The columnist is a rare breed. First, he is in the minority and extremely few people have the luxury of a platform to sermonise regularly on issues. So the Columnist becomes a demi- god as he throws up positions reflective of his opinion on any subject matter that catches his fancy.
The columnist leads opinion moulding, He has the power of the pen and in most cases is called upon to lead the charge, be the rallying point either for and against as the intellectual mob moves.
The power of the Nigerian columnist reached its apogee during the late 60s until the debilitating effects of the unbridled use of social media blurred the lines and made the columnist’s role almost an all comers affairs.
At the peak of their glory, a columnist could almost certainly change governments. He was the writers’ superstar. Every week, the country waited for his positions to take a cue. Nigeria has produced some very powerful columnists. People who contributed very significantly and who with their writings changed the course of national history. To mention a few, let me call Babatunde Jose, Ray Ekpu, Dan Agbese, Stanley Macebuh and Dele Giwa.
Dele Giwa was the mega star of his generation. His column, first in the Concord and later in his Newswatch was massive. It generated a feverish cult followership. Others include Pini Jason, Aman Ogan, Sonala Olumhense and on a lighter mood, my favourite Ndaeyo Uko.
Ndaeyo was a master of satire. He waxed lyrical and decimated his targets using the cover of humour to deliver some of the most scathing commentary on national ssues. His humour served as an armour allowing him to say and do things his other colleagues would not dare. He knew no limits. I remember his ‘love’ for the huge walls built to demarcate the major highways since it allowed for an easy peep up the skirts of unsuspecting women. This was wicked dry humour but used in a sometimes confusing way to say thank you to government for that job since it reduced the gridlocks on the road.
Nigeria’s golden era of the columnist was the days just mentioned. Those days it was a delight to rush to the news stands to pick up the papers and see what May Ellen was saying or if Dimgba Igwe would let IBB rest. They were fearless and could not be bought. Very far from the praise singers we see today whose pens drip bile in favour of the highest bidders.
In more recent times, Thisday has brought together some of the most gifted columnists. They didn’t stop at that but broke protocol by giving them the back page of the paper to own. So, Thursday was Segun Adeniyi and Sunday for Simon Kolawole while Dele Momodu held sway on Saturday to mention a few. Writers like Ijeoma Nwaogugwu who writes on economic issues would make you drawl. Her clarity of thought and pure understanding of the issues would make you just melt. At The Sun, we had Louis Odion and my brother Steve Nwosu perform wonders.
Sadly, the music is ending for the columnists. Their influence is waning faster than the dwindling circulation figures of their papers. Their opinions no longer in contention drowned by the cacophony of social media. Today every body not only has an opinion but at the touch of a button can send out usually innate and ‘diabolic’ thought processes out there to millions. These does not give the columnist a fighting chance because as clearly processed as his thoughts are, he will never get the mileage of the social media despot.
As a result, he is no longer sought after in policy formulation, his opinion no longer matters and the quest to surpass the apogee of the masters remains a mirage drowned and submerged in the infamy of an all comers market.
Some like Dr. Rueben Abati have tried to use the medium of social media to continue to push his positions and ideas, but is he being heard? I doubt because that market does not have time for more than 150 words. The dialectics of modern day Nigeria is just too much a topic for the new reader whose only interest is the latest wig from the very popular transgender who rules and resides on the new media.
Sad but reality.
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