Reminiscences with Tom Adaba
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”