General Obasanjo set out the timetable for the return of the country to civilian rule, beginning with the setting up of the Constitutional Drafting Committee in October 1975. It was headed by Chief Rotimi Williams. His report was followed by the Constituent Assembly, 1977 – 1978, and as the countdown for the military administration commenced, we began to design at NTA a sort of “Report Card” of the military administration, to be presented in one or more telecasts by the Head of State, Late 1978 to early 1979, we set out to find three reputable journalists for the broadcasts, and as inclusive a team as possible in the Nigerian ethnocentric tapestry. Our final team was made up of Dr. Stanley Macebuh of Daily Times, Adamu Augie, MD of NTA Zone F, the same Adam that Yemi Farounbi had proposed to me in the note which he had sent to me in Tanuary 1979. The third leg of the team of journalists was Biodun Sotunmbi, Head of News at NTA-Ibadan.
Both Biodun and Yemi were at NTA Ibadan, and each had a special relationship with me from our WNTV Ibadan days.
The interviewers went over to State House on the eve of the studio recording: we undertook what we called Grade A broadcasts and recordings, as with the Head of State, in our studios in those days on account of the state of television technology and of our facilities. Now, the maior obiective of the visit to State House by the iournalists had been to familiarise the subject, that is, the Head of State, with studio etiquette. Generally, this sort of meeting was supposed to be an informal type of pre-studio chit-chat rehearsal, where the subject got to meet the interviewers on a first-name platform. In the process of this particular exercise, however, the interviewers had, apparently, taken liberties, and launched into some actual questioning, with that of Sotunmbi causing the Head of State some discomfiture.
According to Biodun’s report to me, the Head of State had charged Biodun, at a stage, with belligerent questioning, and asked where he came from. One of the “palace men”, the Chief Press Secretary, had quickly responded to the effect that Biodun’s hostility to the government was mild stuff, when compared with that of Biodun’s boss, the “rebel” Director-General. General Obasanio had promptly announced, according to Biodun, that the DG’s goose was cooked and that he, the General, would very soon settle that matter.
Biodun Sotummbi wasted no time in finding his way to my residence on the evening of the State House encounter, very agitated and concerned.
It was apparent that the Chief Press Secretary’s comment about me being a “rebel” was not a new one, going by the tone of the quick follow-up remark by the C-in-C.
Biodun insisted that I must make haste to find someone who would intervene with General Obasanjo on my behalf. He assured me that the scene which he just witnessed was truly frightening, but I responded that I did not know any person who could lead with the General with a view to saving my neck. My friends were no friends of the General.
In any case, I wonder, what the charge was against me. If I were to beg for mercy, it must be for an offence. If I were to recant and promise to change and cease to be a “rebel”, then would I be expected to get on my belly and take NTA into sycophancy?
Biodun was certain that I needed to do something to save my job and chided that I did not seem to be trying hard enough. Well, I did not have a clue on how to reach the Head of State who, apparently, had a lot of hatred for what NTA was showing, or not showing, and what he had been told about me. Coming after a similar warning a few weeks earlier from Biodun’s colleague at Ibadan, Yemi Farounbi, I knew that the matter was serious. My dilemma was that I really did not know how to go about saving my neck in this matter.
Visit to Obasanjo in Dodan Barracks
On the following day, after Sotunmbi’s encounter with General Obasanjo, the General came over to the Victoria Island studios of NTA for the appointed interview. When I approached to receive him (as host), and as our eyes made to meet, I could sense a tension and my impression was that the General was not trying to hide his hostile feelings towards me. Now, the interview had been planned to last just one hour, and the videotaping had been primed for that duration. However, as the recording proceeded, and we found the pace and breadth and intensity of the interview to be cleatly good television, the studio crew and I quickly put our heads together and decided that we should proceed bevond one hour. We decided to take as much material as we could, and edit it into two or more shows later. So, at the end of the first hour, I approached the General on the studio floor and told him what we now proposed to do with his recording.
As I turned to leave the General, he asked me why I had not come to see him; did I not have any problems at NTA? I answered to the effect that I was gencrally satisfied with the operational and professional challenges; where I required his assistance was with regard to funding and, in that regard, I had learnt to expect nothing. He knew what I meant because he was known to tun a miserly administration. He allowed the faintest smile and unceremoniously asked his ADC to find a free date and time within the week when I must come over to see him in State House. Was this then the answer to Farounbi’s and Sotunmbi’s separate prayers?
General Obasanjo had a query list with which he confronted me when I atrived at his office: the first was a repeat of the matter of my failure to visit and discuss any difficulty I might have had on the job. Now, since the General had persistently and publicly stated that he did not have money to hand out to any government agency, I had felt that it would be pointless going up to present any financial demands before him, even assuming that it was proper procedure to adopt I said that I strove to work with the
resources we could muster, and whatever difficulties I had were borne with my Board and Management to resolve. Jokingly, and I was taking liberty here, a second time, I said that the one problem which he could truly assist me and NTA with was that of funding, but I did not expect anything in that regard, knowing how he felt about handing out money.
There were more serious matters on his charge sheet (list). For example, I did not believe in Nigeria’s unity, something that the military administrations would simply consider as outright treason. I was running NTA as if it belonged to me and even asked my news officer not to show him on television. He waited for me to answer one before he went on to the next. I replied that, in my view, Nigeria’s unity was work-in-progress, and I did not encourage the broadcasting of sheer slogans of Nigeria’s unity and greatness and that sort of thing. The nation and people ought to promote integration vigorously and consciously, and television would seek out such incidents to broadcast, but the mere repetition of our greatness on television, for instance, was not what was going to make Nigeria great, in my view.
I sought to run NTA with all my zeal and energy, I affirmed, as I would have done if the organisation belonged to me: perhaps that was why people might charge me with “appropriating the organisation. With regard to his appearances on television, I narrated to him how, in my view, the government media organs in my “state of origin”, the Midwest State then, had been obsequious to the State Governot, Brigadier Ogbemudia. When that Governor was in office, he dominated the local newspaper, The Observer, and was mentioned and shown on the state television interminablv and, probably, Ad nauseam. As soon as Governor Ogbemudia was replaced with another military officer, those state media organs turned their sycophancy towards the successor Governor, criticising and practically vilifying their erstwhile hero. At least, so we were made to understand. I said that I considered that conduct cowardly and that we did not wish to behave in a similar way at NTA. I did not tell him, however, that NTA News was practically forbidden, by me, from showing me on television. (That was a rule that was obeyed throughout my director-generalship).
General Obasanjo had engaged me in each of the points that he had on his charge list. He sought elaboration every time; he said that he did not agree entirely with some of the positions which I presented and, generally, it was a fat more reasoning and intellective meeting than I had anticipated. I had not had a very positive image of our military rulers and the military in government, really, all that time. Following the reports of brutality during the whole of 1966, and the civil war, I had not had a liking for the men in uniform, as they were sometimes described. Governor Adekunle Fajuyi of the “Western Region” I saw only at a distance before he was murdered in July 1966. His successor, Governor Adeyinka Adebayo, was an affable man who consistently reassured security in his domain; and Governor Rotimi, my junior by one year in boarding school, never seemed to smile in office, as I thought.
Excerpted from REEL LIFE: My Years Managing Public Service Television, by Vincent Maduka, First Director-General, Nigerian Television Authority NTA (1977-1983, 1984-1986). Published in 2022 by SSQ Publishing.