ByDons eze

Feb 15, 2021



A great tragedy has befallen the Nigerian Press. Two big irokos, two big trees – Tony Momoh, erudite scholar, lawyer, essayist, newspaper administrator and politician; and Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande, journalists’ journalist, newspaper administrator and politician, all fell in quick succession – in the month of February, 2021.

Tony Momoh died on February 1, 2021, while Lateef Jakande died on February 11, 2021. February, what did the Nigerian Press do to you? Why did you pluck these two giants out of our midst? We are in deep mourning. We are in serious pains. We are in sorrow. We are grieving. We are mourning. The flag of Nigerian Press is flying at half mast, in honour of these two icons of Nigerian journalism. What a big loss!

Tony Momoh and Lateef Jakande were among the finest journalists Nigerian Press had produced. They helped to make Nigerian Press tick. They helped to make Nigerian Press active and vibrant in spite of the long years of military rule in the country. They helped to chart the course of Nigerian journalism. They helped to make Nigerian Press the best in Africa.

Alhaji Lateef Jakande, editor extraordinaire, and excellent news producer, entered the field of journalism in 1943 when he began to edit The Quarterly Mirror, while he was still a student. He went on to embrace full-time journalism career in 1949, when he joined the Daily Service Newspaper.

Lateef Jakande later left the Daily Service and joined the Nigerian Tribune Newspaper and became its Editor-in-chief, before establishing his own newspaper outfit, the John Best Publications, publishers of Lagos News, in 1975.

Jakande was the first African to become Chairman of the Executive Board of the International Press Institute (IPI), from 1972 to 1974. He became a member of IPI Executive Board in 1961, and in 1968, was the Vice Chairman of the Board.

As a member of IPI Executive Board, Lateef Jakande used the position to influence the establishment of Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ) in Lagos, in 1963, which saw to the strengthening of journalism profession in Nigeria, and the training of professional journalists in the country. Many prominent Nigerian journalists passed through this noble institute.

Jakande was also the first President of the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria ( NPAN).

Lateef Jakande made his great mark in politics, and shone like a million stars, when he served as Governor of Lagos State, between October 1979 and December 1983. He was adjudged the “Best Governor” of the time.

Popularly known as “Baba Kekere”, Alhaji Lateef Jakande brought a lot of innovations in administering Lagos State. He built the current Lagos State Secretariat, Alausa, which houses all the state ministries as well as the popular Round House, hitherto occupied by all subsequent governors of Lagos State.

The administration also built the Lagos State House of Assembly complex, built the Lagos State Television, built Radio Lagos, built Lagos State University, modernized Onikan Stadium, and established General Hospitals in zones all over the state, with assurance of free health care.

Lateef Jakande’s government also established a Teacher Training college and a College of Education, built low cost houses in Ijaiye, Dolphin, Oke-Afa, Ije, Abesan, Iponri, Ipaja, Abule Nla, Epe, Amuwo-Odofin, Anikantamo, Surulere, Iba, Ikorodu, Badagry, Isheri/Olowu, Orisigun etc.

In the same vain, his government established the Water Management Board and Waste Disposal Board as well as constructed the Adiyan Water Works to increase water supply in the state. It modernized and expanded the Iju Water Works, which was first commissioned in 1915. This increased daily capacity from 159 million to 204 million litres per day.

The Jakande administration also introduced free education in Lagos State, and raised the number of primary schools in the state from 605 to 812 primary schools with 533,001 school enrollment, as against 434,545 pupils in 1979, while the number of secondary schools increased to 223 with 167,629 students.

In spite of these laudable projects and many more projects executed by the administration of Lateef Jakande, when the military administration of General Muhammadu Buhari came on December 31, 1983, they rounded up Alhaji Lateef Jakande, and many of his other colleagues across the country and dumped in prison. They were however released by the succeeding military administration of General Ibrahim Babangida.

In spite of his initial disdain for military dictatorship, Alhaji Lateef Jakande however served the Abacha military regime as Minister of Works.

For Tony Momoh, he entered journalism in 1962 as a sub-editor with the Daily Times of Nigeria, but later took sabbatical in 1964, to study Mass Communication at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Tony Momoh was among the pioneer university graduates who practised journalism in the country, and he helped to steer it to the right path.

As an intelligent and reflective journalist, Tony Momoh wrote incisive and punchy articles that caused stir and discomfort to those in authority, while stoutly defending the right of journalists to source and disseminate information, without let or hindrance, and refusing to disclose the source or sources of information.

In 1981, as Editor of Daily Times, Tony Momoh was summoned by the Nigerian Senate led by Dr. Joseph Wayas for contempt. This caused a major legal battle in which Tony Momoh successfully argued that as a journalist, he was empowered by the Constitution of Nigeria to hold government accountable at all times.

Also, in a legal battle between Tony Momoh and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, in 1982, the Court held that a person had the right to refuse to disclose the source of his information, even though the Court of Appeal, in Senate versus Tony Momoh (1983), was to hold that the press was not a fourth arm of government, and that a newspaper publisher had no special immunity, while the press could be ordered to disclose its sources, in some cases.

That, notwithstanding, Tony Momoh had defended his right, which by extension, opened the eyes of many practising journalists in the country to recognize their role as a Socratic gadfly that has the responsibility of stirring the state into action, acting as society’s watchdog, and always holding the government accountable for all its actions and inactions.

Even when circumstances made Tony Momoh to switch camp, when he was appointed Minister of Information and Culture under the Babangida military regime, he did not totally abandon his constituency, the Nigerian press. He began writing “Letters to My Countrymen”, in which gr strenously began to defend an autocratic military dictatorship.

As Minister of Information and Culture, Tony Momoh chaired the African Conference of Information Ministers from 1988 to 1990. He was also a member of the Nigerian Press Council, established by the Babangida administration, in December 1992.

Today, Tony Momoh and Lateef Jakande, are no more. They have bowed out, gone the way of all mortals. But they had made their mark. They held the light, and we saw through them. These were fine gentlemen who practised journalism the way it should be practised, who held the ethics of journalism at the tip of their fingers. That was not like nowadays when anybody who could afford a smartphone would start parading him or herself as a journalist, and begin to post all sorts of rubbish to the public.

As we mourn the departure of Tony Momoh and Alhaji Lateef Jakande, we know that their spirits are alive, and marching on. They have left enduring lagacies in the sands of time. We salute their memory. Adieu, great Titans of Nigerian journalism.

Dr. Dons Eze, KSJI

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