP and the sentiment around that could be a factor. But even then, I do know that when General Buhari and the Governor meet, it is not war. When the General came here to campaign in 2011, the governor made sure that he was given the best of accommodation and the best of welcome and when they were together, he called him ‘Sir,’ he recognizes him as a former head of state and these are what would have mattered.
Governor Lamido is talking about consensus, especially as it affects the 2015 elections; how will it work, especially going by what is really happening in the country?
If you follow the governor’s arguments, I think he is absolutely right. Power elites across the world arrange access to power and it is that consensus that binds competition for power. If you leave competition for power unregulated, as a test of strength between combatants, then you are going to have chaos. Since everybody has interest in the distribution of power, the best way is to arrive at some consensus on some ground rules instead of relying on freewheeling majoritarianism. I think that was what the governor was saying, that the context in which we are, it is not healthy for the north or the south to say they will go it alone, because there will be a gridlock. Everybody agreed after June 12 that this country must arrive at a consensus in terms of access to power so that we don’t have that kind of confusion all the time whenever there is a contest for the office of the president. So, when the PDP adopted zoning and endorsed power shift, it was reflecting that conclusion. Then the arrangement got into problems with the death of Yar’Adua. The thing to do is tore-negotiate a new one and I think that was what he was referring to in that suggestion.
But people are saying it is because Governor Lamido has presidential ambition in 2015,that is why he is talking about the consensus
There is nothing criminal in him having an ambition in 2015. But you have to look at a grand formula like consensus far beyond 2015; the country has to be there before you can aspire to be president, governor, senator or whatever. So, he is talking about a longer term strategy of maintaining national security than whatever ambition he may have. And when he spoke in that interview you are referring to, he said if the common man can be taken care of, it doesn’t matter who rules. So, I don’t know why people will connect a serious proposal with a particular ambition. It certainly goes far beyond that.
But does Governor Lamido have that presidential ambition in 2015?
I think he has answered that question. He said it is God that decides issues of power. Even yourself, you must have ambition, I have ambition and everybody else has an ambition. But you don’t just become president of Nigeria simply because you have the ambition; you must have the pedigree and the record of serving the country. So, it is not whether he has an ambition or not. It is a question of what God would want for this country; if God will make him president, he will be president whether he is ambitious or not. People have become presidents without showing open interest. He himself became a governor when people thought the door had closed.
The North is mired in various problems; as a middle-belter who has spent much of his life in the far north, what would you say is the panacea to these problems?
The whole country itself is mired in what Adamu Ciroma as Chairman of Shagari’s Transition Committee called the new morality. You need to go and read the report because he said the new morality favours chaos and that the elite didn’t care about the long term consequences. The north you talked about is part of larger Nigeria. We are all reaping from the consequences of the new morality. It is as simple as that.
What can be done about it as regards the region?
Without being a regional chauvinist, I think northern Nigeria is very strategic. It is only into the North that you see the kind of population movement that defines Nigeria. For that reason, it is a peculiar region. So, if Northern Nigeria is not stable, it is the whole country that is not stable because the population movement up north and the convergence is substantially different from other areas. Therefore, it is in the interest of all stakeholders to take due interest in the stability of northern Nigeria. On the basis of that, I think something like developmental regionalism might be recommended. A kind of fusion of development in such a way that some binding features can come into play. For instance, some region wide agricultural strategy might be required. It is shocking to me that there is not a thing like state farm anywhere in the north in spite of the agricultural potentials. Immediately you mention state farm, people start cringing, thinking you have come with socialism. But how different is state farm from cooperatives? There are similar progressive ways of organizing something like agriculture if only to protect the interests of the people who dwell in the region and who are not necessarily the indigenes of the area as every ethnic group in Nigeria can be found in the north. In this way, developmental regionalism is different and distinct from other formulas for weakening the centre in favour of chauvinistic regionalism. But perhaps, I have to think more deeply on this.
If someone asks you to describe yourself what would be your response?
I would probably describe myself as somebody from one huge village locked up in poverty somewhere in Benue State, thereby compelling this Mr Onoja to time his visit to the village.
That is because of what?
I cannot go to the village when it rains. Although Governor Suswam has constructed a road through Ojakpo to Utonkon around where my village is but the 20 minutes or so from the main road to the village is still a big deal. If I go now that the rains have started, I am sure I cannot use a car and neither can I successfully trek because of the nature of the soil. In other words, I am the child of a community that is still locked up and this is the reality of most of Africa South of the Sahara because in much of North Africa, you don’t find the kind of rural-urban chasm we have in Nigeria. In fact, in Morrocco in 2002 when Lamido was the foreign affairs minister, we were told at a briefing session there that the most fantastic building in the typical rural area is most likely to be a public primary school, not a private mansion.
What is your most pervasive fear as a person?
Fear of what?
An average person’s fear of the unknown
That is hard for me now. Probably, mine is fear of history. Because even now that I am alive and kicking, I hear people say Adagbo Onoja did this or did that. What of when I am no more around? They can tell lies which I cannot counter.
Filed Under: Media