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Segun Osoba, high priest of Kakawa

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Osoba

Among reporters of his generation, he was the “primus inter pares,” the first among equals. Whether in diligence, application to duty, indeed unremitted commitment, he was in the forefront. He was daring and he was brave. I am referring to no other than Olusegun Osoba. It is not for nothing that he was crowned with the Egba title: Akinrogun—the valiant who saw war. And actually, he went through the crucibles. He saw war and was locked up. He was at the war front during the Nigeria Civil War. And on 12 November, 1969, he was locked up together with the editor, Henry Odukomaiya in one cell; and Alhaji Babatunde Jose, Chairman/ Managing Director and his deputy, Leban Namme in another cell at Awolowo Road, Ikoyi!

However, I must start from the beginning as it is said in local parlance. The byline often ran as follows: By ‘Timesman’ Segun Osoba; and whenever outside the Nigerian orbit or outside what might be called his regular beat the byline would read ‘Dispatches from Timesman Segun Osoba.’ One instance particularly came to mind. It was when as Deputy Editor of the Daily Times he covered General Gowon’s State Visit to Britain and the Head of State was received by Queen Elizabeth 11. As was his custom, with his eyes trained for details and exhaustive reporting, Osoba went outside the routine talks of bilateral relations and balance of trade to describing the coaches, the Queen’s regiment/sentries, their attire and enrapturing movements in columns. He reported the plates, and the cutlery which were not just gold-plated, but real solid gold. The dispatches were a mark of impressionistic reporting.

At Jose’s Daily Times, bylines were sparingly given. They were earned. They were a cause for chest beating and celebration. By prefixing the author of the story with Timesman, it was to demonstrate that the Daily Times was there and reporting authoritatively. Most times, such was affixed for exclusive stories. As Osoba was the master of exclusives, he earned the appellation regularly. The country can’t but remember his discovery of the bodies of slain Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa and flamboyant Finance Minister, Okotie-Eboh on Abeokuta Road outside Lagos, what ace cameraman Peter Obe, himself an incomparable leader of exclusives, was wont to describe as “world exclusive.”

In no time, the pursuit of special stories stood Osoba out and became the toast of title editors as well as news editors who sometimes had to sit staring at the ceiling for lead stories, especially on Sundays. His principal tools were his motor-bike and telephone at home, which put him far ahead of peers. The telephone at the time was a status symbol. It was a rare commodity among line editors how much less among reporters. It was unlike now when every school child clutches one, no thanks to the digital age that has turned the world into a global village and made explosion in communication possible. That Osoba had a telephone at the time marked him out as a king in the making. He cultivated wide contacts in government circles, in the military, in security services in general as well as in the corporate world. The contacts were not just there, he nurtured them diligently. In the mornings and far into the night he was making calls. He loved his job exceedingly and up till today, very proud to call himself a reporter—after climbing every rung of the professional ladder, from reporter to assistant news editor, to editor of weeklies graduating to the editorship of the coveted flagship of the empire, the Daily Times. At every point he acquitted himself. No matter the position, at no time did he abandon reporting, and touching base with his beats and contacts. Little wonder he has said in his next incarnation he would like to be a reporter. It is something he carries deep within his soul!

In no time, he was moved from assistant news editor to the powerful seat of the news editor. It was from this position he became editor of Lagos Weekend. Among those who competed strongly with him in news gathering were Idowu Sobowale, now professor emeritus, mass communications, who could be trusted to squeeze water out of stone; and Sola Odunfa who was later to retire as BBC Correspondent in Nigeria. Coming after this set were Chinaka Fynecountry and Femi Ogunleye who was a thorn in the flesh of Audu Bako, the Kano State Governor who ordered the deportation of Ogunleye. Idowu Sobowale was similarly asked to pack and leave Rivers State. Ogunleye is now a traditional ruler and a lawyer.

Osoba, Sola Odunfa, Sobowale, Bola Adedoja, Peter Obe, Oladele Yusuf, Akin Adedayo and some more were at the war front. Before then, Sobowale had shaken the ranks of smugglers. Camouflaging as one, he joined them on their raids on Lagos high seas. The earth-shaking report was published in the Sunday Times under the editorship of Peter Osugo. The smugglers were all apprehended and convicted. Audu Bako’s protest that the accustomed limousines were not at the Lagos Airport to carry him to Dodan Barracks was filed exclusively by Idowu Sobowale. The story turned out to be a great one in a screaming headline “Where are those cars?” Oyenusi, the kingpin of armed robbers said to Chinaka Fyncountry during an interview on his exploits how he wished he was armed! Such was the strength of the Daily Times that made the newspaper the biggest in Africa South of the Sahara. Such was the ubiquitiness and overarching power and influence of the Daily Times that hardly could any press conference take place in the absence of the likes of Osoba.

When Osoba went to Lagos Weekend, it was in an acting capacity. Within two weeks of his editorship, the circulation of the paper soared unbelievably. It doubled. Alhaji Jose just asked him to stay on and something else was found for the substantive editor of the paper on his return from vacation. Osoba completely changed the character of the weekly newspaper in the words of the chairman/managing director “…reflecting all the fun, adventures and peccadilloes of his boy-oh-boy age group. It was a terrific success.” It featured divorce scandal, crime and gossips. Indeed, from the foundation Osoba gave the paper, it ranked third in circulation in the stable as of 1975 September when Alhaji Jose retired from the Daily Times, with the Sunday Times leading the pack with 370,000 copies every week, followed by Daily Times selling 225,000 copies every morning. Lagos Weekend sold 185,000.

There were contributions from Dipo Ajayi, Gbolabo Ogunsanwo and Steve Omojafor now chairman of STMaccan Advertising Agency, each after the other reflecting life on the Lagos University campus. When Dipo Ajayi took over as editor of Lagos Weekend, he added the “Waka About” column written by Wole Falodun. It was gossip column written in pidgin English and Clement Okosun added music for the entertainment section.

It was such a bubbling house populated with enterprising reporters, correspondents, staff writers, sub-editors, eagle-eyed production sub-editors, quality-control staffers and editorial gate-keepers called sub-editors, line editors and great editors who could rub shoulders with their peers in any English-speaking countries.

Ever so dandy, Segun Osoba was a well attired journalist which fitted his handsomeness. He commanded attention of his colleagues. For him punctuality was the soul of business. His closest friend was Sam Amuka, now publisher of Vanguard newspaper. Where to find him exchanging banters on Mondays when pressure of work was relaxed was with Sam Amuka in Sunday Times or Sam Amuka going to him in Lagos Weekend office.

Alhaji Jose did say in his glittering testimonial: “I see myself in Osoba, the way Cecil King sees himself in me.” It was so obvious to any watcher of the industry. What did Jose mean, it may be asked? Both share a lot in common. What might be called their philosophy as editors and publishers is summarized by what Stafford Somerfield, editor of the News of the World, said in his book, Banner Headlines: “A newspaper without financial strength is far more vulnerable to undesirable influences… A newspaper must print the news and its views without fear. If it is financially sound, it has a great safeguard.” For the two men, it is not enough to be great editors, you must awaken your business instincts. It was sharp business instincts, coupled with uncanny sense of professionalism that constituted the driving force for Segun Osoba wherever he went. What he drilled into me as his chief sub-editor was this business sense. He would often say to me, after accusing me of being too much of a perfectionist: “There is no sense in producing a perfect newspaper that does not meet the market and which nobody reads.” He was open to argument after sharply rebuking me. I countered his sound argument by saying that an imperfect paper with mistakes and careless errors today and tomorrow would equally put off readers. I once used the analogy of a mouthwatering delicious plate of rice containing sands which also nobody would continuously touch. He then ruled: it must then henceforth be speed and accuracy that must govern the work. A quick-witted fellow, he set the “Lion”, deputy production manager, Dominic Nworji, to be on guard. Once it was deadline, he had the mandate of my editor to yank the copy and layout off my hand to take to the chaseroom: Mould, the Lion would roar on entering the newsroom!!

PART 2 NEXT WEEK.


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