This is a day I never thought would come so soon. This is one piece that I wrote with considerable difficulty. Collecting my thoughts and reconciling myself to reality tasked me to no end. I never in my wildest dream thought that in my life’s journey I would one day be elevated to a position that may require that I drop my love and passion for column writing (even if temporarily). But destiny indeed plays tricks in the affairs of men and women.
My heart is heavy but life hardly moves in a straight line. I love journalism and column writing in particular. As a student activist I aspired to follow in the footsteps of great world leaders, and in particular legendary Nigerian leaders who deployed the pen with uncommon dexterity to wage relentless battles against colonialism, discrimination, and other forms of oppression. They showed that the pen, indeed, is mightier than the sword. To this day the pen has remained a veritable weapon in defence of democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms.
As some of my readers are aware, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria nominated me as a National Electoral Commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) after consultation with the Council of States. Subsequently, the President forwarded my name to the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for screening and confirmation. On June 4, 2018, I was screened by the Senate Committee on INEC and my appointment was confirmed by the Senate on June 5, 2018. Consequently, I was sworn in by the President on Wednesday July 25, 2018 as a National Electoral Commissioner.
Prior to my appointment as a National Electoral Commissioner, I have practiced law since being called to the Nigerian Bar in 1985. Within the same period, I have been engaged in constitutional and electoral matters, election observation and human rights advocacy.
However, the challenge here has nothing to do with my law practice and human rights advocacy. I combined my law practice, human rights advocacy, constitutional and electoral reforms and election observation with maintaining a weekly column every Wednesday with New Telegraph Newspapers. The challenge is whether to continue with my weekly column or rest the said column given the challenge and new responsibility that I have assumed.
I have pondered and reflected on the propriety of resting my column “Hard Choices.” Do I really have a choice in the matter given the fact that I had set out from the beginning to engage, enlighten and educate my readers and invariably the Nigerian people on the dynamics and nuances of electoral matters, human rights, rule of law, due process and democracy? Conversely, can I in all honesty and in good conscience do the research and the critical thinking required to maintain a weekly column with the added or additional responsibility that I have assumed? Can I write and express my views and opinions with the same level of intensity, honesty and level headedness without the views being attributed to INEC? Will those that gave me the opportunity and privilege to write a weekly column be happy with my decision to rest the column?
When I discussed the idea of a Weekly Column in New Telegraph with Eric Osagie, the former Managing Director and Editor in Chief of Daily Telegraph Publishing Company Limited, Publishers of New Telegraph I was tentative on my ability to write, maintain and sustain a weekly column given my engagements and limited knowledge of journalism. When he introduced the column and the writer of the column and said nice things about me, my anxiety increased. I was a little bit nervous and did not know whether the reading public will expect so much from me having been introduced as a constitutional lawyer, electoral expert and human rights advocate.
I have maintained my column for almost three years and 10 months and I cannot really say how it happened and how I did it. I have remained consistent and focused in writing the weekly column except on two or three occasions that I had to make space for paid advertisements. I owe this consistency to the management of New Telegraph that gave me the opportunity and the privilege to air my views and speak directly to the Nigerian people on issues that are germane to our national life.
My editors, Emeka Obasi and Ayodele Ojo understood my limitations and kept me on my toes. They called at appropriate periods to remind me of my column. They knew I was not a journalist and knew of my other commitments and encouraged me. They advised that I should explore issues relating to the electoral process, human rights, the rule of law and due process. More importantly, they advised that I should follow my conscience and write on any issue that will advance the welfare, interests and security of the Nigerian people. I have benefited from their experience and professionalism, as well as the comments and input of people from diverse walks of life.
It is true that I have been writing intermittently and cannot really claim to be a stranger to writing, but to write a weekly column is something that I considered a new terrain. At the School of Preliminary Studies, Keffi in present day Nasarawa State, I can still remember that I was the Editor in Chief of the Students Union Magazine. I attended School of Preliminary Studies, Keffi between 1979 and 1981 and can hardly recollect the germane issues of the period and how we handled them. I cannot remember whether my work as the Editor in Chief has any nexus with what I know of the work of the Editor in Chief of major newspapers and news magazines of today.
When I left the University of Jos and the Nigerian Law School, Lagos, I started my National Youth Service with the Ministry of Justice, Kano. I had more time at my disposal and linked up with my friend Chidi Ngangah who was doing his National Youth Service with Triumph Newspapers in Kano. It was in Kano in 1986 that I met the present Publisher of Daily Trust Newspaper, Mallam Kabiru Yusuf, the late Hajia Bilkisu Yusuf and Ujudud Sherrif. They gave me the opportunity of writing and I wrote a few articles in the different stables of Triumph Newspaper.
While on national service, I also linked up with Sylvanus Namang, Jonathan Ishaku and Rufai Ibrahim of Standard Newspapers in Jos and they gave me the same opportunity of writing articles for their various stables. I had known the duo and interacted with them as the General Secretary of the National Association of Nigerian Students. During our student union days at the University of Jos between 1981 and 1984 the Nigerian Standard and the Triumph Newspaper represented progressive politics and we completely and unequivocally identified with their ideological world outlook.
Back then, we did not have the luxury of the computer, the internet and other social media platforms. We wrote some of our articles in long hand and typed others using Imperial 90 Typewriter and the editors managed to get the articles in print. One day I will conduct a search and unearth some of the articles I wrote in those days and assess the issues we explored. The challenge is that we used pseudonyms in writing some of the articles. Maybe my partner in pseudonym Y.Z Yau, then a lecturer at Bayero University Kano may remember some of the names we used.
By a stroke of fate, I left Kano at the end of my service year and moved to Kaduna with my late friend, brother, learned colleague and comrade, Chris Abashi (former President of the National Association of Nigerian Students) to work in the law firm of Hussaini Abdulrahman and Co. In the law firm we met an amazing fellow, comrade and humanist, Hussaini Abdulrahman who encouraged us and gave us free hand to explore human rights and democracy issues and funded and encouraged our defence of the rights of students, workers and other oppressed people in the society.
But I must confess that New Telegraph Newspaper lifted me from the league of occasional contributors to the pantheon of regular columnists, for which I would be eternally grateful to the management and editors of New Telegraph Newspapers.
But it is time to say good bye. National duty calls. After deep reflection and consultation, I have come to the painful decision to rest my weekly column “Hard Choices”. It is clear to me that the demands of my new position will not allow me do justice to my readers and explore the broad issues that are germane to our national life. I plead for your understanding and God willing, I will return, stronger and better informed.
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