By Musa M. Abdullahi
The world is a community! It is indeed one very big community, a global community of different communities. The world community is composed of numerous macro and micro communities that serve as minute component parts of the whole collection of humanity. And for every single unit of these component parts, represented by individual human creatures, God has a purpose for their being. As enunciated by our two great scriptures, The Holy Bible and The Holy Qur’an, every man (and woman) placed on the surface of the earth, has a purpose for being here. Humanly speaking, man is here (we are all here) to live a life of service to God our creator and to fellow man as ‘our brothers keeper’. It is obvious that the sustenance of human life on planet earth and the growth and development of humanity can only thrive through honest and devoted service to humanity. Invariably therefore, service to humanity steadily translates into service to communities at different levels of man’s existence.
Unfortunately, man seldom realizes that service to humanity or better put, service to community is what keeps the world going. I am sure up and until now, my reader would have been wondering and asking the questions, what are the connotative and denotative meanings of service to humanity and or service to community, and what connects this to Eggonnews as a newspaper outfit? Well, the answer to this all-important poser is what forms the subject of this discourse; the nexus between Eggonnews and service to humanity and community as a collective whole.
Two long decades ago, an idea whose time had come, snowballed into a real object of service to humanity. Precisely in April of nineteen-ninety-nine (1999) a pioneering endeavour culminated into the birth of the first known community Newspaper to ever come out from this part of the world. Newspaper business and publication as the oldest means of public communication known to mankind, had existed within the shores of Nigeria since the pre-colonial era and developed in both spread, participation and acceptance trough colonial epoch and even beyond. Historically, by nature and traditional constitutions, mankind had evolved very effective and coherent communication mechanisms to propel growth and development. Different peoples have had variegated means through which they achieved independent communication between individuals and groups to groups as well as community to community. Through the use of signs such as thick smokes, use of gongs carved from big logs of wood, to town criers, and trumpets or flutes among many other traditional methods, Africans achieved development communication before contacts with the Europeans.
Even though the different peoples of Nigeria have had their different traditional and cultural agencies with which public communication was achieved before any form of contacts with the outside world, when modern newspaper business started in Nigeria through the activities of Christian Missionary Societies, it only marked the beginning of modern newspaper in the country.
This development only remodelled the thinking and direction of Nigerians towards more effective means of mass communication. A position supported by Fred I. A. Omu who did an extensive study titled, Press and Politics in Nigeria1880-1937.
In the book, Omu stated that a certain historical nexus and continuity exists between the modern newspaper and the indigenous systems of public communication. According to him, “Newspapers conducted by Nigerians appeared for the first time in the 1880s. This development had a complex background. Not only was the indigenous newspaper movement a response to the social and political revolutions precipitated by the European Christian missionaries and the British colonial administration, it was also a continuation of earlier journalistic activity pioneered by philanthropic interests.… Although indigenous Nigerian society had no newspaper, it had agencies and institutions, which in several respects, served the same purposes as the newspaper or at least answered the contemporary needs of communication.”
For the purposes of emphasis and restatement, first man to start a Newspaper ever to be published in Nigeria was the Reverend Henry Townsend of the Christian Missionary Society of the Anglican Church of England. He started the Iwe Irohin as a community newspaper in Yoruba language in Abeokuta in December of 1859. It was a purely religious endeavour, but which was to be a major factor in laying the foundation for the growth of real and deep-rooted newspaper culture in Nigeria. From thence, notable Nigerian nationalists in the shades of early Journalists spurred and promoted a new sense of patriotism and nationalism through coordinated press activities via the establishment of newspaper outlets.
Notable among them were Anthony Enahoro who set up the Comet Newspaper; Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe who founded the West African Pilot; Samuel Ladoka Akintola edited the Nigerian Baptist among many other nationalists. They used the newspaper press as powerful weapons for national and racial consciousness and also used them to wage sustained wars against the colonial government.
Invariably, newspapers as channels of mass communication became the most important means, not only for propaganda, but also vital for the promotion of ethnic identity and self-consciousness. This inalienable position of the newspaper as avenues for social and political aspirations by the people therefore set the stage for a mad rush for the ownership and operation of print media organs by professional politicians and journalists. This remained the trend all through the pre-independence and post independence eras as the race for ethnic supremacy and political dominance intensified among the Nigerian elites of independent Nigeria.
However, in spite of the preponderance of the activities of these vital organs of mass communication and mobilisation for development, newspapers remained largely elitist in precept, ownership as well as in contents and circulation. Apart from serving society’s information and communication needs for development emerging newspapers in the different epochs of Nigeria’s growth and development, more often than not, served as machineries for strictly doing the biddings of governments, politicians and only the rich in the society. Consequently, starting a newspaper business and publishing was seen and regarded solely as exclusive preserves of only the “who is who” in the society.
Happily however, this mentality was to be utterly debunked and practically demystified twenty years ago when a proud son of Nasarawa state confronted the challenge and seized it by the gauntlet. An accomplished journalist of immense repute, a man who rose through the tumultuous ladder of the pen profession to its zenith; a man who had worked tirelessly to build strong newspaper bases and reputation for other climes around the country, Mr. Matthew Kuju got irked by the prolonged abandonment and neglect of his people and his immediate community by pre-existing newspaper outfits in the country.
From experiences garnered during the so many decades that Mr. Kuju had devoted his life, time, energy and resources to the service of his fatherland through the practice of journalism, it became obvious to him that, more than anything else, his people desire and deserve a voice of their own. Thus at the expense of even his personal benefits, the continued blockade of the different aspects of his immediate community and the endless denial of the people from real and concrete access to print media space to ventilate their ideals and tell their stories had become too unbearable for a man whose central goal in life was to serve humanity.
The historical antecedents of the makers and moulders of the Nigerian nation which resulted in the carving out of the central Nigeria area and its peoples as mere adjuncts of the more preponderant Hausa/Fulani north; and the verse Yoruba/Igbo dominated southern part of the country, also had telling effects on the drive for liberation by the people of the so called Middle Belt, particularly the densely populated communities of the erstwhile lower or southern Plateau prior to the creation of Nasarawa state in 1996.
Thus, with the creation of Nasarawa state in 1996, a new vista was set forth. With a spirit already fired up to put an end to the sustained misrepresentation of the peoples who predominate the larger parts of new Nasarawa. This was particularly so with the Eggon nation when it comes to newspaper patronage and service. The same can safely be said of all the other ethnic nationalities in the State, which constantly yearned for a newspaper voice of their own. It was to confront this age long challenge headlong, that the idea of Eggonnews as a community newspaper was muted.
With dogged commitment and a strong resolve to make a permanent mark, and as if from the blues, The Eggonnews newspaper was born to render service to a community of people who had for generations after generations of endless toil, wallowed in utter neglect and deprivation when it comes to having the voice to tell their stories and project their values to the outside world.
Of course, it must be stressed that the birth of Eggonnews newspaper was a product of a number of variables juxtaposed against the geographic location, tradition and commercial orientation of the peoples whose interests the modest idea was geared towards serving.
Firstly, the long period of neglect and deprivation suffered by the area and its peoples in terms of print media voice, secondly, the dire need to keep the people in perpetual touch with the world in a symbiotic and symmetric relationship, especially in this era of social conflicts and struggles for fair and equal shares of the country’s resource availabilities.
Thirdly, the numerous development strides of the community people who are constantly denied ready access in the face of deliberate misinformation and fake news capable of keeping the people in perpetual subjugation. And finally as a factor, is the universal experience of this distinguished son of Eggon extraction whose journalism background and standing greatly exposed him to the realities of his people and indeed the entire people of Nasarawa state vis-à-vis the gains of other areas which are by no means better, but only opportune.
Above all, the idea of starting a community newspaper with clearly defined targets and ideals was spurred by an unquenchable desire for a veritable and long lasting community service to a people who truly needed and deserved to enjoy even more. At least, there can be no giving back to the community that made you, more than offering an enduring service in defence and protection of one’s ancestral heritage and potentialities.
For want of an academic understanding of the concept of community service, let us attempt a brief discourse on what Community and Service stand for. What exactly does word community stand for, and what is the meaning of community service?
A Community according to Wikipedia is “…a social unit (a group of living things) with commonality such as norms, religion, values, customs, or identity. Communities may share a sense of place situated in a given geographical area (e.g. a country, village, town, or neighbourhood) or in virtual space through communication platforms.” A community is a group of people who share something in common. You can define a community by the shared attributes of the people in it and/ or by the strength of the connections among them.
You need a bunch of people who are alike in some way, who feel some sense of belonging or interpersonal connection. In other words, a community is a group of people who do not only live together, but who also share common understanding, needs, wants and pains, both as individuals and as a group. Summing up the definition of a community for the purpose of this discussion, the English Dictionary.com defines it is a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage. A community is severally synonymous with association; district; nation; people; society; state; populace; residence; territory; hamlet; colony; locality; commonwealth; etc., etc.
As for community service, the advanced English Dictionary says it is a voluntary work intended to help people in a particular area. It is work done by a person or group of people that benefits others. It is often done near the area where you live, so that your own community reaps the benefits of your work. The essence is that community service can help many different groups of people in need. Those to benefit from community service could be children, senior citizens, and people with physical challenges, as well as abandoned or neglected communities.
Community service or service to one’s community can be achieved through different undertakings. It could be by providing opportunities for members of a given community to enjoy services that impart positive values and open vistas for progress and development. Other forms of community service could be, to build a house with Habitat for humanity; Donation of old clothes to the needy; Donation of non-perishable food for community people and even build schools, health facilities, and, or provide sources of drinking water and the likes.
In most cases, community services emanate from the professional background and, or economic capacities and abilities of the persons rendering such services. Most importantly, a community service is never small and can never be too big. However, a cardinal principle of community service is the fact that one does not need to get paid to perform the chosen community task or service, though sometimes and in certain instances, food and small gifts could be given in appreciation. Better put, the main object of community service is that it is non-profit making.
Community service in whatever form, is often replete with inestimable value and significance. Apart from the fact that it teaches people of all ages and background compassion and understanding of the dire needs of others, it also provides opportunities to the different strata of elites to seek to improve and leave their marks on both global and local community maps. Through simple community services, a number of world greats have succeeded in leaving their footprints on the sands of time. It is therefore a classical illustration to say that in the last twenty years, the community newspaper called Eggonnews, as a product of an idea whose time has come is one example of community service of immeasurable value and refreshing candour in disposition.
When this great son of Nasarawa State and specifically of Eggon ethnic extraction Mr. Kuju tinkered with the idea of starting a community newspaper in 1999, it was like an ordinary wild child’s play and a tall unrealizable dream. The reason being that the muddy waters of newspaper business have historically been a herculean task ventured into only by juggernauts and tycoons with enormous financial muscles. This was more so that, for a community newspaper, and in an environment that was neither famous nor even totally oblivious of such an endeavour, the terrain was expectedly arid, tough and very rough to be able to successfully navigate through.
Yet, what looked like a mustard seed has grown onto a mighty oak tree that today provides cooling shades for many. The name of the name of the newspaper may be Eggonnews, i.e., supposedly primarily to serve only the news interests of the Eggon speaking people. Yes, this could be true to a reasonable extent, giving the preponderance and dominance of Eggon related issues in the contents and focus of the paper.
Interestingly however, as a close follower of the paper in the last twenty years, Eggonnews, the paper and its team of professionals have served more than the singular interest of the Eggon community. All through these years, the paper has engaged in enormous community service accommodating all manners of interests far outside and at variance with the interest of the Eggon race.
After all, who says it is wrong to have a community paper that services the interest of only an ethnic entity? Suppose professionals in different disciplines orchestrate well thought-out valuable services for their respective communities, would the society not be holistically better off for it?
I recall with joy and pride to be associated with the brain behind the institution of Eggonnews, instances where the paper provided limitless spaces for other ethnic nationalities in the state to ventilate their feelings and aspirations, even when such undertaking out rightly denigrate and, or vitiate the interests and drive of the Eggon nation. Cases abound when Matthew Kuju and Eggonnews exhibited the highest standards of professionalism and objectivity.
For instance during the unfortunate Eggon and Alago violent face-off of 2013/14, the paper did not only provide avenues for only the Eggon race to tell their stories, it equally made spaces as much as demanded, for the Alago, the Migili and a host of other ethnic groups to also ventilate their feelings and distraught even with the Eggon community.
This is no doubt, a product of sheer dogged determination and commitment to a chosen course by a rare specie of human Trojan blessed with unquenchable passion and humanity to serve humanity with diligence and unwavering humility. For the Eggon nation, Mr. Kuju is a rare gift, and the establishment of Eggonnews newspaper has turned out to be a monumental service to a vibrant and enterprising community that longed for a voice for ages, but remained in oblivion, in spite of its resource availabilities and enormous potentials.
Throughout his sojourn in the journalism profession across the length and breadth of the Nigerian nation, and even beyond, Mr, Kuju had rendered tremendous services to the nation as a whole and to other communities or peoples outside his home domain with admirable dexterity. The successes of his exploits and the benefits enjoyed by other climes, motivated and pushed his innermost drive towards translating the fruits of such enduring acquisitions into legacies for his homestead and people who equally yearn for such valuable services.
Interestingly, the radius of service expectedly envisaged in the idea of an Eggonnews tabloid, whose motto is, “an idea whose time has come”, has no doubt expanded far and wide beyond Eggon land. The motto has succinctly captured the mission and essence of the publication; an idea whose fruits have encapsulated not only the entire generations of Eggon nation, but have also engulfed almost all the other ethnic nationalities within Nasarawa State.
It is indubitable to aver that the coming into being of Eggonnews has more than anything brought out the Eggon race most prominently on the world map. The real story of the Eggon nation has never been so comprehensively told, even though in piece-meal, like has been painstakingly serialized since the advent of this great community newspaper. Eggon sons and daughters have never had it so good as with the Eggonnews, a paper that provides for them, platforms to showcase endlessly, every aspect of their rich cultural heritage. Far and beyond that, the paper also promotes learning and reading in Eggon language through its numerous serials in Eggon language narrations.
Indeed, the attainments of the newspapers within the last two decades know no bound. It is on record that Eggonnews has also gone beyond informing and educating the Eggon speaking people to explorations of discovery. A case in point was the famous and historic discovery by the newspaper of a set of people of Eggon origin who migrated to Niger state and now assumed full citizenship and indigene-ship of Niger state.
Similarly, for ages, there existed a stereotype among Nigerians about a seeming mythology derogatorily associating the Eggon race with the killing and eating of a white man. Through in-depth research, Eggonnews succeeded in correcting such stereotype by presenting through its publication, the true reports of the event leading to the killing of the white man, which was over attempts to seize their farm lands and the refusal by the invading Europeans to heed to earlier warnings not to tamper with their ancestral source of survival and major factor of production.
The story of the successes of the enormous service to community by Eggonnews in the last twenty years, would take ages to narrate in view of their volumes and spread cutting across many nationalities. The fact that the Eggonnews as a community endeavour had exported the culture and tradition of Eggon to as far as the United States of America, Russia and other parts of Europe, makes the value of service and achievements of the newspaper unquantifiable and beyond measure.
Little wonder therefore, and talking about serving the entire Eggon community of nation, Mr. Labaran Maku, the erstwhile federal minister of Information in Nigeria once posited that Eggonnews represented by Matthew Kuju, is, in his words, “… the greatest chronicler of the history of the Eggon nation.”He was speaking at a birthday anniversary thanksgiving service in honour of the founder and editor of the paper, Mr. Kuju. In the opinion of the Honourable Minister, no single endeavour in the history of humanity has successfully captured and chronicled the histories and trajectories of the Eggon speaking people over time like Eggonnews.
Indeed, nothing could have been truer than this, since it is beyond contest to state that no single individual anywhere on the surface of the planet earth or group of individuals has succeeded in elevating the name, culture, ideals and prestige of the Eggon nation more than Kuju’s Eggonnews. This is one paper that has not only provided a voice for the Eggon race to project their potentials, defended and promoted their interests, but has also most importantly provided a veritable platform for the people to defend and protect their identity by telling their own stories to the outside world. This is not doubt a classical demonstration of service to humanity, or better put, service to fatherland.
Eggonnews has over the years taken the government at all levels to the people deep at the grass roots, and has taken the people, especially the Eggon tradition close to the governments and beyond with great equanimity. Peoples of all shades of interests have today set up personal libraries of Eggonnews newspapers. This is because majority of us, especially students interested in community history have found the paper a veritable source of reference materials, not only of the Eggon ethnic nationality, but also of other general happenings within the state and beyond.
Sadly however, the success story of Eggonnews is rather a paradox of one-sided accomplishments. Eggonnews has without any iota of doubt succeeded in effectively serving the Eggon nation as a community and the entire community of Nasarawa state on one hand, and the entire humanity on the other. And typically of a true community service, there has been no payment in the real sense of it and no gifts commensurate with the services and impacts the paper has ceaselessly made in the last unbroken twenty years and in the lives of the different peoples of Nasarawa state and Nigeria as a whole.
For a paper that has achieved what many state government owned newspapers could not do; at least for remaining in circulation through thick and thin for twenty unbroken years, it is a sad commentary and an unfortunate reality to imagine that this great publication still operates and emanates from a very small cubicle of a room-and-parlous apartment at its Bukan Sidi headquarters in Lafia the Nasarawa state capital.
Indeed for Eggonnews, it has been a tale of successes and accomplishments for a modest idea and adventure. It has remained the only consistently consistent newspaper outfit available to the people of Nasarawa state. A community newspaper proudly serving the people and working hard to foster unity and peaceful co-existence between and among the citizenry for development. I join all well-meaning people of Nasarawa state in congratulating Eggonnews as you celebrate twenty years of genuine service to the community, and may your fountain of pen never dry even for a second.
Musa M. Abdullahi is the General Manager, Precious FM Lafia