By MIKE AWOYINFA
TODAY, let’s remember all those heroes persecuted, martyred, lampooned, criticized, chastised for predicting doom, for challenging orthodox thinking, for saying truth that sounded like falsehood, for shifting the paradigm. They include prophets, preachers, philosophers, astronomers, sailors, scientists, social scientists, geographers, mathematicians, writers, thinkers and journalists.
Let’s start with Columbus, the explorer who sailed round the world to prove that the world indeed is spherical. Before Columbus, Pythagoras had reasoned that the earth couldn’t be flat when the sun, the moon and other heavenly bodies were spherical. One reasoning proving the earth’s roundness is that if a ship is on the horizon, you cannot see its lower side because of earth’s curvature.
For saying the truth and challenging orthodoxy, Socrates, the wise man who paradoxically claimed “I know that I know nothing” was made to face trial and drink hemlock.
One of the things many still revere in Chief Awolowo is his sagacity and clairvoyance. As a young reporter in the early ‘80s, I can still remember Awo’s warning about the economic doom ahead, the iceberg threatening to hit and destroy the Nigerian economy, unless we diversify, unless we cut down on our profligacy. Today, his ardent followers will tell you that like Nostradamus, Awo even foresaw and predicted the emergence of APC, through an accord of progressives from the North and the West.
So, what has all this got to do with Governor Shettima of Bornu State and the Financial Times girl? I was reading my friend the columnist Mohammed Haruna the other day writing about February 17 last year being “one of the most unforgettable days” in the life of Shettima, the embattled governor directly in the eye of the Boko Haram storm. The man who should be a good case study on leadership in the time of war. Haruna alluded to Shettima’s visit to Aso Villa to brief the former leadership on the Boko Haram siege and to complain that though the armed forces “are doing their best, given the circumstances they have found themselves. But Boko Haram are better armed and better motivated than our troops.”
For reporting the bitter truth, Mohammed Haruna writes, Shettima “suffered excoriation not only from the president himself, but also from some of the president’s men, who tried to sound angrier than their principal. Shettima’s offence was to have spoken truth to power.”
The governor was even lampooned as an “illiterate” who did not understand the mysteries and intricacies of how soldiers fight and win wars. But in the end, Shettima was vindicated as one military boss after the other at their pullout ceremonies delivered devastative attacks on their corruption-infested institution where money meant for buying ammunition to fight the war were diverted, leading to poor morale and near mutiny by demoralized soldiers. Like Usain Bolt, truth is constant, truth always wins the race, no matter the odds. You saw it on Monday at the IAAF athletics championship in Beijing.
Shettima is on the same vindication plane with a journalist from the Financial Times by name Gillian Tett—the girl who first predicted in 2006 that the world was going to suffer a global financial crisis but the experts lambasted her for being a doomsday prophetess and a naysayer. In one of our travels, my late friend Dimgba Igwe and I met and interviewed Gillian, the financial journalism guru. She is featured in Chapter 34 of our new book, ‘50 WORLD EDITORS: Conversations with Journalism Masters…’
She looks smallish, but beneath her pretty girlish looks Gillian Tett, a mother of two, is a powerhouse of business and financial journalism. So powerful that the online newspaper, The Daily Beast, in 2010 asked: “Is Gillian Tett The Most Powerful Woman in Newspapers?”
Her strings of awards are intimidating: Wincott Prize For Financial Journalism (2007), Business Journalist of the Year (2008), Journalist of the Year (British Press Awards 2009), Financial Book of the Year (for her book, Fool’s Gold), British Academy President’s Medal.
At the Financial Times where she is a fast-rising star, she combines two top posts as Assistant Editor and as US Managing Editor. From her busy schedule, she has written two acclaimed books on the world’s financial system. The books are: Saving The Sun—How Wall Street mavericks shook up Japan’s financial system and made billions and Fool’s Gold—How Unrestrained Greed Corrupted a Dream, Shattered Global Markets and Unleashed a Catastrophe.
But what stands her out, as I mentioned, is that she was the journalist who in 2006 predicted the global financial crisis, even though she was lampooned as a scaremonger and prophetess of doom. She did have the last laugh though when the world was gripped in financial turmoil. In Davos while covering the World Economic Forum in 2007, she recalls an unforgettable moment when “one of the most powerful people in the US government at the time stood up on the podium and waved my article, the article that predicted the problems at Northern Rock, as an example of scaremongering.”
A PhD holder in social anthropology from Cambridge, Tett came into journalism as a platform to write about human right abuses which she saw in Tajikistan in the Soviet Union while researching for her thesis. She joined Financial Times in 1993 and was converted from political journalism to financial journalism. In 1997, she was posted to Japan as a bureau chief from where she wrote Saving the Sun.
In 2003, she returned from Japan to write the highly influential Lex Column of the Financial Times. A polyglot, she speaks French, Russian, some Japanese and Persian. Every journalist and every lover of journalism must read her interview.
*50 WORLD EDITORS will be launched on Tuesday, September 15, 10a.m., at the Institute International Affairs, Lagos to mark the anniversary of the death of the co-author Dimgba Igwe killed last year on September 6 while jogging to keep fit on a Saturday morning in his Lagos neighbourhood.
By MIKE AWOYINFA