Sunday, 2 April 2017

The Veterans, the Novice & the Jargons of Nigerian Journalism —Osoba’s memoir


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The Journalist-Politician Aremo Olusegun Osoba with Ali Baba

History will of course also pronounce its judgment on the role that my generation played during those dark, uncertain days. Did our writings help to worsen the crisis? Did we by acts of omission or commission help wreak the havoc that came to a head on that day of reckoning, on January 15, 1966? Or was it
Our inescapable destiny to be helpless witnesses to wounds inflicted by the newness and inexperience of our young nation?

 I for one know, following years of looking back and ruminating over the events of that period that we were inexperienced. Our hearts may have been in the right place, but our heads? Not always. I did not set out in a deliberate fashion to become a columnist.
It started when I was quite unexpectedly appointed the editor of the Sunday Times. In the beginning I had only one permanent staff to assist me. We were later joined by a third staff. Even so it was a headache trying to find enough material to fill the sixteen, sometimes twenty-four pages every week.
Veteran Tony Enahoro....Yesterday's journalism means a lot to him
So I worked out a way to fill two pages regularly and reduce the weekly burden of inventing new ideas. I filled a page with a political commentary and another with an interview. By law my name had to be on the masthead as editor. It didn’t seem right that I should have my name splashed week after week on three pages of a newspaper I controlled. So I invented a pen name-George Sharp for the political commentary. George was the rarely used name of a favorite nephew.
Everyone knows the legend of Peter Pan in literature - about the boy who never grew old. The Peter Pan interviews were designed to have a youthful outlook, with no political content; chatting with the beautiful people of the era, flirting with starlets and poking quiet fun at social climbers, the Peter Pan page quickly made friends.
Occasionally, I wrote other stories, which were unattributed. Legends of Our Land brought oral history in parts of the country to life. The Lagos Diaries were compiled from a friend’s late father’s daily record of events written in long hand in the ‘twenties’ and hidden away for decades.
The Book that documented the Osoba Journalism Years
The work was a vocation rather like a paid hobby. Being paid for what one enjoyed doing was a bonus. I know I was not alone in this feeling because I met frequently with other columnists and we were like a brethren: Olu Adebanjo edited the Sunday Express before taking up the editorship of its sister daily. He wrote a weekly column as Mickey Mouse. Herbert Unegbu, editor of the West African Pilot wrote a column as Unu Habib. Peter Osugo, our gang leader at dusk was the sports editor of the Daily Times. As Pecos his column was promoted with the slogan, “The man they can’t gag”.
The GDA with the Legends, MIKE & DIMGBA
His big rival was Bona Ekanem at the Daily Service who wrote under his own name. Smart Ebbi, a Burma war veteran turned journalist pursued an iconoclastic crusade in his Smart Kebbi column siding with Dr. K.O. Mbadiwe in his famous quarrel with Zik. Late Bola Ige, Uncle Bola in the Tribune wrote in those days for the Sunday Express.
Sam Amuka, a lifelong friend starting from boarding school (he succeeded me as captain of football!) joined the group as Sad Sam. Alade Odunewu, venerable Alah-De, arrived at the Daily Times from the Tribune.
Tribune: One of the institutions that started all
Tai Solarin, a secondary school headmaster was a regular contributor to the features page of the Daily Times. He fell out with me when I became editor of the paper and I insisted that he trim the length of his commentary. We made up and became passing acquaintances. I still believe his column was best when he tamed his urge to go and on.
Isaac Bolaji Thomas, a good man became sports editor at the Sunday Times and wrote as IBT. Lai Mabinuori, a guru on horse racing in Lagos was with the Express newspapers at the time but was very much “in” with us of the Daily Times.
Ayo Adefolaju, my deputy at the Sunday Times wrote a weekly column titled Around the World in 8 Days.
Chief Nnamdi Azikwe the Zik of Africa...Journalism started somewhere around his personality
It was full-fledged leftwing stuff at the time of the Cold War.
His was the only column I knew of that fell casualty to the Cold War divide. The fierce battle for the minds and souls of the emergent nations was raging. There was criticism that Ayo was promoting uncensored communist propaganda week after week. Emboldened by a conviction of his journalistic integrity, however, he found it difficult to accept that the publisher too had certain rights. And so a collision course was set between my stubborn, opinionated, rebel, emotional but utterly loyal friend and an otherwise tolerant management. Around the World in 8 Days was grounded.
The Sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo....The Journalism of his era was quite unique
Women columnists came into their own. Feminism was the rage in Europe and as in many exports to the emerging nations was adopted without much of a local flavor. The queen of the lobby was Theresa Ogunbiyi who as Theresa in the Daily Times wielded the battle axe in a campaign of sheer terror against male chauvinists whether real or imagined.
Aremo Olusegun Osoba; The Man & his journalism
Across the land life was no longer a laughing matter. The nation was careening toward an abyss. We columnists at the Daily Times group of newspapers had no difficulty leaning over backwards to be non-aligned amid the upheaval. Yet as concerned adult Nigerians, could we really be neutral? The dilemma was heart-rending.
Aremo Segun Osoba....Always meeting People. Met the late Sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Alhaji Shehu Shagari
It was a problem trying to convince all sides that we were independent. In the end, appointed caretaker councils in parts of the Western Region banned the Daily Times in their areas of authority. They said they would not relent unless the Peter Pan and Tai Solarin columns were done away with. This was in response to an earlier ban imposed on the Daily Times throughout the Eastern Region in a sinister attempt to blackmail the newspaper’s owners.
The Legends: Mike & Dimgba...documenting journalism in great style
Our compatriots in rival newspapers did not have our problems but their ownership structures meant that they were tied to fixed lines of attack and fixed line of defense. With bitter political rage threatening chaos in the country it was unfortunate that columnists resorted to inflexible exhortations. You could predict the line a columnist would take simply by the newspaper he wrote for. Excesses gained momentum.
Nelson Ottah’s grossly misplaced humor in a commentary following the cold-blooded slaying of Ahmadu BelloSardauna of Sokoto, gave excuse for unprecedented violence in the North. The repercussions were among the incidents that led to the outbreak of civil war.
Veteran Tony Enahoro narrates journalism of yesteryears 
Drum Magazine was owned by a liberal White South African and had Nelson Ottah as editor of its Nigerian edition. The monthly publication had Dapo Fatogun, a far left writer on its staff. As Son Nugotaf, his column had already made enemies for Drum Magazine among the Northern Region’s hypersensitive, center-right political establishment.
The Daily Times continued to trudge a lonely path trying to steer away from the deteriorating affrays, but as socio-political commentators the Peter Pan and Tai Solarin columns could not afford the luxury of a place to hide. The Peter Pan column had changed in style and content over the years.
The GDA taking lecture from the foot of Tabloid King Mike Awoyinfa as Legend Dimgba Igwe looks on
The George Sharp column had ceased to exist. Peter Pan no longer conducted interviews; a move dictated by the appointment of its alter ego as editor of the Daily Times. Peter Pan became a weekly Saturday column instead, speaking the mind of the editor and treading where the official Daily Times editorial comment often written by the editor himself did not care or wish to tread.
After a two-year stint as editor of the Daily Times, Peter Pan’s alter ego was facing a dilemma of a different sort. Suffice it to say that I was kicked upstairs with the grand title of Group Editorial Adviser. With the threat of boredom looming resulting from disengagement from the command post of editorship at a young age, the Peter Pan column filled a gap. It took to publishing three times a week.
Legend Dimgba Igwe reveals more of journalism to the GDA
It was a difficult time for all and some bowed out of the direct line of fire. Unu Habib and Mickey Mouse, for example, disappeared when their alter egos respectively went to radio and the Ministry of Information. By and by Peter Pan bowed out of Nigeria altogether and its alter ego did not return to the fatherland for 26 years. Even now the self-exile is not entirely over!

The Era of the New Journalists
The Legends; MIKE & DIMGBA ushered in the era of Real Tabloid Journalism through late Dele Giwa
 
Nigeria had changed and with the changes Nigerian journalism took a new turn. A new crop of editors and columnists ushered new trends. Writers like Dele Giwa, God rest his soul, Stanley Macebuh, both returnees from study in the US; Ray Ekpu, Dan Agbese and Yakubu Mohammed, to name a few, brought their style of commentary writing to bear on Nigerian journalism.
The fashion that had editors seeking partial anonymity under a pen name has given way to open self-identification through writing under one’s name. The power of the pen has thus become visibly identified as the personal power of the individual wielding the pen. Fear and respect are not one and the same. Asked to make a choice, I know I would rather court respect than generate fear.
Tabloid King, Mike Awoyinfa tells the GDA more about the business of journalism
New trends attract converts and imitation as they say is the best form of flattery. The new trend, which began in the late seventies and settled into its current recognizable form in the early ‘eighties’ has been copied without pause or proper pondering. Quantity has settled as quality.
Long, tedious treatises too frequently written in convoluted language or in trivialized, pseudo-academic pretensions are published as “column” writing. The format is grey, bleak with row after row of solid font and heartbreaking for the absence of any attempt to make the reading easy on the eye.
When I arrived at the Daily Times of Nigeria Plc as Sole  Administrator in 1996,30 years to the month after I left, an attempt was made to educate me in what was recommended to me as “crusading journalism” you should substitute “essay writing” for the sake of accuracy.
Alhaji Lateef Jakande meets the GDA; The Old & the Young train
In reality its esoteric meaning came down to this; facts are free, comments are sacred! I was not only being asked to grant free rein but to look the other way: in other words to listen and not to hear; to look but not to see because as you and I know people do get paid to put out specific views and do damage to reputations.
Aremo Olusegun Osoba....Always meeting People including the Oluwo of Iwo Kingdom Oba Akanbi TELU 1

My arrival at the Daily Times of Nigeria was an eye-opener. Just about every journalist who came confidentially to see me complained about the previous management’s alleged niggardly attitude to awarding space for regular column writing. My position was that the responsibility lay with the editors, but I invariably asked the petitioner for samples. I was inundated with abstruse if not outright obtuse banalities.
Mr. Tony Enahoro....Met a sad situation in his second attempt to administrate media business
I came to learn that asking for space to write a column was a plea for room to draw attention. The attention it afforded could help augment the meager pay that wasn’t being paid. The contrast with the conditions of service we enjoyed when I was a young man at the Daily Times all those years before was so sharp it was a scandal.
Every generation has its collection of platitudinous garbage. Forgive me, however, if I find some of the instant cliches currently in vogue gallingly inexcusable. I am by birth and in ancestry dating back into the distant mists of human history and by free choice a bona fide citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. A citizen! I resent being called a “stakeholder”. Nigeria is not a commercial enterprise and my right to citizenship is not a piece of paper I can trade to a bidder with the cash to buy me out.
Aremo Olusegun Osoba....Always meeting People including ex-Governor Sule Lamido of Jigawa State
I reject the notion that the sacrifices three generations of my family have made were not toward building a nation but servicing a “Nigeria project”. A project? As in a business venture? The painful and halting advancements we are making toward a free society are “democracy dividends”? Dividends? No wonder we have a flourishing culture of institutionalized profiteering in public service. Even the language we use encourages it!
I gather that the latest trend is “perspective journalism”, which may mean, God help us, that there is worse to come!
Standards are crumbling generally in our country, so let us not pretend that journalism is an exception. Forty years ago, schools encouraged pupils to read newspapers to improve their command of the English language. Today would you knowingly send your child to a teacher who could not distinguish between “border” and “bother”, a teacher who thinks it is clever to refer endlessly to the Central Bank of Nigeria as the “apex bank”, a teacher who prefers “penultimate week” to “last week”, a teacher who airily speaks of “the Obasanjo’s government” and not “the Obasanjo government”? Yet these are some of the stock phrases some of our whiz kids peddle to the public in their learned commentaries!
Aremo Olusegun Osoba....Always Meeting people including President Jimmy Cater of  USA
Many among our essayists/columnists lack the proper exposure that should have prepared them for a rounded view of the country. This must account for some of the outrageous commentaries.
Mass communications courses are available in a few of our universities so we are not wanting in basic or theoretical training at a high level. But I do believe that we need a school of excellence for post-graduate training in practical work.
Writing is an art but writing as any essayist or commentator knows is labor. Writing is like sculpting albeit on paper. The writer sits before a blank paper the same way a wood carver begins with a mere chunk of wood. The pen is the writer’s scalpel with which like the carver’s knife he shapes his work. For my money the best wood carvers in Africa are Makonde people of Mozambique. By all means go to a university and study the history and theory of art, but go to the Makonde people and learn how to bring a mere piece of wood to life. There is a no better place to learn than at the University of Experience!
Late Journalism Great Babatunde Jose moderated the boys of his era
When I was starting out in our trade, I had the good fortune to have the overseership of Percy Roberts, our Managing Director, the language control of Jeffrey Taylor, the editorial adviser and the supervisory maturity of Alhaji Jose to steady and guide me. I look these days at some of the stuff dished out to the public by commentators and I shake my head sometimes in despair but more often in sympathy, that they missed out on the launch pad that gave my career its start.
The Back of the Book tells the story of the Authors

(Excerpts from the book “Segun Osoba: The Newspaper Years” by Mike Awoyinfa & Dimgba Igwe. To get a hard copy of the book, kindly call Mrs. Gloria Oriakwu on 080-33-44-5125)

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