Tribune @74: A Reporter’s Dairy

Bythecrusadersvoicetm

Nov 16, 2023

TUESDAY FLAT OUT

 

By Suyi Ayodele

I was just about five days old in Benin as the Edo State correspondent of the Nigerian Tribune when I thought I had run into a turbulence. I got a traditional summon.

“You are the new correspondent of the Tribune?” Chief Nosakhare Isekhure, asked. I said Yes, sir. The old man was the Chief Priest of Benin Kingdom. He looked deep into me and continued: “I called you here to welcome you and to also encourage you. I read the story you did on Lucky Igbinedion and the teachers. That is how to work, and that is what the Tribune represents. The founder, Chief Obafemi Awolowo lived for the people. Tribune is the paper for the people, and I hope you know that.” I nodded.

The Governor Lucky Igbinedion versus teachers’ story the chief referred to was published on the back page of the Nigerian Tribune on, October 26, 1999, with the headline: “Edo teachers dare governor.”

The High Chief went on to tell me how he called a few journalists to his palace and gave them some documents. Chief shifted in his chair and expressed anguish and utter disappointment on how he discovered that the documents found their way into the hands of some people in government. Pointing at the entrance to the living room, he asked if I saw the shrine on my way in and I answered yes. Adjusting himself again, the chief said he found it difficult to believe that anyone would come to his palace and behave the way the journalists did after he spoke to them and gave them the supporting documents. Then he affirmed: “The gods and our ancestors will handle those ones. You are a young man, and you have the years ahead of you. Always stand by the truth, verify your stories and be professional”, he counselled. He offered some prayers and we left. On our way back to the office, Tribune’s sales executive in Warri who was with me to answer the summon, Mr. Adekunle Oladini, elaborated on the particular issue the chief raised and the ‘trouble’ the matter generated.

I assumed duty in Benin on Friday, October 22, 1999. I just came back to the office from an official assignment, my first, given from the headquarters. It was the coverage of the official opening of the First Bank branch on Textile Mills Road, on Monday, October 25, 1999. The sales representative, Mr. Festus Fadare, gave me the message thus: “Chief Isekhure called that you should come and see him.” I asked who Chief Isekhure was. Fadare’s counterpart in Delta State, Mr. Oladini, answered: “The Chief Priest of Benin Kingdom.” He added that the chief was some two houses away and volunteered to take me to “his palace.” Mr. Oladini led the way and I followed. We entered the house located on Sokponba Road, a little distance from the Tribune office. On the right was an arsenal of traditional items. You have got to fear the objects assembled in that dimly lit corner. That was the Isekhure, nay Benin shrine. We entered a large sitting room, with carved chairs. Facing us as we entered was the Chief Priest himself, Chief Isekhure. He sat on the biggest chair, or if you like, a throne, donning all white apparel with a peculiar hair style I later learnt is exclusive to Benin palace chiefs. We prostrated and greeted him. He answered us “koyor”. Then he ushered us to our seats with a wave of the hand.

Why did I choose to start this page with that story today? By Thursday, November 16, 2023 – some 48 hours away, the Nigerian Tribune will be 74 years old. The paper first hit the newsstands on Wednesday, November 16, 1949. Of all the things Chief Isekhure said during my encounter with him, two things remain the most important to me till date, and those two things are the driving forces behind this column, and every one of my engagements in Tribune. The first is that the Nigerian Tribune is always on the side of the people. The second is equally important: the newspaper stands for nothing but the naked truth. At 74 years of age, the Tribune has held on tenaciously to those two fundamental principles. Irrespective of the darts, rocks and pebbles thrown at it, the paper has remained resolute, unbending, and unyielding. I found these principles in their naked form in my first encounter with the newspaper at the funeral of the late Pa Michael Adekunle Ajasin in Owo, Ondo State, some 26 years ago. I relayed the story in my piece, “Adekunle Ajasin: If only the dead could rise”, published on Tuesday, November 15, 2022.

The Tribune resilience that I encountered that fateful November 14, 1997, was that of Lasisi Olagunju, the current editor, Saturday Tribune. He covered Pa Ajasin’s funeral alongside his photographer, Tommy Adegbite, for the Tribune titles then. As a freelancer, I flew on the wings of Tribune to cover the most militarized funeral, ever, because Olagunju, having become familiar with my lack of a functional identity card as a freelance reporter with the defunct Sunday Diet, edited by Sheddy Ozoene, he offered to take me along. This is how he put it in his Oyo dialect: “Ko si’yonu. Iwo o maa tele wa ni (No problem. Just follow us wherever we go). With that encounter, Tribune came across as a place where there are willing hands to help. Trust yours sincerely, I stuck to Olagunju and Adegbite like a leech and gained entry to all the venues of the funeral rites. Whatever I achieved for the Diet titles during Ajasin’s funeral was made possible because Tribune gave me the wings to fly!

I returned to Lagos; and when there was no hope of a permanent job in The Diet family, I dusted my certificates and returned to the University of Ibadan for a Master of Arts degree in English Language. The very week my supervisor, Emeritus Professor Ayo Banjo, approved all my MA project’s chapters, my cousin informed me that she had information that Tribune was recruiting reporters. The following day, I went to the Imalefalafia office of the paper, where I met some other applicants. We were all subjected to a written test and asked to come back the following week to check the results. I returned as asked and behold; I passed the aptitude test. The successful candidates were further subjected to oral interviews, after which 12 of us were employed. It was at the point of being assigned beats that Olagunju showed up in the office of the then Director of Publications (DOP), Mr. Folu Olamiti, and requested that I should be posted to the News Desk because he had met me before on the field. Olagunju was then the News Editor. That was August 2, 1999.

As a new reporter, I was one day in October assigned to cover the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA)’s Network News. I did and the report I generated was well used the following day. On resumption for duty in the afternoon of the following day, Olagunju simply told me: “Won ni kii nmu e wa loke” (they asked me to bring you upstairs). No more information. I just followed him as we climbed the stairs, wondering whether my village ‘people’ had again followed me after four years of searching for a job! Again, Mr. Olamiti and the then Editor, Pastor Segun Olatunji were present. A brief interview, I was dismissed. Later in the evening, I was summoned by the Human Resources (HR) Department and handed a letter redeploying me to Edo State as the state correspondent for the Tribune titles. What is the essence of this narrative again? Tribune has an eye for talent, and it makes use of its resources. Only an organisation which builds confidence in its employees would assign a probationary employee to go and manage a state like Edo, which was one of the biggest markets for the titles then! So, if Nigerian Tribune has survived this far, one of the contributory factors is the ability to build, nurture and encourage staff to explore their worlds. We shall return to that shortly. What did I make of my stay in Benin as a state correspondent? Without sounding immodest, I wish to state here that those five years I spent in Benin were the most exciting and eventful of my earlier days in journalism. My return to the Tribune family after 16 years of corporate experience underscores how Management valued, or still values, my modest contributions.

Leaving the Tribune family for a corporate job was one decision I did not want to take. I was having fun with the Tribune titles. All the encouragement needed was in huge supplies. But a day came on August 4, 2004, when I resigned my appointment with the foremost newspaper. And for 16 solid years, I was physically away from the newspaper but maintained an open and cordial line of relationship with virtually everybody in the family. Then the ‘tsunami’ happened in my ‘corporate’ work, and I was made “to feel the weight of a paper”, on June 23, 2020. On my way home from the Lagos Island office of my ‘corporate’ job, I put a call across, again, to Olagunju. After the exchange of pleasantries and jokes, I told him: “Oga, I have information for you”. He asked what it was. “I have been asked to go home”, I announced. “What happened?” He asked. I said nothing. “Ok, pele o. a ma soro lola” (sorry, we will talk tomorrow). The day broke. Olagunju called. “Ekiti man, how are you? He asked and I said I was fine. He expressed sympathy again and added: “I told the MD yesterday what happened to you. Hold on, he wants to talk to you.” The next voice I heard was that of the MD/EIC, Mr. Edward Dickson. He expressed the usual sympathy and then added: “Wo Suyi, ma worry. Come back to us. Tribune is your home; you are a member of the family. You will be happy after all”. That was less than 24 hours after I was shipped out of a company, I spent 16 years with, and another one that I left was asking me to come back home! You are still wondering why Tribune is thick and remains solid? Here is the reason. Check most newspapers in Nigeria; hardly do they allow any ex-member of staff, who they tagged, “politically exposed” to return to the newsroom after their tour of duty. But that is not so with Tribune. What the paper looks for is competence and experience. My case is an example. During my interaction with the MD/EIC, preparatory to my resumption, his emphasis was that I should bring my experience in the corporate world to bear on the job. I hope he and all those who built that confidence in me are not disappointed. Re-absorbing an ex-staff is a gain and Tribune has demonstrated that that is one of its strengths above its competitors.

Another strong point of the oldest newspaper in Nigeria is that Tribune runs a very flexible policy that allows its personnel to further their education. In the Editorial Department of the paper today, you cannot find up to five people who don’t have one postgraduate degree or the other in addition to their entry qualifications. The same Editorial Department has over the years produced not less than six doctorate degree holders. I am here talking about the likes of Dr Segun Olatunji, who was a former MD/EIC, Dr Omotayo Lewis, who heads the Sales Department at the moment; Dr Kehinde Oyetimi, who was the Head, Features, before he left to join the Department of English and Literature, University of Ibadan in 2022; Dr Bayo Alade, who left Sunday Tribune some few months ago; Dr Lanre Akinmoladun, formerly of the Sub-Desk of Nigerian Tribune, Dr Leon Usigbe, the Abuja Bureau Chief, and of course, Dr Lasisi Olagunju, Editor Saturday Tribune. The beauty of Olagunju’s editorship is that, again, in the history of newspaper title editorship in Nigeria, Olagunju is the first title editor to hold a PhD! That is a major strength of the Tribune. The paper may not necessarily pick the bills for the academic attainments of those mentioned above and many others, but it creates an environment that allows its personnel to engage in personal development through training and re-training. There are no encumbrances, no limiters to prevent any member of staff from attaining any academic height. The Tribune has that deliberate policy of encouraging its staff to go to school and be trained. So, if you are living in Lagos and you have the impression that Ibadan reporters are “Ara Oke” – people of the hinterlands – you need to meet the Tribune eggheads.

 

Seventy-four years is a long time in the life of a man. It is much longer in the life of a corporate body. Like human beings, corporate bodies also suffer high mortality rates. Many newspapers that were Tribune’s contemporaries and many after it have since gone under and long forgotten. Today, Tribune remains the only longest-surviving newspaper having outlived the likes of Daily Times, owned by the Federal Government, Daily Sketch, which was established in 1964 by the late Samuel Ladoke Akintola government to counter Tribune. There were The Democrat, The Republic established by Major General Shehu Yar’Adua and the New Nigerian Newspapers, established for the north by its only premier, Sir Ahamadu Bello. The Tribune is not standing today because it suffered no tribulations or persecutions. No! In fact, it can be said of the newspaper, like the Psalmist did in Psalm 34;19, that: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous; but the Lord delivereth him from them all.” Festus Adedayo, one of the legendary columnists in the Tribune family, took the nation on the voyage of persecutions the Tribune has suffered in the hands of successive governments right from its inception in 1949, in his Flickers of Sunday, November 12, 2023, under the title: “Nigerian Tribune: Salute to the elephant at 74.”

 

It is a fact that Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the founder of Tribune, was never allowed to become the president of this nation because he refused to pander to the wishes of the north and call their cows buoda (brother), to eat meat. It is also a fact that anyone down south, who wants to amount to anything at the national level, politically, must eat the phlegm of the northern hegemony. The Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP), of yore did it and the promoters amounted to nothing, after the initial gragra! The late Moshood Kashimawo Abiola relied on his political, social, and economic IOUs sowed to the north, but they all failed him. The present leadership adopted the blueprint of the NNDP, to ascend to power; we wish them well. But the Tribune I know will not likely endorse NNDP’s blueprint to be numbered among the ‘friends’ of the government. A legend in the pen profession, the very inimitable Lade Bonuola (LADBONE), the grand old MD of The Guardian, situated this properly in his last week column titled: “Truth and its majesty”, in The Guardian thus: “…. There is all manner of dirt being thrown at the newspaper editors and their columnists for their position on President Bola Ahmed Tinubu. It is too late to get the Tribune to bend to anybody’s inclination, tendencies or beliefs or gag her editors…. Tribune has lived up to her billing. She is the oldest lady among the pack of private newspapers in the whole country today; where are her peers? She has remained standing because she has successfully warded off all pressures considered inimical to the interest of Nigeria…” Nothing could be more encouraging!

 

This is exactly who we are in Tribune. Incidentally, and in fairness to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, and his core media boys, they are not complaining. They do not see Tribune as their enemy. The ones carrying the battle for the president are the agborandun, the busybodies, people who drag praise name with Esu Odara, who answers the name: The ones who cry on behalf of the bereaved and the bereaved gets scared (Abelekunsukun-ki-eru-o-b’elekun). But does it really matter? Should everyone’s life be measured in terms of naira and kobo? Should we all sleep and face the same direction? I answer with a resounding no, to all the questions. Come to think of it; with all that we have been saying, and the country is like this, what would have been our lot if everyone had become a yes man?

 

The Tribune has come a long way, at 74. Its wine can only get better and sweeter. It is too late in the day for the newspaper to change the colour of its editorial contents. The people matter. Truth is constant. Those who stand by the truth don’t usually have the crowd. The crowd itself doesn’t usually get the job done. “The fewer we are, the greater the share of honour”, is the popular saying of my old secondary school principal, Chief Animashaun Agidigbi. Tribune is an institution; its weapon of survival is truth, and the pillar, the people. The legend who established the newspapers, those who nurtured it to maturity and those who handed over the batons to our generation, did not make any mistake. Posterity waits by the corner to dish out to everyone who has passed through the institution, and those who will still pass through, the measure each deserves. “Hi a tori mi baje” (May it not spoil in my time), is a prayer for sustainability in my native Ekiti dialect. On this note, may I paraphrase the evocations of Birago Diop in the poem, Viaticum, as I say to Tribune at 74: And whenever you approach the wicked, the men with black hearts, whenever you approach the envious, men with black hearts, before you move the Breath of the Ancestors. Ase!

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