The encounter I had with my intern friend supplied fresh elixir to an idea I had nurtured for long: to research about and document the life and times of Nigerian journalism heroes, living and dead, and occasionally publish same on a site/blog solely dedicated to such initiative. I intend to make it a ‘crowd-sourcing’ initiative, and perhaps have a few old guards in the profession help vet whatever data we gather from volunteers. It’s something I hopefully think some undergraduate somewhere would find useful, for I got the inspiration while working on my undergraduate thesis in Ilorin, after I realised there were fewer stuff documented about Nigerian journalists online.
“This Bagauda Kaltho must be an Indian,” he said, his ignorance made less conspuous by the gusto with which he falunted it. Then he went on and on, saying Bagauda must be one of those ‘foreign racists’ Nigerian leaders are wont to worship or/and immortalise. Or some words to that effect. He wanted to say a few more words, ostensibly in the geography of those half-baked anti-imperisalism, anti-colonialism vituperation with which you easily identify the newest disciple of Walter Rodney, fresh from an ‘eye-opening’ encounter with the book ‘How Europe Underdeveloped Africa’.
But I didn’t allow him go further. Then I tried to clarify a few things to him.
Venue was the Bagauda Kaltho Press Centre, Lagos State Secretariat, Alausa, Ikeja. And the dude was an intern.
I and a few colleagues were there for a programme and I was sandwiched between two younger, quite impressionable interns, this fire-spitting dude and his friend, folks I later identified as students of MAPOLY undergoing internship in one of Lagos’ leading media outfits.
Puzzled by the unusual-sounding name with which the press centre is called, he had raised concern about what he erroneously considered the Lagos State government’s misplaced mendacity, as exemplified in the ‘weird’ decision to name its press centre after ‘one’ Bagauda Kaltho.
He would later turn to me, after his colleague failed to contextualize the decision, and they both couldn’t attach any local ‘identity’ to the bearer of the said name. And he went on and on, misled by a name he innocently mistook for an Indian.
Then I tried to lecture him, within the limit of my own little knowledge: that, one, Bagauda was no Indian; that, two, Bagauda was, or more appropriately now, IS, a hero – in fact, one of Nigeria’s most genuine, largely unsung, pro-democracy martyrs.
And more importantly, that Bagauda’s struggle, which eventually claimed his life, is one of the reasons why we would sit comfortably within the four walls of the Press Centre and have ‘a whole’ commissioner come forward to give account of his stewardship before us, that being one of the gains of this governance system we now call democracy, however flawed.
He was stunned, embarrassed even, and subsequently pledged to go read more about “this our Bagauda hero”. But I wasn’t surprised.
That encounter, hilarious as it appeared, speaks to what I call the tragedy of the (Nigerian) journalist: the irony of a storyteller who reports stuff about places, issues, events and people – the wretched and the rich, the lowly and the highly placed, the bourgeoisie and hoi polloi – yet has very little, or in most cases, NOTHING documented about him. Tragic irony.
Bagauda Kaltho, for the records, was the Biliri, Gombe(?)-born fearless reporter of THE NEWS who was kidnapped and later murdered by military goons during the pro-democracy struggles. The same goons had ealier showed their meanness and cruelty by the arrest and detention of Ladi Olorunyomi, wife of Dapo Olorunyomi, my big boss at PT, and their then three-month-old baby, Aramide, when the “mad dogs” (apologies, MKO!) could not find him (Uncle Dapsy) at home. After they released her the next day, they showed their lack of decency and etiquette by re-arresting her yet again in March 1997. She was only released after 48 days in detention, with no tangible reason given for her detention.
James Bagauda Kaltho wasn’t that lucky: he was kidnapped and later murdered, and the “dogs” would add salt on injury by claiming that he ‘died while trying to detonate a bomb’. Bunch of lying low-lives!
James Bagauda Kaltho remains a hero, and posterity surely has a better arrangement for him, much more than the tokenistic but highly commendable gesture offered him by the Lagos state government. Rest on, soldier.
The Nigerian journalism space has supplied us with some of the most patriotic, fearless, and selfless individuals this nation has ever produced, the fact that there are bad eggs amongst those who dubiously parade themselves as professionals in the field notwithstanding. The journalist is poorly paid while on the job anyway, so he has seen the much-dreaded hell on earth already. We then owe him that responsibility to ensure that his feats remain on people’s minds when he’s gone, and that, like in the case of Bagauda, he isn’t mistaken for some ‘Indian racist’. So help us God.