A PICTURE OF NDUKA IRABOR CRYING
A picture of Nduka Irabor crying
BY MIKE AWOYINFA
Saturday, March 6 , 2010
The name Nduka Irabor is defined by a picture. A picture so iconic, frozen in space and time, against the backdrop of a Black Maria. A picture triumphal, that hangs on the walls of our collective memory. A picture of courage, like the picture of that brave Chinese student who defiantly stood in front of an armoured tank against the awesome power of the Chinese army, ready to die for the cause of democracy on June 5, 1985. The anonymous Chinese man, who has been variously called The Tank Man or the Unknown Rebel, whose picture made global headlines and became the enduring symbol of Beijing's Tiananmen Square protest.
The picture of Nduka Irabor that I am referring to is the picture of him and his professional twin brother, Tunde Thompson, in a black power salute, emerging from the belly of a Black Maria. Two iconic journalists jailed under the draconian era of military rule for publishing a scoop, an exclusive story that embarrassed the government of the day. And for that they went to jail in 1984 under the infamous Decree 4 of the Buhari-Idiagbon regime.
Throughout the period of the trial and the eventual imprisonment of Nduka Irabor and Tunde Thompson for a year in the hellhole called Kirikiri Maximum Prison, I never saw my friend, Nduka Irabor, shed a tear. Like the Chinese student rebel, he stood there defiant and triumphant in the face of the awesome, brutal power of Nigerian military rule and a teleguided judiciary.
But on the back page of The Guardian of Monday, March 1, I saw a moving picture. I saw the picture of the usually unbreakable Nduka Irabor crying, his big eyes red and bulging with tears. Tears for a father he would see no more, a father who gave him life, a father who taught him life and a father who ended his life happy and triumphant that his son had made him proud. His son had carried his name very far to the ends of the world, as a soldier of news, a defender of truth and an honourable parliamentarian. It is every father's prayer that his children would be bigger than him.
For Nduka Irabor, the celebration of his father's death is the celebration of his own life. That is why the preacher went on memory lane to recapture and to redefine the Nduka Irabor we all know—the bloody newshound who perpetually has his nose on the ground, sniffing for news, asking questions from his contacts. And when he gets answers to his questions, he would not betray those who gave him the information. Because that is against the ethics of his profession.
In his eulogy, Bishop Nnaemaka Justus Mogekwe of the Asaba Diocese of the Anglican Church not only praised the father but also the son, reminding us all once again about how Irabor was jailed 'for his uprightness as he refused to divulge the sources of his information.' Pa George Irabor indeed, died a happy man.
Every fan of this column knows my series '100 Fathers of the Famous' in which I write about successful people, talking about how their fathers shaped their lives. Nduka Irabor remembers his father as a father who 'would more likely ask what would happen to my fellow man if I do not help him rather than take any thought of his own well-being. It was to the extent of the depth of his conviction of the necessity to help his fellow man that his philosophy was 'love thy neighbour.' That my father placed strict premium on good upbringing for his children and his expectation that they made a success of their life pursuit was not up for debate.'
My path and Nduka's path crossed many years ago in Jos, as two young reporters trying to learn the job and hone their journalism skills. I had just finished my national youth service in 1978 and was working as a reporter for the News Agency of Nigeria in Jos. On his part, Irabor was a reporter for the Daily Times, which was the leading newspaper in Nigeria at that time.
Together we combed every nook and cranny of Jos for news. Jos was a serenely beautiful city, where there was peace and lots of interesting activities. Not the volatile cauldron it has turned out to be today. Even in peacetime, there was more than enough for us as young reporters to report. We reported on everything, including sports, which was Nduka's passion and forte. We shared a common interest in football and boxing.
In journalism, the key to success is having a friend whom you can learn from and who can inspire you. From Nduka Irabor, I learnt how to develop angles to stories —which is what reporting is mainly about. In those days, we trained ourselves to make news out of anything. Reporting for us was more like a game of conceptualizing story ideas, pursuing the stories, writing the lead and making the story flow smoothly like a river.
Any journalist who has Nduka Irabor as part of his CV cannot be anything but the best. He was simply one of the best—as a reporter and as an editor.
When Concord Newspaper came around in 1980, we all joined. I was posted to Kaduna as Chief Correspondent and Nduka to Maiduguri as Chief Correspondent. Eventually, we all did well as Chief Correspondents to the point where we were brought down to Lagos —he to the newsroom and me to the Sunday Concord. Another Chief Correspondent who excelled was Nosa Igiebor, the current editor-in-chief of Tell Magazine. He was brought to Lagos from Minna, in Niger State.
From Concord, Irabor moved on to The Guardian, where he proved himself as a no-nonsense, swashbuckling newsroom leader and manager. He later went on to edit The Guardian Express, one of the best evening newspapers in the history of Nigerian journalism. It was Nduka Irabor's success as editor that inspired and gave me the confidence that I could edit a paper. In 1989, I was asked to conceptualize and edit Weekend Concord, Nigeria's first ever Saturday newspaper that created its own niche of human angle reportage. And the rest, as they say, is history.
This column is not about me per se. It is about Nduka Irabor, a reporter's reporter and a leader of a generation of newspaper people. I believe there is the Nduka Irabor School of journalism with a long list of people he has trained or influenced. One day, I pray it will also be said that there is the Mike Awoyinfa School of Journalism, just as there is the Dele Giwa School of Journalism. That is how to measure professional success.
Now, the Nduka Irabor story will not be complete or balanced, if I omit the fact that the military used his office as the Chief Press Secretary to the then Vice President Augustus Aikhomu to issue a press release, which cancelled one of the best elections ever in the history of Nigeria, thereby denying Chief M.K. O. Abiola the sacred mandate to rule Nigeria. Well, no one will blame my friend or hold him fully responsible for this. He was simply obeying orders from above. You don't blame the messenger. Or do you? The people who cancelled the June 12 elections know themselves and history will bring them to book.
At the personal level, my only 'grouse' with Nduka Irabor is that he wouldn't grant me any interview —even if it is for the biography of our other friend, Dr. Mike Adenuga, which should be out this year. His point seems to be that, after so many years of starting our lives together as reporters, emotionally, he cannot stand the fact of me turning the table against him now and firing questions at him.