UNN Jacksonites protect legacy at Africa’s premier journalism school

Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media, Mallam Garba Shehu (left); and Prof. Nnanyelugo Okoro marching to the Vice Chancellors office to ask for a piece of land for the Jacksonites’ project in UNN

• Technology biggest threat to traditional media, says Shehu Garba
• Jackson Annual Lecture seeks solutions to profitability challenges

In global ranking of universities, a major benchmark for excellence is the spread and reach of the schools’ alumni network. It is a yardstick for measuring how well university talents transit to workplace — the ease with which the expounded theories relate to present-day work expectations.

This, often, is an indication of thoroughness of pedagogue and, sometimes, the weight the gown tends to have in town when it comes to influencing decisions and commandeering industry.

If such a ranking were to be done in Nigeria, and the searchlight narrowed to evaluating Departments of Mass Communication, to ascertain the spread and network of its alumni in the work place, not many universities would stand close to the ‘Jackson School’ of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN).

But even with its bragging rights as foremost department of Mass Communication in sub-Sahara Africa, The Jackson Building doesn’t have a physical structure befitting of its status. To attempt a comparison, the Biodun Shobanjo Multimedia Center of Excellence, at the University of Lagos — a donation to the school by the marketing communications mogul, Biodun Shobanjo — mirrors what an acceptable departmental building ought to look like.

So, it was a matter of challenge when the department’s alumni under the aegis of Jackson College Alumni Association at the recent Jackson Annual Lecture Series held on June 30 requested a piece of land in the university to erect a befitting structure. The import of this is not lost on the university community, especially with the ongoing strike action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). Ideally, one of the sources of funds or infrastructure at universities is the alumni body. If effectively engaged, a university’s alumni can be a pool from which some pressing needs of the university system are met.

A group of Jacksonites, represented by Benin-City-based public affairs analyst, Rod Simeon, attended the Jackson Annual Lecture in line with ongoing plan to build a befitting faculty building. On behalf of the alumni, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Shehu Garba, who was a guest lecturer at the Jackson Annual Lecture in UNN, made a request on the Vice Chancellor, Professor Benjamin Ozumba, for a piece of land. He was accompanied by Professor Nnanyelugo Okoro of the Department of Mass Communication and Head of Department, Dr Luke Anorue.

The plan is to mobilise corporates to erect the structure and Prof. Pat Utomi is taking the lead, just as Public Relations expert, Chido Nwakanma continues to harmonise the process. Private Television station, Channels TV’s John Momoh is also an alumnus, ditto The Guardian’s former managers Femi Kusa and Kingsley Osadolor and Kunle Sanyaolu.
Mallam Garba underscored his address with a passionate plea when he said: “Mr. Vice- Chancellor, Sir, l want to request on behalf of the Jackson Alumni Association for a land space for the building of a modern Jackson Building.” In his vote of thanks, Prof. Okoro informed the VC that a request for land space had already been written to him.

Prof. Ozumba was said to have promised to do so following which he held another meeting with Shehu.

But much as the conversation was about erecting a befitting structure for the department, the department also did not lose its touch in stimulating discourse on pressing public issues, as envisioned in the Jackson Annual Lecture Series.
Mallam Garba, in his lecture for the 10th edition of the Jackson Annual Lecture entitled, ‘The New Media: A Threat or Complement to Traditional Media?’ made a case for self-regulation by new media practitioners and at the same time urged vanguards of traditional media to be open to the changes in the media landscape. This is not only to tap from the increased opportunities to engage with the audience where they have now migrated to, but also assure some measure of professionalism that the newcomers should aim for.

According to him, “Itself a product of technological innovation with the invention of the typesetting machine in the 17th Century, it seems nothing else threatens the very existence of the newspaper as does technology. And in ensuring that they remain in business, newspaper editors and the broadcast media respectively have time and again embraced transition – from print to online, and most recently from broadcast to broadband.”

He said that advancements in information technology give birth to a rising number of channels of mass communication (putting power in the hands of consumers of media content), and that the contest for relevance and revenue for traditional media professionals has never been fiercer than it is now, recalling the Mel Kermazin vs Google’s story.

“With Facebook’s Live Video offering, WhatsApp’s ‘broadcast’ option, Snapchat’s content animation possibilities, and Twitter’s Trending Topics, media professionals now face unprecedented competition, from a new and increasingly difficult-to-predict crop of players,” he added.

Shehu traced the evolution of the mass media to humanity itself and appraised that self-regulation is the only way out of what he called ‘irresponsible’ conducts in the realms of the new media.

He explained, “They have to quickly desist from all acts that could injure other persons or what can harm the sensibilities of other people. All these have to be done because if things get out of hand, injured parties could resort to self-help or the authorities resort to applying the law.”
The place of the new media in contemporary world is assured, however, as have been observed since the emergence of competing media technologies over time, newspapers and television would have to keep up with the speed of the changes. Not only is this the only way to remain relevant in the scheme of things, Shehu argued that it was an imperative that should help put the excesses of the new media in check.

“And if there’s an unerring principle in the evolution of the mass media enterprise, it is that for the media space – free-wheeling on populism as it is – to survive, traditional media must constantly learn to thrive on the same set of wheels as its newer incarnates. For their best continued relevance and sustainability, the New Media must begin to make adjustments and adopt reforms that cut growing excesses.”

Unknown to many, Jackson Annual Lecture series has been holding every year for the past nine years unreported. Prince Tony Momoh, former Minister of Information, was the first Guest Lecturer.

Taken together, the quest for a befitting structure and the agitation for self-regulation of the new media, have at their very core the one thing that Nigeria has been struggling to get a good grasp of: Change.

Underscoring this, a public affairs analyst in Benin City, Edo State, and an alumnus of the department, who was present at the lecture, Rod Simeon, noted: “The bottomline is that the department is facing acute accommodation challenges for students, lecturers and staff offices. It is unbelievable that a classroom for a maximum of 50 students is now crowded with up to 200 students! A scenario where six lecturers are cramped into a tight space with just tables and chairs is antithetical to the status of UNN’s Mass Communication Department which commenced in 1961 as the Department of Journalism and is the first full university department for the study of journalism and mass communication in Sub-Sahara Africa.”

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