By Okoh Aihe
By the time my friend, Mark Ojia, sent me an electronic invite to Prof. Aaze Tom Adaba’s 80th Birthday penultimate week, I was busy on my desk reviewing an interview I had with him in 2003, with only one question popping up in my head: where would deregulated broadcasting be today without a Dr Tom Adaba? You know, just like the woodpecker hitting his head over and over again on a dying tree expecting a different outcome but what he gets is the same: a repeated noise over the distance. But in my own case what is welling up inside of me is even more befuddling than an echo. I do not want to slip into dystopia and chaotic helplessness.
Oh, a little confusion up there. Doctor. Professor. In 1992, the prefix he enjoyed was Doctor but now some academic up scaling has nested on him a more befitting prefix – Professor. His life hasn’t been on ice, dear friends. That is just by the way. But it is the happenings within the intervening period of 29 years that have fixated one question in my system: where would deregulated broadcasting be today without a Dr. Tom Adaba?
The times we are in ascribe more importance and ferocity to the question. It was a military government in 1992. As I write this material bending over my computer, very blankly sometimes, my auguries tell me that we are under a civilian administration. Auguries in the sense that what is happening in our nation right now is “beyond belief”. That is the title of the stage show I watched in Sun City nearly two decades ago. It was pure abracadabra. A damn good show but once the show was over, just beyond the curtain call, the stars who came from different parts of the world, returned to their ordinariness.
So, how real can this world be? That a democratic government is spinning out more anti people Bills than the soldiers of yore although this government can actually be a mirror image of an episode in the life of this nation? Like affliction returning a second time? That there is an NBC Amendment Bill which seeks to invalidate the independence of deregulated broadcasting, emasculate the operators and destroy the social media platforms? And that years after being one of the major weapons used in wresting power from the colonialists and then the military, the Press will face the biggest battle of their life because of obnoxious and surrogate bills against their independence by a civilian administration? Or that one would wake up one Monday morning in July 2021 to find out that the Press had to alert attention to the seething but very fiendish fire burning within the nation’s democratic system by masking the front pages which metaphorically conjure a dark era of orchestrated silence? Information Blackout, they all cried, thanks to the NUJ, NGE and NPAN. Or that under this administration a Broadcasting Code was released on July 4, 2019, which has attracted about fifteen cases filed against the regulator for acts unfavourable to deregulated broadcasting?
What really is happening in this land and how does somebody even attempt to provide answers without feeling betrayed by a system that we all worked for, at least in holding the country together, and ensuring that civilians remain in government in spite of their excesses?
At 80, how does Adaba feel about the country’s broadcast industry? The broadcast industry was deregulated by Decree No. 38 of 1992, which has now become an act of Parliament, National Broadcasting Commission Act CAP N11, Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 2004. Before deregulation, broadcasting remained in the strong arms of government who occasionally used it to legitimize violence, especially in the execution of military coups. Those who worked at NTA and Radio Nigeria would perhaps still remain scared witnesses of some of those horrible days when soldiers would break into live studios to make their own broadcast. In one particular instance, gun shots could still be heard by listeners as one strong voice was shouting that everything was under control!
This was the period Adaba came to the NBC as the pioneer head of the regulatory body. The director from NTA had no bridges. He had to build his bridges. He had only the Decree in his hand without the needed staff to operate it. Adaba had to put his pioneer staff together. Very enthusiastic staff they turned out to be. Long in the knowledge of Broadcasting but very short in regulatory experience. But he cobbled them together to achieve needed results. There were mistakes but the mistakes were quickly corrected to build an enduring foundation for a new industry.
You may not like Gen. Ibrahim Babangida because of the complex dribbling in the political transition he put in place and the cataclysm that became the attendant result, but he knew how to get the right talent to do a good job. Adaba was a perfect fix at the NBC. Plus his experience at the NTA, he had the added benefit of leading the African Council for Communication and Education (ACCE) based in Nairobi, Kenya, from 1976 to 1980. He would eventually confess that in Nairobi he saw the problems of broadcasting in Africa and longed for an opportunity to make direct interventions. President Babangida gave Adaba that opportunity as the pioneer head of the NBC and he seized it with both hands.
“I was the first Nigerian to have been elected president of the ACCE. It was really in this council that I was further exposed to the problems of broadcasting in Africa, and when I came into the NBC, I looked at it too as a challenge; that as a regulatory body we are supposed to know all the terrains of broadcasting, all the nuances, all the difficulties, all the problems and all the progress of broadcasting in Nigeria,” Adaba explained. He needed to resolve all these challenges in order to build a base for his aspirational growth plan for the new regulatory body.
It was Adaba’s lot to issue the first set of broadcast licenses in the country to test the waters, literally, and see whether there would be brave hearts determined enough to dare the bellicosity of the government stations and their arrogant heads, and invest in the industry. He encouraged some of the licensees and guided them into fruition. Where would broadcasting be without a Dr. Tom Adaba as the pioneer head of the NBC?
The soldiers gave Nigerians a deregulated broadcast sector. They were stubborn but Adaba found a way around them. Today the civilians are troubling the sector with archaic laws and obnoxious regulatory capture. This shouldn’t be the industry of Dr. Adaba’s dream in the 90s. Without doubt he gave his best at the time and we wish him well.
Okoh Aihe writes from Abuja