Dr (Alhaji) Magaji Dambatta, CON, D.Litt, FNGE.
Northern Nigeria’s most decorated, most celebrated and most honoured veteran journalist
Magaji Dambatta, the iconic journalist who brought such honour to the profession, with the conferment of the national honour of the order of the Federal Republic (OFR) in 1982 and Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON) in 2011, was born in 1931 in Dambatta town, Kano State.
He started his journalism career as a reporter with the Kano-based Daily Comet newspaper in the dawn of the 1950s. The Daily Comet was a publication from the stable of newspapers established by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. After serving as a reporter, he became the Editor of its Hausa section from 1950-1953. The Hausa section of the paper proved to be a thorn in the flesh of corrupt Native Authority officials and high-handed colonial administrators.
He suffered harassment and intimidation due to his courageous stand in exposing official misdeeds. He eventually joined the political fray. He was among the eight young men who founded the radical Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) on August 8, 1950 in Kano at the age of 19. The founding of NEPU was described in these words by a writer: “NEPU’s formation turned out to be one of the most crucial events that happened in Kano which in no time reverberated throughout Northern Nigeria”.
With the take-off and entrenchment of NEPU, Malam Magaji devoted more of his time to journalism as a tool for agitation against injustice in favour of the common men “the talakawa”. He joined the Nigerian Citizen, a bi-weekly newspaper based in Zaria where he continued with his crusade. As part of the recognition of his worth, his paper assigned him at such a young age to cover the visit of Queen Elizabeth II of England to Nigeria in 1956. During the 14 day visit which saw the Queen visiting eight (8) Nigerian cities from North to South, Malam Magaji was among the team of journalists who covered the trips rubbing shoulders with senior Nigerian newspaper editors and International correspondents.
Later, he moved from the print media to the electronic, by joining the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) as a Senior Reporter, and subsequently, Northern Regional Editor. While serving with the NBC, he was awarded a scholarship to study journalism in the United Kingdom for two years where he further honed his skills as a news writer and broadcaster at a provincial newspaper house and a major British daily newspaper on Fleet Street as well as the BBC Overseas Service.
On return to Nigeria, he was appointed Senior Information Officer by the Government of Northern Nigeria and deployed to the Region’s Agent General’s Office in London in 1961 as Information and Public Relations Officer.
In 1964 Malam Magaji was recalled home and promoted to the post of Chief Information Officer for Northern Region. From there he became a Federal Information Attaché in Nigeria’s High Commission in London.
As his duty tour to the United Kingdom ended in 1973, he was upgraded to the rank of Minister and transferred to the Nigerian Embassy in Washington, DC, United States. After a stint there he voluntarily retired from the civil service in 1978.
Magaji was described as “a God-fearing man; an honourable man; a man who, despite the brilliance of his intellect and his mastery of the political process in Nigeria, remained a simple and great servant of the people; a great benefactor of mankind; an erudite scholar and was highly respected and recognised by his people and the nation.
In his retirement he led many public and private institutions. These include, the Board of the Daily Times of Nigeria Ltd; the Kano State Broadcasting Corporation (KBC), the Triumph Publishing Company Ltd; the Federal Housing Authority (FHA), Inuwar Jama’ar Kano (Kano Forum) and Kaduna-based Nagarta Radio. In between, he served for five (5) years as chairman board of trustees of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF).
Nigerian journalists and governments recognised his contributions through awards and fellowships. President Shehu Shagari conferred the National Honour of the Officer of the Federal Republic (OFR) on him in Feb. 1982 in recognition of his distinguished service to Nigeria. This was followed 30 years later with a higher National honour of Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON) by President Goodluck Jonathan in Nov. 2011. He is a Fellow of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (FNGE) and a recipient of the Medal of Merit from the Government of Egypt under President Gamal Abdul-Nasser in 1961. The Kano State Government honoured him for his role in Nigeria’s struggle for independence in 2010. Another deserving recognition came to Malam Magaji from Bayero University Kano when it awarded him an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.) in 2003.
He served on various Government Committees such as the Presidential Advisory Council to President Goodluck Jonathan which he appointed soon after coming to power in 2010.
He also participated as a member of National Constitutional Conference in 2005 under President Olushegun Obasanjo and also the 2014 National Conference set up by President Goodluck Jonathan. He dies in Abuja on August 28, 2014 shortly after the conference.