Remembering The “Profeseers” Of UNILAG By Joke Omotunde

Forty years ago, a brand new set of undergraduate students graduated from the Mass Communication Department of the University of Lagos. I was fortunate to be one of them. I remember very well the enthusiasm of fellow graduating students, the hopes and aspirations of a greater and brighter future ahead in uncharted territories. If not, how could I have survived my initial encounter with what I thought was the ‘magic door’ years later while on a training program in the United States?  Here was I face-to-face with doors that would on their own open for me any time without prompting or having to use a key to unlock them.  Every day, every time, anywhere such doors open for me to enter or exit a building, my mind goes back to two of my lecturers at the Mass Communication Department, University of Lagos, Professors Alfred Opubor and Onuora Nwuneli. Both were American trained professors of Mass Communication.

Professor Opubor of blessed memory was the first Nigerian to bag a Ph.D. in Media and Communication in Africa while Professor Nwuneli, is an erudite Professor of Mass Communication and one of the brightest minds the department of Mass Communication the University of Lagos ever produced.  They both taught my set, (1977/1980) Communication Arts, or was it “The Arts of Communication and Communication Theories?”.  In their attempts to explain that in communication arts, students study the art of human communication in an ever-changing world of technology, they would give examples of the advancement of technology in developed countries especially America where they both studied and how such advancement would eventually affect our jobs as mass communicators.  With their little bit of American accent mixed with their Nigerian diction, both would dish out examples of the latest technology in every aspect of American life.  It was on one of those occasions that Professor Nwuneli talked about the automatic doors.  I remember my friends and classmates who usually sat at the front row of the class, Mope Ajayi (Nee Sogbetun), Simisola Ogunkoya (Nee Thomas), Ayinke Sanni (Nee DoRegos, Tayo Ekundayo, Tunde Falasinu, Femi Ogundare) and I would giggle “hmmm Fabu! (fabrication) believing Professor Nwuneli was fond of exaggerations. But little did we know that we needed to pay more attention. 

Professor Nwuneli would talk about the emerging communication technologies that would reduce the world to a “Global Village” (yes I heard that phrase for the first time from Nwuneli’s lecture); one that would enable you see live pictures of breaking news event from different parts of the world from the comfort of your living room. Wow!  With hindsight, I later realized the professors didn’t even tell us the full scale of the impact communication technology would have on us 40 years after our graduation from the Department.

By the way, the Department of Mass Communication, University of Lagos was established in 1966 following a bilateral agreement between the Federal Government of Nigeria, the United Nations Development Program, UNDP and the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). As such it was the best Department with modern facilities for studying in our own years.  We had the best of everything needed to excel in our studies.  We, students of Mass Communication, were the crème de la crème of the University’s society. With fully airconditioned classrooms, appropriate study seats, electronic typewriters, ever clean rest rooms, shining floors etc., we were all proud to be in the Department.

However, our professors probably didn’t know that 40 years after our graduation, the state-of-the-art learning facilities would become obsolete in no time. The professors did not tell us that the Department’s Secretary, Mrs. Olayinka Dada’s electronic typewriters that we used instead of the manual ones would one day disappear and be replaced with gadgets as small as our palms. They did not tell us that Professor Ralph Akinfeleye’s Dark Room for Photojournalism would be useless for today’s production or printing of pictures. That Professor Olatunji Dare’s Grammar for Journalists would no longer give students headaches because today, there are applications that correct spelling and grammatical errors.  Moreover, the small keyboards on mobile phones and other hand-held devices that make typing difficult have resulted in a radical shortening of words and increasing use of symbols and shorthand with little or no adherence to traditional grammatical rules Professor Dare emphasized 40 years back!  Professor Idowu Sobowale’s Ethics of Journalism have been thrown to the winds because of the emergence of the various social media platforms and online reports which thrive in publishing rumors, half-truths, “alternative facts” instead of verifiable facts.  Professor Olu Fadeyibi’s Broadcast Class and studios now have speakers that are as small as match boxes and yet more powerful than the huge ones that occupied half of the broadcast studios 40 years ago.  I pity Professor Fadeyibi the most, broadcast owners now hire broadcasters whose only qualification for the job seems to be the ability to speak in a foreign accent. This is total contrast to the traditional broadcasters we modelled in Professor Fadeyibi’s class then. Professor Frank Ugboajah’s Class for Public Relations and Advertising have been taken over by social media marketing, display marketing, YouTube adverts, and website designs.  We did not know about all these technical terms 40 years ago!

My first realization of the seeming realities of the professors’ “fabrications” (as we thought) of those years of study of Mass Communication came about in the very year of our graduation from the Department in 1980. That year, the Cable News Network, CNN, an American news-based pay television channel commenced transmission. It was the first television channel to provide 24-hour news coverage and was the first all-news television channel in the United States.  Then came the early 90s with the 24-hour coverage by CNN of the Persian Gulf War, also called Gulf War, (1990–91), an international conflict that was triggered by Iraq ’s invasion of Kuwait on August 2, 1990.  It was amazing! Journalists watched live from the corners of their sitting rooms and offices the devastating Gulf War through the technological innovation of a satellite/cable TV American wonder, called CNN. It dawned on me, yes indeed, Professor Nwuneli’s predictions of the world becoming a “Global Village” has been realized. 

Then came the invention of new gadgets such as mobile phones which made communication easier by allowing people to communicate from anywhere. And then it was Nigeria’s turn to be part of the Global Village with the introduction of the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) in 2001. And today, just as the professors predicted, journalists can complete the production of their newspapers, magazines and journals on their hand-held devises. 

True to their predictions, many journalists, mass communicators, graphic and visual designers, photographers, film and television producers who are not able to catch up with the digital/technological trend have either been thrown out of jobs or have found other less technologically challenging careers. And today, out of Sixty-Six of us that graduated in the Year 1980, only a few of us (about five or six) retired as practicing journalists, broadcasters or public affairs specialists. Most of us took up roles in banking, hospital administration, business, law, printing and farming.

The most accurate period for Professors Nwuneli and Opubor to justify their 40-year-old predictions came about this year.  In spite of the COVID-19 lockdown which brough human activities to a near complete and utter standstill, the media, aided by tech tools, was able to function and perform its key role of informing the citizenry of the guidelines to stay safe during the Pandemic.  Today, the proliferation of various online communication channels and deepening internet penetration have led to a decline in face-to-face communications. Citizen journalism and social media have thrown many journalists out of jobs as our professors once predicted.

Over the years, the Department of Mass Communication itself has re-defined and reviewed its curricula.  Courses offered now often look at ownership of media channels and the effects of digital technology on the media with modules on smartphone culture, social media and online advertising. The media is in a constant state of upheaval with legacy media operations shrinking their operations and, in some cases, closing completely as professors Nwunneli and Opubor predicted 40 years back.

However, despite these technological developments and the challenges they posed to communications professionals trained in the late 70s and early 80s, we are very proud of our Department and our aforementioned lecturers who taught us the rudiments of the profession and prepared us for today’s challenges. They are not to be blamed for our inability to keep up with today’s technological advancements. The journalists in CNN are also not necessarily better than the ones in Channels TV, AIT, TVC of Nigeria. However, 40 years ago while Mope, Simi, Marie Terese, Tayo, Tunde, Femi and I thought what Professor Nwuneli was saying was Fabu (fabrication), the CNN journalists were working with modern gadgets of that age and preparing for the future of more modern technology, we in this part of the world were still thinking automatic doors were impossible!  

What else can we say about these lecturers who predicted the future of our profession and warned us in advance that the changes that would affect it would throw us out of job if we failed to move ahead of the curve.

Thankfully, we Mass Communication students had an added advantage over other students then. We went through different faculties to be well grounded in our major discipline. And that is why today, those who have sought careers in other fields entirely have over the years proved their mettle.

Imagine us passing through over twenty professors of Law, Science, Social Sciences, Languages, Arts etc.  including Jadesola Akande of Law, Father Joseph Schyuler, Social Relations, Adeboye Babalola, Language Arts, Femi Ekundayo, Languages, aside from our own professors Frank Ugboaja, Sam Otitigbe, Femi Sonaike, Delu Ogunade and the aforementioned – all experts in their respective fields.

Now that we have seen and passed through the automatic (magic?) doors of life and realized the world indeed is a global village, we shall forever remain grateful to our professors who saw tomorrow, as it were, and prepared us for the challenges ahead.  It is time to say “thank you” a thousand and one times again to them, the Department and, of course, the entire University.

And lest I forget (I dare not!) I doff my heart to all the members of the 1980 graduating set for being Great Akokites and more importantly for being great ambassadors of the Department over the years.

Joke Omotunde (Nee Hassan) is a former Information Specialist at the U.S. Embassy, Nigeria. She can be reached at [email protected]

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