Ibrahim Halilu Dantiye is an outstanding media professional and two-term former president of the Nigerian Guild of Editors who initiated the All Nigerian Editors Conference (ANEC). In this interview with ABDULLAHI YAKUBU, this image maker of two governors and a retired permanent secretary who turned three ‘scores’ recently, speaks about his career that spanned three decades. Excerpts:
What needs to be done to revamp the Nigerian Guild of Editors?
I think there is nothing to revamp because the Guild is still vibrant. The Guide is still strong and it still has strong membership. May be the word revamp should be changed with a word that describes what the Guild needs now. What the Guild needs presently is the involvement of the younger members, the younger editors.
I have noticed throughout the years that the Guild has been dominated by some of us the senior editors, in some cases retired from our offices. Of course, it has been changed several times to make it an everybody’s organisation.
Whereas is the Guild of Editors in the past, which means the association of editors who are serving or that are sitting on the editor’s chair and decides what is going on or what is aired or what goes on in the newspapers. But now we have turned it to be, even if you are promoted out of the editor’s chair, you still maintain that membership.
We have heard a lot of debates here and there. I think the debate is still going on. Whether editors-in-chief, whether people that have retired or fellows and so on can enjoy the same privileges as sitting editors.
Well, this is debatable. By and large, the most important thing to me is to bring in people that are still on seat, maybe managing editors, news editors, editors-in-chief and so on.
If you say, like me as a retired permanent secretary, former president and a Fellow can come and contest and I have refused to bring in new members from my state and from all over the country, then there is failure on our side.
I left the Guild about 13 years ago but to my surprise, some of the people that are looking for positions then are still looking for position now. We were seven in my exco and I became the president 18 years ago and we served with those people, how can they continue to be editors for 18 years?
When I became president of the Guild, I think I was 43, since I left, nobody below or above that age has become president, it has been going up. Now I am 60, so I am saying that my colleagues who will be occupying positions in the Guild will be of my age. So, I am saying there are people of that age that are deciding what goes on in the news.
The Guild belongs to them. So we should bring them in, so there should not be any competition between us and them. We are supposed to be like mentors, we should mentor them. We bring them up. So by the time they also leave, others will come. When I was president that was what I did. We opened this and we brought in so many people because we know one day we will leave. And we left and moved on. That’s my response to this question.
Some members vying for executive positions in the Guild have alleged that the 2017 Constitution is defective. How do you react to this?
All constitutions can have people that believe or would say they are defective. Of course, they can be defective because they are human made. I have no problem with that. Some people are even quarrelling with the Holy Scriptures and will not believe in them, what more of a Constitution? Look at the Nigerian Constitution, when was it made? How many years? But it has been altered and is still in the process, and will continue to be in the process. People will find one or two things they disagree with, this is just normal.
We should not really put so much worry about people claiming it is defective. There are people claiming it is okay as far as they are concerned because it is superb to them.
But I think the ultimate thing is to have good leadership. The constitution doesn’t implement, so whether the Nigerian Constitution or any constitution whether the Guild Constitution, it is people who implement it. And if you have people who are incompetent you will not have good implementation and will not have a good constitution. Or you have a good constitution but people don’t even understand but the constitution is alright.
So we should look for of course a good constitution, but most importantly good leaders, leaders that are competent, leaders that will treat people equally. We are a national organisation-the Nigerian Guild of Editors, we are not a sectional or a state organisation. It is like the NUJ, it is national, so we should be able to identify and not elect people who have primordial sentiments.
Anyone who fears God, somebody that is more competent than your friend, go for the competent person and tell your friend, saying he is not competent does not mean he is all round bad, there are areas he is strong.
So about the constitution, if people feel it is defective, there is a process of review or amendment, let them follow that process. But even if that is done, there will still be that claim that it is defective. But the important thing is to have good leaders, leaders that will protect the interest of members, leaders that have the interest of the members at heart.
What is the problem of the Nigerian Constitution? Leadership, it is not the constitution that has problem but the leadership is the problem. If we have bad leaders a hundred times we would not go anywhere. But if we have good leaders, good governors, good president, no matter how bad the constitution is, if you have the fear of God, if you have the interest of people at heart, you will see good results. So really, and you are talking about who made it, made by who?
How can the Guild become more inclusive, especially with the expansion of the digital media?
I would like to say we should recognise that media operations have also changed. With technology, with education, unlike in the past you see we are not deeply into it, we didn’t have degrees in Mass Communication, we didn’t have Masters degrees in Mass Communication in all the universities. All they offered then were first degrees, but now we have PhDs and even the Mass Communication they have broken them into so many wings. We have digital, we have broadcast, we have public relations and so many.
So, in terms of development, we are better prepared now. So the Guild should be aware of this fact. Secondly, we also need to understand the fact that development is affecting more of the media than any other sector of the society.
We can also see how fast news is transmitted with digital technology.
So the Guild needs to recognise this, to at least identify who is doing the editor’s job to be able to make them members, to train them, to bring them into the Guild to know that there are ethics and professional requirements in the course of the job. Otherwise, everybody, because the media space is uncontrolled, unregulated, anybody can wake up and set up an online newspaper or an online radio. So we have to track that.
We should not allow our profession to be like politics where anybody can wake up tomorrow and say he is a politician.
But to be a member of the Guild you have to spend a number of years in the profession. Even if you don’t spend those years, you must comply with the ethics and professional requirements. I am happy because I have seen the Constitution; they are beginning to capture online publications in the Guild in addition to the traditional media where we belong, the old school.
Do you think the Guild really influences government policies when it comes to the economy and governance in general?
Yes, we do. You don’t have to really be specific about the economy because we talk about everything, they give talks about everything concerning the society.
So, generally, if there is any input on any issue the Guild comments or gives its position and I’m sure considering the people who constitute the membership, these are the people you call the creme de la creme of the Nigerian media. So you can’t ignore the guild, it’s not possible.
If you do that it will be at your own peril. They are editors. This is an association that is national by membership. So you can’t say, typical of the Nigerian nation, how they sectionalise things, this one will say it is a northern thing or a southern thing and so on, no, this is the Nigerian Guild of Editors, we have membership from all over the country. I’m not sure whether I am the right person to say this because the president is there like I told you. I was president 13 years ago. I don’t think I should speak on behalf of the Guild.
I think this is what the Guild should do. But you see, whatever the Guild issues should be respected. It is not the views of one religion or the views of one tribe or section because it is a national body, a national association and of enlightened minds.
So, before you become a member of the Guild you have to know the rudiments of journalism, laws, ethics, balancing and so on and you could see a lot of state governments and institutions trying to partner or invite the Guild to do one thing or the other because it is trustworthy, they trust the Guild and they believe what it says.
It could make mistakes, but it is human. However, it is a very credible association. I believe it’s been influencing governments’ decisions, not only the economy like you mentioned, but all other aspects. Before we release talks on issues we have to debate it and come out with a position that is really Nigerian.
You served as a political appointee, then as a civil servant. Share with us your experience as a journalist in government ,?
Not just as a civil servant but I would like to talk about my career generally. I started as a cub reporter at the Triumph newspaper in Kano in the early 1980s, rising to become the deputy editor-in-chief. In a career that spanned three decades, I variously served as the general secretary of the Nigerian Guild of Editors and subsequently served as its two-term president in 2004. I initiated the All Nigerian Editors Conference (ANEC) which has now been made part of the constitution of the Guild. I was an executive member of both the West African Editors Forum (WAEF) and The African Editors Forum (TAEF). I was the permanent secretary, Kano State Ministry of Commerce, Industry, Cooperatives and Tourism and later Ministry of Environment. This came after serving as the director general, media and communications to the executive governor of Kano State, Dr. Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, as well as director of press and communications strategy. I had been director of press and public relations to the former governor of Kano State, Senator (Engr)Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso.
I was a former president, Nigerian Guild of Editors, (2003-2008) and member of the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS). I can proudly say I have rendered selfless services through my membership and chairmanship of various associations and committees such as ethics and disciplinary, training and education, credentials/election in the NUJ and NGE respectively. I was also a member of the National Political Reform Conference, (NPRC) where I diligently served under two sub-committees-viz business and rules, trade unions, civil society and national media reforms. I also served as a member of the National Steering Committee of Vision 20-2020. I went through the NIPSS and expanded the frontiers of my knowledge at Cardiff in the UK.
I must say that my experience is very interesting, I was able to manage it because I stood by the side of the media whatever happened. I’m sure you must have noticed that all these politics, especially Kano politics, you start getting tumor by the time and then the Government House will turn to a standstill, I try to not lose focus on what the media should be. If you criticise government I will tolerate you whether on paper or on broadcast.
As an editor, if you write negatively, I can call you and accuse you of not balancing. I was also able to show my bosses that this is an area they don’t know much about, this is my area and so they should allow me to guide the reporters.
They had that much confidence and they gave me that much freedom, they valued the guidance and advice I gave them. I understand the respect of my colleagues and wherever we meet today, we relate as usual.
In the civil service it was just fine because we have guiding rules and others. As a permanent secretary you have to guide the staff to make sure that they perform well and even dress well and come to work. You can’t be a civil servant and dress shabbily to the office. This is same with a reporter. As a civil servant it was fine by me because we had hierarchy and structure, and you must respect that structure. So, for you as a senior civil servant you are to guide and make sure they respect the system and comply with it. They will be appreciated for what good they do and punished for their wrong doings. So I enjoyed and value the experience and that is what I am using today.
What do you think should be the relationship between journalism and government?
Ideally, where you have difficulty is when government assumes the media is to be used. Secondly, is when the media behaves as the opposition political party, there is problem. But the essential thing is when the people say in so and so area they have not had water for 20 years, this is good and should be appreciated.
However, when a reporter goes to say they have not had water for three days or five days in a particular local government, it means go and check and do it. But some politicians will assume that you are attacking them and that turns into a problem. What the journalist is trying to say is that there is a problem in this area. Then what do you do with your problem? Go and solve it.
So, that is where you start having ours and theirs. Two years ago, someone wrote a piece like this and so on.
budgets. Such and sbe the position of the media. But it is common for the government to assume that the media should always praise it, that the governor made this statement and is all over on radio. Then in the night as you go to bed you should be able to review the good work you have done between you and the government to serve the people.
Is 60 years the new 40? How does it feel to be 60?
On April 2, I asked a cousin, Hajiya Maryam, how it feels to be 60 and she simply said, normal. She said, normal. I don’t feel anything apart from excitement, she responded. I am thankful to God to have been very active in the last 40-50 years. I have not been really sick and have been with my friends, let another 60 come. By the way, what really surprises me is when people talk about me saying you did this and that, I get surprised, that did I really achieve all these? Things that ideally I didn’t know but this is the perception of the people about me. Of course, there is joy in it, but it is something that should guide me to be careful. If I have positive perception of people about me, I should be careful not to derail. Some of them post them on social media. Not many of us live to be 60, it is the will of God.