By Owei Lakemfa
WHEN I joined The Guardian newspapers in August 1983, I thought it was chaotic. We were grilled like soldiers. Every day we had to bring at least one story.
There could be no excuse not even that you were sick or lost someone that was a distant relation. We the foot soldiers like Wole Agunbiade and Mbadiwe Emelumba needed to have a bag packed as we could be asked to travel without notice. With Lade Bonuola as Associate Editor, Femi Kusa, News Editor and Nduka Irabor his deputy, there was noÂ room for respite.
With the newspaper going daily everybody seemed to be in a hurry; from the Features Department headed by Ted Iwere to theÂ elite Editorial Board led by Onwuchekwa Jermie, the deadline was like the Sword of Damocles.
In the midst of all these were a set of journalists who seem to be leisurely- the Sub Desk! They alwaysÂ lookedÂ fresh, yet they were the gateway to production.
I soon found out that their head, Doyin Mahmoud would not allow anybody push his staff around and would not allow himself to be intimidated. He was quite confident, doubtlessly competent and always seemed to be working ahead.
Although I got promoted rapidly, becoming one of the three along with Ejiro Onabrapeya and Greg Obong- OshotseÂ being made correspondents, my activism earned me a sack within 14 months. Mahmoud was invited in 1985 to edit one of the then most authoritative newspapers, the Ilorin based Herald newspapers.
Attracting back and employing consummate professionals like Dapo Olorunyomi who hadÂ gone to The Guardian, he turned the fortunes of the Herald around.
It was with pride I visited him in Ilorin. What was clear was that he had introduced the same relaxed atmosphere to the newspaper.
After five years , he returned to The Guardian, leaving a record as perhaps the longest serving editor of the Herald. His return coincided with upheavals in the country as General Ibrahim Babangida was being consumed in his manoeuvrings to perpetuate himself in power.
This had resulted in a bloody attempted coup by the Gideon Orkar- Tony Nyiam group and an aborted National Conference in 1990.
Some of us journalists who agreed withÂ the assessment of the Conference leader, Alao Aka- Bashorun that theÂ Babangida gang had a â€œhidden agendaâ€ to perpetuate militaryÂ misrule, decided that there was a need to establish a newspaper like any other except for three differences.
One, it will be openly pro-people and willing to take on the military cabal in what we envisaged to be a long and perhaps dangerous struggle to enthroneÂ democracy.
Secondly, it will be structured in a way that it can carry out guerrilla journalismÂ Â and continue publishing and circulating if it was banned as the military was likely to do when faced with factual and patriotic reportage.
A third difference was that it would significantly extendÂ the frontiersÂ of journalism by publishing a 24 hours newspaper with AM and PM editions. This was an attempt to bridge the gap between the print and 24 hours television.
Six of us teamed up to start the project:Â Dapo in Herald, Femi Ojudu and Bayo Onanuga from African Concord, Chris Mammah of Punch, Richard Akinnola and I from Vanguard newspapers.
A Peat Marwich, Ani and Ogunde Accountancy lecturer, Idowu Obasa drew up the business plan. But since we could not raise his fee, we resolved to invite him to join us and use his fee as equity, he agreed.
Aka- Bashorun agreed to provide seed money and also offered us a warehouse along the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway while Dr Beko Ransome-Kuti made his officesÂ at Imaria Street, Anthony, Lagos available to us as temporary office.
Although we were seasoned journalists in our own right with Chris and Bayo being Deputy Editors, and Richard,Â News Editor of the Punch, African Concord and Vanguard respectively, we thought that to be able to market our business plan and be taken serious, we needed somebody with national clout and who is a tested newspaper editor.
We all agreed that person was Doyin Mahmoud. He had all the qualities we were looking for, including compatibility and the fact that he was not a hustling editor but a principled one who would neither be intimidated nor bought over.
We had no problem accepting his professional leadership having been a practicing journalist since 1977, being Bayoâ€™s boss on The Guardian sub-desk and Dapoâ€™s editor at the Herald. He accepted and in fact sourced for us the most promising investor, a leading banker.
Since we could not raise the needed funds quick enough, six of us:Â Richard, Dapo, Idowu, Femi, Mahmoud and I started publishing a monthly specialised magazine, Courtroom, to raise funds. We alsoÂ planned to add a specialised accountancy magazine.
But the business was not successful. I remained in Vanguard, Richard went into writing and publishing , Chris into PR and politics while Dapo, Femi, Bayo and Idowu continued the dream by establishing The News magazine, and the AM and PM newspapers.
Mahmoud remained in The Guardian as its Training Editor and Editorial Board member.Â In 2001, he left to help establish the Independent Newspapers becoming the pioneer Chief Operating Officer and Editor-In-Chief. He later left, some say, refusing to tread the neutral path of Jacobean politics, to start a Ph.D and help found the Department of Journalism in the University of Ilorin.
On Sunday September 20, 2009 he slumped, and the heart of one of the best journalists and journalism teachers in our countryâ€™s historyÂ stopped beating. Our Editor had finishedÂ his life script and an era came to a full stop.