BY VICTORIA N. IKEANO
History was made over the weekend with inauguration of Nasarawa state Private Media Owners Association by no less a personality than the state governor, Engr. Abdullahi Sule. The association comprises of privately funded radio stations and newspapers domiciled in Nasarawa state. The occasion also witnessed an inaugural lecture and award series to some distinguished persons of the state. The fact that the governor personally graced the even is a confirmation of his tag as a “media friendly” state chief executive which all media associations in the state attest to – NUJ, NAWOJ, Correspondents’ Chapel, RATTAWU and the newly launched, Media Owners Association. Notwithstanding that Nasarawa State is a relatively ‘small’ state in many respects, it is remarkable that it now has its own share of privately-owned media, print and radio.
At its creation in 1996 (split from the old Plateau State), the media in Nasarawa state was wholly government-owned, it had only a radio station, viz, the Nasarawa Broadcasting Service (NBS). The television arm of NBS came some years later. A private newspaper owned by an indigene of Nasarawa State, Alhaji Umar started covering events in the state whilst domiciled and printing from Jos, Plateau state. Later, the state government bought it off from its proprietor, converting it to a government-owned newspaper with a new name, Nigerian Newsday. For whatever reason, the state government decided to scrap it in 2013 and redeploy its staff to the Ministry of Information. The demise of Newsday gave rise to the privately-funded Nasarawa Eye newspaper. But the first privately-owned newspaper in Nasarawa state is the EggonNews which has been publishing for some 20 years now. To-date, we have the following private newspapers domiciled in Nasarawa state, namely, EggonNews, Nasarawa Eye, Thinker and Eyewitness.
For private radio stations, we have Breeze fm in Lafia, Maloney fm in Keffi, Platinum fm in Keffi and Option fm in Akwanga. All eight organisations (print and broadcast) make up the new Nasarawa State Private Media Owners Association whose chairman is Dr. Nawani Aboki, founder of Breeze fm, Lafia. Many will remember Breeze fm for the uproar that was generated nationwide following demolition of its premises on May 20, 2017, for what the state government described then as the station’s non-compliance with ‘’building regulations’’, an allegation the outfit denied. It was generally believed to be because of a news broadcast which the government considered unfavourable to it. The station itself sued the state government for ‘’illegal demolition’’ of its premises. However, all that is now in the past as both parties have now ‘reconciled’ and the current governor, Engr. Sule is now the ‘best of friends’ with all media organisations in the state, both state and federal -owned as well as privately-funded ones. This is not to say the private media do not criticise him when the need arises, albeit it is constructive.
It is to the credit of the private media in Nasarawa state that they are still managing to stand on their feet despite the tough operating environment brought about by astronomical cost of production/operations and lack of patronage generally, by way of adverts from the general public, particularly for the print media. Thus, the private newspapers and radio stations are rendering a social and patriotic service. They never break even. And Dr. Aboki alluded to this fact when he told the assembled guests that the operating environment remains uncertain. ‘’This is worsened by epileptic power supply, high cost and scarcity of diesel and petrol, increasing cost of printing materials, poor patronage of media services as well as high cost of licensing fees. There is the prospect of shutting down of media stations in the state unless concerted efforts are made to rescue them’’, he lamented. Part of the solution according to the Nasarawa state private media owners association chairman is for its members to find new and cheaper sources of power, new markets and support to survive.
The Chief Justice of Nasarawa state (who happens to be the first female Chief Justice in Nasarawa state and north central Nigeria was awarded ‘’Excellence in Justice Administration’’ by the association for her commitment to judicial reforms in the state. The Emir of Lafia who doubles as Chairman, Nasarawa state Council of Chiefs, Justice Sidi Bage 1 bagged the ‘Icon of Peace and Unity’ award as ‘’the first sitting Supreme Court Justice to become a first class traditional ruler, promoter of peace and unity amongst the diverse people of Nasarawa state, display of exemplary and uncommon humility for a traditional ruler’’. Minister of State in the Federal Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, Barrister Mohammed Abdullahi, was honoured for being ‘’a reference point for dedication and commitment to national service, exemplary beacon of hope for the youth of Nasarawa state’’. Barrister Abdullahi had served as Attorney-General and Commissioner of Justice as well as Secretary to the Nasarawa state government.
Governor Sule himself was conferred with the rare award of ‘Icon of Leadership’ for his ‘’Commitment to harnessing the resources of Nasarawa state for economic prosperity’’. He was described as a ‘’prudent manager of human and financial resources; exemplary commitment to completion of several years of abandoned projects in the state; engineering the networking of rural communities to urban centres; deliberately moving the state from a civil service state to an investment destination in Nigeria; creator of the most peaceful state in Northern Nigeria’’. Nigeria’s Ambassador to Sierra Leone, Henry Omaku, was honoured with ‘Champion of Excellence in Human Development’ award for his ‘’commitment to building the youth of Nasarawa state’’. The ambassador is considered ‘’a rising star, a worthy example for today’s youth and a vanguard in human capital development’’. Member of the Federal House of Representatives, Hon. Jonathan Gaza Gbefwi was conferred the award of ‘Champion of Good Governance’ for his leadership in legislative affairs, endearing himself to his constituents with quality projects and also promoting grass root development.
The inaugural lecture, ‘’Nasarawa State: 26 years after, the role of private media and challenges of development’’ was ably presented on behalf of the guest speaker by Alhaji Musa Abdullahi former General Manager of both NBS and Radio Nigeria, Lafia and now Acting Director of News, FRCN headquarters, Abuja. Alhaji Abdullahi personally commended the media for bracing the odds whilst calling on them to abide by the broadcasting code and ethics of the journalism profession, as did other major speakers of the day. Amongst them was the Commissioner of Information Yakubu Lawal, Commissioner of Education, Hajia Fati Jimeta. Barrister Mohammed Abdullahi, a gentleman whose urbane and cosmopolitan nature endears him to many did a good job as chairman of the historic event. Ditto the compere, Tongdyen Moses, head of station at Breeze fm.