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Bayo Ogunmupe at 70: Back to the masters


I first met Bayo Ogunmupe in a room on the ground floor of a building close to Loyola College, old Iwo, Ibadan, sometime in the early 1970s. An older friend Gbadebo Olaitan (then called Gyima Yusuf) took me to Bayo as we headed home from work. He was buried in a forest of books, loose papers and magazines, with the man himself arched over a table covered by writing materials and several other documents. He received us with warmth. But it was obvious that, if he could, he would have asked us to please take our leave immediately after the greetings, to enable him conclude his business in the wood of books that our host’s apartment approximated.

After we left Ogunmupe, my mind took me to the great 18th century English literary critic and lexicographer Samuel Johnson. His younger biographer James Boswell gave numerous memorable accounts of Johnson’s love for literature such that it was a war to attempt to tear him from books and writing. Once, according to Boswell, Johnson had an important appointment. But the famous writer was nowhere to be found as the gathering waited. The account says while the world expected Johnson to show up, Boswell met him at home, in his own world of books, oblivious of the world of Boswell.

I cast Ogunmupe as a latter-day Johnson. But we would not meet again until I relocated to Lagos in the mid-70s when as I crisscrossed media houses on the Island to drop my articles for publication, I sighted the man at the Kakawa office of Times International, then weekly periodical of the legendary Daily Times Nigeria Group. Together with others like the late Tunde Agbabiaka, Martini Akande, also deceased, Hezy Idowu, Tola Adeniyi , Edwin Madunagu, Ogunmupe wrote articles that educated, informed and enlightened the society of the day. Their interest was beyond merely giving you the news or story; they were also concerned about the mode of presentation. They operated like Brazilian footballers. And indeed the age was dominated by the samba movement of Brazilian soccer. True, the fans wanted goals. True also that your superior goals would win the match. But for Brazil there must be stylistic entertainment in which to wrap the goals. So while others didn’t bother how the goals were scored, it mattered to Brazil. They must dribble (Pele), perform multiple step overs (Zito and later Ronaldinho), do acrobatics with the ball (Garrincha and Socrates). These must precede the goal to achieve salutary fulfillment. Merely putting the round leather past the keeper takes away the shine from the show. That’s what has stood out Brazil from the rest of the world in football.

Also, for the writers of the time of Ogunmupe, there was always a pact with style. Although they had a message for their readers, they would not deliver it until they did so with elegance. It was a bond they honoured not only because it made them distinct and gave their writing colour, but also because that was the law of Richard Steele and Joseph Addison, the inventors of the periodic essay, which we call column today.

Johnson, one of the masters of that age, described it as a ‘middle style’. He said Addison best exemplified the style and added: ‘’On grave subjects not formal, on light occasions not groveling; pure without scrupulosity and exact without elaboration;…His page is always luminous but never blazes in unexpected splendor…Whoever wishes to attain an English style, familiar but not coarse, and elegant but not ostentatious, must give his days and nights to the volumes of Addison.’’ Ogunmupe has remained faithful to this tradition over the decades he has been in journalism even if the profession didn’t come to him early in life as with scores of his contemporaries. For he was a teacher in his tender youth, being senior tutor at Lautai High School, Gumel, Jigawa State and Principal at Okebadan High School, Ibadan, Oyo State.

The blossoming years came successively as he moved from one newspaper to another between the 70s and 90s. He held executive editorial positions at Daily Sketch, Nigerian Tribune, Daily Times, Newswatch, The Guardian etc. But there have been less remarkable showing in his forays outside the profession such as when he was the Press Secretary of Hamzas Holdings in Apapa, Lagos and chief executive of Dominion Media Ltd, Lagos. His restless spirit saw him operate on the fringe of politics when he served as Assistant Secretary on the Committee for the creation of Osun State in 1990. Ogunmupe got a commendation at the NMMA in 1993 and at NUJ-Ladi Lawal Journalist of the Year 2010 Award. He has published a book, Nigerian Politics in the Age of Yar’Adua (January 2011). Recently I got to know he has also been honoured by his community in Lagos. The other day when he addressed me as Chief Banji Ojewale and I declined he educated me thus: “I am Seriki Balogun of Oyo, Sanmori Adini of Idiaraba and Akede Adini of Ilasamaja. They are titles given in lieu of payment for services rendered to the community. I wish you the same. It is nothing to be ashamed of.’’

Lately Ogunmupe’s opinions, book reviews and motivational column in The Guardian have reflected the veritable role of the journalist in society. He must identify with the underclass and seek to push for policies that empower alienated communities to make them useful for rural and national development. More than a nation’s parliament, the society needs this crop of professionals to defend the traditionally deprived and make them have a sense of belonging. Bayode Olagunju Robiu Ogunmupe, journalist, literary critic, and economist, hails from Ilobu in Osun State where he was born on April 18, 1948. He began his education in Ilobu, and went on to the International School, University of Ibadan. He proceeded to acquire Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at institutions in Europe including the London School of Economics . He also attended Nigerian Institute of Journalism where he once lectured. He is married with three children.

• Ojewale wrote from Ota, Ogun State.

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