Nduka Obaigbena, The Dream Maker
I first heard about Nduka Obaigbena in 1989 as a 16-year-old student of Government College Ughelli when I stumbled upon a colourful copy of his publication, This Week, titled: 50 Most Powerful Persons in Corporate Nigeria (I hope I remember that title correctly). My classmates and I treated that edition like a bible because it featured some of our local heroes in Urhobo land that we had hoped to model, viz: Michael Ibru, David Dafinone, Gamaliel Onosode, Abel Ubeku and others.
I have always had a proclivity for the media. Thanks to the programming of NTA Benin and its marvellous broadcasters like Tonnie Iredia, Dele Ojeshihoba, Linda Akerele, Kate Okwechime and David Orere. Those guys simply got some suave with the English language that impressed the teenagers of my time.
I recall some time in 1988 when I proudly announced to my family that I wanted to be a journalist, expecting encouragement, but my mother shouted at me, warning that I would get killed like Dele Giwa and should never attempt it, wondering why she ever named me Frank because of the way I said things frankly would put me into trouble. That warning haunted me until I became a lawyer, yet the media kept calling out to me, and to date, I don’t know why.
I started practising as a lawyer in very excruciating circumstances, which put a lot of anger and aggression in me to change the system. I attacked every social wrong and attempted to solve every problem with legal action. At that time, I began receiving calls to appear on the radio and television to speak about social issues, and I couldn’t resist the invitations. Call me anytime or night to appear on any programme, and I’ll be there to express my views vehemently (because I was desperate for a change). After several Mamode Akugha and Obiora Ilo invitations to their O&M Late Show, I volunteered to join the production crew. I started the Omnibus Human Rights Show on Radio (airing daily on 104.5 FM Abuja). There were days I even appeared in five different media houses to speak on burning national issues. Come on! I was just available and gave myself all out for free. I didn’t get a dime for all that. It was going to kill me! My health was failing, my practice was suffering, and I had abandoned my young family. The media, for me, was then a drug that was becoming addictive. And then I encountered Arise News!
At first, it was a recommendation from Tony Ojukwu, SAN, to one of Arise News producers, Chief Amadi, that I should stand in for him to appear on a programme he had been invited to appear but he (Ojukwu) couldn’t make it. Later, Austin Aigbe of CDD recommended me to Christian Ogodo, Arise News ace anchor, for me to do a News commentary. After one of my appearances on the Arise News Night show, the magnificent smiling Bayo Awosemo approached me with an offer to be an exclusive analyst on Arise News with pay. He mentioned the amount, which made me not believe him. So I didn’t take him seriously and never gave him an answer. At a time when major media houses were finding it difficult to pay their staff smaller salaries that my law office even had to sue them to pay staff arrears, here was Arise News offering an amount to a part-time news analyst that equalled the salary of a university professor, I thought Bayo was whimsical. I was content with my law practice and ready to avail myself to them continually without expecting any payment in return. A month or so passed, yet Bayo was still asking for an answer, and I remember telling him that I had been doing news commentary for radio and tv stations across Nigeria since 2012 without being paid a kobo, but he said they wanted me to be exclusive to Arise and that the channel prefers to pay something in appreciation of my time and transport logistics and I said okay. They said I was free to hold any opinions on issues and simply adhere to the broadcasting rules. That sounded again to be too good to be true. And truly, after two months of saying my mind on Arise News Night, the agreed stipend is hitting my bank account. It went on for six months and then one year. Arise News kept its part. It never failed for a day as it paid me millions of Naira for doing what I have always loved to do and was ready to die for. So, for the first time in my career as a public speaker, I took a deep sigh and relaxed. And I relaxed. And I said it was time to take Arise News now seriously. I arranged casual coaching sessions with Sumner Sambo over coffee to guide me on how to do real news analysis. Before then, the only hammer I had was human rights. Since it has taken me to the United Nations, every issue requires the human rights hammer. Sometimes I blundered, like when I attacked Governor Okowa in an analytically unprofessional manner, and I thought I would be given the boot because of the several complaints that were lodged against me, but I was amazed at the high level of tolerance of freedom of thought and free speech that Arise News has afforded me. However, I have had to caution myself not to take such unprecedented freedom for granted. Again, I needed to be more cutting-edge in my news analysis. Consequently, I had to subscribe to international papers like the Economist of London and the Wall Street Journal. I also have a regular supply of hard copies of Nigerian newspapers sent to my desk daily. I have recently spent nearly half a million Naira on books on contemporary Nigerian history and politics. And I spent another One million Naira on improving my wardrobe and upgrading the version of my Mercedes Benz to fit my status.
Thus, my Arise News experience has been transformative. I am more relaxed now. I no longer run from one media house to the other to get my unrestrained thoughts and views expressed. They are now being expressed without censorship by Arise News, and I am being paid handsomely for it. The man behind such an idea must be out of this world, and since I have never met him in person in my life, then permit my imagination to continue to rank him among the gods of Greek mythology. Nduka Obaigbena is phenomenon! He has championed the most fantastic machinery of free speech in the African Continent and has done it with mastery and unmatched commitment to the highest standards attainable in broadcasting. He is a dream maker who has made several career dreams in the media come true. In all my 12 years of closely observing the workings of the Nigerian media, I have never witnessed any media practitioners as the staff of Arise News that are so well motivated with standard conditions of services and a work environment that guarantees the freedom to attain the best of their capabilities.
In the last year, I have been an exclusive News Analyst; I have never been this appreciated and respected everywhere I go. Mostly at airport terminals, floors of supermarkets and law courts, people I have never met smile and walk up to me to thank me for the views that I often express on Arise News.
I come from a culture that demands that I say thank you for anything good that is done to me. I will not fall for the temptation of the avoidance of spreading myself thin by keeping quiet so that the man would continue to do more. No! My next level beckons, so I must always do and tell the truth. Nduka Obaigbena has done so wonderfully for the Nigerian media in this age and for many generations. Therefore, with much humility, I thank him and heartily congratulate him on the 10th anniversary of Arise News.
Frank Tietie :Lawyer, Executive Director of Citizens Advocacy for Social & Economic Rights (CASER) and Arise News Analyst, writes from Abuja