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Felix Adenaike at 80

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Felix Adenaike slipped into the ranks of octogenarians last week Tuesday. I used the word “slipped” for two reasons.

One: Not many saw it coming, not even most of us who were at the austere celebration of his 70th birthday on his premises on which sits his modest bungalow. There were no congratulatory jingles and town criers were not in sight. His gait is still straight and there is yet to set in the accustomed slow steps which are the stamp of a ripening old age most in the 75 and above age-bracket carry. It is the same smart and brisk walk.

Adenaike set out first as a teacher and he rose to become a school headmaster. He abandoned teaching and headed for the civil service as an information officer after finishing at the University of Lagos. He had the pull of higher education which led him to the University of Lagos to read mass communication and train as a journalist.

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His first port of call for engaging journalism practice in 1971 was Daily Times. He came in to join Dr. Doyin Aboaba later Mrs Abiola who was later head of the Features Department. It was there he honed his editorial writing skills under the editorship of Prince Henry Odukomaiya himself a master in the art of leader writing. He shone brightly under the editorship of Areoye Oyebola who succeeded Odukomaiya and with Doyin Abiola as features editor. You dared not collide with him as he rushed out of the editor’s office.

Alhaji Jose, chairman of the Daily Times, soon discovered he had a star beaming its rays from the first floor of the two-storey building housing the Editorial Department standing out in a rectangular behemoth structure at least by the standard of the era. Alhaji Jose had a surprise for him. Jose and his Board of Directors had decided that the Daily Times must acquire the prestigious and authoritative West Africa magazine being published in London. Whoever was going to run the magazine in succession to David Williams must understudy how it was being done. Alhaji Jose’s pick was Felix Adenaike. By that time, his promise had shone in the delightful editorial writing skill. So, he was posted to West Africa magazine as senior correspondent, doubling as Europe Correspondent of the Daily Times. He returned home following the crisis that engulfed the Daily Times. He became one of the Times ambassadors who went to head some newspapers across the country.

David Attah went to Daily Standard owned by Benue-Plateau State in Jos as general manager; Effiong Essien to Calabar to head the Chronicle; Segun Osoba to the Nigerian Herald in Ilorin, Kwara State, as general manager/CEO and editor-in-chief; and Felix Adenaike to the Daily Sketch in Ibadan where he was general manager/ CEO and editor-in-chief. Because the Daily Times journalists were never raised in a culture of partisan journalism, in no time Adenaike like Osoba soon clashed with the respective military governors of their states—Adenaike having issues with Major-General David Jemibewon and Osoba with Major-General George Innih in Kwara. They resisted the governors. Adenaike returned to the Daily Times where he served as district manager in charge of the West.

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From the Daily Times he crossed over to the Nigerian Tribune as the newspaper’s editor-in-chief. More than anywhere else, it was in Tribune he blossomed with his talents and abilities unfolded. It was the culture of libertarianism he longed for, and it was into it he fitted. He put on the toga of editor and the editor-in-chief before him—Ayo Ojewumi and Lateef Jakande. Ayo Ojewumi was editor and Lateef Jakande was editor-in-chief and managing director of the Nigerian Tribune. These were brave editors together with Bisi Onabanjo who wrote editorials from prison; it was at the peak of the crisis in the Western Region and at a time Tribune had been banned by the government of the day, but it published from underground.

Adenaike raised the Tribune to a new height. Not only was the paper an editorial success, but it was also a commercial success, too. His editorials were unsparing and severe, in the mode of Jakande. He was strict with his staff. Some called him a slave driver. Copy deadline was copy deadline. He would not tolerate sloppiness and for him personally, punctuality was the sole of business. Adenaike would not go to any event late. Because of uncompromising discipline and strictness, he was soon code-named GOC, (General Officer Commanding), a cognomen he carries till this day among his peers in journalistic circles. He was soon joined in Ibadan by Segun Osoba and Peter Ajayi with the coming of Bola Ige into the saddle in Oyo State.

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Osoba was managing director of The Sketch while Peter Ajayi was general manager. Osoba and Peter Ajayi, both erstwhile helmsmen in Herald, and Adenaike soon raised the journalistic tones in Oyo State with the ripples streaming out to Lagos such that they became the symbol of the famous and unsparing Lagos-Ibadan axis of the Nigerian Press. They became close friends and worked together like the five fingers of a hand. They collaborated to have a joint newspaper distribution arrangement, thus saving on costs for their respective newspaper operations. Instead of each company putting its fleet of distribution vehicles separately on the road, only one vehicle did the job for a particular route and market. With this, the Nigerian Tribune reinforced its hold on the South- West spanning Kwara and Edo.

In Edo, the paper was eagerly awaited in Benin, Warri and Ishan. The tribune fought hard for its share of space and market in the so-called Minorities states of Rivers, Calabar, Benue-Plateau, Southern Kaduna and Gongola, now Adamawa State. Under the leadership of Adenaike, the Tribune continued as the voice of the South West, Edo and the “minorities” of the North and the South. Chief Awolowo called Osoba, Adenaike and Ajayi the Three Musketeers. He was so pleased with Adenaike that he gave him his undiluted support. It was such that should intrigues and acts of sabotage, not unusual in competitive companies, be made to overwhelm Felix Adenaike; he would not hesitate to close down the Tribune. And he did whisper in a fit of extreme joy: How he wished Adenaike were his son, the same wish Chief Alfred Rewane, a close associate of chief Awolowo was to express, again in moments of exceeding joy with him! They both celebrated Adenaike’s competence and effectiveness.

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Felix Adenaike is an icon of the Nigerian Press, editor of editors. His forte is undoubtedly editorial writing. He is in his elements banging out the leader, putting his clarity of thoughts on display. What with the lucidity of language; biting, indeed piercing editorials he wrote. He is informed and courageous, and would not fight shy of debating any subject under the sun, roaming from one end of the world to the other. Above all, he is not one to ever compromise his integrity. He is a Roman Catholic and proud to profess it. After he retired from the Tribune, he moved to The Guardian as a visiting member of its Editorial Board. He set up his own company, Syndicated Communications, which is into editing and publishing of books. The most-sought-after book he edited is Alhaji Dawodu’s enlightening book on the 1951 Western Nigeria Election, titled Awo or Zik: Who won the 1951 Western Nigerian Election?

Felix Adenaike is a toast of his peers and the Nigerian Union of Journalists at Ibadan. He is a Fellow of the Guild of Editors, an award he received in 2003. A family man, for some years now, what seems to have filled him with joy is to be found in the midst of his grandchildren in the UK who, as grandchildren are wont to do, run all over him and jumping on his laps. How else would he have compensated his wife, Korede, and the children for long hours out of the home, weeks out of the country chasing stories and uncertainty about his safety? When at home, he spends more time in his library. In Adenaike’s era, you woke up in the wee hours to listen to BBC, VOA and the then ubiquitous CNN. The right journalism practice material must be an idealist.

An idealist, one who seeks to make improvement on his environment, one who strives to further it to great heights and is more likely to be a moral man. It must thus take a brave and patient woman to walk down the aisle with a dedicated journalist. Stafford Somerfield, editor of the rested The News of The World could not help but paint the picture starkly when he said in his book, Banner Headlines: “My advice to youngsters seeking jobs in Fleet Street never varied. Don’t become a journalist unless you feel that you must and that nothing else will do. Even then think twice. To reach the top you must be dedicated; your work must come before home, family and everything else.” Now, the bombshell to which ladies reading me may wish to shut their eyes and close their ears: “No sensible girl would marry a reporter, or be one.”

Mr. COVID-19 has decreed there should be no clinking of glasses, no pumping of hands. Keeping social distancing from Lagos to Ibadan I can only shout into the face mask: Hearty congratulations, old boy!

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