By De. Bisi Olawunmi
Wada Maida and I were both pioneer staff of the News Agency of Nigeria ( NAN ) in 1978 and maintained relationship till the very end in the year 2020 – 42 years after. The management of NAN had assembled the best and brightest journalism can offer from across the country in 1978 and under the able leadership of the pioneer Editor-in-Chief, Mr. Femi Adefela, established a rare credibility for a government-owned media organization. With his exit on Monday, August 17, 2020, Wada, as he was fondly called by all – senior and junior – was the last of the top trio from the North in NAN in the early days as Mr. Sani Sambo, who as Assistant Editor-in-Chief was the most senior staffer from the North then died over a decade ago, while third placed Shehu Abui, who rose to become NAN Editor-in-Chief, died in July this year. Wada and I had shared thoughts on Abui’s passage, not knowing that death was also waiting in the wings for him. What strikes one about Mallam Wada Maida was his quiet, dignified carriage, an unassuming mien and that permanent disarming smile. He was forever unruffled. In spite of his power connections, he was not a ‘gra-gra’ person or a name dropper. As noted by many who had poured encomiums on him, Wada had a disposition of contentment.
He was a level my senior – he came in on level 12 and I at level 10 as a senior staff writer. I left NAN in 1996 as an Assistant Editor-in-Chief, after 18 years, while Wada left in 2003 as Managing Director of the agency after a 25-year stint, except for a one-year plus interlude as Chief Press Secretary to General Muhammadu Buhari, when the latter was military Head of State between 1984 and 1985. At the News Agency of Nigeria, it can be said of Wada Maida that he came, he saw and he conquered having attained all the landmark positions – Zonal editor for the North, pioneer NAN Foreign Correspondent based in London with Western Europe as area of coverage, Editor-in-Chief and Managing Director. The icing was that as at the time of his death, he was chairman of NAN Board of Directors. So, in effect, Mallam Wada Maida was NAN personified. And he left landmark achievements, two of which include the building of NAN Headquarters in Abuja and widening senior editorial positions for advancement of NAN journalists. It will be befitting, therefore, if NAN Headquarters in Abuja is named after him – Wada Maida House sounds beautiful !
I was among the three slated as pioneer NAN Foreign Correspondents with Wada and Adewale Fatona in 1982, to be based in Harare, Zimbabwe for the coverage of Southern Africa. But it was not to be as consideration of the tripod of North, East and West came into play and I became the fall guy, replaced by Lawrence Ukwu who displaced Fatona who had been slated for New York, while Fatona got reassigned to Harare. Wada was the only one who retained both his nomination and his foreign posting to London. But three years later, after three sets of foreign postings, I finally got appointed as Washington Correspondent of NAN with coverage of the Americas. Life’s trajectory – from Harare disappointment in 1982 to Washington triumph in 1985 ! During my four-year stay in Washington D.C., Wada had become Editor-in-Chief of NAN and was always discussing what he described as my resourceful news reports from D.C. with me. He was impressed enough that he sent me a Letter of Commendation for excellent reportage in 1987. Well, he had been a Foreign Correspondent and the Deep, they say, appreciate the Deep.
After I left NAN, we had maintained relationship. I got invited to brainstorming retreat on taking NAN to greater heights. It was a measure of his friendship and confidence in me that he invited me to Abuja in 2008 as part of a team to fashion out editorial content for his newspaper project, The Peoples Daily. That team included Garba Shehu, current Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity and Martins Oloja, current Editor-in-Chief of The Guardian newspaper. When the newspaper came on stream, he spoke with me about maintaining a weekly column, an offer I willingly accepted and became a Columnist with Peoples Daily from January 2009 till April 2012 when the rigours of the final months of my PhD programme at Babcock University, combined with my lectureship at Bowen University, Iwo, forced me to relinquish the column.
Wada paid his dues to journalism at national and international levels becoming a President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors and member of the Executive Board of the International Press Institute (IPI) an organization of top journalists, worldwide. He wore two journalism hats – as an eminent journalist and a media proprietor.
Just as in my reporting days in Washington D.C., Wada was similarly so impressed with my Column writings and continuous editorial contributions to the Peoples Daily such that last year he suggested that I collate them into a book. He did not stop at the suggestion, to expedite it, he got a Peoples Daily staff member to collate the writings and send to me. This was done. But sadly, very sadly, that book has not been out in print – my fault and a regret. The best I can do now is to dedicate the book, when published, to the memory of this quintessential gentleman, a dedicated unobtrusive journalist, a media proprietor and a man of peace. And he died peacefully – he had gone to office on that Monday, 17 August, 2020, returned home in the evening and was sitting, waiting to watch the 9 0’Clock Network News when death stole in. May his soul find repose in Aljanah.
Dr. Bisi Olawunmi, former Washington Correspondent of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) is acting HOD, Department of Mass Communication, Adeleke University, Ede. Osun State. Phone, SMS ONLY : 0803 364 7571. Email : firstname.lastname@example.org