Alhaji Abdul’ahd Tella, Journalistic prowess is an indispensable source being one of the few who possess vital information about some important events in the chequered history this great nation. This Iwo, Osun State, born Journalist, administrator and media expert, was one of the two Nigerian journalists who witnessed the admission of Nigeria into the Organisation for Islamic Conference (OIC) in 1986. He was also the only Nigerian member of the United Nations’ Information Mission to the Middle East after the gulf war of 1991. Also, at various times foreign Editor of the newspapers that he worked for covering three wars in the process.
His life had not all been that of a core Journalist; he has other experiences. For ten years he was the national Co-coordinator of late M.K.O. Abiola’s Zakat fund. At various times, he was also the chairman of O’odua Printing Company (1982-88), Pioneer Chairman, Osun- State Muslims Pilgrims’ Welfare Board (1991-94) and Chairman of Osun-State Broadcasting Corporation (OSBC).
In this no-hold-barred interview he bare, his mind on some topical issues. Excerpt.
Can you assess the state of journalism today?
Journalism begins with Islam. It is however painful that what started in Islam was lost by Muslims; and we have not been forthcoming since we rediscovered it. I say this with emphasis because as a matter of fact, the first reporter was Prophet Muhammad (SAW). He spoke not of himself but what was revealed to him from God to mankind. The first message was ‘’ read in the name of your Lord, who taught by the pen; (Q96:1-2). The compilation of Hadith is a similitude of news reporting, something like: This man reported that somebody said this and at so, so, place and this is why he said so. Therefore, the transmission and compilation of Hadith is the first comprehensive work in the annals of Islam. In journalism, we say facts are sacred and comment is free, this is exemplified in the Isnad (chain of transmission) of Hadith. It traces the facts to the original source of the transmitted Hadiths viz what was said, who said it, when was it said, who was there, is the statement authentic? Where the transmission line was found faulty, the transmitted Hadith was dropped! That is the standard procedure of journalism. If one, in the process of investigation, finds an allegation untenable, then it is no longer regarded as a fact and it should be dropped. Communication is power, the chief propagandist for Hitler, Goebbels, said: “tell a lie a thousand times and it will become the truth” what we have in the world are lies packaged in bright, shiny, diamond-like foils.
Why do you think there are not many Muslims in the Media world?
Inadequate qualified Muslim journalists. If you take a survey of students’ enrolment at the schools of journalism, you would find that the population of Muslims is not more than 10%. Muslims are not embracing journalism as a profession because they do not want to suffer. Christians embrace journalism as a vehicle for evangelism. They accept whatever difficulties they encounter as acts of God. I will give you practical example: Abiola owned Concord. When he was alive, there were fourteen of us as Deputy Editors, which is equivalent to Assistant General Manager, only three of us were Muslims. The way out is that young Muslims should take journalism as a carrier, to make sacrifice today so that tomorrow will be better for Al-Islam in Nigeria.
Why are rich Muslims not also investing in the Media?
Apart from The Monitor, or and Daily Trust, The Democrat and The Reporter came and died. The Monitor even went out of the newsstand until I went back to repackage it. It was almost suffering the fate of the defunct newspapers. Muslims are not long-term investors. They want quick and immediate returns on investment. Muslims should be better placed to correct the misinformation and disinformation about Islam by putting the correct versions across to the readers. Muslims can only correct these anomalies when they are active participants. The Catholic media resource centre was established some 25years ago for training Christian media workers. The centre, which is based in Kaduna, had nurtured and graduated not less than 3,000 journalists. The place is affiliated to BUK and ABU (Bayero University, Kano and Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria) so they can still do further studies at higher levels. At the Catholic information centre in Lagos, there are Catholic Peace Mission and Catholic Justice Mission; everything they do is computerized. The Anglican and other denominations have theirs and for every, writing about Christianity, there are people employed to study, analyse and respond appropriately.
Do you not think it is because the Muslims have very poor reading culture?
I don’t think so. I think the problem is that of inadequate focus. There are many Muslims who have memorized the Qur’an, some can finish the recitation in 10 days and start all over each time they complete the recitation. I also think Muslims have generally lost the interest in reading or knowing anything about the western world though it is having a real negative effect on us because even local literatures are not read. Unfortunately, we have forgotten that one of our potent weapons is knowledge.
Why are the Muslims not doing anything about it?
We were told in school (primary and secondary) that Islam was spread by force, Qur’an on the left hand and sword on the other; whereas, it is even unIslamic to hold the holy Qur’an with the left hand, except it is unavoidable. Even then, how can anyone accept Qur’an which is merely the word of God; you can only accept God. These lies were told to us when we were still tender through missionary education and some gullible Nigerians are still propagating the same. The history of Europe is there, the religion that was spread by violence was Christianity.
While you were at Concord Newspaper Christians vowed not to patronize Concord because of its Islamic posture; what was it all about?
Maybe you were referring to the advent of Nigeria’s membership of OIC (Organization of Islamic Conference). By the special grace of Almighty Allah (SWT), Femi Abass and I were the only Nigerian journalists at Fez (Morocco) when Nigeria formally joined OIC. As a matter of fact, Abiola called Dr Doyin Abiola to stand me by 72hours to the commencement of the conference, which was initially billed for Rabat. Femi Abass had to accompany me because he speaks fluent Arabic, so we complemented each other. Then, we had to be discreet so that the government will not detect, as it does not want anybody to know that Nigeria was going to join the OIC because of the likely criticism that this may generate. We took off from Nigeria to Paris-London-Spain and finally to Morocco in a decoy. As there was no flight between the two places, we had to travel by road to Fez which was over 400km away, a very snaky road, over the mountains and crests. Alhamdulillah we arrived Fez safely without chaos. The Nigerian delegation was taken aback. The delegation was led by Alhaji Ridwan Luqman, AbdulKadir Ahmed of the CBN (Central Bank of Nigeria), the Nigerian High Commissioner to the USA as at then, Ambassador (Olu) Adeniji (the current Foreign Minister), they were about six. OIC is not an Islamic thing; for emphasis, OIC is not an Islamic Organisation. We were there. Nigeria was admitted without going through the mandatory two-year observatory period because of the respect OIC had for Nigeria. The charter of the OIC was drafted here in Nigeria! Sir Ahmadu Bello and then King of Saudi Arabia, Faisal, were pioneer philosophers behind OIC. The records are there. Nigerian technocrats and diplomats were among the people who drafted the charter. Unfortunately, OIC was meant to be inaugurated in July 1996 but Ahmadu Bello was killed in the coup of January 15 1966 and as a mark of respect for him, the inauguration was postponed till December 1969. Therefore, Nigeria’s sweat is in IOC.
What exactly is OIC?
It stands for Organization of Islamic Conference; the Christians deliberately misinformed and lied to Nigerians that it was Organization of Islamic Countries. Membership of OIC is open to any country with a minimum of 5% Muslim population. That’s why countries like Gabon, which is strictly a Catholic state is a member. The same goes for Uganda and Cote d’ivore, which have the largest Basilica outside Rome in the entire Universe, as members. Archbishop Okogie was aware of these facts, yet he took up the gauntlet to blackmail Muslims and misinformed Nigerians, threatening fire and brimstone in the process. Since then, the fragile cordial relationship between Muslims and Christians has never been achieved again. Okogie and his elements planted suspicion in the minds of Nigerian Christians. Various lies were told; all bordering on illusions that Babangida wanted to Islamize Nigeria. The truth, However, is that more churches have been planted over the country since the OIC conference in 1986 when Nigeria was admitted. The question then is: has Nigeria’s membership of OIC Islamise Nigeria? The spurious allegation is akin to George Bush who is accusing Saddam Hussain of stock-piling weapons of mass destruction. Now where are these weapons since the occupation and conquest of Iraq?
What happened to OIC story afterwards?
The Editor kept the story in his drawer; he didn’t use it! He bluntly refused to use it when I confronted him. The Tribune got a short version from Reuters and manipulated it to suit Christians’ sentiment. The Concord Editor never used the more comprehensive version that we wrote having succinctly stated the proceedings, membership, roll call etc this could have nipped all the allegations in the bud. Femi Abass and I later wrote some other stories which was serialized in the centre spread of the Sunday Concord for two consecutive months, stating the details of all that transpired at the conference and what the OIC stood for. We even gave references for all the information provided for those who might be interested. However, it was like pouring water into a basket or on an egg; we were stigmatised. The damage was already done despite our efforts. Concord was labeled as pro-OIC and that Abiola was using it for Islamic domination. The Christians put a ban on its patronage throughout the nation.
Were the Muslims not misled about OIC?
It was the Christians who were mislead because OIC was branded as an Islamic organisation. It was actually established to alleviate poverty, particularly in the developing countries with sizeable member of Muslim population. It is a haven of fund for development, which could be harnessed for small and medium scale enterprises. It is interest-free loan regime and Nigeria had the capacity to draw up $5billion at any particular time. During the Buhari/Idiagbon era, the IMF (International Monetary Fund) asked Nigeria to obtain additional loan facility and the government rejected the offer, preferring instead to suffer the economic hardship, recover from the hardship and moves the nation forward. They had the future of our children in mind; they were not prepared to mortgage it. Buhari then sent Idiagbon to Saudi government and IDB were therefore arm-twisted and prevented. To circumvent this, the Saudi government asked the government of Nigeria to validate its membership of OIC, as she (Nigeria) had been an observer since 1969. Compare to this the IMF stuff, as at last week, Nigeria’s debt stood at $32billion when the loan, which she obtained, was not more than $3billion at the first instance. We have paid over $20billion so far and we still owe $32billion.
What other benefits accrued from OIC and IDB
Yes, they engage in the construction of schools, building economic and trading centres for the emancipation of low-income earners. They are doing these all over Africa- Uganda, Kenya, South Africa, Gabon, Sierra Leone, Liberia, even in Benin that declared voodoo as the state religion.
Another source of discord between Muslims and Christians is the principle of Sharia, were the Christians not taken into confidence?
There had been a kind of deliberate misinformation because an average educated Christian knows the fact that Sharia is meant for Muslims only. The Qur’an, which is the source of Sharia, is available in all languages. Nigerians also have access to the internet where information about Islam and Sharia could be obtained. The only problem is that they discourage their children and wards from reading about Islam because of the fear that they may inadvertently revert to Islam as it is happening in Europe and America. However, nobody can stop this. Reversion to Islam will soon catch up with the rest of the world. The only safe haven for Christianity is Africa; after the conquest of the hearts of Europe and America, Africa will definitely embrace Islam.
Given your experience and Zeal, why have you not started your own newspaper like other veterans have been doing?
Insha Allah, I am planning to pioneer a business magazine. It is likely to debut before the end of this year. It involves planning on the basis of initial Zero sale while pumping a lot of money into the business every time. I am a professional to the core. I am ready if any of the Muslim moneybags is ready to make the funds available. I left my private media consultancy practice, which gives me appreciable returns in order to resuscitate The Monitor. As a matter of fact, my turnover was enough for me but I still left for The Monitor because a Muslim owns it and I felt it needed to be repackaged.
Advice for Muslim Ummah Let us be focused. Allah created us Muslims for a purpose; we should realize that purpose in a world where Islam and Muslims have become endangered species.