Ibiba Don Pedro
Award-winning journalist, Ibiba Don Pedro, is the publisher of Rivers based The National Point Weekly. In this chat with The Guardian, she explained how she branched into publishing to continue her love for journalism.
What was the vision that moved you the way of publishing?
In a sense, my getting involved with setting up, managing National Point weekly in partnership with other public interest journalists and activists including originally, late Oronto Douglas was inevitable. I have always been a crusader for the development of the Niger Delta from the day in June 1994 on my very first reportorial assignment in the Niger Delta. I was sent to cover the Ogoni crisis by The African Guardian magazine, along with my colleagues Gbemiga Ogunleye and Andrew Okungbowa following the killing of the 4 Ogoni chiefs.
We stepped into Ogoni and got to communities where in broad daylight, I saw neither humans nor animals. It was horrifying. It was like stepping into a ghost town. I became hooked to the Niger Delta and its issues. I always say, I would rather be part of the resolution of the crisis there, than profit from it. The sort of crusading journalism that I practice with my passions, can only find full expression when I command my space where my advocacy wouldn’t clash with any media manager’s pecuniary considerations.
Also, the ultimate dream of every journalist with entrepreneurial spirit is to run their own show I suppose. Moreover, being the sort of very independent minded person that I am, I needed the freedom and control to publish and be damned if need be. I always like to push myself to the edge, in order to achieve results. I always felt the bigger media houses, the national media, spread thin as they are, have not really done justice to the Niger Delta issue. There’s a sense in which even with the best of intentions, no media outlet has covered the Niger Delta, its people and issues, with the depth and consistency I would like to see. The Guardian newspaper coverage and pioneering effort in the area is still unmatched.
Then, till this day I feel hurt that one of my very first investigative reports on the violent crisis in Nembe-Ogbolomabiri/ Bassambiri in Bayelsa state in late 1997 following the siting, then relocation of a local Government headquarters that tore the Nembe people apart, was not published when I returned to the newsroom. This was after a challenging reportorial trip where I almost lost my life, made me resolve to run my own newspaper, free from unnecessary censorship and damn the consequences. I remember asking Mr. Femi Kusa why and he did his best to explain to me that the government of Abacha wanted to keep a lid on reports of conflict in the Niger Delta.
What are some of the challenges you encounter as you publish, and how do you get over them?
When you love what you do, the rest is easy. Truth be told, we were naïve and thought we could get the business financially stable in a few years, starting small and running on our passion. But reality soon hit. We do different businesses to keep going. In an economy that is not based on manufacturing, its tough going for anyone who seeks to publish in this country, holding on to what’s left of your ideals. We learn every day and have had our fingers burnt trying things to keep afloat. But, absolutely no regrets deciding to do a regional newspaper focused on the Niger Delta. We’re more online now and the load is a little easier. We have managed to keep the business going without getting lost in the pocket folds of some politicians unlike the operators of many newspapers.
In 10 years, how has it been, in terms of the experience?
Its been supremely challenging. Also, often exhilarating like the times working with the Civil Liberties Organisation, CLO Port Harcourt, we got policemen to return monies they collected from hapless traders in Diobu. Our strong points lie in our political reporting, environmental reporting, gender and the militancy. We usually carry the reports most of the other newspapers dare not. And that’s thrilling and in keeping with our mission of providing unparalleled coverage of the region, being able to do reports that many of the national newspapers cannot do or their staff have not been supported to do. But, it is a privilege to do the work we do. There have been huge challenges in terms of animosity by the politicians. Also safety issues including the attack on our office by an armed gang on motorcycles, three months after we began operations in July 2007 during which a British/ American academic friend of ours from UCLA Berkeley US, Professor Michael Watts was shot as well as our security staff, Richard. Another invasion of our office and attack on our staff, in 2015 by a relative of one of the contenders for the position of Chief Judge of Rivers State following a report we published.
We are part of a group of environmental activists and journalists who popularised the term ‘Niger Delta’ in properly describing this beautiful immensely endowed geographical space. We have kept the issues of the region that bears the burden of Nigeria alive and pulsating. We have kept faith with the people of the Niger Delta and their issues. In this, I’m reminded always of the remarks of a young, female African American journalism student at UCLA, Berkeley who I met in 2001, when I gave a talk to her class, on my work in the Niger Delta and she told me how privileged she felt I was to be able to do this noble job. That in her country if you needed anything done, pursue any matter you got a lawyer, not a journalist. That for you to do soul lifting work as an American journalist, you have to go abroad, I guess, to dark places like the Niger Delta or Syria.
Going forward, what are your plans?
We are going to employ the use of social media even more, get more people reading us, and more youth. We are exploring more ways to access the resources to grow the business. We are going to deepen our work on the Niger Delta environment and clean up, beginning with Ogoni, then the rest of the Niger Delta. The Niger Delta requires billions of dollars to get it cleaned up, fairly habitable and productive. The damage to the Niger Delta environment including its fresh water sources is unacceptable.
The Niger Delta reality of pollution and violence by the oil companies, government, kpofire artisans and armed gangs is worse than the North East situation. It is unacceptable that the oil companies are being compelled to cough up billions for the rehabilitation of the North East, by the Buhari government. These monies will be stolen as usual by the politicians and elites of the North. The narrative of us as those who gave 5% votes must be challenged and demolished. In a democracy, we have a right to vote as we please. We must have a say in how resources of the region are distributed. As you can imagine, we are very much apostles of the imperative to restructure Nigeria