INTRIGUES BEHIND MY NTA EXIT
Evidently, what you see in the media of Engineer Vincent Maduka is exactly what you behold of him, face-to-face. Impeccably turned out, of the old Oxford University type. He wasn't really going out early this morning but he was dressed up, characteristically formal - a pair of trousers, a long sleeve shirt, properly tucked in and a smart tie. You can't just catch some people unguarded, can you!
And I paid my compliments, just as he thrust his hand in welcome. 'Ah, good morning, sir,' I said. 'You are looking just you this morning - smart and trim.' Smart? Yes, he didn't seem to find any problem with that. But trim? This one didn't pass smoothly. He quipped: 'Smart, well. Trim, I don't know about that. In fact, my wife keeps saying that she doesn't know where all the food goes.' Indeed, that wasn't meant to flatter. The observation was sincere, because the personality is genuine.
One more thing, though. You see, in a nation where a title is more important than the value of the title itself, this man from Ilah in Delta State deliberately walks away from this high prized attribution. Instance. I know his kinsmen gave him a chieftaincy title some years ago, which the much-celebrated NTA Newsline copiously broadcast. So, while preparing this interview for production, I called him, just to be sure of his title preference. Having dealt with men of his ilk, I did not want to take anything for granted.
So, I called him to be sure. 'You are a chief, I know; so do I address you as such in my publication?' I was eager. He sounded even, but there was a ring of stern objection. 'No, no, no; not Chief. Just Engineer. At least, that one I passed.' I responded with a knowing laugher and intoned to myself, some people - whatever happens to 'Chief Engineer Dr…' He is living a quiet life in Lagos, with his wife.
Engineer Maduka is a former Director General of Nigerian Television Authority (NTA). Since leaving the authority in 1982, he has been in consultancy. He also lectures at Pan-African University School of Media and Communication, Lagos.
This is the first part of a two-part chat with him. Here, he talks about his times at NTA - his battles with higher powers and his regrets at his unplanned exit from the authority.
Let me start with an observation. Television box is the commonest of things in a sitting room.
But as I sat out there in your sitting room, I looked around and I didn't see any.
Because, right next to it (sitting room) is a television room. So if you want to watch television, you go there or I have a private sitting room upstairs where my family watches television. But here, I receive visitors; if there is some important TV news or story that my guest and I want to see, we move next door into the other room and watch it and come back and have our chat.
It suggests to me that you are a man of order; that, in a way, your life is compartmentalised.
I hope it is not.
You have compartments for everything. You have the television room, sitting room, and all of that.
People argue that television kills conversation. I mean, if I come to visit you in your house and you are watching TV, I would just go and you would not even know when I have left you, because you are busy watching TV and I have gone. Guests and friends need to talk. Football is a big deal these days, so if you want to watch football, you move to the TV room and let other people carry on a conversation, if they want to. I mean, it is a luxury in the sense that you have extra space; if I had only one sitting room, then the TV would probably be there.
You are retired, I can see!
I suppose so.
Suppose so? Qualify that.
I retired from my career, which was broadcasting, but I still consult and lately I have been teaching at the Pan-Africa University School of Media and Communication. I am not teaching there as a career. I don't know whether it is fair to them, because if you are teaching, your soul and heart must be in it. I'd like to think that all my soul and heart are in it, but I am not aspiring to become higher in the hierarchy of university teaching. So, there are many professors like that who retired….I'm not a professor, but they are teaching and they are doing it diligently but they are not planning to be promoted. And I consult. If it is strenuous I won't accept, but I have not refused any job yet. That's why I said I'm retired, but in a qualified manner.
You left NTA. Where did you anchor immediately after?
Consulting, engineering and management.
How much of that did you do?
I was reasonably busy; I mean I wasn't stretched; I was not fully stretched, partly because I was not good at marketing and I can put the blame on the society and say they don't ehm… the society doesn't call you, because I recall that I had been engaged in the negotiation with some Canadians on behalf of the Federal Government over the chartered balloon project.
What project was that?
Chartered balloon; they call it ehm… I would remember the name, it's a shame that I have forgotten now. I forget things easily these days but that is the project by which broadcasting and some telecoms would be done through balloons in about nearly two miles in the sky and Federal Government had signed a huge contract for this thing. However, it really wasn't a proven technology at that time and so people were suggesting that the thing should be wound up.
I was involved with the negotiation with the Canadians, both Canadians who were for a satellite system in Nigeria and the chartered balloons Americans. But the point I want to make is, in the meantime, I retired and shortly after, the Canadians came back for another round of negotiations. For some odd reason, I was invited to a cocktail in reception of the visiting Canadians, and there I met the chief negotiator who sat opposite me when I was a public servant and he said he expected to see me at this session. He said that he recalled our encounter before and he was preparing for me and he was surprised when he did not see me. I said I am surprised to see you, I'm retired and he said, yes he too is retired.
But for this project, they called him and brought him. They told him that you know Nigeria, you go. I am the one confronting him before, nobody asked me. So they brought him, obviously he was to face, maybe not fair, green horns. And whether they dealt with him to the profit of Nigeria or not, I don't know. So I won't comment on that, but he said he knew me and was getting ready for me and I wasn't there. He was retired, but they called him, his own people called him and said this is something you know about. But here nobody called me.
Now what does this suggest to you about Nigeria and the way it treats those that ordinarily should have counted for something in this country?
No, I want to be charitable that Nigerians don't know what you are talking about. I think it is beyond them; they don't understand. I was talking to someone recently and he said that there was an expression in the English Language which Nigerians have abused which is 'it doesn't matter.' For us in this country, many things don't matter, though it does matter and we say, 'oh! it doesn't matter,' 'oh! I am all right.' It saves us trying.
I want us to push this issue further. Some of us know that people like you are an asset to this country. I ask you again, how much of that asset are we exploiting as a country, beyond the Pan-African University?
You said, beyond Pan-African University. Another university, as I was retiring, came to say to me, 'Look, you are an engineer but have been involved with media and a pioneer in one or two areas, we hope we would be able to work with you in our university in our Department of Media' and is said, fine and was looking forward to it. I made a call there once or twice and I stopped. When I met the same professor in the public, we shook hands and so I never heard about it.
He never mentioned it?
Not again. But this is the room where the Vice Chancellor Of the Pan-African University came to invite me. I never asked him, I wanted to teach because I'm not a teacher by profession, I would never apply to be a teacher. I had given a talk before in one of his classes and two or three years after, relatively three years after, he phoned me - we are friendly - and he said, 'Look, we have not met, where and when can we sit down and talk?' and I said, 'Anywhere, where can we meet?' and he said, 'I can come to your house' and he came here and over a bottle of wine, we talked. He said, 'How busy are you?' I said, 'Well, I'm not stressed.'
And he said, 'How about coming to teach?' And I said, 'Teach what? You people don't do Engineering.' And he said, 'No, Mass Communication.' I said, 'I don't know all those ehm…' He said, 'You have operated in the media environment for years and we want to add whatever it is you have to what we are doing.' I felt flattered and he is not a Nigerian! That is not to say that Nigerians cannot do it. He is a Spaniard. The Vice-Chancellor of the Pan-African University at that time was a Spaniard. The current one is another Spaniard. So outlooks are different, people chase you. However empty-headed I am, I have been in the media business that long that I have something to say.
In other literate countries or maybe illiterate countries, someone would come after you and say, 'You are not a writer, we are publishers; we want to publish you', and you say, 'Oh! I don't have anything to say', out of genuine modesty or pretended modesty… 'oh! I don't have anything' and they say, 'No, we must talk to you because we think the people out there want to hear what you have not said, but which is in your heart and in your mind.' And they sit you down, they would get a book out of you. So really, you have to be fair to the country, it is a backward country, yes, we have euphemisms for backwardness, but you are a backward country.
Now we are a backward country.
Is that justified?
Given our age?
What's your age?
Potential is not the issue. What is the potential of Korea, because when you are talking about potential, you are talking about materials potential. Korea does not have steel but, iron…
I mean human resource. You are here, I am talking to you now not because you are Maduka, but because of who Maduka is and what he can still contribute to the country. In fact, there are many of you still around.
They are not so many.
Maybe because some have sold to the current and joined the Joneses.
You see, when you say you are backward, it is a relative statement. Compared to the advanced, industrialised world, you are backward. Don't let us kid ourselves. We had one DG of NTA when I retired in 1986. How many DGs of broadcasting? Maybe three. On reverend from Radio Nigeria, Dr. Kolade, Radio Nigeria, I from NTA. Three as at the same time any of the European countries could have boasted about 30. So, this is a matter of numbers, quantity, and also you are likely to get higher quality out of 30 than out of three.
And that will naturally take us to your years in the civil service…
(Cuts in) Public service! I always correct people. I was never employed by the Civil Service Commission. It is a very technical point, but a very simple thing. If we're not employed by the Civil Service Commission, you are not a civil servant.
Your years in NTA, how many years did you spend at NTA?
Well, remarkable, I spent eight, nine years at NTA.
I went there as DG. I was the founding DG.
How would you account for those years?
How do I account for them?
Yes, how would you account for those years?
You can be a consultant, you can be whatever, but from my own experience, there is nothing like being a chief executive. You get your own ideas in your head, in the morning you start working on those ideas until they either fail and then you modify them until you succeed or nearly succeed. If you're a consultant, you have bright ideas for your client, you work hard, deliver them to your client, your client says thank you and doesn't use them. So you never get the same satisfaction as if you are the chief executive, able to make things happen. You might say, for good or for ill, but if you are cut out for evil, that is your business. So, it was an exciting time for me. It was frustrating in many other areas…
You said frustrating?
What areas are you talking of?
Oh! I was constantly at loggerheads with politicians; constantly at loggerheads with my superiors. My wife would say, 'Have you quarrelled with them again?' (laughs)
You said politicians?
Were you ever put in a position that you had to compromise your position, as it were?
The demand was steady; regularly.
So, how did you handle it?
Well, you quarrel; you disagree. Then quite more often than not, you pick the battles that you would fight with your back to the wall. You don't fight every battle. You make compromises, you explain, sometimes they accept and leave you alone. Sometimes they don't accept and they say, it is an order. I came back one day with what was an order, an unlawful order, and … I said to the politician boss, 'You know, of course, that I don't have such powers to execute this order, but if you put it in writing…' and he got upset, very angry. But he went ahead and put it into writing.
And I was jubilating and I said, 'Ah good, I am covered.' I was relating it to my wife and my wife said, 'I don't know how you people do it, but if you say it is unlawful then both of you are doing something unlawful.'
I said, 'Well, he carries the can now.' But that day a friend of mine walked in, he is a SAN now, a lawyer. And in the course of conversation, my wife said, 'Incidentally ask this our friend whether you are acting lawfully or not.' So, my friend said, 'What is it?' And I told him.
He said, 'No, no, no! He can put it down 10 times, it does not make it lawful.' He said he doesn't have the power because the corporation did not have that power. So, he as chairman or whatever, cannot arrogate to himself and pass on to me the power he didn't have. And if he says he has the authority to do it, he should show me the authority he has.
So my heart sank because, confronting that man was not funny. So the following day, I rang him, 'Can I come and see you?' And he said, 'Yes, yes! What is it?' And I said, 'You know this letter you gave me, saying that the president has authorised you to go ahead and do this … Really, all letters to the corporation should be addressed the DG. So I would like to have a copy in my file; just for cover.' He hit the ceiling and bounced back.
He said, 'If I had more power, I knew what I would do with you this minute,' and so on and so forth. I said, 'Sir, I'm your adviser, the advice is that you are not covered unless you have a copy of that letter. I am not covered unless I have a copy of that letter. So I would like to have it, sir.' But, all I was going to say to him, I had written down. So when I got there, I said he should read. He tore the thing off and said, 'I know what I would do with you, you will see.' So I went away and the matter ended there.
It ended there and nobody could intimidate the other?
No, because he had no powers and I refused to obey unlawful instructions. I said, if you bring the letter from the president, then I would know I'm covered. So I'm not covered, so I won't do it.
But when was your pit time, a time when you felt you were at the nadir of your time in NTA?
You see, it would be in 1980, '81. That was when I had a new government. The government came in 1979, dissolved the board of NTA and appointed a sole administrator. Who is this man I'm talking about? Now a sole administrator means a one-on-one supervision and it doesn't work.
If there was a board, then there is a chairman of a board who doesn't even give instruction to the chief executive, unless he is doing it on behalf of the board; in which case, it is a decision of the board and the chief executive is part of that board, all right! So, he explains to you the consequence and the implications of your discussions and your decisions. You go ahead and make it, he is obliged to carry it out as long as it is lawful. Of course, if it is against his conscience or his own strong feelings, he may resign. But when you resign in Nigeria, it is because there is another job to go to. So people don't resign easily.
You have school fees to pay. You can be sacked, yes! If you are sacked, you tell yourself that is not your fault. But you walk out of the job and you come to your family, you say you got angry… (laughs). So, when people say, 'Oh, when you get angry, you resign,' I say fine, when it is your turn, you resign (laughs). But, I really felt bad in '80, '81. Then, in '82, I was fired, I was removed. Actually, the tension never eased off under the Shagari administration; I had far easier time with the military…
Is that so?
Yes, yes! I could argue with the military. Yes!
That is an irony, isn't it?
Oh yes! If you don't argue with the military, they have their way; if you argue with them, they'd say, 'All right, you can do it like that, but don't fail', because they themselves are trained people; they are professionals, they are rational people. But, they know how to use power. And they are taught to use power to achieve their ends as officers. Therefore, they are used to people taking orders from them. But when they give you orders and you say, 'Sorry, sir, it would not work,' he doesn't say, go to hell.
He says, 'What do you mean it will not work?' An officer wants to create a bridge, tells you how to do it and you say, 'But, sir, it might not work,' he won't say go ahead because he would lose lives and he has to be accountable. He says, 'Wait, what do you mean?'
So a head of state said that he had been told that I had asked my news people not to put him in the news. That was, in fact, what he was told. That I gave an instruction they should not show him in the news. So he sent for me. He said, 'Who the hell do you think you are? This is what they told me, is it true?' I said, 'Partially, sir.' He said: 'Exactly, so it is true,' I said partially, he said 'So what do you mean?' I said, 'Sycophancy.
You go to toilet, we put you in the news; you receive your child, we put you in the news. These are not relevant, they are not of national importance; they are not news worthy.' I said I consider it sycophancy and even if I am not a journalist, I'm the Editor-in-Chief of the organisation and I told my news people.' Then, he said, 'But why did they come and distort it like that?' And I said, 'Well, they are seeking favours from you.' That was a soldier. So, I could argue with them. The civilians, you can't even see them.
You could argue with soldiers, but politicians, you couldn't see?
You can't see the civilians. Their subordinates, and their henchmen, and their hangers-on …they would say to him, 'Do you know that Maduka man, he said they should not put you on TV. He'll say, 'Fire him!'
There and then!
That is their style.
And so, you were fired.
I was fired in '82. In fact, the minister at that time called me, we had some argument about my attitude. They were going into an election year next year and it was something like, 'We are not sure you're the type of man we are going to take along with us,' a very difficult year.
Why was that? Why did they not find you the type of man they wanted?
You should ask him (laughs).
So he was saying you were not the kind of man?
I was not the kind of man, I was not a party man; I was not going to do their bidding. This is an election year and you are not the type of person we should be working with next year. Yes! Election is a very difficult time for the government journalist. And I couldn't be bothered because really, my own view was that, you have not charged me with any offence and in fairness, the public service was a reasonably stable place. It was reasonably stable. So, he said: 'I'm not sure you are the type of person we should be carrying along' in a very difficult year like election year in '83. And I carried on with my job.
I think he was the one or somebody that accused NTA of being anti-party, anti-federal party, which was NPN in Anambra. And I said we have a code, let your party lodge a complaint. He said he is talking to me and I'm telling him the party should lodge a complaint. I said, 'Yes, there is a system, because you are reporting to me, you are just making a general comment that we are not loyal. You must state what we did or what we failed to do that made you think…'
Well, he said he doesn't know, but he thinks that we are always carrying NPP (an opposition party) in the news. I said, 'There is quota. It is written down.' He said, 'All right, we will see.' And one of his friends just said, 'Oga, I respect you o, but if I were you, I would resign before you are sacked.' He was a board member. So I said to him, 'Well, surely, you'd give a reason for sacking me.' I said, 'Everybody… if you look hard, you'd find a reason for sacking. But on my case, you'd have to work very hard.' That was the case in those days. But today, they just sack you. They'd say, go, you are sacked. What reason? No reason!
So how did you feel?
With all that?
I felt very, very unhappy, because we couldn't get cracking with the business of the day, which was trying to promote excellence on NTA. Getting new ideas every day, you are comparing yourself…You see we were racing against ourselves, we had no competition. But we knew what was happening in satellite television, it wasn't this inexpensive satellite TV. You had big dishes, so only very few persons could afford foreign channels in those days. But we knew what was right and what was wrong and we were striving steadily to improve and people criticised our drama. This country did not have a movie industry of any type. All these movie people today, of Nollywood came out of NTA.
In America, television came out of Hollywood; Hollywood is an enterprise; a going industry and television went there to use what was already there. In the case of television in Nigeria, television had to create its own artistes, all of them amateurs, except for a few travelling groups like Ogunde in the West and so on. So, here we were trying to build a whole new culture and industry. And we were getting all kinds of distractions and very powerful ones. They were not people you could ignore and dismiss.
So, instead of making programmes that would be popular to the generality of the public, very few people arrogated to themselves the target that broadcasting should have. So we were supposed to broadcast and please a few politicians or soldiers to be considered successful. So you had a situation where these people might think you are happy with what you doing, but the general public ridicules you. That is why there would be a riot somewhere in the country on Sunday, a state TV or media would not carry it, but the general public would see it somewhere and say, 'These people, are they serious, are they really in this business?'