By Chido Nwakanma
Lanre Idowu (2019), Unequal Steps: The History of the Nigerian Publishing Guild. Lagos: Diamond Publications Ltd. ISBN: 978-978-54332-4-1
IN Uneven Steps, Lanre Idowu brings the skills of a historian and a narrator to offer two books in one. While the apparent purpose is to tell the journey of the Nigerian editorial guild from its beginnings to the present day, the author makes an important aside on Nigerian media law, which is the media’s struggle against the suffocating chains of repression and censorship. The double offer makes this book a significant and irresistible contribution to Nigerian media literature.
Uneven Steps complements the growing literature in two areas: Nigerian media history in general and the building of media institutions. It is therefore an invaluable addition to the bibliography for teaching and learning these subjects.
There is a sense of déjà vu to read this book in 2021, against the backdrop of a civilian government acting up the antics of the military to subdue the media.
Unfortunately for the Muhammadu Buhari government, the media landscape has changed significantly and irreversibly. She fights against the broadcast and social media by the National Broadcasting Commission, as well as against dictation and imputed pressure on print publishers and editors.
The 194-page offering delves into the many struggles of the Nigerian editorial guild and the Nigerian press in the efforts of the colonial, military and even civil administrations to contain them.
Uneven Steps covers the beginnings of the Nigerian Guild of Editors as a forum for title editors, the expansion of this area of responsibility to include people on the radio, the long road to a code of conduct for Nigerian journalists and the struggles with the civil service.
Leading journalist and former President of the Guild, Prince Tony Momoh, made a foreword. “With this significant work, Idowu has once again demonstrated its commitment to the traditions of critical reflection and excellence.”
The Daily Times editor in its prime and confrontation with the National Assembly of the Second Republic stressed the importance of the media using the 1999 Constitution as a compass and roadmap for their role. “Section 22 of the Constitution calls on the media to monitor governance on behalf of the people in whom sovereignty resides”.
The Guild of Editors is an important part of organized media in Nigeria. It’s a quartet. Others are the Nigeria Union of Journalists, the Newspaper Owners Association of Nigeria, and the Broadcasting Organizations of Nigeria. They make up the Nigeria Press Organization.
Uneven Steps tells and reflects the history and challenges of the NGE. The guild dealt with issues such as newspaper ownership, professionalism, politics and the legal environment of practice. The NGE was formed in May 1961 after the NUJ in 1955. The guild positioned itself as an elite club of professional news managers.
The 17 chapters of Uneven Steps cover the beginnings of NGE, the press on independence and its founding fathers. Then he reports on “The Guild under Military Rule (1966-1979)”, in the Second Republic (1979-1983) and “The Guild and Military Repression (1993-1998)”.
Others are “Who is an editor?”, The editor in the digital age and topics related to financing and the future of the guild. Lanre Idowu does an excellent job in providing reference materials in Uneven Steps. There is a table of laws affecting media practice and a table of cases that are six standout cases over the years.
For critical reading, I recommend chapter thirteen on “Who is an Editor”. It deals with the contentious issues of definition and qualification for membership in the guild. Equally interesting are chapters fourteen and fifteen on “The Editor in the Digital Age” and “The Riddle of Associate Membership”. The three chapters enable the book to deal with current issues and the future.
Uneven Steps is a valuable reference work and complements the literature on the history and development of the Nigerian media and the sub-chapter on media institutions. Mass communications students, journalism students, and professionals in the field should get a copy and read it.