Home Opinion Day Soldiers Seized The Microphone At Ibadan TV | Folu Ogundimu

Day Soldiers Seized The Microphone At Ibadan TV | Folu Ogundimu

Sixty years is a blip in the ocean of time when the history of nations is written. The blink of an eye is like the passing of an era. But 60 years in the life of an institution is a lifetime. This is a personal witness account of a day in the life of the first television station in Africa, the Western Nigeria Television Station, (otherwise known as the WNTV), during its first 20 years of service. In October, Nigeria marks 60 years of the founding of the first television broadcasting station in Africa. The anniversary also marks 60 years since the Western Nigeria regional government of Chief Obafemi Awolowo incorporated the new television station with the earlier established radio station, the Western Nigeria Broadcasting Service(WNBS), to become the Western Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation. For two decades after this visionary enterprise, the WNBCwould blaze an unparalleled trail in the annals of Nigeria broadcasting. This incredible feat established the radio and television stations of the WNBC as the most innovative, the boldest, the most aggressive, fearless, and arguably, the most independent broadcasting station in Nigeria, if not all of Africa. This is not mere hyperbole.

In this essay, I recall some of the most profound stories, events, and personalities that shaped the legacy of the broadcasting network in its early years. These stories are interwoven with the cauldron of regional and national politics that engulfed Nigeria during the first two decades of its independence from British colonial rule beginning October 1, 1960.

I joined the WNBC on January 2, 1976, as an editor assigned to the radio news desk. This was a position that involved supervisory oversight and editorship of the daily news production activities of the station. At the time, I was only one of three or four news desk editors running shifts of eight to 12 hours under the leadership of two principal editors, a Controller of News and Current Affairs, and a Director of News and Current Affairs. This was a particularly momentous period in the life of the station as it was undergoing a major overhaul in its management.

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When I joined the WNBC, a new, younger, dynamic, and innovative team had just been installed in the preceding months. The management overhaul was made at the time of the revolutionary purges of the public service that took place all over Nigeria in the wake of the coup d’état that brought General Murtala Muhammed to power on July 29, 1975. Muhammed had launched a campaign of accountability and efficiency in the public administration of Nigeria.

At Ibadan, the new leadership was led by the bright, urbane, and soft-spoken engineer, Vincent I. Maduka, as General Manager. Other members of this new management team included: Yemi Farounmbi, Director of Personnel Administration; Kunle Adeleke, Director of News and Current Affairs; Bayo Sanda, Director of Programmes; O. Winjobi, Director of Engineering; and a director of finance.

Within weeks of my employment, I was involved in the drama of a broadcasting station being taken over by army rebels in a military coup d’état. On February 13, 1976, the military head of state, Muhammed, was assassinated in Lagos by insurgent army officers in an attempted coup to overthrow the government. The attempted coup was led by Lt. Col. Buka S. Dimka. The coup was foiled as troops loyal to Muhammed fought to quash the rebels and regain control of the National Broadcasting Company as they consolidated control of Dodan Barracks which at the time was the seat of government.

Whereas the leaders of the abortive coup were flushed     out of their captured positions in Lagos and were in flight, a faction of the rebel force remained in control of the WNBC. The Dimka rebels had stormed the broadcasting stations early that morning, seized the radio studio and forced the station engineers to broadcast a copy of the rebel recording announcing the overthrow of the government.

The murder of Muhammed on February 13 was a watershed moment for many Nigerians.  Muhammed was a controversial military officer before coming to power in the coup of July 29, 1975.To some Nigerians, he was a hero of the civil war. To others, he was an anti-hero. He first burst into the consciousness of many Nigerians when troops of the breakaway Republic of Biafra overran and captured the Mid-West Region on August 9, 1967 and got within 80 miles of Lagos, the federal capital. As panic gripped Lagos, Muhammed was given command of the Second Division of the army.

As the General Officer Commander of the 2nd Division, Muhammed adopted some unorthodox tactics, including the commandeering of civilian transport as he mobilised his forces to the battle fronts of the Western and Mid-West regions. He then launched a blitzkrieg campaign which resulted in the defeat and recapture of the Mid-West region from the Biafran forces within six weeks. The campaign saw some of the bloodiest battles of the two-and one-half-year war. The battles included those at strategic sectors of Ore Junction, Ofusu, Ehor, and Benin City. Muhammed was relieved of his position as the GOC of the Second Division of the Army soon after the recapture of the Mid-West under what remain cloudy circumstances. What was known at the time was that his removal followed three consequential and controversial events. These were:  (1) The looting of the Central Bank, Benin City and the disappearance of what was then estimated at more than two million pounds in currency; (2) The debacle involving the loss of large numbers of Nigerian troops at Onitsha as Muhammed attempted to strike at the heartland of Biafra by crossing the River Niger; and(3) The reported massacre of more than 200 Igbo civilian inhabitants of the western River Niger port city of Asaba in the Mid-West. Thereafter, Muhammed disappeared from public view for five years until he resurfaced in late 1973 when he was appointed by General Yakubu Gowon as the new Director of Army Signals and a federal commissioner (minister) of communications.
Ironically, my brief encounter with General Muhammed occurred during this period. The chain of events surrounding this encounter ushered a journey into a brief exile in the United States and subsequent relocation to Ibadan in January 1976. In early 1974, I had taken up the position as an editor with a private news and features magazine called Indigo Magazine. The magazine’s offices were located at No 10 Eric Moore Close, Surulere, Lagos. As fate would have it, this publishing house was a few buildings away from a guest house that Muhammed owned and occasionally visited. The guest house was also a hangout for junior and middle level army officers who sometimes partied at the residence. In early July of 1975, we published under the cover story of Indigo Magazine, a report titled, “Nigeria Stands on the Precipice.” The accompanying report used unattributed sources to claim that there was a plot underway to overthrow the government of Gowon. When the coup took place 10 days after the story broke, the publishing offices of Indigo Magazine were a target of army troops who sought to arrest the publisher and editors of the magazine.
Luckily, the magazine’s publisher was resident in Enugu at the time, the office of the publication was closed when the soldiers showed up, and I got news of the army coup with the early morning broadcast of martial (military) music — a signal that a coup had occurred. This was the coup that brought Muhammed to power on July 29, 1975.
To be concluded
Ogundimu is a professor of journalism and communication based in Michigan, USA
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