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You Report Oil Spillage on Nigerian TV, You Go to Jail

By Vincent Maduka

Within three months of my director-generalship, I had come face-to-face with an arm of the Federal Military Government, the state security apparatus, in an experience which, as turned out, I was totally incompetent to manage.

I had received a radio-telephone message from the General Manager of NTV, Port Harcourt, that a news crew from that station had been arrested by security forces and detained at the Alagbon Close- a place reputed for its legends of uncompromising officers and dungeon cells. I had spent my entire childhood and adolescent life in Lagos; nevertheless, I required considerable help to find the infamous Alagbon Close in Ikoyi.

I was a senior official of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, after all, on an official business, and I should have no problem getting the crew back to Port Harcourt, and in no time.

I explained to the security officers at the front desk (“counter”) that I was Director-General (and they did not appear to be impressed), and what my mission was. After they interrogated me for some time, they produced Mr. Ida Wilcox from somewhere. He was looking very miserable, stripped to only his underpants, and I could not but express shock at the sight.

As Wilcox explained to me there, the NTA Port Harcourt news crew had filmed and broadcasted, in the news, a story of an oil spillage that occurred in the creeks somewhere in Rivers State.

The security personnel considered the news story to have State implications, so, they came to the station in Port Harcourt and arrested the reporter and the cameraman who did the filming. When they asked the cameraman who his boss was, and he pointed out Wilcox, Wilcox was also arrested. Now, Wilcox was not a news personnel, not a journalist, but all cameramen and camera operations were assioned by him as Head of Programmes (but not News). I remonstrated with the security operatives; first, for stripping the gentleman as if he was some dangerous criminal, then secondly, as I pointed out, his was a clear case of mistaken identity.

He had little or nothing to do with the story, beyond handing out the cameras and the camera operators to the reporter.

I had noticed some anger, arrogance, and indignation in the officers, all along, but after I protested what I considered unnecessarv humiliation of a senior professional at NTA, the officers warned that they would detain me and strip me too, of my clothes in the same way for daring to interfere in their work. They ordered that I leave immediately. Then a senior officer appeared and I was rather pleased over his propitious entry, as I hoped to make more sense with him. But he only surprised me further with his fiercer threats. So, I left Alagbon Close and made for the Office of the Secretary to the Federal Military Government, SFMG.

Mallam Liman Ciroma was a very decent, soft-spoken, seasoned bureaucrat, but I did not receive an automatic sympathy there, either.

Rather, he admonished me to keep well out of the way from security matters and operatives, as the people there treated no one with respect, as I had iust found out. I was to report such cases to his office in future and never attempt to deal with these people by myself. Oil spillage had international dimensions and NTA was to take great care in reporting it (if, at all, we must). Oil spillage only brought Nigeria a bad name and so on, and so on! Well, it certainly brought NTA and NIV Port Harcourt bad luck this time. He asked me to leave the matter with him and, indeed, Wilcox and his team were released that dav. I do not recall if we ever reported another case of oil spillage during my tenure: I had asked that I be informed before any such broadcasts were made in the future.

Excerpted from REEL LIFE: My Years Managing Public Service Television, by Vincent Maduka, First Director-General, Nigerian Television Authority NTA (1977-1983, 1984-1986). Published in 2022 by SSQ Publishing.

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