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In this unit, the final part of the press development is discussed. Just as it was stated in the previous unit, the direction of our discussion will reflect not only the significant newspapers and events of the different periods, but also the political, social and economic issues that formed the basis of their existence.


On successful completion of this unit, you are expected to:

  1. Know the major publications during the period of Nigerian independence; 
  2.  Know the key personalities/players during such period; 
  3.  Understand the character of the press at periods shortly after independence. 


3.1 The Modern Nigerian Press

The modern Nigerian Press history covers the period of independence in Nigeria and years afterwards. And for the Nigerian Press then, it was once nationalistic in nature later very regionalistic. It was preoccupied with the business of enhancing regional autonomies, preserving national independence but mostly promoting sectional, tribal and the very selfish interest of those in leadership positions. These confused and provocative roles of the press at that time gave the independent press a rather justified and severely limited success.

The independent press, having been assured of independence on October

  1.  1960 shifted aside its colonial militant advocacy of nationalism to embrace fresh responsibilities as vehicles of internal political and governmental control, of struggle and of maintenance of power. A social observer, Dr. Ahaziah Umanah once described the independent press as having some functional utilisation which were antagonistic, subversive of national cohesion, politically schisistic, fragmentary and fractious in social mobilisation. It seems apparent that the ‘fragmentary’ and parochial nature of the press of this period paved way for government information apparati, both at the regional and national all levels assuming new dimensions to the general information communication activities. Within the regions, these official media channels were mainly manipulated by their respective governments and politicians for selfish advantages as well as against their local rivals, and their national political counterparts. It was the partisanship of the press operation mostly visible at the regional level that perhaps spurred the federal government to establish its own newspapers – The Morning Post and the Sunday Post, in addition to Nigerian Daily Times. All these newspapers existed to preserve national power and counter possible attacks or encroachment of uncompromising regional forces into national interest or matters. Perhaps, it may be reasonable to mention a few or allude to little of the Press activities of Independence. 

In Western Nigeria, The Nigerian Tribune founded by Chief Awolowo in 1947 and later controlled by his wife through a major stockholding, was an opposition newspaper, particularly with the entrance of Chief Akintola as the political boss of Western Nigeria. The Tribune, once the mouthpiece of Action Group now ‘replaced’ by the Daily Sketch later became the mouthpiece of Akintola’s NNDP.

The Sketch was founded in 1964. It was used as a weapon in the political vendetta between Nigerian National Democratic Party NNDP and the Action Group that ensued after Awolowo’s conviction and imprisonment on a charge of treasonable felony. Mr. Ayo Ojewumi, the Editor of Tribune was also sent to jail after the newspaper commented on possible irregularities in the budget of Western Nigerian government. However, with the release of Awolowo, The Tribune, alongside its vernacular edition Irohin Yoruba began to flourish again.

In Eastern Nigeria, various newspapers were published to serve people’s interest. Notable amongst such publications were the Eastern the Observer printed in Onitsha; the Nigerian Spokesman and the Eastern Sentinel, all constituting members of Zik’s group of publications. There was also the COR Advocate, a paper printed in Ikot Ekpene and serving as a mouthpiece of the minority states of the Eastern Region. Nigerian Outlook, an English daily published in Enugu by the Eastern

The Nigeria Information Services served as a government/party (NCNC) organ. Its regional partisanship was said to be unquestionable.

In the Northern Region of Nigeria, the story was not different. Nigerian Citizen, a bi-weekly, subsidised by the Northern Nigerian The Government acted as the principal mouthpiece of the Moslems and the leadership of the NPC. Published by the Gaskiya Corporation in Zaria,

it was a strong advocate of Northern supremacy and NPC’s policies, programmes and ideology. There were also minor ethnic media challenges such as the Daily Comet, the Northern Star, all of Kano and the Middle Belt Herald of Jos. These were principally organs of the Ibo State Union in the North, and served the interest of Ibos living there. Al of them ceased to exist by early 1968.

Self Assessment Exercise 3.1

Outline the character of the press at independence. Do you think the character complements the ideals or values of journalism practice today?

3.2 The Press in Civil War and Military Nigeria

The press during the Civil War period can be said to have characteristically propagandistic, partisan and subjective; and in terms of been a national sense of purpose/decorum, very mischievous as well destructive of the individual human personality. as It could be maintained that the principal actors of the Civil War were Lt. Col. Odumegwu Ojukwu on the Biafran side and General Gowon on the Nigerian or national front. The central reason behind the Yakubu eruption of the war is attributed to the pogrom committed by Northern Moslems against Southern Christians, more especially the the

Christian Ibos. This resulted in the secession move of Lt. Col. Ojukwu and his government (Eastern Nigeria) from the National geo-political composition.

The press at this period was said to be exercising the highest degree of propaganda in the Northern scene. This was exemplified by the initial reference of ‘Radio Biafra’ to General Gowon as ‘Boy Yakubu Wagon’ and the retortion of the Federal Radio to Ojukwu as a ‘Rebel Leader’.
In 1968, Ojukwu had sought the services of a foreign-based Public Relations firm, Markpress in Geneva, to improve on his propaganda machinery. This action paid-off effectively for the Biafran side as the world was made to almost believe without reservation, the exaggeration of the truth behind the killing of the Ibos in the North. At one time, the figure was inflated to 30,000 Ibos (being killed).

Armed by the poor propaganda machinery of the Federal Military Government, the Nigerian side began a belated process of counter propaganda of the claims and counter claims of the Biafran government.

Taking advantage of Biafran claim that, it is the Ibos that mainly controlled or perhaps exist in the East and thus were subjected to inhuman conditions of acute starvation resulting from the war, the federal mouthpiece (Radio Nigeria) took side in preaching against the assumed dominance of the Ibos in the East and indeed elsewhere. It however sang and amplified the slogan ‘To keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done’. No doubt, that same task kept the military in politics for long. But how did the press help in keeping the task? The answer to the question can be feasible if one acknowledges the character of the press in the military period or years, (before the second republic). Its character was indeed Laurelistic’. This description means that the press was content with its rather unethical successes, honour and reputation or feats of singing praises of military leadership and pre-occupied with the promotion of personalities and seeking after mass media actors’ gratification and rewards.

The press also became blind to the pervasive social ills, oblivious of the erosion of individual and corporate rights of citizens and uncaring of, if not participants in the corruption that infested the Nigerian body politics. The press however generated a general sense of awareness amongst the populace, with regards to Gowon’s cardinal programme of 3Rs – Rehabilitation, Reconstruction and Reconciliation.

3.3 The Press in the Second Republic

The military men paved way for the return of civilian government. A fresh opportunity for the masses to have a say and exercise their potentials in the governance of their country. This time, the parliamentary system of government which existed in the first republic was discarded and the presidential system mould out of American political structure was brought forward for experimentation.

In spite of these modifications, the cankerworm of partisanship and regionalism of the first republic thought to have rested in ‘pieces’ raised its hideous structure again. In other words, significant features of the second republic paralleled with the first republic, hence, making change. These features were that: no

  1. A correlation existed between political parties of the first republic and the second republic. 
  2. Politics of the first republic was seen to have reflected the second republic, in spite of some constitutional provisions in the constitution. 1979 
  3.  No lesson seems to have been learnt from the military between 1996 – 1978. regime 

Based on these features, the second republic was seen as a ‘replay’ of the first civilian rule. In this direction Peter Enahoro’s observation of the status of the mass media towards the close of 1968 as lacking men of status as well as vision to recognise danger and oppose wrong was factually matured during the second republic as opposed to its prematurity at the time of observation.

The press at second republic metamorphosed into becoming political sycophants. The journalists allowed themselves to be used as tools for self-satisfaction. They discarded the ethic of the profession and advanced to the highest political ‘Bidder’, ‘Messiah’, or anybody who has ‘rewards’ to offer. The media, instead of classifying political issues for public evaluation, resorted to darkening them or proving ignorant of their dedication to independence, truthfulness, decency, impartiality and objectivity. Whether private of government owned, the mass media were organs of the many political parties that existed, of the states, of the Federal Government and of the regions. It was an era that the NPN press, NPP press, GNPP press, PRP press, etc. existed, each with strong loyalty and yearnings for increased gratification and persistent patronage. For the few ethically and professionally conscious journalists, the time was not right for ‘saintly manners’ as their cajoled and corrupted colleagues battered them with harassments while the government and every instrument of the state clobbered them. Indeed, the second republic press was in nutshell, exceedingly hypocritical to play the watchdog game, while helping to hasten the economic, social, moral and political decadence of Nigeria through their sycophancy and slants. partisanship, Self Assessment Exercise 3.2 As one of the correlates of the first and second republic press, no lessons seem to have been learnt from the military eras. Discuss those lessons that ought to have been learnt.

3.4 The Post-Republic Press

A flashback to the welter of decrees that the Federal Government felt strong to promulgate, ostensibly to facilitate the task of rebuilding the economy with the minimum diversion, the era of Buhari and Idiagbon must rank as the most hazardous for the practice of journalism. The era  itself was presumingly a blessing in disguise or call it a necessary evil.

This is because, the death of the Nigerian press, the resurrection and its revitalisation were to be realised during the Buhari/Idiagbon regimes. It was a period when all newspapers and periodicals wrote almost the same thing, in almost the same manner and with an “almost” uniform pagination. In the same vein, the radio and TV stations were almost broadcasting the same thing at the same time slot and almost at the same length of time.

The apparati of censorship were so daring, brandished and sharpened to precision that, the intolerable state of social existence emboldened the

mass media actors, challenged the mass media consumers and the general citizenry towards revitalising the Nigerian press. The journalists themselves became once again truly reflective of their profession and became dedicated to the ideals of journalism.

This determination to be right, resulted when their initial sycophancy earned them not only Decree No.4 and Decree No.2, under which several journalists had to operate in a terrain full of ‘Mines and Traps’ but also intense harassments, stage-managed trials and imprisonments, temporary closure of publishing organisations as well as seizures of publications. The decline of the Buhari/Idiagbon regime gave birth to existential government of President Ibrahim Babangida. His government deriving strength from the weakness of the predecessor’s regime, vowed a libertarian press and a social condition that will not only ensure the existence of, but works to enhance human rights in all ramifications. The regime’s promises were appreciated by Nigerians who heaved a sigh of relief from the draconian years. Then came an immediate abrogation of stringent decrees like the Decree No.4 and released from jail of some of the press actors that were detained, etc. The personal charm of President Babangida added a personal touch to his being courted and even promoted by the press.

Although at the initial period of the administration, the promises and vows for the preservation of a libertarian press committed to a more investigative, advocative, agitative and provocative journalism seem utterly realistic, events in the later years of the regime punctuated the original intents of the government to promote a libertarian press. The dwindling state of the privileged press freedom of the regime, perhaps, influenced the return to the authoritarian press in the Babangida regime of General Sani Abacha. The press in Abacha’s regime apart from bringing back the memories of

colonial censorship, again promoted the ideals of controlled social responsibility on the part of surviving journalists. However, all of the gaggings were to be challenged and promoted in the wake of another democratic experimentations of the third republic, now headed by retired military general and former military Head of State, Chief a Olusegun Obasanjo.


 Just as the press gave African nationalism its primary means dissemination and propaganda, it also gives politicians their prime of means of reaching national audiences and of attempting to secure national following. It is fair to say that the primary motivation a producing a newspaper in Nigeria is political rather than commercial. A for Nigerian politician who has no access to, or is not reported by any news medium is at a grave disadvantage. The mass media report politics, they are also political institutions of central importance to the functioning of Nigerian democracy.


The more the harassment, the bolder the press. Overall, the Nigerian press is still rated one of the freest.


Would you prefer the press during the military regimes to the during the civilian/democratic regimes? Give reasons in support of your press stance.


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