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Inside Abiola's Concord; Reporting from Yola

22 April 2013

By Abdulwarees Solanke

On completing the one-year NYSC during which I made some useful friends, I remember moving straight to Concord. I remember liad Tella, Deputy Editor's sermon to me, I don't want to see your face, I want to see your name on the pages, one afternoon that I went to his office and he yelled at me, my friend, I've not being seeing you, and I replied that I come to the office every day. From that day, I pledged to write myself to stupor. During the Orkar coup in 1990, I remember daring the odds to report at Ewutuntun to join the team of reporter on ground to report on the failed on the failed coup that threaten the unity of Nigeria. I received a letter of commendation before an appointment letter in Concord for the act of bravery in coming out to join the league of Concord reporters on the red day.

I remember the wizardry of Wole Agunbiade, and his lieutenants and successors: niyi Obaremi, Soni Ehi Asuelimen, south-pawed Akin Ogunrinde and fire-spitting kunmi olayiwola as news editors marshalling the newsroom to make Concord very competitive and authoritative. I remember my posting to Yola as Bureau chief, the very day I received my appointment letter. I remember the mercurial editor, Nsikak Essien giving me the first litmust test on my ability to report for National concord prior to departing for Yola. Nsikak, a no-nonsense editor, directed that the news Editor, Niyi Obaremi give me a copy brief to do a special report on the scarcity of Liquefied petroleum Gas. The very comprehensive story written jointly with Abdulfatth Oladeinde, my alter ego and twin brother in Concord, was published after we had settled in our new stations. Abdulfattah was also posted to Port Harcourt.

I remember the very good professional friends and acquaintances I made in yola: the Ibrahim Moddibbo's, the Zedekiah Shamaki's and the Akin Adesokans. I remember Mallam Abubakr jijiwa, the then General manager of Gongola State Broadcasting Corporation facilitating for me the necessary network of contacts to enrich my reporting from yola for my name to be splashed on the front and back pages. I remember striking very good rapport with Drs. Musa Moda and Saleh M Toro who respectively headed National Agency for Adult and Non-Formal Education and the upper Benue River Benue Development Authority in the state. They were my resource persons and development and agricultural and Water resources policies. I remember mr. Thomas Nathaniel, a very senior servant who was a commissioner in the Local Government Service Commission initiating me in the understanding of the dynamics of politics in Gongola and Adamawa states for me to write authoritatively without offending any sensibility, ethnic or religious, in the vastly diverse north eastern state that is the power house of politics in Nigeria, unknown to many.

Through my experience in Yola, I developed a theorem on political reporting that places political actors at the low end of the indices of analysis, but looking at the interests, issues, forces, trends as the drivers while actors or people are just symbolic. So any person can be a mouth piece of the other indices. Reporting politics from Yola, I always ask a question: Is the majority the minority or are the minorities in majority. Usman Toungo, a very cerebral journalist in the Fulfulde Service of Voice of Nigeria was later to clarify the thesis further by differentiating between the political majority and the numerical majority.

In real terms, the political majority are usually the numerical minority in most polities in the third using the numerical majority to achieve their political goals and interests. The numerical minority is always in power no matter the power calculation because they command all the apparatus of power: intellectual, economic and political, distributing only to those who are their useful, pliable tools, clients and allies among the numerical majority who are now the political minority.

I remember the privilege of being drafted into the Gongola State Muslim Council as the conveyor of Bashorun MKO Abiola's zakat fund to Gongola/Adamawa State attending meetings with the khadis and the Lamido and being addressed as Dan Jerida Concord da Wakilin Abiola in the council.

Yola was fulfilling for me professionally, as the city to hone my political reporting skills and the Polity. I returned to Lagos in my third year in Yola as Concord Correspondent, marching to the political desk, informed by my contributions to the political pages of Concord newspapers while in the north eastern state of Nigeria. But I still had eyes on the editorial board, for that was where my heart was…being in the company of eggheads and analysts, right from Akoka having tasted a course in editorial writing at the feet of the guru, Professor Luke Uka Uche, whose model of cultural triangulation in explaining media imperialism in the Third World is yet to be faulted in the academic circles.

4. On the Hot Political Desk; budding of a board member

Joining the political desk of the concord newspapers on arrival from Yola, I gained strength in competing for pages and attention with other very vibrant journalists on the desk. Tunji Bello, as the political editor, provided the leadership and motivation for us to shine. Sam Omatseye, a master of free flowing prose and deputy political editor was inspiring. Victor Ifijeh was a rigorous writer, just as Felix Oboagwina. Gboyega Amobonye was very detailed while Louis Odion was colourful. As a student of history Jonas Agu has deep insight, a virtue a shared with him as a research oriented writer. Together we drove the political desk to its height, serving as a pain in the neck of indiscreet public officials. We were forceful and engaging in analysis; we were forthright and objective; we were unsparing yet very professional. We had the confidence of the newspaper's management board and the followership of readers.

Our political searchlight and politics on Sunday pages were collectors' items with discourses and issues that we feature. Tunji Bello was indeed a leader of men when it comes to leading in journalism profession. Tunji Bello mentored me in all the ramifications of political reporting. With Sam omatseye as deputy editor, supported by fearless writers like Victor Ifijeh, Gboyega Amotonye, Felix Oboagwina, Jonas Agu and Louis Odion on our star-studded political desk marshalled by the liberal political scientist with admiration for Keynesian school of Economics, Tunji. That was a vibrant political desk. Bello, an Alfred Friendly Press fellow and an award winning journalist inspired in us the journalistic Puritanism to become rational, liberal writers and thinkers.

The June 12 struggle sent all the ~Concord staff out of job with the proscription of the paper in the dying days of IBB. We were under lock under the Sonekan led-ING. But we managed to come out with Daily News, a somewhat guerrilla publication. Tunji Bello was called to edit the paper and the political desk formed the core of that paper. When Abacha sacked Sonekan-led ING, we gained temporary relief, and resumed at Ewutuntun to continue Concord. The reprieve did not endure before we were sent into a fresh cooler. We returned to Oshodi, now publishing Community Concord, again with tunji Bello as the editor. When reasoned prevailed for Concord to be reopened, tunji Bello emerged as Sunday Editor, Dele Alake as Daily Editor and Segun Babatope as the Chairman Editorial Board

On the editorial board to which Bello gave me a recommendation as a research officer before graduating to a leader writer, I remember the erudition of Kal Kalada or Kayode Komolafe, the Marxist-Socialist journalist; I remember the polemics of Segun Babatope, a pastor in the Pasor Kumuyi led Deeper Life Church. In Babatope, I learnt how to decorate writings with flowers of language; I remember the passion of Iyiola Faloyin; the depth of Isaac okoroafor, our in-house economist; I savour the comradeship of Dayo Aiyetan and the brilliance of Akeem Soboyede, young guy whose lucidity of style endeared him to the editorial boards of a few big newspapers before we snatched him in Concord. He graduated with afirst class in English from Unilag if I'm not mistaken. I remember the rigour of Gbenga Owolabi, my partner as research officer. He has gone ahead to acquire more academic laurels to qualify him as a lecturer in one of the state universities.

I remember the concern of Egbon Kunmi Olayiwola that I should not commit professional suicide in benching myself on the editorial board as an arm chair analyst, but I had made up my mind that it is either I'm in the academia or the editorial board. How can I forget Brother Femi Adesina, the only oga who calls me by my daughter's name, Daddy Aishat. No, I dare not. He would always ask after Aishat each time we meet. I was that special to him. As Features Editor while I was the Foreign Desk coordinator (our officers are adjacent), Femi was always assigning me some special reports demanding intellectual rigour to feature on his Star Feature Page, despite having a host of highly talented staff writers under his command. His predecessor on the Features Desk, Lanre Arogundade also opened pages for me just as Taiwo Ogundipe who edited a special art-oriented pull-out, the Midweek Concord. I cannot forget Frank Igwebueze, who I succeeded on the Foreign Desk, just as late Sunday Alabi who came to serve out time on the Foreign Desk in his last days in Concord. Frank who many considered a difficult person to work with, I found out, was just a passionate professional. He is a simple passion if you share his passion and the verve and the language. He allows you to thrive. I remember Waheed Odusile who returned to the Foreing Desk as Group Head while I was assistant foreign editor. I remember how we parted on the desk and reconnected as brothers with same mission, vision and goal in reporting public affairs and the polity. I have fond memories of Ademola Ogunlowo, chike Akabogu and Nnamdi Obasi, all very cerebral members of the editorial board who I silently admired and stole time from my desk to engage them in little discussions. Their erudition fired me to work towards joining the league of leader writers, which eventually materialized, starting from the bottom of the ladder as a research officer charged with sourcing editorial topics, writing synopsis, providing the backgrounds for the full members, writing my columns and the writing remnant editorials.

With these antecedents, it was a smooth sail for me to the editorial board of the upcoming National Guide published by the veteran Muyiwa Adetiba at the crash of National Concord at the dawn of 2001. They also led me to the Monitor, published by Aare Arisekola Alao, in Ibadan, at the invitation of Liad Tella, a fatherly figure who has seen all in journalism. In Ibadan, I combined role as member of the editorial board and the deputy editor, the Monitor on Sunday answering to Femi Abbas as Chairman of the editorial board and submitting to Segun Dipe, a bohemian with zest for life who was my editor on the Sunday desk.

For about two years, I was in Ibadan with a crop of other journalists in my shoes, toiling day and night to give the muscle to the resuscitated Monitor, shuttling between Ibadan where the Monitor was based and Lagos where I have everything about me and my family. I remember the comradeship forged with Segun Dipe, the Sunday Editor, Dipo Onabanjo, the daily Editor and Femi Abbas, the deputy editor in chief and chairman of the editorial board. Abbas is a man of high intellect, passionate, diligent and uncompromising on ethics.

I adore him. He challenged me to exert myself to the fullest. I attained full growth in journalism under him. I remember how I needed relieve myself of the Sunday Desk rigour and concentrate on my primary passion of op-ed desk.

5. Berth at Ikoyi;; flight to Bandar; Nesting at Ikorodu

The Ibadan leg of my journey in journalism marked the zenith of my full engagement in print journalism. It was exhilarating. But it also marked my transition to broadcasting. I needed to return to Lagos the headquarters of Lagos-Ibadan press axis. Daar Communications, Raypower 100.5 FM, a place of refuge in the difficult days of Concord proscription where we were addressed as distressed journalists was where I returned when Ladi Lawal, a worthy brother offered the platform, freshly, cheaply, enthusiastically assigning me to Odion Bello as a principal Editor on the news Desk Raypower 106.5 fm, an all news and talk station with direct connection to BBC. 106.5 fm was soon closed in response to a government directive to stop direct rebroadcast from a foreign station in the interest of the nation. We merged with 100.5fm as with the mandate of reporting for the AIT as well. At Daar which operated in a family spirit, I remember Kelly Elisha, a father figure, Tony Akiotu, Odion Bello (Sam B) Segun Okuselu, Winston Akpabio, Rev. Funke Alli, Kolade Alabi, Gbenga Aruleba with big stick and loaves of bread for everyone in the newsroom, Seun Olagunju with her food basket and warmers for all to share, Baba Temi Johnson, Paulyn Ugbodaga who still remains a pal and Abdulhakeem Ishola, mychoice presenter when I was tasked with producing An-Nur on TV and Super Sahur in Ramadan. But I am most fulfilled in the brotherhood of muslims in Daar Communications, planting a jumah masjid in the premises for the benefit of staff and the neighbours.

Spending just two years at Raypower and Ait both owned by aar Cmmunications, I left for Broadcasting House Ikoyi where the Voice of Nigeria VON is housed, at the beginning of 2005 to enter the world of public service broadcasting. The blood of AIT/Raypower still flows in my veins, almost eight years after I left Alagbado.

I am most appreciative of Mallam Abubakar Jijiwa who opened the VON window for me to join the News Directorate of the Corporation as a senior news editor as well as being his special assistant to expose me to the critical assignments in public management and leadership. I cannot thank enough all who welcomed me to the VON family, tolerating my private sector delusions and integrating me into the public service system to start a new phase in my career: Former Director Programme, Ayo Sulaiman, his successor, Dr. Kabir Ahmed, Ben Egbuna, Executive Director News and his successor, Frank Ilogu, ED, Engineering Timothy Gyang, Sola Tijani, and Director Administration, Margaret E. Obanya all who I directly relate with as special assistant to DG who is based in the Abuja Corporate headquarters while I am based in Lagos. Participating in several top level and management meetings and representing the DG in some critical assignments within and outside Lagos, I came to appreciate the pains and pressures of public office holders in satisfying popular expectations without compromising rules and procedures.

It's so vivid how in less than three years of joining VON, I returned to school, fulfilling my long ambition of pursuing a graduate studies programme. It came in a grand way as I secured a university Brunei Darussalam-Commonwealth Broadcasting Association scholarship, travelling to, Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital of the rich south east asian malay dominated nation on the Borneo island overlooking the sea of south china, Brunei Darussalam, which shares territory with the Malaysian state of Sarawak, to study Public Policy.

The Brunei experience was a defining moment in my professional journalism and academic career. The programme sharpened my analytical skills because of the rigour and devotion with which the very excellent lectures took the policy studies courses. For every class assignment, I was always given the extra instruction of introducing the Nigerian perspective.

While in Brunei I wrote so many commentaries on the Nigerian polity, so many features on journalism practice in Nigeria, and so many reflections on governance from other parts of the world. I wrote on Nigeria: The road to Darussalam, raising issues on how peace can be achieved in Nigeria; I wrote commemorating nigeria's 47th Independence Anniversary, When Tomorrow Comes; I raised questions, Question for our Servant leaders, on leadership ethics; I wrote on lessons from Russia's Putin and malaysia's Mahathir; I wrote on Metaphors of Kuru and its students looking at the relevance of NIPSS on leadership training in Nigeria; I wrote on 100,000 handshakes with the Sultan of Brunei reminiscing on the celebraton of end of Ramadan in the largely Muslim country; I wrote on the disappointment I had not been able to interview the sultan after making moves to book an appointment through the the authorities in UBD; I wrote some seminal essays on Poverty in the third world, privatization and public management and I wrote on the achievements of Voice of Nigeria in the outstanding performances of some of its staff who sent in entries to some broadcast awards. I featured in all Nigerian newspapers while studying in Brunei reflecting the peace and beauty of that rich south east asian nation with malay, Chinese, Indian and other indigenous population. I appeared in Daily Independent, The Vanguard, Thisday, The Guardian,The Nation, Daily Trust, Daily Champion,Daily Sun and The Punch. I savour reliving my Concord days and replicating the themes I had written in The National Guide and The Monitor before in these newspapers. I even wrote on the psychology of our editors in the CBA quarterly magazine, the Broadcaster.

Returning from Brunei with a solid background in the knowledge and application of policy analysis and management tools, and a load of bye lines writing as Voice of Nigeria's correspondent in the Asia pacific region, I was tasked with bringing to fruition the VON management vision on capacity building in the corporation.

With the mandate, I landed at Ebute Ipakodo, ikorodu lagos where the corporation sites its transmitting station and established its training centre to become a reference centre in Broadcast management and technology training.

As we fully take off the VON Training Centre, I am eternally grateful to all who motivated me in the Director General office, Administration Department, the Finance Department, the News Directorate, the Programme Directorate and the Information Technology Department to work towards attaining the vision for which the Training Centre was established under the management of Aremo Taiwo Allimi, who as the Director General (1999-2004) redefined VON vision and mission and made staff capacity building a major plank of his reform agenda in VON.

From Sim Bewaran and Austin Ahaba, two very intelligent guys with backgrounds in History and psychology who work with me in Training Unit, to Sussan Nwachukwu, a very resourceful lady with outstanding academic credential in Political Science working with the Director Administration, my assignment in the Training Centre is lightened when mandated to be in charge of VON Training Centre.

Alhamdulillah: it‘s been a rewarding experience in my journey in journalism so far, from the News and Editorial Desks of private and commercial newspaper houses to the production and live studios of radio and television Studios of the commercial and government / public service broadcasting houses I have traversed in the in the last 25 years and now in the lecture theatres of the Voice of Nigeria Training Centre at Ipakodo, Ebute, Ikorodu as a trainer-mentor in development communication.

VTC will be a pride of Ipakodo as a virgin land in Ikorodu waiting to etch itself on the world map of capacity building for broadcasting and other media professionals. Join me in Ipakodo, a serene, verdant environment for an enriching experience in mass media production, technology and management training. You won't regret.

AbdulWarees Solanke, Head, Voice of Nigeria Training Centre, c/o VON Transmitting Station, Ebute Ipakodo, Ikorodu, Lagos studied Mass Communication at the Univrsity of Lagos and Public Policy at the Universiti Brunei Darusslam, writes via korewarith@yahoo.com, korewarith@voiceofnigeria.org

 

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