IBB, Zik, Alex Akinyele: Nigerians who read their own obituaries

IBB, Zik, Alex Akinyele: Nigerians who read their own obituaries

Sunday, December 15, 2019 5:08 pm


Babangida, right, Senator David Mark, middle and another guest today in Minna. Photo credit: Earl Yemi Saka

 

Ademola Adegbamigbe

Today, former military President, Ibrahim Babangida had the grace to read his own obituary! Before him, Chief Alex Akinyele, a former Information Minister and Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, first indigenous Governor General and President, read the news of their own passage while still breathing and eating on earth.

The  rumour of Babangida’s death went viral on the net, until Kazeem Afegbua, his spokesperson, wrote to deny it. In fact, photographs of Senator David Mark’s visit to him on Sunday, 15 December, was posted on the web to deflate the rumour.

Another Nigerian who read his own obituary before he finally joined his ancestors last month was Chief Akinyele. Before he died last month, Public Relations practitioner, Doyinsola Ogunbiyi, in November 2018, falsely reported that the Lobosin of Ondo Kingdom had passed on.

Chief Alex Akinyele

“My PR Progenitor is Gone. Sir Alex Akinyele JP. @80. RIP,” she wrote on her Facebook wall.

One of the first persons to debunk the statement, as QED reported, was Akinyele’s aide, Aliu Mohammed who wrote, “My telephones were bombarded with calls, text and WhatsApp messages by colleagues in Journalism and friends who felt that as a close associate of Sir Akinyele, I should be able to confirm the wild and sad news.” Mohammed said Akinyele was shocked at the news of his death.

“I am alive Aliu,” the former Concord journalist quoted Akinyele as saying.

The former minister personally put concerns about his health to rest in a Facebook post that time. “Thank you all for your show of love and prayers. At 80 plus I may not jump around like before, but I am fine. I thank God Almighty,” he wrote.

The rumour of the death of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe was the most dramatic and the worst embarrassment the mainstream media suffered before the advent of internet rodents-induced fake news. The traditional media goofed big time!

Nnamdi Azikiwe

Dr. Olatunji Dare, an academic and celebrated columnist, wrote an article in The Nation on 8 November 2016, entitled 

“The Day Zik Didn’t Die,” narrating what happened.

He wrote: “The whole thing had begun with a “letter of condolence” that Dr Kingsley Mbadiwe                     had sent with accustomed magniloquence to the Federal Government on the “passing”              of Zik.  For good measure, he also sent a copy to the NTA. That letter, plus a statement issued on behalf of the “National Committee for the Transition of Dr Azikiwe” by four prominent Nigerians, was all the NTA had relied on for its categorical pronouncement on so weighty a matter.

“Out-of-work politicians saw an opening and moved in swiftly.  A First Republic legislator and former stalwart of the Zikist Movement, Chief RBK Okafor, panting as if he had sprinted all the way from Nsukka to Rutam House in Lagos, narrated breathlessly how he had cradled his “beloved Zik” in his arms and how, even as his life ebbed, the great nationalist had said to him: “Chief RBK Okafor, my political son, remember that I am a Pan-Africanist and should be given a Pan-African burial,” or words to that effect.

“When the tale appeared in cold print, Okafor denied it vehemently.  He forgot that Ebube Wadibia, The Guardian’s resourceful and street-smart news editor, had caught him on audiotape word for word.  It turned out that Okafor had not seen Zik in several years.”

Below is the article: 

The Day Zik Didn’t Did

By Olatunji Dare

Zik-gate, as my inventive Rutam House colleague, Emeka Izeze called the widely circulated but false reports of the death of the legendary Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe 27 years ago this week, has got to be the most scandalous episode in Nigerian journalism history.  It left mud on the faces of all of us journalists, those who proclaimed categorically that  he was dead, and those who merely hinted that he might have departed.

At 85, Nigeria’s former president stood splendidly erect, and in full possession of his faculties. His voice had lost some of its resonance, but his speech was not slurred.  His hearing was acute, and he could see much more clearly with the unaided eye than some people half a century younger.  By some accounts, he was at the time engrossed in writing four books.

This was the man whom not just one or two newspapers but the entire Nigerian news media proclaimed dead and awaiting burial.

Rumours of Zik’s death started swirling on Wednesday, November 8, 1989, apparently triggered by enquiries from a BBC correspondent about his condition.  By Friday, the rumours had gained so much traction that two newspapers published speculations about his death.

If any doubts lingered about Zik’s condition, they were dissolved by the newscast the NTA beamed to its fabled 30 million viewers the following night, almost one-half of it a moving depiction of Zik’s life and times.

The newscast, a marvelous production featuring footage and archival material that captured Zik’s illustrious career, as well as moving tributes by those who knew him well, plunged the country into mourning.

By Saturday, November 11, virtually every newspaper had the story of Zik’s reported death as front-page lead, in type size and headline vocabulary that sought to do justice to the great man’s memory.  Even those newspapers that left some room for doubt still felt obliged to refer to Zik in the past tense. The obituaries were adulatory, as indeed they should be.

The Saturday papers that cared at all for sources searched no farther than Zik’s “associates,” many of whom had not seen him for several years. They cited no family sources, nor Zik’s personal physician, nor yet his protective private secretary of more than 40 years, the spectral and pleasantly disobliging figure everyone called “Mr Okolo”.

In one of the Saturday papers, a letter purporting to be Zik’s “last correspondence” bobbed up.  In a fit of what can only be called misguided journalism, Sidi Ali Sirajo’s New Nigerian that was forever railing against “misguided heroism” cited not a single source for the reports that covered its entire front page.

“Zik’s death,” it pronounced sententiously, had left Nigerians “benumbed,” but apparently not before they had reached a “spontaneous consensus” that he deserved            a full state funeral. The closest the paper came to naming a source for its sweeping assertions was a perfunctory reference to “political pundits.”

The first editions of the Lagos- based Sunday newspapers printed Friday night and trucked to the more distant parts of the country the following morning, carried the same news about Zik, with updates and embellishments.  One enterprising Sunday newspaper even carried an editorial befitting the occasion.

At the convocation of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, in Kuru,     near Jos, the assembled dignitaries reportedly observed a moment of silence in honour of Zik’s memory.

The whole thing had begun with a “letter of condolence” that Dr Kingsley Mbadiwe                     had sent with accustomed magniloquence to the Federal Government on the “passing”              of Zik.  For good measure, he also sent a copy to the NTA. That letter, plus a statement issued on behalf of the “National Committee for the Transition of Dr Azikiwe” by four prominent Nigerians, was all the NTA had relied on for its categorical pronouncement on so weighty a matter.

Out-of-work politicians saw an opening and moved in swiftly.  A First Republic legislator and former stalwart of the Zikist Movement, Chief RBK Okafor, panting as if he had sprinted all the way from Nsukka to Rutam House in Lagos, narrated breathlessly how he had cradled his “beloved Zik” in his arms and how, even as his life ebbed, the great nationalist had said to him: “Chief RBK Okafor, my political son, remember that I am a Pan-Africanist and should be given a Pan-African burial,” or words to that effect.

When the tale appeared in cold print, Okafor denied it vehemently.  He forgot that Ebube Wadibia, The Guardian’s resourceful and street-smart news editor, had caught him on audiotape word for word.  It turned out that Okafor had not seen Zik in several years. Continue reading

 

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