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To Aremo Osoba @82

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During one of my times at Leadership newspaper (I had three stints at the Abuja-based newspaper), I had an interesting colleague, Sam Asowata, who was a typical newsroom warlord.

Like the guy who had had a frank discussion with his cocky siblings during a family meeting, Asowata never came out of an editorial or management board meeting smiling. He was a lazy reporter’s nightmare and a source of motivation to hard-working ones. But, generally, if you wanted to see Asowata at his excited and motivational best, just drop a name in the newsroom.

That name is Olusegun Osoba.
Asowata was fond of narrating how, as a rookie journalist, he was sent on an assignment, which report the veteran journalist, who was his editor-in-chief, took interest in. According to Asowata, it rained the Lagos way on that day and he was drenched and headed back to the office without a report.

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Fortunately for the young journalist, the event couldn’t hold, so he had no problem returning without a report. Asowata said Osoba heard he returned empty-handed and sent him back to the venue and tasked him to return with a story.

Asowata had his first journalistic lesson on curiosity and looking beyond the surface that day. Much later at a gathering organised by Leadership in Abuja, Asowata had a chance meeting with Osoba and, upon spotting him, you could practically feel the pride and happiness with which the former governor of Ogun State beckoned on him for a warm embrace. That was the day other staff members confirmed Asowata’s folk story about Osoba.

Not many journalists have the privilege Asowata had to be mentored by Osoba, but many read his accomplishments as a pen pusher in books. However, many times, I ponder how many Asowatas are out there thriving and passing the tough because Osoba mentored them.

The problem with writing a tribute to someone the stature of Aremo Olusegun Osoba is that, no matter how much you try and how good a writer you are, you won’t find an exclusive way of saying anything glowing about him. Which of the many parts of Baba Osoba do you want to extol that hasn’t been explored? Baba the Journalist, Baba the Politician, Baba the Statesman, or Baba who is just generally living his best life adding value to humanity?

But then, as a journalist, the part of his enviable contributions to nationhood and humanity, which fascinates me the most is his journalism career.
In his biography, ‘Battlelines: Adventures in Journalism and Politics’, launched as part of activities to mark his 80th birthday, Baba Osoba reminisced on what stood him out as a journalist for four decades.

“What helped me to succeed in those years was an early investment in acquiring a telephone at home, which was a rarity in those days particularly for a young reporter.

“And I had a small notebook which I always carried with me. It was filled with addresses and phone numbers of contacts, politicians and newsmakers. I built this extensive database from my years as a young reporter. My private telephone line was one of the tools that helped me to excel as a reporter – a source of easy and regular contact with powerful sources of news. I was the only reporter in Lagos in 1964 that had a telephone in his house,” he said.

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As a budding journalist in 1964, there has to be a level to your motivation and vision that would drive you into investing heavily in a luxury appliance to succeed.

Yes, Chief Osoba learnt from the best, but credit to him, he was receptive and willing to test his knowledge in real life. That Aremo is by a distance the most successful journalist of his generation is definitely not up for a debate. The point Asowata always made on mentorship in the newsroom of Leadership was what he inherited from Baba, because Osoba grabbed the opportunity presented by the apprenticeship system at the Daily Times with both hands.

“As trainee reporters, whenever we went out on assignments along with senior colleagues, we would give our reports to Guy Walls to assess, correct and ensure that it conformed to the Daily Times house style

“So impressed was Alhaji Jose (Babatunde Jose, the pioneer managing director of the Times) that two months on the job, he called me and talked me out of the idea of reading law.

“My editor, the famous Peter Enahoro [Peter Pan], was equally impressed that he wrote me and prophesied that would have a successful career in journalism,” Osoba said in his biography.

Born to Mr and Mrs Jonathan Babatunde Osoba on July 15, 1939, Osoba attended Methodist Boys High School in Lagos and was spotted and guided to professional success there. By 1969, Baba was studying in Bloomington, USA at the Indiana University’s department of journalism and in 1974 he won the Nieman Fellowship Award for journalism for a postgraduate study at Harvard University Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

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In what was one of his many firsts, Aremo was the first Nigerian to have won that prestigious Nieman Fellowship for Journalism. His career at Daily Times has been well documented. He became news editor in 1968, deputy editor of the Sunday Times in 1971 and deputy editor of the Times in 1972. In 1975, he became the Editor of the Daily Times of Nigeria, before leaving the firm in November 1975 to take up the task of General Manager of the Ilorin-based Nigerian Herald. He returned to the Times in 1984 as the managing director.

In the international media space, Baba worked as local correspondent for the following organisations: The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), The Times of London, Newsweek Magazine, U.S.A and the United Press International News Agency (UPI). He was the chairman of the Governing Board of the Nigerian Institute of Journalism and Member of the Executive Board of the International Press Institute representing Black-Africa from 1984-1992.

A member of the Commonwealth Press Union, London, Aremo was a member of the Nigerian Constituent Assembly in 1988. And for me, it is that transition from a successful journalist to being a progressive politician that fascinates, as well as inspire, me the most.

Chief Olusegun Osoba was elected on two different occasions as Governor of Ogun State, first from January 1992 until November 1993 with the Social Democratic Party (SDP). In 1999, he was elected again as governor with the Alliance for Democracy (AD), holding office between May 1999 and May 2003. Most recently, Osoba has been enjoying his statesmanship and looking out for his constituency – the media.

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In May, at the official inauguration of the Olusegun Osoba Press Centre located at the Ogun State Governor’s Office, Oke-Mosan, Abeokuta, the excitement on Baba’s face throughout the event was undeniable.

His Excellency Prince Dapo Abiodun said at the event that Baba’s exemplary contributions to journalism had helped him to attain a greater height in politics, urging media practitioners to emulate the professionalism demonstrated by the former governor. Osoba’s most take-home expression was that, “This singular action of yours has impacted positively on my life and will elongate my years on earth.”

At his age he still remits his taxes in millions of naira every year to our state government. Baba personalises relationships and every journalist is his colleague, irrespective of generational gaps. When out of town, he calls to ask how I’m finding my job as Chief Press Secretary to the Ogun State Governor. He always wants to know the relationship between the government and the journalists. He’s an easy reference for Ogun State reporters who have had the good fortune of covering successive administrations in the State.

Baba also acknowledges token gestures and he’s a generous giver. He never ceases to reach out to journalists even to this day that he’s out of office. And he reciprocates kind gestures too. I was once embarrassed when he took it upon himself to send a personal ‘Thank You’ message to me when I sent a souvenir to him on some occasions. But that’s a statement from a good heart that makes us proud of this elder statement and iconic professional mentor.

Here’s wishing Aremo Olusegun Osoba a very happy birthday and many more in good health and service of fatherland.
Igba Odun, Odun Kan!

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