IT was supposed to be a celebration of Chief Segun Osoba. But expectedly, it turned out to be a celebration of Nigerian journalism and indeed Nigeria. With the quality and size of the guests, including three former Heads of State – Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, Chief Ernest Shonekan, Gen. Abubakar Abdulsalami – only an enigma like Osoba could have pulled that kind of crowd.
It was the public presentation of Osoba: The Newspaper Years, written by the journalist duo of Mike Awoyinfa and Dimgba Igwe, narrating the life and interesting time as a journalist of the former Governor of Ogun State. The venue, MUSON Centre Onikan, Lagos, became a Mecca of sorts with Osoba’s associates, friends, relatives and colleagues from all walks of life gathered to give him a befitting celebration. The event, presided over by Alhaji Ismail Isa Funtua, a colleague and former president, Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN), became a testament of the role journalism has played in the country. It was also a testimony of the personality of Osoba, the famed reporter-turned politician and how he has written his name into the hearts of eminent Nigerians in the roles he has played in two public spheres of journalism and politics with aplomb.
The roll call was endless and eminently impressive: Former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu; Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) chairman, Chief Bisi Akande; former governor of Imo State, Chief Achike Udenwa; Senator Ben Obi, who represented President Goodluck Jonathan; former Commonwealth Secretary-General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku; governor of Delta State, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan; governor of Ogun State, Chief Ibikunle Amosun; Dr. Okoya Thomas, Chairman of The Guardian, Mrs. Maiden Ibru and Senator Oluremi Tinubu.
Others are former governor of Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, publisher of Vanguard, Mr. Sam Amuka-Pemu, publisher of ThisDay, Mr. Nduka Obaigbena, Chief Chris Okubanjo, Lagos State Commissioner for the Environment, Tunji Bello, who represented Lagos State governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola, Alhaji Kayode Jakande and Senator Solomon Olarewaju.
Governor Amosun described Osoba, the former two-time governor of the state, as an accomplished journalist, an astute administrator and an epitome of values deserving of all the accolades being showered on him, as Osoba was a leading reference point both in his journalism and political careers. Amosun also praised the duo of Igwe and Awoyinfa as journalists who were “gradually becoming the foremost biographers of our time”.
Chief sponsor of the book and Delta State governor, Uduaghan, saluted Osoba for the mentoring role he has played in journalism, a role he said he learned from the late Babatunde Ajose. “I believe in the concept of mentoring by looking at what others have done. We have a lot of issues today in Nigeria because we have issues of mentorship; we must go back to mentoring young people. Osoba mentored Igwe and Awoyinfa, just as Ajose mentored him. In Delta State, we are going back to mentoring in schools.
“We are here to celebrate the best in Nigerian journalism. It’s amazing because Osoba still regards himself as a reporter. Journalists should be mentored so they can work better”.
Special guest of honour, Babangida, a personal friend of Osoba long before he became military President, took time to celebrate Osoba and said some of the nicest things about him. He called Osoba “a good friend, a wonderful patriot”, a man worthy of being appreciated on account of how he gave himself in service of the fatherland in his many acts of selfless service. As elected governor of Ogun State, Babangida said Osoba was able to redefine governance.
“In a society where anything goes, the life of Osoba offers thought-provoking lessons for upcoming generations and media practitioners. If you crave for excellence and honour in public service, study Osoba; he represents all the positive aspects of what the media stands for. He’s one of the most remarkable gentlemen of his generation”.
Babangida’s disarming humour embedded in his presentation got the audience reeling with laughter, especially when he described Osoba as “a ladies’ man”. Osoba was to pay him back in his coin when he revealed their many escapades in seamy rendezvous while they scoured the city of Lagos for the good life in their hay days as journalist and soldier, each charting their career paths from humble beginnings that were to catapult them to the pinnacle of political power. Babangida also took time to praise Osoba’s wife for her patience and command of the home front.
The book reviewer and chairman of CHANNELS TV, Mr. John Momoh stated that the book covers the era generally regarded as the golden years of Nigerian journalism as those who gave testimony about Osoba’s life and career were those who had played a significant role in the development of Nigerian journalism at the period. He described Igwe and Awoyinfa’s book as “a classic by all standards”, saying it’s an “excellent book that does a great deal in celebrating Osoba, and in celebrating journalism; it’s an enlightening book”.
Balarabe Musa also commended the authors in writing a book about Osoba, whom he said he knew back in 1979 and with whom he had become very close ever since. He said he appreciated Osoba’s commitment to journalism, saying the book would be “a pride to his fellow journalists and something for politicians to think about”.
In his response, Osoba thanked the pair of Igwe and Awoyinfa for their commitment to the project and how he refused to endorse their request to write the book until he saw the first draft and fell in love with their effort.
Osoba went down memory lane and described some of the defining moments in his career as a journalist, especially during the coup that ushered out Gen. Yakubu Gowon, organised by Murtala Muhammed. He told of how Gen. Emmanuel Abisoye gave him the exclusive about the coup that was to catapult him to the pinnacle of his career. He recalled, “that singular episode contributed to my upliftment”. He recalled his time with Babangida and how much they were a night-club going gang and the many things they did together as young men. He recalled also how Babangida thrice sacked him and thrice reinstated him as Daily Times chief executive.
The former Ogun State governor paid tribute to many individuals, including Gen. Abdulsalami, who he said nearly got the late Gen. Sani Abacha’s sack for agreeing to plead on behalf of NADECO to release the late Pa Abraham Adesanya from prison. He declared, “I’m going to write my own”, a book he said that would bare it all about the many things yet unknown about him, the many army generals he hobnobbed with, and NADECO.
In his vote of thanks, Minister of Information, also a former journalist, Mr. Labaran Maku, also commended Osoba, whom he called “an icon and a role model for us”. He also praised the authors for their excellent work. The minister said journalism was in need of reinvention and tasked journalists to stand with their shoulders high in the discharge of their duties.
Indeed, the launch of Osoba: The Newspaper Years, can easily be regarded as one of the most attended events of the year. The wide podium of the Shell Hall of MUSON Centre was filled to capacity and more chairs were arranged behind to accommodate the array of dignitaries in attendance. At a point, the podium turned into a marketplace as the dignitaries that had not seen each other for a long time got up to hug, embrace and express pleasantries. Not Babangida was left out. It got so rowdy that the duo of Ali Baba and Gbenga Adeyinka had to appeal to them to sit down for the event to proceed. Indeed, they had time trying to restore order.
Another hallmark of the event was the dose of banter exchanged both by the comic duo of Ali Baba, Adeyinka and the dignitaries who stood up to speak. Uduaghan not only traced his roots to Yorubaland, he called Babangida and Oluremi Tinubu Deltans; this caused bouts of expansive hilarity in the hall. Perhaps the comic climax was when Babangida declared that anyone learning how to be a ladies’ man should do well to study Osoba! Even Osoba’s wife could not help laughing out loud.
It, indeed, was one long event where politics managed to stay way and everybody sat throughout it as one big family reunion, which only a man of Osoba’s status could pull off!