In the universe of an ambitious journalist, getting to the peak of a mountain or the labyrinth of a cave is something done for a dare.
Hunting for news isn’t a job for the fainthearted. It doesn’t matter what it takes; what matters is unfurling the unknown or the vague to beat the deadline and make the headline.
Anietie Usen comes across as an audacious journalist –that news hunter who never dreads to dare, be it wangling a chat on a scary, desolate mountaintop or braving the flapping wings of blind bats in a dark, fusty cave just to find the missing link.
The evidence abounds in his 706-page whooper, Audacious Journalism: The Art, Style & Depth, a collection of feature stories, columns and interviews written by him during his active years in journalism, spanning over two decades.
He has seen it all –from a rookie reporter learning the ropes to a war correspondent touring hot zones from Liberia to Afghanistan.
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His shelf, brimming with awards, is a testament as a master of news hunting.
This book takes us back in time to the 1980s where he set out as a journalist, impressing at The Punch newspaper, which quickly wormed him into the heart of Newswatch magazine as a pioneer staff, edited by the legendary Dele Giwa, where his chronicles blossomed.
The stories in this book pay witness to a journalist with an eye for news, a passion for the job and a mastery of language. Like a scavenger, he dissects hidden information, crafting story after story with aplomb. Perhaps it took Dele Giwa tearing his first script he wrote at Newswatch magazine for his pen to reach the stars.
The 94 stories in this book run in seven parts: Nigeria, Columns, Africa, America, World, Interviews, and Sports.
From the stories published here, the reader, researcher or historian can easily follow the trajectory of Nigerian social-political dynamics in the last three decades. The teething problems of the Babangida Transition to Civil Rule programme are recorded for posterity. Party conventions, the sack of NEC Chairman, Professor Eme Awa, etcetera, come under his scrutiny in the first chapters.
The author also captures the dark epoch in Nigeria’s aviation sector when air crashes and mismanagement became a byword. For instance, in the story, “The Crash of Flight 086”, the ill-fated ADC flight from Port Harcourt to Lagos, suddenly disappeared from the radar while descending to the Lagos airport on November 7, 1996.
His investigations reveal that it was caused by a traffic controller who didn’t know his onions.
From the death of Musa Yar’Adua to Abacha’s last days, the author recollects high level intrigues that played out in the corridors of power. The poor conditions of Nigerian prisons are x-rayed, compared to Her Majesty’s Prison in Cardiff. Natural disasters, including flooding in different parts of the country, are diligently investigated.
Perhaps “Tragedy in the Creek”, in which two wooden engine boats ran into each other, makes the tears linger as you read on.
Significantly, the author tantalises the reader with deft captions. Before flipping the pages of stories like “Showers of Sorrows”, “Showdown in Ivory Tower”, “Bad Day for Bad Boys”, “Top Cops at War”, “The Real McCoy in the Saddle” or Days of Long Knives”, you have already gotten a whiff of the juicy contents.
The international stories are by no means less fascinating. The ability to delve into strange lands and come out with titillating stories is no dog’s breakfast. But Usen does it with ease more often than not.
From pages 459 to 536, he shows a master class in covering war zones and troubled spots in Africa, holding your breath as he threads across lion’s dens.
In Sierra Leone, he wangles a chat with President Momoh, and was caught up in a maze of intrigues as war rages on. In Liberia, he records the last days of Samuel Doe and a rain of bullets on the port.
From the travails of Ronald Reagan to the rise and fall of Gorbachev, we have the diary of a journalist on top of his game wherever the field is located. Some of the big interviews featured in the book include those with late Biafran leader, Emeka Ojukwu and Alex Ekwueme, each a revelatory give-and-take.
However, a major flaw in the book is the inability of the author to append dates of publication on each story and the platform first published. These are vital in an offering like this. But that doesn’t begrudge the fact that Usen’s Audacious Journalism is everybody’s takeaway. Take it now!