Al-Hafiz Yunus Omotayo, Missionary and Chairman of the Muslim Writers Guild of Nigeria
Just like the Presbyterian Reverend, Henry Townsend had pioneered the first-ever newspaper in Nigeria with the founding of Iwe Irohin in 1859 (History of Nigerian Mass Media, National Open University of Nigeria, p. 21), The Truth newspaper enjoys historical relevance of being the first and longest-running Muslim newspaper established in Nigeria 70 years ago, precisely, in December 1951, by a prominent expatriate Muslim Missionary and journalist, Maulvi Naseem Saifi Sahib.
Maulvi Saifi Sahib served as the chief missionary of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat in Nigeria and West Africa for 20 years – 1946-1966. As such, The Truth newspaper was not only used as an official newspaper of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, but has been used as a means of representing Islamic perspectives to the religious, literary, social and educational development of Nigeria in particular, and humanity, in general.
It is interesting to note that initially, the newspaper was being published monthly and entitled The Nigeria Ahmadiyya Bulletin from August to November 1951 (The Nigeria Ahmadiyya Bulletin, The Nigeria Branch of the Sadr Anjuman Ahmadiyya, Qadian, September 1951, Vol. 1, No. 2). It, however, acquired its nomenclature of The Truth in December of the same year, and, subsequently, began to publish weekly henceforth. (The Truth Newspaper, December 1951, Vol. 1, No. 1).
More interestingly, many among the earliest historians and chroniclers of the history of media in Nigeria have reckoned with the pioneering place of The Truth Newspaper in the trajectory of newspapers published in Nigeria. For instance, on page 26of his pioneering work published in 1968 and titled, Landmarks of the Nigerian Press – An Outline of the Origins and Development of the Newspaper Press in Nigeria (1859 to 1965), the renowned media scholar and practitioner, Increase HE Coker acknowledged:
“The only regular Muslim newspaper was the one started in Lagos at this period and entitled Truth. It was pioneered by the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam, Lagos branch, which continues to subsidize its production.”
Incidentally, Ahmadiyyat is also reputed for pioneering in Nigeria the first Muslim-established school that combined both Islamic and secular education. It also pioneered the first Muslim hospital through the establishment of the first Muslim medical dispensary in Nigeria in 1961 and continues to run a number of schools and hospitals and clinics across various states in the country today. (Centenary History of Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat in Nigeria, Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Nigeria, 2016, p. 175)
To continue our walk through the memory lane of The Truth newspaper, it is exciting to note that the noble mission of this newspaper, as stated by the veteran journalist-founder in its maiden edition, is that it aims at “calling humanity toward the Creator of the Universe” and “inviting every soul to the fountainhead of peace – Islam.” This is “the message that THE TRUTH has pledged to impart to every soul in West Africa in particular and the rest of the world in general.” (“Our Message” (editorial), The Truth Newspaper, December 1951, Vol. 1, No. 1, p. 3)
From any evaluation of media history in Nigeria, three factors should evidence the long history of media relevance, contribution and popularity of The Truth in Nigeria:
1. Regardless of being a foreigner, its founder was elected as the first vice-president of the Nigeria Union of Journalists for many years, the treasurer of the Nigerian Press Club and an executive member of the Guild of Newspaper Editors. (“My Hearty Thanks”, The Truth Newspaper, Friday, 5 August 2016, p. 13)
2. The first Nigerian staff of The Truth Newspaper, Mr Yisa A Safi was offered Federal Government Scholarship for journalism at the then London Polytechnic in October 1953 by the then British Colonial Administration in recognition of the contributions of The Truth in Nigeria. At the completion of the study, he returned to serve the country under the Federal Ministry of Information till his death in 1969. (“First Nigerian Ahmadi to Serve The Truth Passed Away”, Z O Elias (1969), The Truth Newspaper, Friday, 30 May–5 June, p. 7)
3. In contemporary history, the current chairman of the editorial board of The Truth newspaper, Dr Kasim Akinreti has been the chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Lagos State Council from 2017 to 6 December 2020.
From the above, it is not surprising that Maulvi Naseem Saifi Sahib once reminisced how, while travelling by sea in the company of Nigeria’s first indigenous president, Nnamdi Azikwe (himself a journalist and publisher of the renowned nationalist newspaper, The Pilot), he “was surprised to hear him [Azikwe] talk about The Truth; he knew almost everything about it, even the press where it is printed.” (“My Hearty Thanks”, The Truth Newspaper, Friday, 5 August 2016, p. 13).
Since 2016, The Truth newspaper has begun its online publication, www.thetruth.ng. This has continued to avail the immediacy, frequency and global reach of its publication.
Observably, through its news stories, editorials, features, and opinion columns etc., the newspaperhas been renowned for its coverage of wide-ranging issues of religious, social, health and educational relevance in Nigeria, over the years.