Rem­i­nis­cences with Tom Ad­aba

Sunday Trust - - FRONT PAGE - By An­thony Ma­liki & Fidelis Mac-Leva

Dr. Tom Ad­aba could aptly be de­scribed as a pi­o­neer; he was the pi­o­neer Prin­ci­pal of the NTA Tele­vi­sion Col­lege, Jos from 1980 to 1987 and was equally the pi­o­neer Direc­tor Gen­eral of the Na­tional Broad­cast­ing Com­mis­sion (NBC). Elo­quent in speech and sharp in anal­y­sis the vet­eran broad­caster who hails from Okene in Kogi State, in this in­ter­view, rem­i­nisced on his grow­ing up in Okene and chal­lenges of pi­o­neer­ing the NTA Tele­vi­sion Col­lege, Jos as well as the Na­tional Broad­cast­ing Com­mis­sion (NBC), among other in­ter­est­ing throw­backs.

You hail from Okene in Kogi State but you were born at As­aba, how was grow­ing up like within your im­me­di­ate com­mu­nity?

I was born in As­aba but I grew up in my home­town, Okene. I was in As­aba just for a month af­ter my birth when it was felt I was strong enough to em­bark on the move back to Okene. Like any other child all, the child­hood things were done. The en­vi­ron­ment was such that it was quite con­ducive for one to live and go to school and all the oth­ers. It was a healthy sit­u­a­tion and I was pleased and happy with ev­ery­thing. When we ar­rived Okene from As­aba, a huge num­ber of peo­ple came to visit, I was told – be­cause I couldn’t have known – but my mother didn’t have any dif­fi­cul­ties at all with as­sis­tance from peo­ple to come and help her carry the baby. When we were ready for school, I went to pre-pri­mary in the Catholic school, Christ the King’s Catholic School – where I did my prepri­mary and pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion. I was very ac­tively in­volved in Church ac­tiv­i­ties, es­pe­cially mass serv­ing and ev­ery­thing. As I ear­lier said, the sit­u­a­tion at Okene was a very pleas­ant one but when my mother was preg­nant, my fa­ther was drafted into the Royal West African Fron­tier Force (RWAFF) and had to go to Burma. In fact it was in his ab­sence that I was born. When he came back (when they were sup­posed to do a num­ber of these ad­just­ments and for him to take us, my mother and me, to Kaduna where he got an ap­point­ment with the gov­ern­ment) he de­cided to leave me with my fos­ter fa­ther who was tak­ing care of us be­fore he came back. They didn’t have chil­dren so he said per­haps by leav­ing me with them the lord would pro­vide them with chil­dren. So I was with them in my ear­lier days in­stead of with my par­ents.

You also at­tended the Ju­nior Sem­i­nary at Okpuala, Imo State for two years, how was the ex­pe­ri­ence there like?

Af­ter my pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion, I got ad­mis­sion into the St. Peter’s Sem­i­nary at Okpuala in the present day Imo State. I was there for two years and as it pleased God, I left and veered into ed­u­ca­tion – the teach­ing pro­fes­sion. My first en­counter in the Catholic Teacher’s Col­lege in Ay­ingba in the present day Kogi State, I did a three year course in two years and fin­ished. For­tu­nately, I got a good re­sult and the fol­low­ing year I ap­plied to Okene Teacher’s Col­lege which was a gov­ern­ment day school and they were pay­ing salaries or al­lowances. I was for­tu­nate to get in there in spite of some hitches on the way. I got into Okene Teacher’s Col­lege in 1962 and it was a two year course for Teach­ers Grade II, so I fin­ished in 1963. In early 1964, I was for­tu­nate again to have been ap­pointed a teacher in that same school I just grad­u­ated from. So I started there in Fe­bru­ary 1964 then I de­parted from home in Septem­ber 1965 when I was posted from Okene to Bichi Teacher’s Col­lege. I never heard of it be­fore but when this came I had to do some re­search. For­tu­nately, one of the teach­ers trans­ferred to Okene was from Kano so he was the one who en­cour­aged me and said I shouldn’t bother my­self be­cause Bichi is just 26 miles away from Kano, so he said there wasn’t any­thing to worry about. Truly I took off go­ing to Bichi and was there until 1966 when I got ad­mis­sion to the Ad­vance Teacher’s Col­lege in Kano which was a gift of the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment to the then north­ern Nige­rian gov­ern­ment. At that time they had quite a num­ber of Amer­i­cans who were teach­ing there and in the process also train­ing Nige­ri­ans to take over from them. So I was there and be­fore I fin­ished the pro­gramme in Kano I got a schol­ar­ship from the United States Agency for In­ter­na­tional Devel­op­ment (USAID) to go to Ohio Univer­sity to read Mass Com­mu­ni­ca­tion. That was how I par­tially veered off ed­u­ca­tion into broad­cast­ing. But that not­with­stand­ing, when I went in I was sup­posed to be there for three years and I thought I was be­ing smart; I com­pressed quite a lot of the var­i­ous cour­ses and fin­ished in less than two years with the in­ten­tion that the re­main­ing one year I would ded­i­cate to a master’s pro­gramme. But when I fin­ished in this record time they said the con­tract was for a first de­gree and I should make my way back home so I got back and was lec­tur­ing at the same school where I grad­u­ated from. That’s where I was until I went into broad­cast­ing in 1974 in the then Benue Plateau Tele­vi­sion Jos.

How was it like grow­ing up un­der your fos­ter fa­ther who was a Cat­e­chist?

It was quite in­ter­est­ing. Some of the things we en­coun­tered we saw them as suf­fer­ing but that

kind of pre­pared us for the fu­ture. One of the things that hap­pened was for us who were the mis­sion boys, mass server in the church. We usu­ally re­hearsed one thing or the other be­cause many of us were as­pir­ing to be priests. So there was a day we were re­hears­ing a mass, who was go­ing to be the cat­e­chist, who was go­ing to be the priest and so on. We got it all done and they gave me as­sign­ment as a cat­e­chist per­haps be­cause they knew that my fos­ter fa­ther was a cat­e­chist. My fos­ter fa­ther had a lame leg which we as chil­dren thought were a nat­u­ral thing for a cat­e­chist. So when we were to per­form our roles the priest came out ready to preach his own ser­mon. The cat­e­chist was then called and I had to be­have like him with a lame walk. When I even started I had that leg dan­gling be­cause that’s haw the cat­e­chist’s leg was. I didn’t know he was some­where at the back of the Church watch­ing me. He had just fin­ished cat­e­chism and came to­wards the church and saw me in­ter­pret­ing with my leg hang­ing. When he shouted my name I knew I was in trou­ble and, of course, no­body needed to tell me that I messed up my part. All the other peo­ple who were around me had ran away I couldn’t see them at all. So I now had to go and face my fos­ter fa­ther. He just nod­ded his head and, of course, I knew what it meant; I had to get back to the house and wait for him. When he came he gave the ver­dict that I should be given six strokes of the cane. I got that and that ended that is­sue and since that time we never at­tempted to act the mass or priest or any­thing again. Those were the child­ish things that we did like any other young ones. Gen­er­ally that was what the ex­pe­ri­ences were. In the school we had quite some com­pe­ti­tion. It was dis­cov­ered ear­lier enough that my English was very good. But one of my other col­leagues was best in Arith­metic and we were of the same size, small­ish. We were com­pet­ing for first and sec­ond po­si­tions from Stan­dard One to Stan­dard Three that is how it was. But when we got to Stan­dard Three, about the mid­dle of the year, one other strange per­son came into our midst. He was now a slightly older per­son than us and more ex­pe­ri­enced be­cause he was in Idah. When his master was trans­ferred to Kaduna he had to be brought home and he got ad­mis­sion in the school there and we were in the same class. He was so bril­liant that we couldn’t cope, so we con­ceded the first po­si­tion to him. James and I were now vy­ing for the sec­ond po­si­tion in Stan­dard Three and Four. One thing hap­pened when we were in Stan­dard Three; we had a teacher who loved flog­ging chil­dren. He him­self was not a qual­i­fied teacher but he was teach­ing Stan­dard Three. One day he went and col­lected the en­trance ex­am­i­na­tion for Stan­dard Five and Six pupils who were seek­ing to go into St. John­bosco. He col­lected this in Arith­metic and got us three sums and we an­swered. I had one over three, my other col­league also had one over three and two oth­ers also had one over three. The only per­son who had two over three was An­drew, the guy who came from Idah. As if that wasn’t enough this man said for ev­ery one that we missed we would re­ceive three strokes of the cane. When he gave three strokes to An­drew we knew we were in for it. When it came to our turn it was six strokes each and for the oth­ers who had noth­ing it was nine strokes. He was never tired, he was just flog­ging and every­body was reel­ing in pains. As if that was not enough, it was now time for re­cess, for peo­ple to go on break and he said for all of us who had one over three, zero over three, we were not go­ing on break. The only per­son who was go­ing on break was the one who had two over three. I wouldn’t have both­ered about that but I was rich that day; I was given one penny by one of my fa­ther’s friends. Ev­ery break time we school chil­dren would be rush­ing around peo­ple who were able to buy moin-moin and one kobo moin-moin then was about a cup full so I was al­ways beg­ging be­cause I didn’t have money. But this time now that I had one penny, I was de­prived of go­ing to act as a king; that was what pained me. At least I would have been able to buy one penny moin­moin and let peo­ple be flock­ing around me and say­ing, ‘cut for me, cut for me’ but I was now told not to and I re­ally felt so bad. Within me I just called the mass servers who were with me in the Church sanc­tu­ary and said lets go and meet Fa­ther be­cause the rev­erend Fa­ther of the par­ish was also the man­ager of the school. So they fol­lowed me about five of them. We re­belled against stay­ing in the class­room. When we got out I saw one stick which had been used and I car­ried it along as we went to the rev­erend fa­ther. ‘Yes Thomas, what do you want? what are you do­ing?’ the rev­erend Fa­ther said. I said, ‘fa­ther our teacher brought us exam from Stan­dard Six in Arith­metic and most of us failed it; I had one over three and many of the oth­ers had zero. And for each of them that we missed out of three we had three strokes of the cane. Af­ter flog­ging us he told us not to go on break.’ Be­fore you know this white man’s hair was all up, his face was red. Then he looked for some­body and said go and call me the head­mas­ter. In­ci­den­tally, my fos­ter fa­ther was the head­mas­ter of the school so he went. This priest ranted and revved on him. I stayed un­der the bridge lead­ing to the school and was hear­ing his ex­pres­sion of anger. He said they should go and call teacher Peter who was still on break. They had to go and look for him. When he fi­nally went hell was let loose; this priest abused the hell out of him and rep­ri­manded him so badly. In fact he was so mad that he was ready to strike but for the fact that my fos­ter fa­ther was there and was plead­ing on his be­half. I heard my teacher say­ing ,‘I will not use the cane again, sir’. Mean­while, fa­ther had told me that I should go and tell the oth­ers to pro­ceed on break. So the teacher came into the class­room and he who was al­ways flog­ging any­body that even missed to an­swer ‘present, sir’, came and was just look­ing at me as if he had seen a crim­i­nal. At the end of the day, we were told to go out and sing and do some craft (hand­work). We were there and be­fore I knew what was go­ing on my fos­ter fa­ther, the head­mas­ter of the school, came with some very huge boys – four of them – with some canes in their hands and called me out. When I came out he said, ‘What hap­pened?’ Af­ter the first stroke I be­gan to call the oth­ers to come out and they were all deny­ing. Then I had to con­fess what hap­pened. He now asked teacher Peter to give me six strokes of the cane but Peter said, ‘no, sir!’ He was very strong about that and at the end of the day my fos­ter fa­ther had to ad­min­is­ter it. When he gave me two strokes of the cane, teacher Peter rushed and held him and said, ‘please, sir, that’s enough!’ Since that time in Au­gust of that year teacher Peter never held a stick again till the end of the year. So my class­mates were all very grate­ful to me for bail­ing them out of this teacher’s sadis­tic ac­tions. That was an­other episode but the good thing was that the rev­erend fa­ther him­self knew me very well. Some lit­tle chil­dren of the white teach­ers who some­times came over there on vis­its when­ever they were to go home he would send for me to come and take them home be­cause he knew I could com­mu­ni­cate with them. So I was a fa­mil­iar face in that area apart from serv­ing dur­ing masses. So the teacher never held a stick again until we fin­ished.

What was the out­come of your stud­ies at the sem­i­nary, one would have ex­pected you to be­come a priest?

I spent just two years. I in­tended to be a priest but I couldn’t con­tinue.

You spent most of your years in jour­nal­ism, was it by choice?

Yes, to some ex­tent, in the sense that my ini­tial in­ten­tion was go­ing into priest­hood. If I failed, I would go into the army and if I failed I would go into broad­cast­ing. I failed in the first two and the third opened it­self up to me very eas­ily. That is how I got into jour­nal­ism if you want to call it by chance, yes, but it was my choice, I loved it. Even at that I was equally ap­pre­hen­sive that I wouldn’t have a chance, es­pe­cially go­ing into broad­cast­ing in the sense that there were only two sta­tions – a ra­dio sta­tion and a tele­vi­sion sta­tion in Kaduna. And tele­vi­sion would not get to Okene be­cause it was so far away. The ra­dio had a short­wave so we were able to at least hear mainly Ra­dio Nige­ria in all parts of the North but tele­vi­sion def­i­nitely no. So as God would have it I got this schol­ar­ship to Ohio Univer­sity to read Mass Com­mu­ni­ca­tion. So I went into broad­cast­ing but not im­me­di­ately be­cause im­me­di­ately I got back I was ab­sorbed by my alma mater and was teach­ing English and Lit­er­a­ture, as well as man­ning the close cir­cuit ed­u­ca­tional tele­vi­sion in the school then.

I was ap­pointed with noth­ing to work with but I had to use quite a few fa­cil­i­ties avail­able to me, one be­ing the Univer­sity of Jos. I would run my cour­ses when­ever they were on hol­i­day and this helped greatly.

You were the pi­o­neer Prin­ci­pal of the NTA Tele­vi­sion Col­lage, Jos. What was it like head­ing such an in­sti­tu­tion?

Nat­u­rally, I was my driver as well as mes­sen­ger but with time, things evened up. It wasn’t easy but we thank God. I was ap­pointed with noth­ing to work with but I had to use quite a few fa­cil­i­ties avail­able to me, one be­ing the Univer­sity of Jos. I would run my cour­ses when­ever they were on hol­i­day and this helped greatly. I was cer­tainly un­der a lot of pres­sure – we are talk­ing of 1980. In 1979, when the Shehu Sha­gari won the elec­tion, many of the op­po­si­tion sta­tions took the case to court that it shouldn’t be NTA

alone or Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment body that should be given li­censes to run sta­tions and they won the case and be­cause of that sta­tions like LTV La­gos, CTV Kano and a num­ber of oth­ers had to set up set up and in so do­ing, of course, they needed staff, they had to now pil­fer from the ex­ist­ing staff com­ple­ment of NTA in or­der to get started. Of course, they had to ap­peal to sen­ti­ments; if he is ‘our son’ they en­tice him with bet­ter salary and be­cause he is ‘son of the soil’ he was bet­ter placed and so on and so forth. It paid off for them but un­for­tu­nately, it was a big blow on the NTA, as it had to make ar­range­ments as quickly as pos­si­ble to ensure that this gap that was cre­ated is filled. I want to be­lieve that was the rea­sons for the es­tab­lish­ment of TV Col­lege in 1980. To start with, there­fore, we were run­ning short-term cour­ses of two, three, longest four weeks there for en­gi­neer­ing, pro­duc­tion, pre­sen­ta­tion, di­rect­ing, news cast­ing, news edit­ing and so on. And, it helped greatly as peo­ple were able to brush up and make the sta­tions much bet­ter.

We will like you to share your ex­pe­ri­ence in Jos in those days com­pared with what is hap­pen­ing there now?

It can­not be com­pared at all in the sense that Jos was such a serene place, beau­ti­ful, cool weather and scenic beau­ties were in Jos. Is it the un­du­lat­ing moun­tains and the greens? Is it the food va­ri­eties that one had in that place and cheap too? Even the peo­ple them­selves? Is it the archival ma­te­ri­als that you found in the mu­se­ums? There were so many beau­ti­ful things. And the ar­chi­tec­tural de­sign also, it was all with stone and they were sim­ply beau­ti­ful. But to­day what do you have? They all plun­dered by war, rav­aged by war and peo­ple don’t even care about each other again. Well, when I was there, I didn’t want to leave the place. I had two of­fers and they were quiet ap­peal­ing but I had to turn them down.

In all your years in broad­cast­ing which pro­gramme will you say was most chal­leng­ing in terms of pro­duc­tion?

Gen­er­ally, it is drama pro­duc­tions. We had an in-house drama pro­duc­tion in Jos, the ‘Sonny Oti show’, and the amount of props that was needed, the light­ing and so forth. It was great. The nor­mal in­ter­view and other were not much of a prob­lem.

You also were the pi­o­neer Direc­tor-Gen­eral of the Na­tional Broad­cast­ing Com­mis­sion. What was the ex­pe­ri­ence like?

It was chal­leng­ing. Pi­o­neer­ing is not an easy thing. It wasn’t easy when I was pi­o­neer prin­ci­pal of TV Col­lege. This was a sit­u­a­tion where there was ab­so­lutely noth­ing to work with. I was given the ap­point­ment and there hadn’t been any prece­dent, there was noth­ing be­fore it to now say, ‘we fall back on this and take our cue from it.’ There was noth­ing. So, it was chal­leng­ing and by the grace of God, I be­lieved I was up to it and proved my met­tle. It wasn’t easy get­ting the per­son­nel, the equip­ment; it wasn’t easy even get­ting the ac­com­mo­da­tion but God pro­vided in one way or the other. Ac­com­mo­da­tion, for ex­am­ple, we had to li­aise with the Na­tional As­sem­bly in La­gos, which was the first one to be used in Nige­ria. It was no more in se­ri­ous use and we asked for a por­tion to be given to us and we got that. We had an of­fice and big one too. I as­sem­bled a num­ber of peo­ple to come and be the think­tank, in­clud­ing mar­ket women and men, lec­tur­ers in the univer­sity to now work out what we in­tended what the NBC should be and how we were to go about it and it paid off. When the minister came back from a two-week tour of the Far East, he was amazed by what he came to meet. We were ready with quite a num­ber of things and he said it was just beau­ti­ful and that we should go ahead. The great­est chal­lenge was how to go about pre­par­ing peo­ple for their li­censes. Peo­ple had al­ready ap­plied and we had to get the forms ready. We an­nounced for peo­ple who wanted ra­dio and tele­vi­sion li­censes and the re­sult was amaz­ing. Many thought it was a nov­elty and many with­drew but many dared it and for­tu­nately for me, I had good and com­pe­tent staff. I brought them from the NTA, again. I was lucky in the sense that many of them in the NTA were al­ready frus­trated; they had reached their bar and the pos­si­bil­ity of go­ing one step fur­ther was a bit dif­fi­cult be­cause the de­mand was so high. So, when this came, they felt that it was a great op­tion for them. Even though they were per­suaded to de­cline be­cause some in the NTA were say­ing that NBC would not last six months, but to God be the glory and praise, the NBC is over 25 years to­day.

Four of your chil­dren are also in broad­cast­ing. Was it as a re­sult of your in­flu­ence?

I don’t know if it was my in­flu­ence. But if it was my in­flu­ence, it was not by di­rectly sit­ting them down and tell them, no! How would I even tell them that when I knew very well that this job was not in any way lu­cra­tive? It is just that it is a bug when it bites you, you can’t get out of it. I love it. You know some­times, we would be han­dling a drama pro­duc­tion and no pro­ducer there would get it done on their own alone, but we would be like that till 12mid­night. And we came out with good re­sults, good pro­duc­tions. So, it was very task­ing and it was not a pay­ing job but what­ever we had was sat­is­fy­ing. The chil­dren saw it and they de­cided to go into it, not that any­body told them to do that. Even one of my daugh­ters, who read Ve­teri­nary Medicine, came out and af­ter about a year or two, switched over to broad­cast­ing. I think the one who is guilty of that, who in­doc­tri­nated them, is one of my sons, On­imisi. He went into ra­dio broad­cast­ing and peo­ple seemed to have been sat­is­fied with what he was do­ing. My daugh­ter, Inya Ode, now came in and she is with the Nige­ria Info ra­dio. She is a Ve­teri­nary Doctor. She got prizes when she was grad­u­at­ing. Now she is a broad­caster.

If given an­other op­por­tu­nity, what will you do dif­fer­ently that you have not done be­fore?

I have to change for the sake of chang­ing be­cause it is nec­es­sary for me to change but I will re­main a broad­caster. It is not lu­cra­tive but I am okay with it.

If given the chance to go back to NBC, what changes will you ef­fect?

The sys­tem it­self is chang­ing with the dig­i­ti­za­tion. There are so many things chang­ing, so for you to bring in your own change you will be set­ting in con­fu­sion. I can’t cer­tainly think of one now be­cause ev­ery at­ten­tion is on dig­i­ti­za­tion and as far as I am con­cerned, they are not do­ing badly.

At 77 years, you still look strong and healthy, is there any se­cret be­hind it?

It is God, God.

How did you meet your wife?

It was in Okene. She was in school, I was a teacher and we got to meet. We were both Catholics from Catholic fam­i­lies and the two fam­i­lies were very close. So, she was more of daugh­ter of the house, as I am son of their house and I didn’t make the choice my­self it was my mother that did as she knew her back­ground and that is the right thing to be done. You don’t just pick a woman and think that that would work out for you. You have to make sure that you get a woman of re­pute, based on her char­ac­ter. So my mother did that and I had no choice be­cause I saw too that she had the char­ac­ter, she had a good dis­po­si­tion and be­hav­ior. She had all it takes.

You don’t just pick a woman and think that that would work out for you. You have to make sure that you get a woman of re­pute based on her char­ac­ter. So my mother did that and I had no choice be­cause I saw too that she had the char­ac­ter

What food do you enjoy most?

Pounded yam, good Ilorin amala, this is for sure with ei­ther egusi or draw soup.


Dr. Tom Ad­aba Ab­dul Musa

“Broad­cast­ing is a bug, when it bites you, you can’t get out of it”

“I wanted to be a Priest”

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