Below is a reprint of an article by Onwuchekwa Jemie.
[The Guardian, Sunday 22 March 1987]
Holy of holies! May the everlasting spirit of the Nigeria Guild of Editors (defunct) protect us! What in the Nine Hundred and Ninety-nine Most Beautiful Names of God is going on?
A veritable plague has descended upon the Lagos news media. Lagos journalists have gone bananas over . . .
football! For the last two months or so these news-takers have turned themselves into news-makers, quite in violation of the letter, not to talk of the spirit, of their Code of Ethics and the stern strictures of their NUJ charter. Every Saturday and Sunday morning, at the ungodly hour of 8 o’clock, these scrawny scrawlers, printer’s devils, radio rappers and teleguiders are to be seen swarming all over Unilag‘s Sports City huffing and puffing, trampling the peaceful grass, chasing a large white ball.
Even their women have abandoned all decorum and plunged into this shameful exhibition. Some prance up and down the sidelines shouting themselves hoarse cheering their side; others (get this!) even jump in the pitch and fight for the ball with the men! Have you ever seen such a thing in your life? Meanwhile the famous Unilag go-slow, which the pallisades erected to narrow the approaches did nothing to improve, gets even slower as motorists stop and stare at this clown show.
These Media Meddlers have simply taken over Unilag’s Sports City. Guardian Angels are posted all around the stadium, and the only way any bonafide denizen of this campus can get within ten yards of the playing field before noon on any weekend is to assert, in as loud a voice as he can muster, that he is a reporter on some newspaper just about to be founded! This is the only password the Guardian Angels feel obliged to respect.
Now, if you really want to know, it’s all the fault (yes, I’ll put the blame right where it belongs!) of Sonala Olumhense of Ogunlana Drive and Nduka Irabor of Rutam House. Yes, Sonala got the ball rolling last October, with the happy idea that he could settle a private dispute with a public duel on the football pitch. I said to him: “My friend, if you publish ThisWeek, will you publish next week? That is the question.” And he shot back: “Each and every week!” So cocky!
You see, Sonala had this one and only Santana car bought at the price of three pre-SFEM ones, and he didn’t know what to do with it – I mean, how to split it between two hungry departments of his establishment without dismembering it. So he decided to have it out on the football pitch and let the losing side win. Now, that’s what I call going one worse (not better) on the judgment of Solomon, turning a national disaster into a domestic joke, if you see what I mean.
Anyway, they called in the famous photo trickster Sunmi Smart-Cole to referee the match, and Sunmi, who was reported in his own LagosLife as “more partial than FEDECO,” cunningly gave the game away to – the better side!
Now, don’t ask me who got the car. I don’t care. I’m only concerned about the grave consequences for the Nigerian media, nay, the entire nation, of this absolutely unprecedented act, this ill-considered, irresponsible, reprehensible, and, shall we say . . . I don’t want to make promises I can’t keep!
As if ThisWeek’s escapade wasn’t bad enough, Nduka Irabor, who has all the while been eavesdropping on Sunmi’s tie-line telephone, decided to push this novel idea one step further. He decided to carry his Save-a-Soul Campaign for eye-cancer patient Louis Obiakor to (you know it!) the football pitch! A conspiracy, by Shango! And before you knew it, in the twinkling of an NTA camera eye, the whole mass media was aflutter with football fever!
A united media team emerged, prodded by the invisible hands of the two arch-conspirators, Nduka Irabor and Sonala Olumhense. They sought out sparring partners and found, first, the Olodi Bombers, a respectable motley of job seekers, Danfo drivers and petty traders, who promptly bombed them 4-1. Then a Referees XI, quite out of practice except with their whistles, whom they walloped 4-1 Then came D-Day, January 31, 1987, a day that history will never forget, the Charity Match of the Year, the climax of Nduka Irabor’s Save-a-Soul Campaign, when, in the National Stadium in Surulere, Lagos, and before the 30 million viewers of Network News nationwide, Media XI and Nigerian Coaches XI faced each other in a magnificently hilarious confrontation of quixotic proportions, and Media XI went down kicking all the way to a hero’s defeat, 1-2.
Now, what happened next? Worthy Ancestors, sustain me in this crooked narrative! An avalanche had formed, was moving, was quite unstoppable. Punch challenged Guardian to put its boots where its big mouth is. But before the matter could be decided, the NUJ had come up with the “Oba Akran Cup” for the media house football competitions. I have it on bad authority that at the recent “Communications Policy” shindig at Badagry, organised by the Institute of Journalism gang led by restless Tony Nnaemeka whose mind is always three miles ahead and out of step, George Izobo, the boss of us all, whispered in the ear of the king of that ancient city, and out dropped the Oba Akran Cup!
So far, seven matches have been won and lost in two successive weekends. Each media house team is grimly determined – they go out to practise at 6 a.m., if you can believe that. In fact the quarter-finals began yesterday with Vanguard facing Punch and Daily Times tackling Guardian (“we’ll show them we’re not in the same league,” vaunted one booster whose media house shall be nameless). If you hurry you can still catch, this very Sunday morning, Concord fighting it out with FRCN, and Newswatch and New Nigerian teaching each other a thing or two.
Rumour has it that up in Kaduna, Mohammed Haruna and Innocent Oparadike are putting together a “formidable team,” pet-named the Kaduna Kangaroos, to settle scores, once and for all, with the arrogant Lagos Media Mafia. It’s only rumour, but, typically, the Lagos media boys are already treating it as fact. They’ve redoubled their practice time. “Let them come,” said one burly fellow. “We’ll eat them alive!”
Meanwhile (as they say in the trade), Nduka categorically denies a conspiracy between him and Sonala to foist this physical fitness fit upon their normally sober and staid colleagues. With all undue immodesty, he prefers to share the blame with “a wider circle of friends” who had long been considering the possibilities of media football. As for Sonala, he could not be reached for comment.
Such, at any rate, dear reader, is as inauthentic a history as I’m able to cook up concerning this quite, quite dismal affair. Now, quote me if you dare!
• Professor Jemie, a scholar, poet, journalist, and teacher, was the pioneer Editorial Page Editor/Chairman, Editorial Board of The Guardian (Nigeria)
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters