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Self-knowledge and the magic of the three musketeers

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Babatunde Jose

I dont know what motivated one of our distinguished colleagues, Agboola Sanni, to write a book on The Three Musketeers, but Nigerian journalism certainly needs a book of inspiration at these challenging times.

The Three Musketeers is about the exploits of three journalism greats: Olusegun Osoba, Felix Adenaike and Peter Ajayi.

They were the alpha men in the old Lagos-Ibadan Press that dominated the profession in the late 1970s and the 1980s. Though Osoba later veered into politics, but like the other two, he remains defined by his journalism career.

The three men were the flag bearers of journalism Golden Era starting from when Babatunde Jose ruled the roost on Kakawa Street in Lagos.

The likes of Lateef Jakande, Peter Enahoro, Alade Odunewu, Adamu Ciroma, Andy Akporugo, Olabisi Onabanjo, Sam Amuka-Pemu, Tunji Oseni, Dr Doyinsola Abiola, Tola Adeniyi, Turi Muhammadu, Henry Odukomaiya, Dipo Ajayi, Gbolabo Ogunsanwo, Areoye Oyebola, and many other stars dominated the firmament.

The era birthed the milieu dominated by the quartet of Dele Giwa, Ray Ekpu, Dan Agbese and Yakubu Mohammed who gave us the old Newswatch in the roaring 80s.

Of course, there were the men like Stanley Macebuh, Henzy Idowu, Idowu Sobowale, Lade Bonuola, Femi Sonaike and Tunji Oseni who careers dovetailed into a later era for life is a continuum and journalism is an endless circle.

Ibadan was the city of the Three Musketeers. Peter Ajayi joined the Nigerian Tribune in 1961. It was a turbulent period when the crisis that was to doom the old Action Group burst open.

The publisher of the Nigerian Tribune, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, a lawyer and journalist, expected the paper to play a vital role in his vocation of politics.

He had served lately as the first Premier of the defunct Western Region and by the time Ajayi joined his paper, Awolowo was the Leader of Opposition in the Federal Parliament and was on the threshold of the darkest period of his turbulent, but fruitful public career.

But Ajayi was to face interesting peregrination in his journalism career. In 1962, he moved to Kano to edit the Northern Star.

By 1964, he was back in Ibadan on the editorial staff of the new Daily Sketch, established by the government of the defunct Western Region, whose Premier, Chief Ladoke Akintola, a journalist and lawyer, was also fighting for his political life. By 1966, Akintola was dead, killed in the first coup of January 15, 1966.

By the time of the first coup, Osoba was an adventurous reporter combing the streets of Lagos riding on a Vespa motorcycle. His employer was the Daily Times, the Iroko Tree of Nigerian journalism.

In the coup of January 15, 1966, the powerful Premier of the North, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello and the controversial Premier of the West, Chief Akintola, were killed. Both the Premier of the Mid-West, Chief Dennis Osadebay and the Premier of the East, Dr Michael Okpara, were spared by the coup plotters.

The Deputy Premier of the West, Chief Remi Fani-Kayode, was captured by the mutinous soldiers, and then kept in a bare guardroom at Bonny Camp, Victoria Island. He escaped later in a private soldier uniform.

But the big men in Lagos, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa-Balewa, the Prime Minister and Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh, the Minister of Finance, captured by soldiers on coup day, were declared missing.

It was the luck of Osoba, thanks to his journalistic instinct and his nose for news that fetched him the prize that brought him to national limelight.

He got information that there were two unidentified bodies at the base of a tree near Otta, in the present Ogun State. He rode to the place and with the help of local people discovered the bodies of the late Prime-Minister and Okotie-Eboh. It was a world exclusive on the front page of the Daily Times.

Jose spotted Osoba as a bright, brilliant and enterprising reporter. Osoba had his secondary education at the Methodist Boys High School, Lagos, and soon proceeded to the University of Lagos.

He fitted into Jose’s Programme of bringing in bright young people into the profession. In 1974, Osoba won the Nieman Fellowship Award for Journalism at Harvard University, Cambridge Massachusetts in the United States.

However, it was another coup that changed the Osoba story. He was the deputy editor of the Sunday Times when the military struck again, toppling the regime of General Yakubu Gowon on July 29, 1975.

Then Colonel Joseph Naven Garba, who announced the coup, had advised Nigerians to be law abiding, but warned that “anyone caught disturbing public order would be summarily dealt with.” Most Nigerians stayed at home. The military imposed a dusk to dawn curfew. As expected, the coup would not deter journalists from doing their job.

But some journalists were absent from their beats. Among them was Areoye Oyebola, the editor of the Daily Times. In the office was Osoba and Jose, the legendary chairman of the Daily Times and former editor of the paper. Jose and Osoba and other reporters present for the day helped produce the paper.

Throughout the hectic day, the editor did not show up. Piqued by the development, Jose immediately appointed Osoba the editor of the Daily Times.

This triggered resentment within the elite corps of editors who saw the elevation of Osoba as disrupting the pecking order. When Jose discountenanced all protests, the elite corps revolted, inviting the fatal intervention of the new military government headed by the former war commander General Murtala Muhammed.

Many years later, Chief Osoba took me to Papa Jose in his home on Victoria Island. For Jose, the years of power and deadlines were past. Despite the calamitous aftermath of the military takeover of the Daily Times, Jose was very proud of his mentoring of Osoba.

He said he was right in spotting Osoba who joined the Daily Times in 1964 as a crime reporter. By 1966, he was the paper’s diplomatic correspondent and became the news editor in 1968 before he was moved up to serve as deputy to one of journalism greats, Gbolabo Ogunsanwo, the most famous editor of the defunct Sunday Times.

By the time Felix Adenaike joined the Daily Times in 1971, Osoba was already an established name among the denizens of the Lagos press. Adenaike, who like Osoba also attended the University of Lagos, had served as a teacher and school headmaster before he joined the regional Ministry of Information in Ibadan.

Jose spotted him quickly as a reporter of talent and sent him to London as a staff correspondent of the prestigious West Africa. When plans by the Daily Times to acquire West Africa failed, Adenaike remained for sometimes in London as the Europe correspondent of the Daily Times.

From 1976 to 1978, he served as the Editor-in-Chief of the Sketch.

With the coming of democratic rule in 1979, he returned home to the Daily Times as the district manager for Oyo, Ondo, Ogun and Kwara states.

The coming of democratic rule in 1979 met the three musketeers in vantage positions. By 1980, Adenaike was hired to preside over the turn-around of the Tribune.

The swashbuckling Adenaike was noted for his hand-on style of management, his charisma and his fearless advocacy.

The boys in the newsroom quickly nicknamed him the General Officer Commanding, GOC, a cognomen he bore with aplomb. He was to dominate the Tribune until he retired in 1991.

Peter Ajayi, who was the first editor of the Kwara State-owned Herald, returned to Ibadan in 1979 as the managing editor of the Sketch and became the MD in 1984, a post he held until 1990.

Ajayi and Osoba had worked together in the Herald where Osoba was the General Manager when Ajayi was the editor. Osoba served as the MD of the Sketch between 1979 and 1984 when he moved to the Daily Times as the MD.

By 1984, the three men, packing a lot of media muscles, had become the bosses of the Daily Times, the Sketch and the Nigerian Tribune. Between them, their papers used to circulate almost one million copies daily.

Now the media is in winter and one could not but wonder what has happened to media managers and management. It is time the media takes time to study itself to know what contributed to the magic of the past when the three musketeers were ruling the waves.

Last year, I went to a well-known institution for the training of journalists. I asked in the institution’s library for a copy of Walking the Tightrope, the enthralling autobiography of Babatunde Jose. The librarian was not aware of the book or its famous author.

If the media does not invest in self-knowledge, how would it learn from the magic of the three musketeers? The state of the Nigerians Press today reminds me of one headline used by the inimitable Daily Times to describe the fate of Ayufsalam Rocks Football Club of Ilorin after a disastrous outing: Rocks Reduced


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