Opinion: WNTV at 60: A future trapped in the past – By BANJI OJEWALE

Awolowo

WHAT Premier Obafemi Awolowo’s Western Nigeria government did in Ibadan on October 31, 1959, was a long throw into the ages ahead of his era. Establishing a TV station, the first in Africa, was part of a bigger picture Awolowo designed to engage and honourthe distant, seemingly indistinct future still to land.

An uncompromising believer in human capacity exploration, Awolowo would always put man, the ordinary person, at the centre of his plans for the present and the future. What better way to celebrate the citizen of the state and make them ready for the future than to free them from illiteracy and ignorance through mass education? So, in 1955, only a year after he became premier of the Western Region of Nigeria, Awolowo injected free education into the system.

Now, if for him education of the masses was an ideological expression or projection of an enterprise he was undertaking on behalf of the people and the future, there must be a strategic ‘companion’ outside the traditional classroom. Let the teachers do their work in the schools; let the young boys and girls learn what’s imparted to them, all within a confined ambience.

But let there be also an ‘extended’ ambience, so that after the limited school hours, more ‘learning’ and information dissemination would continue in various forms: propagation of government policies, cross pollination of views, news about local and international happenings, etc. Among many proposals that came Awolowo’s way as he looked for what to bring on board to aid the education of the masses was the mass media. He picked the TV.

He told the Western Region House of Assembly that his government needed a medium that would serve ‘’as an educational tool for the masses”. His government, with Anthony Enahoro as information minister, wanted, in addition, a ‘’medium to beam local culture, foreign news and aims of the government to the homes of people in the region”.

An exhaustive debate on the Bill to set up a TV station was said to have taken place among the lawmakers, at the end of which the administration’s request, Western Nigeria Television, WNTV First in Africa, was approved, with the first broadcast coming up on October 31, 1959.

So the purpose of WNTV, Ibadan, was ideological, to drive the mass education policy of the government, to deliver the people from feudal plagues of backwardness and position society for a fiercely competitive future. That’s the chief aim of the media. But these days we tend to romanticise this history. This attenuation has miserably led us to waste time on the crudities of the history of WNTV: Who was the first female face on the screen?

AnikeAgbaje-Williams or Julie Coker? Who was the first male face ?Kunle Olasope, who died recently, or the other one behind the scenes? Who first read the Yoruba news on WNTV? But more serious-minded observers say this argument isn’t what we should be discussing as we mark the 60th anniversary of an event that snatched Nigeria from the backwaters of civilization and placed us ahead of some of the developed societies of the Western world. It serves no benefit if I have to ‘celebrate’ a past whose early promise of greatness in the future was aborted by the military junta of Olusegun Obasanjo in 1976.

A contemporary chronicler has written that although ‘’during this period (the days of WNTV) there was little measurable statistics, but the station played a pivotal role” to make Western Nigeria the bride of the federation. At Independence in 1960, and in the years that followed, WNTV was indexed as the proof of what you would get if you practised a genuine federation, where every region ran (or stagnated) at its own pace. WNTV, with its radio arm, WNBS, gave the country its golden age in recognition of TV (the media) as an indispensable adjunct to socioeconomic and political engineering; the same way Nigeria’s post-Independence season from 1960 to 1966 offered us true federalism.

The soldiers’ putsch in January 1966 halted the phenomenal progress the regions were making independent of the centre. The command administration they introduced to ‘unify’ a federal arrangement has rather broken us into shards we can’t handle as they repeatedly bruise our fingers. We are a brittle lot on account of our distorted ‘federal’ system. We are the butt of doomsday prophets whose pastime is to see us dismember at ballot times. It’s the reason there is now a clamorous call nationwide for the restructuring of the polity, for the return to the regional system, when centrifugal administration gave birth to Nigeria’s Renaissance Age, part of its story being WNTV.

The narrative can’t change as we mark the 60th anniversary of WNTVFirst in Africa, which was overrun and outlawed into extinction by the Nigerian successors of the ancient Barbarians who sacked the Roman Empire in the 5th Century. We mustrecall WNTV into its future. It is in line with the mood of the season. Are Nigerians not also seeking to restore Nigeria to its original functional status? The military sacked WNTV and replaced it with Nigerian Television Authority, NTA. At the site at Agodi, Ibadan, where the legend of WNTV started, there is an illusion:

NTA, Ibadan, First in Africa!WNTV was the First in Africa, not NTA. The establishment of the media house on October 31, 1959 was emblematic of the progressive Western Nigerian government which served notice that it was poised for a future to be numbered among global leaders using only its territorial resources, chiefly its citizens. You can’t delete such a monument from history.

It should also be acknowledged, above all else, that what we’re honouring isWNTV coming into existence 60 years ago,not an amorphous or broad celebration of 60 years of TV in Africa. Let’s feast on that history first. Octogenarian Jide Akinbiyi, the revered pioneer news editor of WNTV, argues that any celebration of the anniversary of the station without an agitation for a restoration of the name WNTV First in Africa, is ‘’incomplete”. He has also insisted that WNTV as a pride to Nigeria must be returned to its owners.

I add that after NTA has given way, the building that housed WNTV needs be made to recapture its old form and be transformed into a museum where, under a restructured Nigeria, tourists from within and without Nigeria would visit and stand in awe before history. That’s how we can rescue the trapped future of WNTV First in Africa.  Vanguard

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