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Osoba @ 80: A protege remembers

When you read this, the clinking of wine glasses in celebration of venerable Chief Olusegun Osoba, an accomplished journalist, astute politician and seasoned administrator at the mature age of 80, may or may not have been over. That does no damage to the need to give honour to whom it is due. The Bible says: “Render therefore the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s”, (Matthew 22:21).

The passage of time from long ago and far away in 1972, when my professional path as a young reporter at the blessed Daily Times of old under the editorship of my professional father, Prince Henry Olukayode Odukomaiya, crossed that of Osoba, then Deputy Editor of the Sunday Times at Kakawa Street, Lagos, seems like yesterday. How time flies!

Ever before then, Osoba was a member of a quartet of himself, Babatunde Olufon, Babatunde Alli and (now Professor) Idowu Sobowale who, with their ubiquitous yellow scooters emblazoned with Daily Times/Sunday Times on either side, had fired my ambition to be a journalist right from secondary school. Looking back, the meeting was prophetic as it enriched me professionally and blossomed into a most useful relationship over 47 years.

Blissfully unaware that he had kept track of my rising profile as an investigative reporter at the Daily Times, Osoba called me into his office one afternoon and declared with an air finality: “We’ve seen what you’re doing; just give us the lead every week”. He advised me to get a scooter as that would place me in good stead to successfully navigate the increasingly chaotic Lagos traffic.

That also proved significant as it enabled me to ascend to the level of “SJ”, the elite cadre of senior journalists within a short time ahead of some of my seniors.

I filled the role assigned me by Osoba to the best of my ability with tangible financial rewards on account of the slew of exclusive reports from various sources, including the Nigeria Airways, the Nigeria Railway Corporation, Nigeria Produce Marketing Company, the Nigeria Ports Authority and the Association of Resident Doctors whose members under that stormy petrel, Dr. Ore Falomo, were engaged in a war of attrition with the government of Lagos State under Rtd Brig-Gen. Mobolaji Johnson over the condition of service and facilities.

But, something snapped down the road. My initial success got in the way as I became puffed up. Me and my big mouth! I became starry – eyed and started to chafe at his steadying hand to make my work more realistic and practical.

As a thoroughbred professional, Osoba would take none of that from me. He could not suffer fools gladly. After all, what could a novice like me teach a (veteran) reporter, as he likes to refer to himself, who had chalked up world exclusive reports like his discovery of the body of Nigeria’s first prime minister, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, under a tree after the 1966 military coup?

But rather than harm me professionally or truncate my financial prospects for my intransigence as he was in a position to do in the manner of some mean men, he remained open-hearted while insisting on things being done professionally. It is to his credit that after the late Aremu Alabi, the editor of the paper intervened, Osoba invited me to his house at Bode Thomas Street, Surulere, Lagos, and spoilt me with choice entertainment and gifts.

As a leader in his own right in the profession of scribbling the pad, Osoba was adept at identifying and rewarding merit. Back in 1988 or thereabouts when Ambassador Yaro Mamman who as Press Secretary I thought should have known better as a media man on the side of the government than to be harassing media representatives covering Dodan Barracks, I wrote an article on him in the PUNCH titled: “The Enemy Within”. Early the next day, Osoba invited me to his Kakawa Street office as MD of the Daily Times Plc and splashed me with 100 British pounds sterling for “a job well done” in the defense of the profession!

Some in his station in life might have become hostage to expediency, but Osoba is not one to coat his true feelings with hypocritical varnish. In 1997 or thereabouts, I had the privilege of representing the Daily Times at his mother’s burial ceremony in his hometown of Abeokuta.

For me, it was a day of infamy. Unbeknown to me that he felt sadly let down that the then management of the company where he rose to the highest position of the managing director, did not care a jot for him, he openly put me down at the party.

Several months later, he displayed commendable humility and made amends. At the steps of St Andrews Cathedral in Owo, Ondo State where we met as he was going in with other notabilities for the funeral service for the late NADECO leader, Pa Adekunle Ajasin, Osoba stopped and openly apologised to me for the humiliation at Abeokuta!

In his Second World War memoir, the late British prime minister, Winston Churchill, counselled magnanimity in victory. A ranking member of the murderous regime of Abacha once called Osoba a fighter. I daresay that as a fighter, Osoba is an embodiment of magnanimity in victory and a bridge builder.

The implosion that culminated in the tragic takeover of the Daily Times Group by the Obasanjo regime in 1976, left many unintended casualties. It is instructive to note that Osoba paved the way for the professional rehabilitation of some of his supposed foes in the crisis and reached out to others after the dust settled.

Not a man bereft of higher principles, purer taste and better tendencies, Osoba never fights dirty. At the height of the crisis in the Daily Times in which he found himself in opposing camp with the Joint Action Committee (JAC) in which some of his friends and contemporaries found themselves, he maintained a cordial attitude to them and never failed to honour them whenever the need arose.

I can recall that at the height of the DTN crisis, Osoba surprised his friends and confounded his critics when he showed up with a gift at the naming ceremony of the son of one of the leading lights of the JAC and left almost immediately as inebriated guests clumsily made their way home in the small hours of the morning after an all-night of feasting and drinking.

There is so much to say within the constraints of time and space. Suffice to say that I am grateful to remember all.