Gaskiya Ta Fi Kwabo! The First Government-Owned Newspaper in Nigeria

The media landscape of Nigeria has a number of indigenous language newspapers which shared in the credit of developing a vibrant newspaper industry in the country. The first Nigerian newspaper was a Yoruba language newspaper, Iwe Irohin, which was also the first indigenous language newspaper in Africa. It was established in 1859. Fiercely competitive business environment of the newspaper industry in Nigeria and the growing interest of publishers to establish English language newspapers contributed in stifling numerous local language publications that came up after Iwe Irohin.

However, one indigenous language newspaper put up a good fight in the competitive media landscape, becoming the longest surviving local language newspaper that existed in Nigeria. That newspaper is Gaskiya Ta Fi Kwabo, popularly called Gaskiya.

Brief History

Gaskiya Ta Fi Kwabo (meaning the truth is worth more than a kobo) was established in 1939 at a time the media industry in Nigeria was dominated by English language newspapers mostly published by nationalists. It was established by the Northern Nigerian Government and had its head office in Zaria. Gaskiya was the first newspaper published entirely in Hausa, the largest language in West Africa and in Nigeria. The newspaper was printed three times a week and was the world’s first Hausa-language newspaper. It was very popular at that time as its audience base quickly spread even beyond Nigeria to countries where the language was spoken. Based on its popularity, Romanised Hausa became more popular than Arabic script and began to predominate. The spelling, grammar, vocabulary and style used in Gaskiya became standard Hausa. The newspaper was among the most sought-after among Hausa speaking people especially because it was providing information about World War II to Nigerians. The newspaper mirrored Africans understanding of World War II. The newspaper did not only highlight the attitudes of Africans to the war but also chronicled the experiences of Nigerians in the war. Gaskiya also helped to generate and sustain the nationalist movement which was popular in the early stages of the newspaper’s existence.

Within the stable of Gaskiya Corporation which printed the newspaper, an English language version, Nigerian Citizen emerged in 1965. Then a few months later (in 1966) its name was changed to New Nigerian and the headquarters relocated to Kaduna where it is now based.The first editor of Gaskiya Ta Fi Kwabo was Abubakar Imam.

In 1941, some pages in Ajami were added to the newspaper for those who could not read the Roman script. They were called ‘Yar Gaskiya’ (meaning Daughter of Truth). This addition was prompted by the huge success recorded by the newspaper with a rapidly spreading audience base. Ajami is Hausa language written with adapted version of Arabic script. The addition of Hausa Ajami further added more readers to the publication.

The Northern Nigerian Government also made a landmark achievement with Gaskiya Tafi Kwabo based on the fact that it was the first major attempt by any government in Nigeria to set up a newspaper. The Northern Nigerian Government, with the establishment of Gaskiya Corporation, began the publication of Gaskiya Tafi Kwabo in 1939 and, in 1948 established the English language bi-weekly, The Nigerian Citizen, which became a weekly shortly after. Most people think that Daily Times was the first government owned newspaper in Nigeria but that is wrong. Daily Times which was the popular Federal Government-owned newspaper actually began as a private establishment before it was purchased by the government in 1975. The paper was published by the Nigerian Printing and Publishing Company, which was was incorporated on 6 June 1925 by Richard Barrow, Adeyemo Alakija, V.R. Osborne and others. They printed the first copy as The Nigerian Daily Times on 1 June 1926. Alakija was an African barrister, while the other founders represented European interest groups in the Lagos chamber of commerce. The paper was actually doing very well but began to gradually decline when it was purchased by the Federal Government in 1975. It was resold to private establishment (Folio Communications Limited) in 2004. This means that Gaskiya Ta Fi Kwabo was the first government-owned newspaper in Nigeria.

At a time there was a serious need for a platform for sharing of ideas, educating and enlightening Northern Nigerians, Gaskiya Ta Fi Kwabo was established. The first edition of the newspaper came out in January 1939, with Mr. M.L. Giles and Malam Abubakar Imam as its Managing Editor and Editor respectively. Mr. Giles, an administrative officer with the colonial government served as the Manager/Editor-In-Chief of the newspaper to teach the Hausa Editor, Abubakar Imam, the basics of journalism and how to run a newspaper organization. Imam had said in one of his interviews that he was told by one of the colonial officials that they (colonial masters) were planning to publish a Hausa language newspaper in order to counter the German propaganda on Hitler’s activities, and also use the publication to highlight their plans for Africa. Early editions of Gaskiya Ta Fi Kwabo were dedicated to propaganda in favour of England at the war field while condemning Germany and Hitler.

Apart from the war stories and propaganda, the newspaper was so educative that northerners heavily depended on it for information. It then became a platform for exchange of ideas for educated Northern elites and others who could read diverse contents on religions, politics and the nation at large. The publication disseminated information about happenings in the struggle for independence at a time the nationalist struggle was at its peak and served as an interpreter to the north of all that was going in the south and other parts of the world.

Phenomenal Success

Gaskiya Ta Fi Kwabo’s initial success was amazing and encouraging. The popularity of the newspaper from its first publication was huge. The first print run in January 1939 was 5,000 copies, which was later increased to 8,900 copies in February and further raised to 11,200 copies in March. The demand for the publication continued to increase. Also the editor was receiving an average of 100 letters every month and answered a large number of them; this further made the newspaper to soar in popularity and demand.

Very interesting columns introduced in the newspaper generated audience attention which reflected also on the demand for the newspaper. For instance, at its second year anniversary in January 1941, a column entitled Gaskiya’ Sunanta Gaskiya was introduced. It treated very engaging topics that excited the audience among which are topics on hajj (pilgrimage to the holy land), guinea worm, leprosy, the danger effects of begging, divorce, respect of manners, cause of high mortality, sleeping sickness and intelligence. Another engaging column entitled Takardun Masu Karatu (meaning from the readers) was introduced. This was where the readers had the opportunity to air their opinions on articles published in the newspaper or on anything that required government attention. Guess the two powerful personalities who were among the first to have their opinions published in this column – Malam Aminu Kano and Abubakar Tafawa. That tells you the level at which this newspaper was operating.

Finally!

Gaskiya Ta Fi Kwabo could arguably be described as the most successful local language newspaper in the history of the Nigerian press. Though Iwe Irohin was the first local language newspaper and the very first newspaper published in Nigeria, the level of success achieved by Gaskiya Ta Fi Kwabo is monumental. In addition, the fact that it lasted for decades is something that makes it exceptional. For a local language newspaper to last for over 70 years means it is not just a newspaper but part of the life of readers. The newspaper even created an online edition to reach out to its cyber audience. Gaskiya Ta Fi Kwabo is a landmark reference point in Nigeria’s media landscape.

Quick Facts

Here are some quick facts about Gaskiya Tafi Kwabo you should know.

1. It was the first Hausa Language Newspaper in Nigeria

2. It was the Largest Hausa Language Newspaper in West Africa

3. It was the World’s first Hausa Language Newspaper

4. It was established in 1939

5. It was printed three times a week

6. It was published in Roman letters and later added Ajama Hausa pages

7. It was published by the Northern Nigerian Government under Gaskiya Corporation

8. It was the first government-owned newspaper in Nigeria

9. It was popular for chronicling experiences of Nigerians in World War II

10. Its headquarters was in Zaria

11. It had an English-language version, The Nigerian Citizen, first published in 1948.

12. It was the longest surviving indigenous language newspaper in Nigeria, having existed for over 70 years.

13. It was used to propagate nationalist struggle in Hausa language

14. It established an online version to adapt to the dynamic digitalized society

15. Its first editor was Abubakar Imam

 

(Additional source: “Dialectal Interference In Amana, A Yau and Gaskiya Ta Fi Kwabo Newspapers” written by Kabir Halima Daura)

The Author

Chinenye Nwabueze

Nwabueze is a communication researcher with several years of lecturing experience in Nigerian universities.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *