When Chief Areoye Oyebola, prolific author and ex-President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, decided to revisit his tenure and exit as editor of Daily Times in a recent interview with ICON, he inadvertently stirred the hornet’s nest. In the interview, he accused the late Alhaji Babatunde Jose, the then chairman/chief executive of the newspaper conglomerate of deliberately planting his (Oyebola’s) erstwhile deputy and successor, Aremo Olusegun Osoba, to supplant him.
Oyebola was removed as editor after reporting late for work as the July 29, 1975 coup that ousted the nine-year-old regime of General Yakubu Gowon unfurled. Osoba, who with Alhaji Jose, produced the Evening Times and first edition of the paper, that day, was promptly named editor while Oyebola was made managing editor.
In the interview, Oyebola, now 77, cast a retrospective look at the saga and submitted that his removal was a culmination of long- standing intrigues by Osoba, now 74, to get him fired.
Enraged by the claim, Osoba, who, years later, became Governor of Ogun State, picked the gauntlet and punctured Oyebola’s allegations, point by point.
The former Ogun State Governor said he naturally would have ignored Oyebola had the septuagenarian author restricted his attack to him (Osoba). But he was compelled to join issues with the editor-turned-author because he (Oyebola) had bitten “Alhaji Jose’s fingers even in the grave.”
“It’s an unpardonable thing to do,” Osoba charged. “When he (Oyebola) came (to Daily Times), he was riding a rickety car. But Alhaji Jose gave him a Datsun of his own choice. Datsun, at the time, was like having a Mercedes 280 in those days. Gbolabo Ogunsanwo was riding a Toyota with a freezer inside the boot. I was riding a British Rover car. Alhaji Jose gave us freehand. He pampered us. Alhaji Jose nurtured him. Who was he (Oyebola) until Alhaji brought him from classroom to journalism? And after Daily Times, what did he make of journalism? He should just go and seek his peace. We are all in the evening of our years. The earlier he keeps his peace, the better.
“If he didn’t touch Alhaji Jose, if he had spoken only about me, I wouldn’t react. But to say Alhaji Jose was begrudging him? That’s an insult on his boss. In life and death, we respect Alhaji Jose. We hold him in high esteem in life and in death. And I am happy that till Alhaji Jose died, journalism in Nigeria virtually worshipped him. He retired before he was 60. Yet, till he died at over 80, he remained a reference point and will remain a reference point for journalism in this country.”
Call this unfolding drama ‘the war of journalism icons’, and you would have hit the nail right on the head. But that’s just a tip of the iceberg, as the cliché goes. Please, sit back, relax and enjoy the full interview.
In his interview with us, Chief Areoye Oyebola said that upon your appointment as his deputy, a senior member of management warned him to watch his back because Alhaji Babatunde Jose, the Chairman/Chief Executive of Daily Times at the time, had planted you or appointed you as his deputy to supplant him. How do you react to that?
First of all, let’s make a clarification. I would not have granted this interview in reaction to Areoye Oyebola if not for the fact that Alhaji Babatunde Jose is dead.
Therefore, he couldn’t defend himself?
Yes. It is very unkind of Areoye to still continue to bite Alhaji Ajose’s finger in the grave. That is why I am agreeing to grant this interview. Alhaji Jose is no more to defend himself. For 38 years, Oyebola had opportunity to explain himself in as many interviews as he wanted. He had as many opportunities as he would have wanted when Alhaji Jose was still alive. He never did. Why he chose the fifth anniversary of Alhaji Jose to now still be forcing the man to turn in his grave hurts me. That is why I am agreeing to this interview.
But, sir, how do you respond to the allegation that Alhaji Jose deliberately planted you to supplant him?
I have always said that Areoye is not truly a Daily Times man…
How do you mean?
We, the original Times men who Alhaji Jose treated as a family, we still see ourselves as one family till tomorrow. For instance, Henry Odukomaiya and I heard about Alhaji Alade Odunewu’s demise within very short notice, and we were all there at the funeral at Ikoyi Vaults and Gardens. And the first person I asked for when I got there was Prince Odukomaiya. Shortly after, he came in. And I said I had just been asking of you. Till tomorrow, we are still one family. Oyebola came (into the Times family) midway; that is why he will make that kind of statement.
In any case, he was not the first person I will be deputy to. I was assistant news editor to late Kunle Animashaun. When he died, Chief Theo Ola became the news editor. I was deputy to Chief Theo Ola before I was promoted as editor of Lagos Weekend. From Lagos Weekend, I went on to be assistant editor to Mark Alabi, as (acting) editor of the Sunday Times. Now, the question you should ask Oyebola is this: which of these people that I was deputy to did I supplant? Oyebola is a paranoid person because he knew how he came to be editor of Daily Times. He supplanted everybody.
How did he supplant everybody?
All of us were his seniors. We were there long before him and he suddenly came in, and within two or three years, he was promoted editor over and above everybody.
His own argument was that, as it’s the practice all over the world, the scale naturally tilted towards those of them who were senior graduate journalists at the time; and that you and Alhaji Babatunde Jose were apathetic to graduate editors on the stable at the time. What’s your take on that?
Alhaji Ajose was the promoter and the philosopher of the idea of what he called his own graduate policy then. The sole aim that policy was to recruit people who had academic exposure. Again, Oyebola is being economical with the truth because at that time, he was not the only graduate. There was Tony Momoh, a tested and more experienced hand, who had gone to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, from where he transferred to the University of Lagos when the war broke. He had come back as a graduate at the time he was appointed editor. Oyebola wasn’t the only graduate in the place. Gbolabo Ogunsanwo had also left to go and read for his degree at University of Lagos, and had come back. Still, within the same Daily Times, we had people with higher degrees than his, people like N. C. Idowu who was a PhD holder and Doyin Abiola who had come with a Masters degree. All that Oyebola had was a first degree. So, what makes him to think that he is higher in academic exposure than N.C. Idowu with PhD, or Tony Momoh who had years of practical experience before he acquired his degree, or Gbolabo Ogunsanwo who was an assistant librarian in the library of the paper but went to the University of Lagos to acquire his degree? Or is it Dipo Ajayi who had also gone to acquire his degree? Is he the only graduate? In any case, he was recruited directly by Alhaji Jose himself. So, at what point did Alhaji Jose start envying him because he had a degree?
Was it true that when he met you at Harvard doing a diploma programme, that he encouraged you to proceed to acquire a degree? He said you seemed content with the diploma programme you were running at the time?
What a great insult for Areoye to say that of me. The Nieman Fellowship, which I went for in Harvard, an Ivy League university, is meant for people with minimum of Masters degree. It was a postgraduate fellowship programme, and Professor Nighe was the one who supervised me as a post-graduate scholar. The Nieman Fellowship is highly rated and it’s strictly designed for journalists that Harvard sees as future leaders of the profession. And I happened to be the first Nigerian journalist to qualify for the programme. I spent one full year on the programme in Harvard. Professor Akinkugbe was also there on a one-year sabbatical. So also was Professor Dike, the black Vice Chancellor of University of Ibadan.
Although I won’t call them my contemporaries, we were relating at equal level. Soladoye, who later became the secretary to the Government of Kwara State, was also in Harvard. Akin Oyebode, a Professor, an activist, and a leftist, was also there. He was doing his doctorate. These were the people I was with as a postgraduate student. So, how can you now come and tell me to go back and pursue a first degree when I had already attended three major courses in journalism, both in Nigeria and outside Nigeria?
My first journalism course was in 1965 when I did a diploma course at the University of Lagos, under the auspices of the International Press Institute. In 1967, I went to UK to do another one-year course under the Commonwealth Press Union Fellowship. Part of my course was at Oxford University. In 1970, I was in Indiana University, Bloomington. It is one of the highly rated schools of journalism. I had done three major diplomas in journalism aside from my practical experience. I had passed the stage of a first degree, and I was doing a postgraduate programme at the time he said he was saying this. He couldn’t have said that to me.
I was made editor of Lagos Weekend as far back as April 1969. I was appointed editor, Lagos Weekend, the same day that Henry Odukomaiya was appointed editor of the Daily Times. How can Oyebola be saying that? Is he coming to teach me my career? My career was already formed. I had already made my mark as a journalist. I had covered the civil war. I had been covering international events with renowned journalists allover the world. I was at the Nigerian Peace Talk in Kampala. I was with Papa Obafemi Awolowo for OAU (Organisation of African Unity) conference in Algiers during the civil war. So, how can Bola, a neophyte, come and tell me to go and read degree when I was already doing a postgraduate programme?
You see, they are the ones who had inferiority complex; they are the ones who think that having a degree is all you need to make a great journalist. You can go to a university but the university can’t make a professional out of you. He came. His reason for coming to see me was that there had been speculations about his removal. I was not interested in anybody’s removal. I was happy to have been recommended by the likes of the Newsweek (the international magazine) that I was their correspondent in Nigeria.
The same Newsweek?
The same Newsweek magazine. I was UPI correspondent. I was the correspondent for BBC. They were the ones who recommended me. My recommendation to Harvard was by international bodies. They were the ones who recommended me to Harvard, for them to take me as the first Nigerian to be Nieman fellow. I don’t think since I became a Nieman fellow we have had more than six or so. Very few of us have had the opportunity of being a Nieman Fellow from Nigeria. So, what Oyebola said is not true. He won’t dare say that to me. I was already an executive in the Daily Times. In any case, if I wanted a degree, I had even tried to be an evening student at the University of Lagos, as far back as 1964. But it was conflicting with my work and recommendation for training in and out of Nigeria.
Coming to the heart of the matter, Chief Oyebola alleged that having done him in on the coup day, you came to his house in Surulere, the second day, praising him to high heavens as a man of high sense of responsibility, courage and commitment. He alleged that you said all these beautiful words just because you were pricked by your conscience for what you had done?
Most untrue. Let’s take it stage by stage. Before you come to that…
Events of the day of the coup (July 29, 1975)?
Yes, the day of the coup. He claimed that I was not in the office, and that he produced the first edition of the paper. He is being economical with the truth again. On the day of the coup, I was the first to come into the office. I think the first broadcast (of the coup by the then Brigadier Joseph Naven Garba) was 6 a.m. By 6:15, I was already in the office. As I was coming in, Alhaji Jose too was driving in. Now, what should a good journalist do hearing the broadcast of a coup? Your instinct, first of all, is to get to the office. After Jose came in, Jaja followed.
Alhaji Jose then called me. He said, ‘Segun, pick your radio, meet me in the production room. Start monitoring the radio. Start giving me stories.’ So, I was inside the production room, monitoring the radio and writing my own stories. Alhaji Jose was standing, receiving the stories, casting the headline, dictating the typeface, planning the page, and proofreading. It was the age of hot metal. The whole production was working. First of all, we had to produce the evening paper, Evening Times. That was the first paper that must come out, at least to announce the coup. After we had completed the evening paper, we then went on to produce the first edition of the daily. Oyebola, the editor, came in at about 10 o’clock, almost four hours after Alhaji and I had been working in the production room.
Again, how can he say I was nowhere to be found. It was after we had finished the Evening Times and the first edition that I now left. Normally, he now started the second edition in the evening. I hadn’t had breakfast. I hadn’t had lunch. I hadn’t even had my bath. And as I drove back to Surulere, the whole place was empty because the coup people had declared the day a work-free day, and announced a curfew of between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. So, I went home and refreshed myself. Of course, I wouldn’t be there when they were producing the second edition.
But again, I was already an executive with official car, an official driver, well pampered; and I was already living in my own house! I purchased the house from LSDPC from a loan taken from Daily Times and a mortgage from LSDPC. I was at the topmost level of my career already. I had passed the stage of being a reporter but the reporter in me just couldn’t stay idle while all these historic events were unfolding. No journalist worth his calling would stay aloof on such occasion.
Now, this is how I got my scoop on the coup day. The telephone exchange on Lagos Island was the only one that military demobilized. On the mainland, you can still phone people. So, I phoned General Abisoye (one of his top sources). Thank God, General Abisoye had given me the right to name him because it is very unethical for you to name your source of information. Thank God, General Abisoye is still alive, you can crosscheck what I’m about saying. I called him but he said ‘this is not a telephone matter. I have just come back from a meeting in Dodan Barrack. Meet me at home.’ He was then living in Ann Barracks in Yaba. As a reporter, I knew from my experience in the war that you don’t drive your car near sentries on the day of a coup. If you do, you could easily be shot and killed.
So, I parked my car at Yaba Magistrate Court and walked down to the Ann Barrack’s gate. Of course, in accord with the military style, which I was already used to during the war, they will first of all shout at you: ‘Who goes there?’ That is, ‘who is that person shadowing around there?’ Then, he (the soldier giving the order) will tell you: ‘advance to be recognized.’ Then, you move few steps. Meanwhile, he will be cocking his gun. When you move few steps, he will ask you: ‘who are you? What is your mission?’ You must, at this point, identify yourself and state your mission. And until he turns his gun down, you don’t move; and you must keep your eyes up.
So, I took the risk to go into General Abisoye’s house. To my shock, he told me all that transpired at the Supreme Military Council. To cap it all, he said he was then a minister and colleague of Brigadier Murtala Mohammed. Abisoye was the Minister of Health, while Murtala Mohammed was Minister of Communication under General Yakubu Gowon, the man they had just toppled. They were both in the same cabinet. So, he said sarcastically: God don catch you, Segun. Your good friend is now the Head of State. I said ‘which friend?’ He said Murtala Mohammed.
He (Abisoye) knew that Daily Times had engaged Murtala Mohammed in a war over the contract he awarded to M.K.O. Abiola and ITT without going through the cabinet and his permanent secretary. The late Akindele had written to say that his minister didn’t go through the due process. Those were the days when civil servants were civil servants; and Daily Times took side with Akindele to query Murtala Mohammed’s manner of awarding the contract. Murtala, as usual a no-nonsense man, just wanted the telephone problem resolved as quickly as possible. He didn’t have the patience for going to council. As far as he was concerned, he was minister and he felt that he can just approve the contract. That was on. So, I said, ‘my God! Murtala Head of State? A man that Daily Times was still fighting up to that second.’ Then, he (Abisoye) told me the details of who had been retired. He said Kam Salem (the then Inspector General of Police) was out. Hassan Katsina was out. And so on. He told me all the major decisions they had taken.
Meanwhile, there was no immediate broadcast after the council meeting. The only thing that was out throughout that day was martial music and Joe Garba’s coup statement. Up till the night, the country was hanging in the air. And you cannot go anywhere because they had declared a work-free day. Nobody was allowed to move anywhere. There was no telephone in the Daily Times office because they had demobilized the telephone on the island. There were up to 10 stories that he gave me that day. And I told him, ‘General, I am worried. This thing is too explosive. Which of them can I use?’
General Abisoye impressed me. Remember Abisoye has always been a tough, no-nonsense person. Everybody knew him to be tough, sharp-tongued. He said to me: ‘Look, Segun, use your judgment. If you run into trouble, I will stand by you. I will stand by you.’ He repeated it to me, and that was it. So, I drove back to the office just before 6 p.m. only to find the whole place empty. The whole of editorial department was empty. Only those on the production desk and one or two people working on the inner pages of the Evening Times were around. Within seconds, 6 p.m. had clicked. The problem now was: how do I get out this information? As deputy editor, I could not, on my own, unilaterally change the edition’s front page. There was no phone to call Oyebola on the Island. He himself that is saying all this, how can he go home at 5:30 p.m. when you know that curfew was starting by 6? Why should he go home at that time?
He said he left at about 4 p.m. to go and freshen up…
(Cuts in…) He first of all said 5:30 p.m., now he is saying 4. He could not have completed the first edition by 4. It’s not possible.
He said he completed the first edition and now had to go to his house to freshen up…
I will come to that. What led me to Alhaji Jose was the fact that Alhaji Jose, all his life as Chairman, remained the editor-in-chief and the editorial director of the paper; and we were all having meetings with him every Monday. I had become Editor, Lagos Weekend before I became Deputy Editor to Oyebola. I was already on the level of an editor, enjoying the benefits of an editor. So, what is he talking about? Being his deputy does not make me a subordinate to him. I was only deputy to him of equal rank. I went to Alhaji Jose simply because it was easier for me to move from Kakawa to Ikoyi than to go back on the bridge and meet Oyebola in Surulere. The military had surrounded the whole of Kakawa. There was Central Bank to the left, the General Post Office to the right, security exchange commission to the front, and Ministry of Defense to the back of Daily Times. What did I do? I collected 50 copies of the first edition (of Daily Times) and I started distributing them to the military sentries along the road. We used to do that during the civil war. Again, I did that based on my experience during the war. That was how I got to Alhaji Jose.
To get the permission to run with the story?
When Alhaji Jose heard that Murtala Mohammed was the new Head of State, he decided to join me. He followed me. Alhaji Jose was telling me as we were going back that we were in trouble. I said ‘why sir?’ He said it was good that I had come to call him. He said there was no curfew outside Lagos and we had other papers that would have, as I was writing the stories, picked the Murtala’s broadcast around 9 p.m. as the new Head of State and run with it. Alhaji Jose was saying that it was good that he and I were in the office, otherwise he wouldn’t have known how to defend the situation. There was Herald in Ilorin, Sketch in Ibadan, Tribune in Ibadan, Chronicle in Calabar, Observer in Benin, New Nigerian in Kadua, Standard in Jos, and other newspapers scattered all over the place, operating in places that were not affected by the curfew. And they would have carried the broadcast of Murtala. And we would have come out the following day without a line on Murtala Mohammed, and we would have been in trouble. If Oyebola is going to be honest, he should know that Daily Times was at war with Murtala up to the time he became Head of State, and therefore, any mistake from us would have been disastrous.
That was how you got the exclusive published and you were able to take the new Head of State’s inaugural address to the nation?
Yes. I had to monitor it on the radio that night and our own paper was the richest. This is because, beside the broadcast of the Head of State, which all the other papers had, none of them had the other exclusive details that I had, and which we published.
The lesson in all of these is that journalism has certain inborn attributes. You must have high intuitiveness. Your intuition must be strong. You must be resourceful. Resourcefulness is part of the attributes of a good journalist. Courage is another vital attribute. None of these is taught in the university.