How Segun Osoba made his breakthrough in Journalism—Peter Enahoro + Day Zik got angry with Enahoro

The GDA (M) with the Authors of ‘Segun Osoba; The Newspaper Years’ Mike Awoyinfa & Dimgba Igwe

Peter Enaboro, a Nigerian
newspaper icon was 23 when he became the editor of the
Sunday Times. That makes
him the youngest man to edit a national newspaper in Nigeria. From the
Sunday
Times
, he moved up to edit the Daily Times; taking
over from the great Alhaji Babatunde
Jose
. In his heyday Enahoro made
a name for himself with his Peter Pan
column. He went into voluntary exile in 1966 following Nigeria’s second coup
when he felt his life was in danger. The exile lasted
26 years. In England he edited respectable
magazines like
New African and Africa Now. As a reporter in the Daily
Times
, Segun Osoba
worked under Enahoro. Here, Enahoro reminisces on his newspaper
life and on Osoba, the young go-getting
reporter with a passion for getting exclusive stories:


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 How I made Osoba
a Politics Reporter…

Aremo Olusegun Osoba….’The Reporter’

“Segun Osoba was my reporter
at the Daily Times. I remember him as a passionate, go-getting,
indefatigable reporter with a sharp nose for news and the luck of being at the
right place at the right time. In the time of Alhaji Babatunde Jose
as editor of the Daily Times, if you were a reporter, you could be sent
to cover anything. But when I took over from Alhaji Jose as editor, I
categorized reporting into beats. Segun
went into politics as a political reporter. And here, he proved himself as a
reporter with a sharp nose for news. He broke big stories. He was usually at
the right place at the right time.

Elder Peter Enahoro

From the start,
I identified him as a star reporter. I wrote him a letter of commendation
earlier in his career, around 1964, expressing satisfaction with his work and
predicting that he would go far in journalism. And, of course, he went far at
the editorial and management level, culminating in managing the Herald, the
Sketch and eventually the Daily Times.

Osoba the Reporter with late Sage, Chief Obafemi Awowolo & Osoba the Politician with Nigeria’s first civilian President, Alhaji Shehu Shagari

Osoba’s defining moment as a reporter was during
the first coup in Nigeria. I remember
on the day of the coup that claimed Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa’s life, a naval officer and some others were gathered
in my house and Segun came. It was
from him that it was confirmed to me that Balewa was dead. He told me that Balewa
had been killed and that he knew where his body was. And I said, “Alright, go and get Peter Obe and two of you, go to the spot and take a
photograph.”
That was the
morning of the coup when we were all listening to Radio Ghana because Radio
Nigeria
was out of the air. That was the kind of reporter Osoba
was. He was very resourceful, very quick. Because this was a matter of hours
after Balewa was murdered, and Ifeajuna who did it had fled the country
through

The Book by Mike Awoyinfa & Dimgba Igwe which mirrored Aremo Segun Osoba’s life as a Visionary Newsman 

Idiroko border to Ghana. For Osoba to get
the news a little past midday shows how quick he was as a reporter. A good
reporter must be smart, on the spot, quick, all the time on the ball. A good
reporter associates with his source, the way a detective would. I was never a
reporter. But from what I have seen, a good reporter sticks like a leech to his
contacts. And Osoba has contacts all
over the place. And he is quick. The day he discovered the body of the late
Prime Minister, Tafawa Balewa and Okotie Eboh in 1966, the Sunday
Times
printed about 500,000
copies and they sold. That story was a turning point in Osoba’s life. It was one of the stories that launched him.
I am not a
reporter but…

Elder Peter Enahoro….From Civil Service to the Press Room

 

Osoba is truly a reporter. As for me, I don’t
claim to be a reporter in the sense of Osoba
being a reporter.
My claim to fame
is column writing. Now, who is a columnist? A columnist is not necessarily a
commentator. A columnist is not necessarily an essayist. It’s hard to give a
specific, concise definition but a columnist is somebody who has a space to
fill and if he has his way, fills it with more than one subject matter.

The Authors, ‘Segun Osoba: The Newspaper Years’ Mike Awoyinfa & Dimgba Igwe in their Lagos Library

Secondly, he
expresses opinion, he does not narrate. And I think the difference between
narration and commenting is what makes the difference between a columnist and
an essayist. When I read some of our so-called columnists now, they start
explaining. No. The person who is reading your column ought to have some
knowledge of the background of what you are talking about. And he is waiting to
know what you have to say. So, don’t start telling him again tediously, all the
background to the stuff you are writing on. That’s not it. Be punchy, Come to
the point. But you have to find a way of coming to the point without restating
the background at length.

The GDA & Mike Awoyinfa on Journalism

Our columnists
in Nigeria are too tedious, too windy.
We wind on and on. The columnist in some papers in Nigeria has been told he has the back page of a paper to fill, so
he is trying to fill it. So, he starts saying everything under the sun. Why
don’t you take two or three subjects and treat them in a punchy manner? Once in
a while, a columnist can be reportorial. Once in a while you will report, but
you know you are still reporting with comments. The typical reporter somehow
avoids too many comments. He looks for slants. He looks for information. The typical
essayist is flowery, a bit windy without being boring. The typical columnist is
punchy, to the point and gets on to the next subject. Sometimes, two paragraphs
will do.

The GDA with Dimgba Igwe….On Journalism


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I met one former
minister who reminded me about a column I wrote after the first coup. I was
summing up my feelings and when it came to Okotie-Eboh, I simply said: “About Okotie-Eboh, all I have to say is
speak no ill of the dead”.
And I didn’t continue. But he felt it was
enough. The meaning was so clear. That’s a columnist’s type of comments.
Writing a column can be tedious. People think you are brilliant. But it’s a lie.
You are sitting there, trying to crank out something.

A book written by Peter Enahoro

To me, the first
paragraph is my biggest trouble. If I get away from that first paragraph, it
sets the tone for what I am going to say. I throw away many sheets trying to
get that first paragraph right because it is going to tell me where I am
headed.
After my column,
George Sharp, was killed off, I then combined it with Peter Pan. In
the beginning, I was the editor of the Daily Times and I was writing
editorials that I didn’t really believe in. By which I mean I was writing the
official line. I used to preside over editorial meetings in the afternoon and
we would discuss the editorial. All the line editors would gather, and then we
would decide. And I wrote quite a lot of it. Alhaji Babatunde Jose
also wrote.

Young Aremo Olusegun Osoba & his Beere (M) with other colleagues & their spouses

We had one case. The government wanted to allow people to set up
casinos in Nigeria. The Daily
Times
took a line, supporting government that it was good and that the
revenue that would come in would help the economy and all that stuff. I didn’t
agree with it. I saw gangsters coming. Maybe I had read too much about Hollywood and so on and so forth. So I
wrote the editorial of the Daily Times supporting it, and I went to the Peter Pan column and disagreed with the
editorial of the Daily Times, which I happened to have written. Peter Pan spoke my conscience whereas I
had to do my job writing that editorial for the Daily Times.

Dimgba Igwe takes GDA through a section of their library

To succeed, a
columnist needs somehow to establish a personality. That means a slight form of
specialization.
It’s not one and
everything you talk about. Secondly, you must be seen to stand for something.
It is important to work hard in life to succeed in anything but success in life
is being at the right place at the right time. Everything that has happened to
me 60 percent has been the luck of being there at the right time and 40 percent
is the work, the effort I put in. Now, let me attempt to look back at my life
as a journalist.
How I became a
journalist…

Elder Peter Enahoro….A journalist by accident?

 

I didn’t set out
to go into journalism. I came to Lagos
after I had left secondary school. I was playing cricket one day with the
director of information, Captain Stocker. I didn’t know he
was the director of information. He asked me what I was doing and I told him I
had just left school. He asked whether I would like to    come and work for him. They were looking for secondary school
graduates. He asked if I was keen and I said yes. So, I went to see him. They
were then trying to bring people into the information service to train them.
Previously, people were recruited from the Nigerian
press
. So, I was the first in the scheme. The plan was to send me to U.K., to the Polytechnic School of Journalism.

Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe….’The man whose countenance fired Peter Enahoro @ a News Conference’

Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was
the premier of the Eastern Region at the time. As at that time (and now also)
the big thing in Nigeria was revenue
allocation. The big issue was: ‘Should
the federal government allocate funds according to the region’s derivation or
should it be by need?’
The richest region in the country was the Western Region because the price of cocoa was very high. It was followed by
the North, which had groundnut and tin from Jos.
The East was the poorest. Its main product was palm nut and then a bit of coal.
Oil hadn’t been found at the time or was not in commercial in quantity. So, Dr.
Azikiwe’s
region naturally favored revenue allocation according to
need. That would have meant that the East would get the largest chunk. But the
West, which was the richest, wanted revenue allocation according to derivation
because of its own cocoa wealth. So, Zik
undertook a world tour, which according to him, was to raise funds for the
Eastern region.

Mike & Dimgba shares a joke with the GDA

And when he came back it was my duty as assistant publicity
officer to help arrange the press conference, which he held in Lagos. And at that press conference, he
said that he had been promised funds. He was asked whether when the funds came
he would be prepared to share it according to need or whether he wanted it
shared according to derivation. And Zik, recognizing the needle that was
being plunged into his backside, responded jokingly. In fact he didn’t give a
straight answer. He just said: “Well you
can’t have monkey work then baboon chop”.

Mike & Dimgba….’Life is all about Reading & Leading’

And everybody
laughed. And he wanted to pass on to another question. Then, I didn’t quite
understand the role of the civil servant that you are to be seen and not heard.
So, I put up my hand and then said: “Excuse
me sir, I don’t think you have
answered
the question”.
I repeated what the man wanted to know. And I saw the face
of my director go completely white because I had broken one of the severest
rules of the civil service. I just knew I was in trouble somehow.
So, when the
press conference broke up, Abiodun Aloba who was then one of
the most powerful columnists in the country and the editor of the Sunday
Times
caught up with me on the corridor and said that was a very brave
performance. He asked: “What are you
doing in government? You should be in the press. If you want to be a journalist,
this is not the place”

Aremo Olusegun Osoba…The Journalist-Politician

 I had really not thought of journalism. After
my performance at the press conference, I knew I would probably be fired. So,
when Aloba
asked if I would be interested in working for the Daily Times, I said
yes. Within an hour he phoned and said he had arranged an interview with Mr.
Percy Roberts
, the general manager of Daily Times. I went
straightaway to have the interview and Percy Roberts offered me a job as a
sub-editor. It was almost a year to the day I started work (at the information
service). So, I resigned straightaway that day. Captain Stocker at first
refused to accept my resignation. I really didn’t plan to be a journalist. It was
by chance.

Back of the Book reveals the Profile of the Authors

(Excerpts from the book “Segun Osoba: The Newspaper Years” by Mike Awoyinfa & Dimgba Igwe. To get a hard copy of the
book, kindly call Mrs. Gloria Oriakwu
on 080-33-44-5125)

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