“The Letterman”: History, stories and journalism

By Dapo Olorunyomi

I welcome and speak in profound gratitude to all friends of our author, Musikilu Mojeed, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Premium Times, who have given up on other pressing and competing priorities to join us today at the launch of this seminal work of political and cultural history. Thank you. It is also appropriate to express the gratitude of all friends of our organisation, for the kindness, the support, and patronage of PT Books as we launch our eighth title today. Some of our earlier titles include highly significant works such as Murray Last’s The Sokoto Caliphate, alongside the Abdul-Raufu Mustapha trilogy – Greed & Grievance, Overcoming Boko Haram, and Sects & Social Disorder. There is also Pius Adesanmi’s acclaimed satirical offering, Naija No Dey Carry Last! among a few others.

Premium Times Services Limited arrived at the Nigerian media scene some 11 years ago with a vision to help strengthen Nigeria’s democracy, advance the wellbeing and rights of the people, promote and enrich their cultural practices, and advocate for good governance, transparency and human rights, in line with the values expected of a modern and free democratic state.

The Letterman

As we said then, Premium Times came to fill a critical lacuna in our industry, and to raise the bar of journalism by helping spur a challenge of enlightening revolution, cultural rebirth, and economic development through reflective, thoughtful, analytic and empathetic practice.

From the modest efforts of our storytelling, we renewed the received traditions of reporting and helped mainstream an investigative tradition in Nigerian journalism, leading to an active meaning of a non-profit newsroom through the creation of the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism that changed name February this year to the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID).

Through this initiative, we joined to address the current challenges for sustained reinvention, and business model innovation in our troubled industry currently at the edge of a commercial atrophy. We have also launched a next generation (Next-Gen) Campus Reporter project, named after Nigeria’s first mass communication Professor, the late Alfred Opubor, which now has a 21-campus presence in Nigeria, with roots also in Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone today.

The Alfred Opubor Next-Gen project is currently West Africa’s leading learning platform purposed for building a network of early career professionals who are fully oriented in the craft of storytelling and immersed in the best traditions of media ethics, with a clear eye on the challenges of innovation and new business models that can sustain the industry.

A few years after successfully experimenting on deepening the factual content of our journalism at Premium Times, in 2018, we launched DUBAWA as a West African independent verification and fact-checking project, which is today supported by the most influential newsrooms and civic organisations in West Africa to help amplify the culture of truth in public discourse, public policy, and journalistic practice. It currently has presence in Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia and The Gambia.

Thanks to millions of our patrons, many who are here, a year after winning the coveted Pulitzer Prize for its collaborative reporting on the Panama Papers in 2016, Premium Times again emerged the overall winner, from a record 211 submissions in 67 countries, of the Global Shining Light Award, given by the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN).

In all our work, we remain faithful to the philosophical view that our journalism must be committed to an unquestionable vision of democratic accountability, an openness to promote the agenda of development, and a steadfast resolve to be a true gatekeeper that enables the possibility of public fora dedicated to a rigorous debate around the freedom, rights and wellbeing of the Nigerian person. This, as many here will agree, is a call up to investigative practice and interpretative narratives that lead to an understanding of events rooted in the synthesising power of history, rather than the mere retailing of facts. This is a test of knowledge production.

This challenge of knowledge creation is therefore central to the mission of Premium Times, and this is executed, in part, through the PT Books process. Today’s launch of The Letterman strongly illustrates this point, and as reader of this very revelatory work will find out, The Letterman promises a shrewd insight into the complexion and texture of an epoch-making moment in the broad historiography of leadership in Nigeria.

Mojeed’s deft strategy of weaving the past with its persistent values, to the present with its fleeting anxieties, is such a decent execution of what appears to be an improbable matrimony of history and journalism. Paired with his tactical insistence on interpretations, and on the keen understanding of events, rather than merely chronicling them, Mojeed lifts the work to the heights of professional history, restoring its authenticity away from what a 19th century novelist, Zola, had called the vulgar nudity of facts.

This work is also a metaphor for the Nigerian media, particularly in an election season, for the sub-text of all the letters in this book ultimately speaks to the key concern for the need for democratic governance of which goal is how to build states that are effective, responsive to social needs, inclusive, and accountable to citizens.

Thus, we are reminded that if the practice of democracy will endure in our country, the media must insist on being sentinels of its enduring values: protecting citizen’s right to choose and replace those who govern them in a free and fair election; insisting on citizen’s right to participate in politics and civic life as citizens; demanding that citizens enjoy equality before the law, and that the human rights of all citizens be of utmost protection. This is the context that produced The Letterman, let us not forget.

The fog that envelopes our democracy today is therefore not just a question of whether democracy is good or bad. The media has an utmost duty to be thoughtful sentinels, to provide the fora for respectful, insightful, and informed debates. Importantly, reminding citizens, as Sir Donald McKinnon urged us, that: “Democracy is not a destination but a journey. I hope that every institution, political party, and individual citizen will make it their business to be part of that journey.”

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your attention. Please read this book for insight and for an appreciation for the kind of thinking that guides how our leaders come to action and to inaction. Congratulations once again to Mojeed and to his beautiful family. Thank you for this handsome keepsake. Good morning, all.