It would be superfluous to list the major achievements of the New Nigerian which made it the most influential newspaper in this country from the mid-1960s to the late ’80s. Suffice it to say that for about three decades after its debut on January 1, 1966, the NN was in terms of circulation, readership, believability and clout the number one newspaper of record in the country. This, of course, translates into its being the second most authoritative newspaper in Africa, after Eqypt’s Al-Ahram. Business-wise, the company owned landed property and other assets that placed it almost at par with some of the leading business conglomerates of the time.
The NN grew in leaps and bounds in its first ten years. On Wednesday, December 31, 1975, i.e. the eve of its tenth anniversary, the then Federal Commissioner of Information, Brigadier IBM Haruna, noted that the NN had won for itself “the reputation of being one of the leading and seriously regarded national dailies in this relatively short period.” He urged the company to strive and improve on its standards, adding that “the ensuing years will bear further record of higher attainments and that your conscience, integrity, wisdom and maturity, coupled with God’s blessings, shall always be realised in the country.”
Haruna’s views proved prophetic. For the next twenty years the NN continued to grow. Up till the year 2000, in spite of its deteriorating fortune, it enjoyed a relative dominance of the newspaper business, though this time in the north rather than in the whole country. But then, a lot happened which broke such dominance and brought down the paper from its high pedestal. Today, many newcomers have surpassed it by all reckoning. Its being seen on the news-stands is a miracle that is due to the doggedness of its management and other staff. Yet, circulation is low; salaries have not been paid for six months, further wrecking the morale of staff. The company is crying for help.
Many ideas have been proffered towards resuscitating the company. The NNN management insists that all it requires is big cash. This thinking, which is erroneous, has made it difficult for the management to look beyond its nose. While money makes the world go round, it does not make it a better place in which to live. Money can be gotten and finished. What the company requires is a strategic thinking of what should be done with money. Strategies are needed to re-implant the NN in the minds of its readers and capture a new generation of readers and advertisers, many of whom were not there in the paper’s apogee. The NN needs a second coming, a relaunch that would purposively put it on the path of competitiveness not only as a major news institution but also as a business enterprise. To me, in order to attain this newness, we must return to the oldness of this northern behemoth. To create a future for the NN, we must return to its past. We must examine the ashes of its faded glory in order to reinvent a solid foundation for its tomorrow.
We must remember that the NN was founded on the ashes of the Nigerian Citizen, a daily owned by the government of the Northern Region. By the late 1950s, that newspaper’s fate had become similar to that of the NN of the late 80s; its glory was crashing in an age of propaganda between the north and the south, one targeted at maximising control of the political and economic realm of the new nation. Meanwhile, as the Nigerian Citizen was going down, more gutsy southern newspapers were having a field day setting agenda for governance. The NN was conceived and set up to replace the Nigerian Citizen as a bulwark against the merciless buffeting the north was receiving from the more funded and better designed Lagos-Ibadan publications. Within a few years, it achieved huge success in its task. The measures taken to make it so are just what the NN needs today to rise from its ashes.
I will mention them (and more) in the final part of this piece, next week.
Published in the current issue of BLUEPRINT