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My odyssey to the financial market

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At exactly 12:00 am West African Time (WAT) on Tuesday, October 20, 2020, I shall by divine grace attain age 60 on this planet called earth, the next after Venus, third from the sun and the only astronomical object that harbours life.

Fresh from my National Youth Service Corps programme (NYSC) at the College of Education, Jalingo, Gongola State, (now Taraba State capital) in 1990, I got a job in Yola a few days after our passing out. It was dramatic that I became the Editor of a Yola-based Newsmagazine, National Spectator, for defending the editorial thrust of Liberty Magazine, which I published as an NYSC member after setting up Liberty Press Club, and I also reinforced my discussion with the critique of operational philosophy and editorial policy of National Spectator Newsmagazine during my interview with the Publisher, Chief D.S. Nyapuru. He heaved a sigh of relief and signed my employment letter in the middle of the engaging interview and my job commenced immediately.

The soft-spoken influential northern politician opened doors for me to some political heavyweights in Nigeria. Our first cover edition under my editorial seat was an exclusive interview with the respected Colonel (Rtd) Yohanna Anteyan Makdaki, the former military Governor of Gongola State and then Benue State during the military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida. Madaki made headlines with his strong views on the role of the United States in the Gulf War at that period, arguing that the United States had an obligation to defend its territorial integrity. But it takes someone who reads the entire interview to understand his position. Muslims in Yola generally assumed that Madaki was defending the United States rather than Saudi Arabia and were miffed at the caption. This is simply journalistic tactics. We reprinted the edition due to massive demand.

Our next cover story brought me face to face with the late Cicero of Nigeria’s political landscape, Chief Bola Ige, Chief Olu Falae, former Minister of Finance, and late Abubakar Rimi, former Governor of Kano State for exclusive interviews as they came to Yola for caucus meeting. It was an exciting interview. I put Falae, the erudite economist on the spot on the raging controversy about the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP). But Falae, who was warming up for Presidency, highlighted the substance and essence of the programme in less than 15 minutes. In one of the subsequent editions, we interviewed the socialist-inclined Balarabe Musa, former Governor of Kaduna State, and vintage Isa Mohammed, former Governor of Plateau State.

There was no dull moment in Gongola State and people began to perceive me as a tin god. I realized the need to bridge a professional gap by working in an environment where someone can challenge me for better output. I resolved with my wife who was then in Ekiti State that I would move to Lagos, the nerve center of top-notch journalism. In 1992, I explained to Chief Ige why I needed to relocate to Lagos. He agreed and invited me to his chamber at Ibadan, gave me reference letters to The Guardian, defunct National Concord, and Daily Times. The three newspapers were making waves at that time, but The Guardian was the most elitist. Its stories are written in high prose and the headlines appeal to the intellect rather than emotion. It was a status symbol to work for the Flagship at Rutam House in those days. Ige recommended me strongly to The Managing Directors of the three newspapers through one of The Guardian’s Editorial Board Member, Mr. Sina Odugbemi, who now holds a Doctorate Degree in Law. His mandate was to introduce me to the three newspapers for employment.

I preferred to work for The Guardian. But it operates a rigorous recruitment policy. Applicants must undergo a test that may last for years. They shall source stories and write in The Guardian’s style. Some Candidates do abandon the test after a long period of trial. One of my classmates at the university discouraged me from going through the route. Despite my introduction to The Guardian by Odugbemi, I had to undergo the Test. I took up the challenge and before the end of the first month, I was employed. One of the secrets of The Guardian’s exemplary quality in those days was deliberate recruitment of professionals from a different academic background; hence the paper has specialists in all fields of human endeavour. It parades top-class academics. Dr Olatunji Dare (now a Professor) who finished with First Class Honours in Mass Communication at the University of Lagos was the Chairman of, Editorial Board. Another secret of the newspaper’s competitiveness was the editorial freedom granted the Management by the Publisher, late Alex Ibru. Every successful government takes the paper’s editorial opinions sacrosanct because of its depth of facts, analysis, and polished diction. The flagship places a premium on exclusive stories.

I started with Energy and was later moved to Aviation, Insurance, Real Sector, and Money Market before my odyssey to the Financial Market. I was privileged to pass through Jide Ogundele, Editor Financial Guardian and later Group Deputy Editor, Business, Eluem Emeka-Izeze, Editor, The Guardian, Femi Kusa, Deputy Editor-In-Chief and Lade Bonuola, Editor-In-Chief and Managing Director. These top-class professionals symbolize the entire Board and Editors of The Guardian’s titles. They will not settle for mediocrity stories. I became a restless reporter, jostling for front-page stories. At times, I had more than three by-lines, including prominent pages to my credit in a day. Journalists in those days work round the clock to get stories unlike the current era of online information flow, which has rendered many reporters indolent and diminished the urge to break news.

One afternoon, barely three months after my employment, Jide, my immediate Editor said Sola, go to the Library and begin to read Financial Times as from now. Tomorrow, you shall report at The Nigerian Stock Exchange and you must get us solid stories as usual. I could not understand why I must cover almost six beats within a few months. You dare not challenge such an editorial order. That marked the beginning of my real odyssey to the financial market in Nigeria. I went to The Guardian’s well-stocked Library, assembled some copies of Financial Times, and began to study the companies and markets section. I also decided to buy some books on finance and economics to defend my stories.

My first day at the gallery of The Nigerian Stock Exchange was exciting. I watched stockbrokers like dramatists as they shout ‘offering’, ‘bidding’ ‘home delivery’, and other trading terminologies. Every stockbroker is addressed by the name of his organization. Like a convention in journalism, every stockbroker is a gentleman. The Exchange’s Officials: The Call Over Chairman and Clerk seat at the podium. As the Clerk calls out the quoted companies’ names, stockbrokers respond simultaneously by indicating whether to buy (bid) or offer (sell) with the quantity and price. It was awesome, how the Call-Over Chairman and Deputy Director-General, late Chief Henry Ogiri picks an individual’s request and apportions the quantity equitably.

The Call Over Trading, also called Open Outcry is time-consuming and energy-sapping. At times, ladies’ voices can be swallowed by men’s baritone. Despite the shortcomings of this transaction model, it unites stockbrokers as members of one large family. Although the Chairman has an opportunity to be biased in his allocation of shares, he is obliged to be fair to all. Call Over also enables stockbrokers to argue why a share price should rise or fall. The daily trading is a harvest of stories for reporters with a high sense of news judgment, otherwise, he stands the risk of pushing out routine stories daily. This can provoke an editor’s wrath.

All stockbrokers deal with the same financial products. Therefore, the stock market approximates the perfect market in economics. There is the homogeneity of products and free entry and free exit, though the latter is a function of demand and supply. The capital market is the heartbeat of the economy where individuals invest for the medium and long term and companies and governments mobilize huge capital for diverse use. There is a correlation between the development of an economy and its capital market. Virtually all sectors of the economy are represented on the market. The stock market, like any institution, is not without its good, bad, and ugly. This is why investors should leverage expertise of stockbrokers to mitigate risks.

I started turning out strong stories from the market for The Guardian. At times, my story could ‘step ’on the toes of The Exchange, the Self Regulatory Organization (SRO), where late Apostle Hayford Alile was presiding or Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the apex regulatory body, under the watchful eyes of late Mr. George Akamiokhor. The likable duo typified the highest level of professionalism by all metrics. But neither organization ever faulted my stories. In the later years, Professor Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke (then Doctor), the Deputy Director-General and a delight to every reporter because of her brilliance, lucidity and willingness to answer reporters’ questions had several times threatened to ‘arrest’ me for my stories, but it always ended in laughter. The competition was keen among Correspondents. Everyone strives to break news. I suddenly became an in-house investment adviser to my Editors at The Guardian, church members, club members, families, and friends. I must defend every market swing in my stories and back it up with authentic sources. Some of us did not care about our relatively poor salary in those days but derive joy in hitting the front page and serving as checks and balances to the high and mighty in the financial market. As a payback, the job was running after us.

To be continued tomorrow


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