Monday, 19 December 2022

Veteran Journalist George Okoro Is Dead


George Okoro, George Shabaaz: Passage of a veteran journalist

By Abia Onyike

One of Nigeria's pioneer journalists and a leading light in newspaper editing and production, George Okoro has died at the age of 86. He died in a hospital in Umuahia, the Abia State capital and would be buried on 4 January, 2023, according to family sources.

George Okoro began his journalism career in Daily Times in 1960. He was one of the newsmen trained by the white men in news, aesthetics and newspaper production. He worked in several newspapers and remained one of the best newsmen until his retirement in 2009. His contemporaries in the Daily Times were Uche Chukwumerije, Tony Momoh and Segun Osoba.


Born in 1936 in Mbaisara, Amawom Oboro in Ikwuano LGA of Abia State, George had his primary education at Baptist Day Primary School in Port Harcourt. He later went to Baptist High School in Port Harcourt, passing out in 1956. He was granted scholarship in the British School with which he obtained the Advanced Level General Certificate in History by the University of London in 1958.


His father, Chief  Nwachukwu Okoro told him to go to Lagos and join the labour movement, then led by Michael Imoudu. He became the General Secretary of the Pan-African Congress in 1958 and by 1964 was appointed as Speech writer to Imoudu. George became a member of the 1964 Labour Party founded by Imoudu, which organized and executed the 1964 general strike which lasted for 15 working days. Other veterans with him then were Uche Chukwumerije, Tunji Otegbeye and Uche Omo.

After the Nigerian-Biafran war, George resumed his journalism works. He was Editor of Daily Star Newspapers, Enugu. 


He left Enugu for Owerri as Editor of Statesman with Nduka Onum as Editor in Chief. His stay in Statesman was cut short when the then Military administration of Gen. Ike Nwachukwu in 1987 sold the Spartan Football Club to business man, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu. The first part of an Editorial by the Statesman on the vexed issue was condemned by the government and George was ordered never to produce the second part. But he went ahead to publish the second editorial and submitted his resignation letter immediately. That was at a time when journalists battled the authorities for editorial independence. The Statesman was the highest selling Newspaper in Nigeria after the Daily Times. And the Spartan Football Club was making waves in the East, in the footsteps of Rangers International Football Club of Enugu. 


George felt that Gen. Ike Nwachukwu and his cohorts were not the only readers of the newspaper. He refused to shift ground. He went back to Lagos. Commenting on the episode, a veteran journalist, Mr  Obike Uko of News Agency of Nigeria, NAN, and a former staff of Statesman newspapers stated that George "was a courageous man. He stood out tall among his contemporaries. They agreed on the editorial, himself and Onum. They were men of principle. No one sacrificed the other".


In the 1990s, I met George at Abuja. He had relocated his base to the Federal capital. He was teaching Journalism at the International Institute of Journalism located inside the NUJ National Secretariat. A consumate intellectual and radical scholar, Shahbaz took the little time I spent with him to open my eyes on the "National Question" in Nigeria. His death is like the burning of a rich library into ashes. From 2002 to 2010, George worked in two newspapers at Abuja. He was the Managing Editor of Leadership newspapers and later on did the same job at Daily Trust newspapers. 

He retired and went back to his village in Abia state thereafter. George Okoro had an epochal career in journalism. 


He wrote powerful and penetrating articles, using his pen-name George Shabaaz. He will be remembered as one of the patriotic journalists who laid the foundation and paid the price for the liberation of Nigeria from putative colonial and imperialist slave drivers.

Adieu great brother and teacher. May your soul rest in peace.


Onyike was Deputy National President, Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ


Share This

0 comments: