The man called ‘ID Noble,’ at 80
After the thanksgiving worship, Professor Sobowale donned his gab and nestled in his mien of seriousness that gives expression to the world in which he is in his elements, the academe. And there was a full house of academics, as well as media professionals at the events that mark the 80th birthday of a journalism giant.
Sobowale’s life journey from the lowest rung of the ladder, and climb to the pinnacle of his chosen career is a study in combination of grit determination, diligence, and opportunity. Every direction he turned indefinable help manifesting in opportunities lined his route, and he had the right presence of mind to recognise and grab them. As he would sometimes say, opportunities lie in wait for everyone. What remains is to prayerfully recognise and grab them with full hands and efforts underpinned with hard work.
Sobowale, who hails from Abeokuta, began his elementary education—hold it— at the age of 13 in 1954 as tidings spread that Awolowo’s universal free education programme in the Western Region would begin the following year. Until then he had been on the farm helping his peasant father. The family plan was for him to be apprenticed to be a mechanic. That was not to be; free education came to the rescue as it did for millions of other children in the Western Region, bringing huge relief to the parents.
Upon completing his elementary education, he attended Baptist Academy, Obanikoro for his secondary education, his brilliance having been established in the primary school, and his elder brother on standby to give the necessary support. He passed out of BapsAcad in good grades and he got a job at Lagos City Council as a health officer. It was there he ran into Chief Bisi Onabanjo who had been editor-in-chief of Daily Service and an old student of Baptist Academy, Sobowale’s Alma Mater. The chance encounter got him mentioned to Alhaji Babatunde Jose, the legendary managing director/chairman of the Daily Times who asked Sobowale to see him in his office. Jose sent him to Alade Odunewu, (Allah-De) who was an editor. It was at the time the Daily Times was starting its Training School. Sobowale became one of the pioneer trainee reporters. That closed the chapter of his being a health inspector at Lagos City Council, where he spent only six days!
As no one can cover a star with his hands, at the Daily Times Training School, Sobowale’s brilliance immediately shone through. His performance was so remarkable that within two months, for a course that was supposed to last a year, Sobowale was adjudged excellent by the training director, Mr. Leslie W. Riley, an Aussie, to be posted straight to the Newsroom. It was crystal clear a star had arrived in the Newsroom at Kakawa and a bright future lay ahead of him. In the Newsroom, he soon proved his mettle through preparation, self-drive, unremitted application to work, bravery, and enchanting writing skills. Sobowale was one reporter that could be counted upon to supply lead stories to make the Daily Times compelling in the market. It was even more so on Sundays when News Editors were wont to gaze at the ceiling for manna and the chief sub-editor wringing his hands for miracles, yet the week must be opened with a bang.
For Sobowale, the flow of stories is not by happenstance, it must be planned. With him emerging in the newsroom, there was always a heaving sigh of relief. Somehow, it was the time the editor, Henry Odukomaiya would emerge from his editorial suite and say Idowu is here. The news editors, Kunle Animashaun or Chief Theo Oladele Ola, depending on who was running which shift, would echo: Idowu what do you have? Colleagues would say, “ID Noble,” you can trust him! Shoboy has arrived. His twin brother in bringing similar relief was ace photographer, Peter Obe, “Exclusive Baba!! All hail, Exclusive! Exclusive Baba!!” A front-page action photograph was assured.
Sobowale loves journalism and he could take frightening risks with absolute disregard to personal consequences. When he was a reporter in the Sunday Times under the editorship of Peter Osugo (Pecos), feigning interest in smuggling, Sobowale joined a group of smugglers whose activities had for a long time been frustratingly intractable for security forces. He went with them on their expedition on the high seas for more than a week. His serialized report was the stuff a detective’s best-seller was made of! Following the expose the smugglers were rounded up, tried, and jailed.
During General Gowon’s era, senior government functionaries knew they had Idowu Sobowale’s reportorial corps to contend with at Lagos Airport. Idowu they knew would always go the extra mile to grill them. He looked for the unusual in every encounter with governors or visiting dignitaries passing through the then Lagos International Airport. Can anyone forget so easily Governor Audu Bako’s lamentation on arrival at the Lagos Airport: “Where are those cars?” He was complaining that the sleek limousines sent to convey him to Dodan Barracks for a meeting of the Supreme Military Council were not sleek enough. I fell below what used to be sent to fetch governors. Sobowale alone got that aspect of the encounter and the Daily Times led with it. At a point, his drive for exclusive reports as Port Harcourt correspondent could no longer be tolerated by the government of Rivers State. He was declared persona non grata and was asked to leave the Garden City. Idowu was unyielding even with the threat that his safety could no longer be guaranteed. Authorities at Kakawa had to prevail on him before he considered relocating to Lagos.
All over the world, many a man would consider his wedding day a special one. Not for Idowu Sobowale if he had an assignment to pursue. In 1969 when he married, he did not inform his editors and did not ask to be excused for his special day. After backslapping and expression of felicitations to the latest couple in town by a handful of witnesses, Idowu motioned to his wife, mounted her on his motor-cycle, and off they left the registry. Upon dropping off his wife, Idowu went on his assignment! It was all looks of disappointment when news filtered through the newsroom that Idowu had gone to marry earlier in the day: How can you, ID, marry a princess from Ijebu-Ode Awujale Royal House, for that matter, and there would be no noise-making, so read the probing looks, and scolding that followed. A few weeks into the marriage, Idowu left for the war front to cover the hostilities. He was attached to Benjamin Adekunle’s 3rd Marine Commando. Today, the marriage has gone on for 52 years—a remarkable success story, of love, care, companionship, and duty.
Daily Times could boast of a crop of crack reporters who took pride in their jobs and who in reciprocity the company flaunted as its pride and delight—Segun Osoba, Sola Odunfa, Angus Okoli, Chinaka Fynecountry, Femi Ogunleye, now a traditional ruler and lawyer, who, like Sobowale, was expelled from Kano—and many more. At the Daily Times, bylines were earned. Nothing could be more professionally fulfilling than to read, ‘By Timesman Angus Okoli, Enugu.’
Many took advantage of the human capital development programme instituted by Alhaji Jose. Idowu Sobowale was one of them. He went to the University of Lagos on a Times scholarship; first, he took a diploma, and then a BSc degree, in Mass communication. He was the best graduating student in his set in the Department of Mass Communication. Although he returned to the Daily Times upon graduation in 1973, the stint at Unilag awakened his intellectual instincts and can be said to have provided the foretaste for a possible sojourn in the world of academia. When he got back, he was appointed Assistant Editor of the Daily Times and got saddled with production, page planning, editing, copy-tasting, and sub-editing. When work pressed, Sobowale was simply called ID or Sho! ID Noble was reserved as an expression of joy by colleagues for his unfailing exclusives!
In 1974, he was redeployed to Evening Times as editor. There was nowhere you would put Idowu Sobowale that he would not make a dramatic change and leave an indelible mark. It was during his tenure that stories about businesswoman Iyabo Olorunkoya broke. The Evening Times made a feast of it with Dipo Ajayi, the Daily Times European correspondent filing unending reports about the lady’s trial in London. The circulation sales of the Evening Times surged to a new high. It was such that at a point Alhaji Jose had to come down to the Press Hall to stop the press as newspaper distributors were unrelenting in their demand for reordering of more copies. Jose feared that the newsprint stock was being rapidly depleted. Later that year Sobowale was reposted to the Daily Times to deputize for Segun Osoba who was going to Harvard in the United States as a Fulbright Fellow. When Osoba returned, Sobowale went back to the University of Lagos where he became an assistant lecturer in the Department of Mass Communication.
In 1976, he left Nigeria for Syracuse University in the U.S. for his Masters’s degree. By the time he came back in 1978, he had his PhD certificate proudly tucked in his briefcase. Now the time had come to plunge full blast into the world of academia and he did without looking back. The innovation he brought to the University of Lagos and to communication studies, in general, was Precision Journalism. This he made the instrument of Gown and Town. Sobowale introduced opinion polls, selling the idea to Sam Amuka to publish in The Punch. Sad Sam was his erstwhile boss at the Daily Times. Thus, opinion polls surfaced in Nigerian newspapers for the first time in 1979. Among the first set of Sobowale’s students to study precision journalism, a novel course for his Masters, was Adigun Agbaje, the first student to break the barrier to making first-class in political science in the history of the University of Ibadan. He was himself to become a professor of political science and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, (Academics) at his Alma Mater. But not until he had passed through The Guardian where he was pioneer Political Correspondent.
Agbaje delivered the keynote address at the two-day 5th Idowu Sobowale Conference with the theme ‘Media, Public Opinion and Governance in Africa.” To demonstrate Sobowale’s reach and influence in the community of communication scholars, professionals, and veterans, the conference was organised jointly by Lagos State University School of Communication and the Department of Mass Communication, Covenant University, Ota. The conference has been running since 2009 and has even been taken to Sierra Leone. It is aimed at providing the marketplace for knowledge sharing and exchanges in the community called the Association of Communication Scholars and Professionals of Nigeria, and create an avenue for the intellectual and professional intervention of Sobowale. It could not have, therefore, come as a surprise that the president of the association, ACSPN, Professor Umaru Pate, came all the way from Gombe, to chair the conference, despite difficulties associated with these times in the land. Pate is Vice-Chancellor, Federal University, Kashere, in Gombe State. The general secretary, Professor Nosa Owens-Ibie, Vice-Chancellor, Caleb University, Imota, Lagos State, was a guest of honour. Acting Vice-Chancellor, Lagos State University, Professor Oyedamola Oke was chief host while the Communication School’s Dean, Professor Yinka Alawode was the host. It was an unusual galaxy of communication stars celebrating one of their own and a leader of leaders in the industry.
Communication and journalism guru, and former head of the department of Mass communication, at Unilag, who is also world-renowned for journalism education, Professor Ralph Akinfeleye, was there to chair Sobowale’s reminiscences.
The choice of LASU as a venue for the events was as significant as it was revealing and as if to underscore this was the conspicuous presence of the first Vice-Chancellor of the University, Professor Abisogun Leigh. Sobowale was one of the brains in the founding of Lagos State University as a special adviser on education to Governor Lateef Jakande, the founder. Sobowale was also the first Dean of LASU School of Communication. Professor Rotimi Olatunji, a former Dean of the school, spoke generously on the significance of the day and the venue.
As a senior functionary in Jakande’s Administration, Sobowale supervised the policy of transferring pupils from private to public schools, an act that was compulsory for children of senior government officials. Jakande’s reasoning was that relevant officials, knowing that their children’s future was involved, would overstretch themselves to ensure that the schools were well run and had all the facilities to make them top-rate schools. It was at this period UNESCO gave Sobowale an offer to go to Malawi to start his own university. But he elected to stay back and support the Jakande Administration. Sobowale was also to serve in Bola Tinubu’s Administration first as Special Adviser and later as Commissioner for Education. As commissioner, he chaired the committee that decided to return private schools, whether mission or privately run by education-minded proprietors, to their original owners. The schools were returned by Tinubu.
Who is a good reporter? In the words of Stafford Somerfield, “…a good reporter must be an idealist. He must have deep feelings, particularly for the underdog and minority interests. He must be committed to something—political, or economic. He must be broadminded, interested in the world outside his own. He must have integrity. He must be able to think clearly. He must have the patience and persistence to succeed.” This is the testimonial Sobowale has proudly brandished over the years. It is more: Sobowale’s guiding principle is, again in the words of Somerfield, editor of The News of the World (1960—1970): “The greater the evil, the greater the need for exposure.” Idowu would not compromise on integrity which is what Noble in the cognomen, ID Noble, expresses and he would not accept half measures. The greatest influence on him was his principal at Baptist Academy, Rev. J. Adegbite, who drummed the essence of integrity into his students. He was known to have said when he was later chairman of the Code of Conduct Bureau that if any of his students were brought to the Bureau accused of falling below expectation, he would resign. Sobowale takes his religion seriously. He was trusted to have been made chairman of the new Shepherd Hill Church Building Committee after the church vacated the school chapel that was used by the church for years.
Sobowale has traversed the world of journalism and communication, in theory, and practice with the matchless application, and politics seamlessly, and in all, he excelled. He was a reporter, he was a sub-editor. He was airport correspondent; he was assistant editor; he was deputy editor; he was the editor. He is a scholar who moulded men and women. He breathed journalism and built human beings, turning them into stars. He is a visiting professor at many universities teaching communication arts across the land. He is an all-rounder, imbued with a keen sense of public service. What an achiever who has made an unquantifiable impact on journalism and in academia. Not surprising, the journalism community rolled out the red carpet for him and decked his head with garlands for the grandmaster’s 80th birthday. Even from afar, using the modern-day technological wonders of Zoom, wine glasses were clicked virtually. It was a happy birthday to a jolly fellow, a venerable bridge between Gown and Town.
Kwara State Government reacts to the RAM column’s comments
A SENIOR Kwara State Government official has reacted to this column position on the wearing of Hijab in grant-aided mission schools. The response reads:
There seems to be a deep lack of understanding of the law and sentiments that have set in. Bamgboye’s speech in 1972 is not superior to the law that came into place in 1974. A speech that was neither signed nor gazetted cannot be superior to the law. In any case, the speech was part of the documents tendered in court by CAN in a matter in which they asked for their schools back. The question is, why will you go to court to ask for your schools back if they had not been taken by the government?
**ABDURAFIU’S COMMENTS NEXT WEEK:
No one is denying the content of Brig.-Gen. David Bamgboye’s speech even if the reproduction of it was not signed. The speech was heard by all concerned and I believe Bamgboye, an officer and gentleman, would like to be regarded as an honourable man whose word is his bond. What was said in the speech, with due respect, was “the proprietary rights of the owners remain…the religious orientation and practices in the schools remain generally undisturbed.” No law or power can overturn an understanding entered into by parties on their honour.
To be concluded next week.
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