Remembering quintessential journalist Mac Adetoye Alabi (April 25, 1928 – August 21, 2009)
Muhammed Raji Adetoyi Alabi (his full name) but fondly called Mac Alabi, was a product of a polygamous home, with the father having four wives with eight children and he, being the only male child amongst them. But being the only male child in the family did not confer on him any special immunity or privilege. Rather, all the children saw themselves as belonging essentially to one family under the leadership of Pa Jimoh Alabi, Mac Alabi’s father.
The young Alabi, a Muslim, had his secondary education at the Christ’s School, Ado-Ekiti, and graduated in 1949. He was at St. George’s Catholic School, Ado-Ekiti between 1934 and 1942 for his elementary education.
He had a brief stint as a pupil-teacher at the Saint Michael’s School at Ilu-Omoba in Gboyin District, on a salary of 15 shillings a month. Out of this amount, the Catechist whom he was staying with used to give him five shillings and sent the 10 shillings remaining to his father. It was in that school that Alabi spent the whole of 1943.
A close friend of his father, Pastor Kolade, father of the popular broadcaster and one-time Nigerian High Commissioner to Britain, Dr. Christopher Kolade, who was also the vicar of Emmanuel Church, Ado-Ekiti then facilitated young Alabi’s admission into the Christ’s School, Ado Ekiti, the only secondary school in Ekiti Division in 1944.
His journey into journalism profession was more of an act of faith or destiny than any other thing. Indeed, unlike many people who ‘gatecrashed’ or went into journalism mainly for the purpose of earning a living, Mac Alabi’s enthusiasm for the profession was fired by his resolve to team up with other fellow citizens to liberate Nigeria and make the society a better place for all.
The inspiration to become a journalist started early at Christ’s School, Ado-Ekiti where, as a pupil, he was exposed to the West African Pilot, one of the newspapers being published by the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe.
And the most important stimulant that prompted Alabi’s entry into hardcore journalism was when Azikiwe, a veteran journalist, led an N.C.N.C. delegation to Ado-Ekiti in 1948. That was the first time Alabi came face-to-face with a political organization asking colonial masters to quit the country for the people to rule themselves.
Alabi and a few of his colleagues in the Fifth Form found their way into the Ado Town Hall where Azikiwe addressed a big rally. His oratory and the arguments he marshaled against colonialism weighed so heavily in Alabi’s mind then that he decided that he must join forces with the nationalists to fight colonialism.
Upon graduation in 1949, Alabi taught for about nine months in obedience to his family’s wishes at the St. Phillip’s Primary School, Aramoko Ekiti, before returning to Ibadan, his ancestral home.
By this time, Azikiwe had already set up a daily newspaper, the Southern Nigerian Defender in Ibadan. Also in Ibadan then was the Nigerian Tribune founded by the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo in 1949. Alabi’s ambition to become a career journalist nurtured for almost two and half years, translated into reality when, following an advertisement, the Defender picked six applicants, including himself, as their trainee reporters. Their letters of appointment read then that for any of their stories published during their three months on-the-job training, they would be paid half a penny per line.
Although Alabi was not bothered by that monetary aspect of the job, some of his colleagues were scared and true, by the end of third week of the training, four had left.
As trainees, they were not only sent to the courts in the morning, they were assigned to cover afternoon and evening engagements, such as union meetings, political party meetings and sports.
The first editorial Alabi wrote and published before the end of their training was titled “Keep death off our roads.” He devoted his whole time to this training and was not surprised that by the end of the exercises, he was appointed a staff reporter and placed on three pounds a month salary while the appointment of his only remaining colleague was deferred.
Thereafter, Alabi started covering important assignments. One of them was the Zik’s libel suit against the Tribune early in 1952. The then General Manager, Mr. A. Akinsanya was so impressed by the young Alabi’s coverage of the court proceedings that he offered him an appointment on the Tribune on a higher salary.
Thus, Alabi moved over to the Tribune by the middle of 1952 and discovered that the editorial there was virtually the same until Lateef Jakande, a former Lagos State governor, was sent down from the Daily Service, Lagos in 1953 to reorganize the place.
The exercise led to the emergence of various sections, including the features, news, sports, the subs and production which hitherto had either been handled by the editor or his assistant.
Indeed, Alabi’s great exploits in the profession was helped by the on-the-job training he had. He attended courses conducted by the British Council, the United States Information Service, top personnel from the International Publishing Corporation, London; Nigerian Institute of Management, Lagos, and the Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ).
Owing to his versatility as a journalist, he was appointed Tribune Sports Editor in 1956; News Editor in 1957; Chief sub-Editor in 1959 and acting Assistant Editor in 1960. He joined Daily Times as a senior sub-Editor on December 1, 1960. In 1963, he was appointed the chief sub-Editor of the newspaper, a position he held until he became the Regional Editor of Daily Times, Ibadan, Western Region from 1964 to 1965; Assistant Editor in October 1974 to May 1975. Alabi later became the production editor of the Daily Times in 1976 and Night Editor in 1977.
Between 1978 and 1980, Mac Alabi acted several times as Deputy Editor and once as Editor of the Daily Times. In May 1980, Alabi was appointed Books Editor, a post he held until he retired on December 31, 1983 after attaining the statutory age of 55.
Though retired, Alabi was not tired. He joined The Guardian on February 1, 1984 as Night Editor and held the post for seven years and three months before retiring on April 30, 1991.
In September 1992, Mac Alabi was appointed Editorial Consultant of Daily Mail Newspapers. In November, he was appointed member of the caretaker committee of the SDP for Somolu Local Government by the Lagos State Headquarters of the National Electoral Commission.
The name Alabi was synonymous with the coverage of some important events in Nigeria, such as the Oyo riots of 1954, and the subsequent Lloyd commission of Inquiry in the riots; Ilugun train disaster inquiry; Lalupon train disaster probe, Ota tax riot probe; Nicholson Commission of Inquiry into Ibadan District Council in 1955; and the Willink Commission of Inquiry into boundary adjustments in 1957 and parliament proceedings.
His dream of publishing a biography on his flourishing career as a journalist was realised in 2008.
Entitled, Still at a crossroads… after 40 years practice of journalism, two journalists from The Guardian – Kabir Alabi Garba (now Deputy Editor) and Felix Oluwayemi Kuye (now Chief Sub-Editor) authored the biography. It was publicly presented in April 2008 to mark the 80th birthday anniversary of the quintessential journalist.
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