Meet the golden Boys of anti-colonial era Journalism—Osoba’s book + How Jakande got his ‘Baba Kekere’ nickname

Aremo Olusegun Osoba with a former Nigerian Speaker of the Federal House of Representative, Rt. Hon. Dimeji Bankole

The Press and
When the
forerunners of today’s journalism took on the British Empire, it was not an easy thing. The enormity of the task
they set themselves will not strike today’s generation. The British Empire stretched right across
the globe. You look at the picture and here you are in one small place in Nigeria against this mighty empire which
had sedition as a weapon to put you in jail. Why was my brother jailed under
the British? As a 22-year-old young man, he wrote an article. The governor had
just got a pay rise at a time when we had a general strike and we were told
that there was no money to pay the workers in this country. So the young man
wrote to question why the governor was accepting a pay rise when they said
there was no money to pay the workers in this country. The colonial authorities
said it was seditious. The press has a great role in preserving the spirit of
democracy. I am not saying corruption should be condoned.

Elder Peter Enahoro tell tales from the past of journalism
As a young
journalist, I remember that the late Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa appealing to editors to be cautious and not to
publish things that would fuel crisis. There was a threatened strike and the
drivers of Bolekaja (the forerunners of Molue) abandoned their
vehicles and blocked Lagos in a
demonstration. Balewa summoned us the
editors to a private briefing, I am sure, based on security reports. He said
certain people were trying to undermine the society. They wanted to bring down
the government. At that time the threat of Communist infiltration and the Russians aiding and abetting certain
radicals was the big thing in this country. And he was trying to tell us that
we should not take things on the face value. I remember as a young man sitting
back and saying to myself:

Elder Peter Enahoro’s book

“Why is he
trying to join me in this? I am not in government. I am not a politician”.

I remember Balewa telling us: “If this crisis erupts, all of us will suffer”. And I remember
thinking to myself: “Why should I Suffer? I am not part of it.” But he was
right. When the crisis carne in 1966, poor Balewa
lost his life and Peter Enahoro went into exile that was to last
more than 26 years. So, journalists should not feel that they don’t belong to
government and as such should always be looking for crisis to fuel their news

The Osoba Newspaper Years….The book that told the tale of old journalism practice in Nigeria

Columnist-Past and Present

King Mike Awoyinfa explaining a point to the GDA as Dimgba Igwe looks on

As I indicated
earlier, I am a columnist and not a reporter. From this premise, let me give my
perspective on column writing in Nigeria-past and present. For a start,
Nigerian newspapers journalism has a long tradition that places more glamour on
commentary writing than it shows respect for brave or adventurous news
reporting. It is therefore, no surprise that the continuing ambition of the
upwardly mobile Nigerian newspaper journalist is to become a “columnist” in
double quick time.

Late Alhaji Babatunde Jose….The man who witnessed the era of revolutionary journalism in Nigeria

In Britain, the country we once looked up
to for role modeling, those counted as great journalists went out to cover
foreign wars or as exemplified by Robert
Stanley to traverse wild and
uncharted regions in quest of discovery. In today’s America, the investigative reporters, such as the duo of Watergate
fame are, clothed in stardom and endowed with fortunes.
The reason the
written commentary has such pride of place in Nigerian journalism can be traced
to a history reaching back to the colonial era.

King Mike Awoyinfa

In those days,
straight news reporting concerning affairs of government more than likely
emanated from the colonial administration itself. As Assistant Publicity
Officer at the Department of Information, my first job, we subbed cablegrams
from the UK government’s Central Office of Information in London. A bank of typists pounded away and the resultant stacks of
cyclostyled news material were dispatched to newspaper offices. Apart from
lifting excerpts from the BBC, this
was the main source of foreign news published in the following day’s

Dimgba Igwe The Great

reaching the press about government was indirectly censored and frequently
pre-empted investigative journalism, because independently sourced news had to
survive the barriers of the Official Secrets
and the watchful eye of General
(that Civil Service bible famously called “G.O.”). News reports that
escaped the tight filter of the culture of conspiracies of silence did not
often enjoy real penetration of the closed inner circle of government
activities. Discovering and publishing confidential information was asking for
the fury of government to be unleashed on a newspaper and its reporter.

The GDA with the tabloid  kings Mike & Dimgba

In contrast,
colonial officials were more tolerant of commentaries. News reports sought to
deal with facts;
were the mere opinions of their authors. A news report had the ring of truth
while a columnist’s opinion was recognized for what it was-mere opinion of a
hack writer. Even when it was productive or annoying, a commentary was more likely
to escape sanction whereas a false news report was regarded as felonious and
calculated to cause unrest. Besides, stringent laws of sedition were available
to penalize a columnist who trod care freely on sensitive toes.

Aremo Olusegun Osoba; His time was the real time of journalism

Barring the Daily
and its commercially-oriented foreign ownership, the main focus of a
newspaper was to support a political movement and wage the anti-colonial
struggle. A newspaper was a pulpit from which to propagate the party line and
the message of liberation. This explains why news reporting per se did not form
the main centerpiece of colonial era journalism. Commentaries gave vent to the
hunger for battle in a way that straight news reporting could not. An offending
columnist went to jail with an air of martyrdom knowing he would return and be
hailed a national hero. A news reporter who got himself into trouble with the
authorities for reporting false information was not
similarly glorified.

Dimgba Igwe of blessed Memory told the GDA few things about journalism

was the columnists of the day who gave the newspaper its personality. Opinions
were divided on the best way to tackle colonialism and abuse flew back and
forth among columnists. Columnists accused their competitors either of
collaborating with foreign rule or, conversely, of being tools of foreign
Meet the Pioneers

Late Chief (Dr.) Nnamdi Azikwe

The two most
outstanding exponents on opposite sides of the argument were on the one hand
the charismatic Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe; publisher of his Zik Group of newspapers;
and on the other, the physically robust and socially rumbustious Ernest
, Editor of the Nigerian Daily Times. Although there were
other entertaining and thought-provoking columnists of the era – such as Samuel
Akintola and J.V. Clinton – it was the often
personalized battles between Zik and Ikoli that most popularized newspaper
column writing in their day.
The differences
between the two men ranged from their contrasting personalities to their rival
attitudes toward professionalism. Zik
had a string of degrees from American
universities and was not shy to combine his scholastic excellence with a
business practicality. Ikoli had
risen through the ranks of journalism to the top of his profession, in the
style still preferred today in Britain.
He was intelligent, totally absorbed in his vocation and scornful of
materialistic interests.
distinctions showed in their individual style of writing and they have been
variously imitated through two generations. The influence of Zik’s love for multi-syllabic words has
endured. Giving his thoughts on carving any new state out of the existing
regions of the First Republic, Zik
said that three conditions be satisfied: “Geographical propinquity; economic
viability; linguistic affinity.”
It was classic Azikiwe brevity!
anti-colonial Warriors

Late Chief Anthony Enahoro

Zik’s acolytes
included quiet and dignified Mobolaji Odunewu, and sophisticated Increase
. There were others like Anthony Enahoro. Instigated by Zik’s
writing, they came into journalism with a temper. They were young, fiery, eager
and on occasions reckless. They were the golden boys of anti-colonial
journalism and they set a level of defiance to authority that has not been
equaled since. The columns they wrote guaranteed them spells in prison but gave
them instant acclaim as national heroes. They brought a peculiar respectability
to Nigerian journalism, which alas has been abandoned.

Late Chief Olabisi Onabanjo

By the time my
generation was starting out on the scene the most popularly acknowledged
columnists were Ayekoto (Bisi Onabanjo), Ebenezer
(Abiodun Aloba), John West (L.K. Jakande), and M.C.K
, who wrote under his name. Of the four, the widest read was
, who as well as writing his weekly column in the Sunday
(by far the largest circulation in West Africa at the time) was also
its editor. Ebenezer Williams
invented a style that was all his own. He would lift a passage from the Bible
and as if authoring a sermon and yet without a religious pose cleverly tie the
biblical quote to the burning issue of the day. It was quite ingenious.

Late MCK Ajuluchukwu

Ayekoto was witty
without being caustic. He made you laugh and even when you disagree violently
with his trend you felt that here was a nice guy speaking his honest mind.

Chief Lateef Jakande tells the GDA his own story

John West on the other
hand was self-righteous and rather cold. When you met him in person you knew at
once that here was a man uncompromisingly dedicated to a cause. A man so
resolute in his beliefs it scared you to think that you did not share his
views. Jakande supported the Action
; he was the editor of the Tribune, a newspaper owned by the
party leader’s family. It came as no surprise when years later, he was dubbed Baba
; effectively meaning, “Little

Zik’s Paper: West African Pilot

Ajuluchukwu was a devoted
party man, previously an aggressive Zikist
who became a Dr. Michael Okpara’s
propagandist after roughages opened up between Zik and his successor as
Premier of the Eastern Region. In his later years, Ajuluchukwu allied himself to Chief
Obafemi Awolowo

Late Chief Obafemi Awolowo….One of the First Generation Media entrepreneurs in Nigeria

a political about turn that was akin to walking the length
of the Sahara to join the enemy. His
columns in the Eastern Nigeria Outlook were forever acerbic especially
when he imagined himself in defense of the Igbo.
History is bound to say that some of his writings contributed to the crisis
that eventually exploded into the Civil

Tribune: Awolowo’s Paper that made Lateef Jakande

His outright
enemy was Candido in the New Nigerian under the editorship of Adamu
. It was suspected that Candido did not have a specific
author. It was a forum for giving the Northern response to those Sir
Ahmadu Bello
, premier of the North dismissed as “The Southern Press”. Candido’s secret authorship depended
on the subject matter and the expert selected to write the piece.

Back of the Book is front 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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