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- Published: 28 November 2019
I smiled humourously to myself when I read in the papers the other day that the formal national president of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, Prince Smart Adeyemi (he became prince after he became the NUJ President), just as plain Mr. Tony Momoh became Prince Tony Momoh after he became minister of information) was trying to make excuses for members of his union who expect or even demand to be given money by members of the public who want their news to be published.
Among the reasons which he adduced were cogent ones like the fact that whether it be in the public or private sector, most Nigerian publishers and media owners do not pay their journalists anything near minimum living wages.
Government-owned media houses do pay some regular form of salaries and wages to their reporters, no doubt, but even the most generous of them are not famous for being liberal with salary levels and allowances which will allow their hardworking journalists to live dignified and comfortable lives.
As for private sector media owners, even the more successful species of them have been known to hire reporters whom they pay only with their companies’ identity cards. Thus the journalist who applies to them for a job is calmly told that he will be given only an identity card which will enable him gain access to sources and venues of news making events. The wretched reporter is then expected to make a living out of whatever pickings he or she can make out of those who wish to make news.
Other private sector media owners make an occasional effort to pay their reporters some form of salary or wages, but the rates are so low that hardly any healthy dog can survive on such an amount, let alone your healthy young and energetic fresh graduate of mass communication whose hopes of eating well, drinking hard, dressing well and respectably, owning a flat and a car, and ultimately settling down to a comfortable family life.
So what does an ambitious forward looking journalist do, under such conditions to make ends meet?
Why, he settles down quickly to learn the vital tricks of survival in the trade, in these harsh modern times! Gone forever are the innocent days of my generation when a journalist felt excruciating shame if he was found to have collected anything than a shared drink with an interview subject, or a shared lunch with a news source.
But I can still remember the shock which I felt when, as Associate Editor (South) of the New Nigerian in 1981, I began to discover the enormous power of news editors to foist or plant stories in my rigorously managed newspaper, with the active connivance and collusion of my own reporters, in when I took great pride and immense satisfaction for their ability of find authoritative news and weighty pronouncements from important public office holders. Little did I know that my great tem also possessed extraordinary skills in taking what, by comparison to what journalists do nowadays, were really innocent little monetary gifts in “brown envelopes”
As the years rolled by and became decades I watched with a mixture of shame, frustration, understanding and finally resigned toleration (but never pride or approval whether in principle or in practice), as the modern go-getting generation of no-nonsense Nigerian journalists developed, and emerged into full-blown professional adulthood.
soon, I finally found time to sit down with half a dozen members of the younger generation, and skillfully wormed out of them not only the modern tricks of the trade but also the modern lingo which they use among themselves in their routine daily shenanigans of surviving these hard times.
The language alone made me feel like Rip Van Winkle. It was as if I had been in a deep sleep or a coma for 2220 years, and suddenly woke up to find myself in a new community which spoke a totally different professional language.
I learnt that the good old brown envelope upon which my generation of editors frowned so fiercely even though we could not eradicate it, had become totally transformed by the sly and highly creative crooks on the beat, to avoid the wrath of puritanical editors.
Thus, over time, the journalist who went to cover a conference would first collect the official communiqué of the participants, from which he would write his front page story for his innocent “big man” editor, sitting in his big chair in his big air conditioned office, back at headquarters. But having collected this official communiqué, the enterprising modern reporter would still hang around the conference venue to receive for demand if it was not offered) the far more satisfying unofficial communiqué, which would ensure that the story not only reached the editor, but also that it reached him in a package so skillfully contrived, with the help of the equally desk-bound news editor, that the editor would be sure not only to publish it prominently but also to give the crooked reporter a bonus to boot.
Thus came the powerful “qua” suffix or prefix to become the most utilitarian word in the modern dictionary of Nigerian journalism. In fact, the whole life of the modern-day journalist revolves around the qua word.
When they congregate at the Press Centre in the morning, they first ask among themselves which assignments were likely to take place on that day. Then they would rigorously discuss which of such available assignments were likely to be most quamatic, that is, most fruitful in terms of their potential to yield a rich harvest of qua.
This informal morning discussion at the Press Centre is known, quite understandably, as a quangress, that is to say, a congress held exclusively to assess the qualitative outlook of that working day.
The most respected voice at this daily quanfabulation is that of the journalist who has been able to prove, over a quansiderable length of time that he or she has a knack for identifying the most likely and most fruitful quannections from which poorly-paid and hard-working reporters may quanfidently expect to augment their daily pickings.
Needless to say, such an outstanding colleague becomes not only highly respected and beloved qualleague, but could in fact be elevated to the enviable rank of unofficial quansultant to the entire group. The reader will no doubt agree with me that a journalist who attains such a position of high regard among his or her peers must ba a person of proven good quansolence whose complete tack of qualms in identifying lucrative sources of qua must be beyond doubt.
It is such star performers who invariable lead the daily quansultations, and they often go on to become group leaders when different groups of journalists occasionally combine to form qualitions (coalitions to you, rank outsider), for example to elect representatives who will go on media tours with Information Minister Jerry Gana, an assignment of unimaginably quamatic dimensions.
For such very delicate assignments, great care must be taken not to ruffle feathers so much that popular discontent would lead to an actual quanstitutional crisis which could “overheat” the system.
Next, they might appoint a quadinator to represent them all, collect the joint yield on their behalf. Needless to say, this quadinator must be highly trusted not to “edit” the yield beforehand and in secret, before submitting it for joint sharing. He must also be ready to face their joint wrath if he cheats the group. I have heard stories of hapless quadinators who were “sent to Coventry” or even beaten up by their irate colleagues, when they cheated.
An assignment which flops, or fails to yield any satisfactory level of qua is known not as a disaster but as a veritable quasaster. If you fail to go to an assignment for whatever reason, and your colleagues therefore cut you out of sharing in the qua take for that assignment, you had the right to complain volubly and bitterly about your unfair dequarisation.
Of course, it took a long period of serious research and experimentation for the qua word to evolve. The basic concept of unofficial income in journalism passed through many stages of verbalization. Brown envelope gave right of way to letter to the editor, which in turn gave way to other euphemisms like briefing after the briefing. Next to gain currency was last paragraph; and after it came the book of life in which the names of journalists who covered an assignment were written, so that they could claim their share of qua.
But the unmatched triumph of qua is to be found in its overpowering ubiquity and the frequency of its use among journalists. Nothing depicts this supremacy more convincingly than how our journalists even adopt it as a prefix, suffix or addendum to their own legitimate names. Thus, a Farouk becomes Faruqua among his colleagues, if be is much liked and trusted to be a good team player. A Jacob is popularly called Jacquab, and an Ndukwu answers to the call of Nduqua. Needless to add that this new game of journalism is not restricted to the male species of the tribe a lone. A vivacious and popular colleague named Scholastica would therefore be hailed as (what else?) Squalastiqua.
Now, would the reader agree that I am some what qualified enough to discuss such a delicate professional secret in public? As the palm wine drinkards would say “you are all quarried!
And as a mark of special avuncular respect for our journalists, I have slightly altered the very name of my own column for this edition to “Soliloqua”!
Veteran journalist and one-time Editor of Sunday New Nigerian Newspaper, Alhaji Babatunde Aliu, popularly known as AB Ahmed wrote this for his weekly treat 'Soliloque"