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Murtala coup propelled my career – Osoba

The appointment of Chief Segun Osoba, as the Managing Director of Daily Times, in 1984 consolidated the reputation of the paper as the largest newspaper in Africa. He left the position to join partisan politics which led to his election as the Governor of Ogun State.

In this interview with Bashir Adefaka at his residence Chief Osoba speaks on his life as a journalist and how the coup that brought late Murtala Mohammed to office propelled his career
He also talked about his life in and outside Government.

Who were your contemporaries in journalism?

When you talk of journalism in Nigeria we have our fathers in the profession.  We cannot be talking about Segun Osoba in journalism without talking of those who brought us up: The likes of Alhaji Babatunde Jose, the likes of Alhaji Lateef Jakande; we have to talk of Alhaji Alade Odunewu;  Peter Enahoro; Mr. Sam Amuka-Pemu; late Ebenezer Williams and so many giants who were in the profession.  And I am happy that Alhaji Jakande and co are still alive.  So these are fathers of modern day journalism.  We came after them.

First it was Alhaji Babatunde Jose who persuaded me to take journalism as a career and my first editor was Peter Enahoro who, within the first three months of my coming into the profession, wrote a beautiful comment about my performance.

Of course big brothers in the profession, to me, are people like Mr. Sam Amuka-Pemu who is still very active today and he is a publisher.

You were not the only qualified person at the Daily Times, how did you become the editor the paper?

My emergence as editor of Daily Times came as a surprise. I would say that General Emmanuel Abisoye contributed a lot to what happened, on the day the coup that brought Murtala Muhammed to power took place.

It was General Abisoye, then a colonel, whom I went to meet at Ann Barracks in Yaba to ask him what was going on.  He then told me that he had just returned from a meeting of the military officers where they decided to make Murtala Muhammed the new Head of State and then Brigadier Olusegun Obasanjo the Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters.  He told me the story of the retirement of all the service chiefs and the then head of police.

I was worried about using the details of what he told me and General Abisoye, as a no-nonsense and courageous officer, said I could go ahead and publish.  And that if there was any trouble, he would stand up and protect me.  That was what led me into returning to the office that evening to write the story of the inside and the exclusive situation that happened that day.

Unfortunately before I returned, the editor, Oyebola, had decided to send everybody away in order that they should all go and observe the curfew, which started at six o’clock that evening.  I had no choice then than to drive down to Ikoyi to go and meet the chairman of the company, who was also the editorial director  (Alhaji Babatunde Jose);  who was the only person to give me the go ahead to go and change the lead story of the newspaper for the following day.

And when I got to Alhaji Jose, he immediately decided to follow me back to the office to produce the paper…
(cuts in) But why did you have to go direct to the chairman when you had editor to report to and who officially should be the one to liaise with the chairman?

I went to him because in my early days as a reporter when I discovered the bodies of the first Prime Minister of Nigeria, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and that of Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh, I stopped by on my way from Ota that day at Silver Crescent to inform my editor, Peter Enahoro, on a Friday evening, the story that I heard.  Unfortunately I didn’t meet him at home and I went to the office he wasn’t in the office and I could not write the story.

The following day when Alhaji Jose heard, he was very, very upset with me.  That was January 1966.  He said that when I didn’t find my editor I should have come straight to him as the editorial director to give me the go ahead to write the story.

So, that was the major experience that I had.  I now didn’t want to make the same mistake the second time.  Some people made all kinds of insinuations: I think Alhaji Jose was very upset that the handling of the coup that brought in Murtala Muhammed was not taken in, in the most professional manner.  His fear at the time General Murtala became Head of State was borne out of the fact that, Daily Times was at war with then Brigadier Murtala Muhammed over the award of contracts for telecommunications to (MKO) Abiola’s company, ITT.

The Daily Times took a position on the side of, I think the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Communications, Mr. Akindele who said that the minister didn’t have power to single-handedly award contract to any company and that there was no due process.

There was that war going on within  Daily Times until the then minister of communications,  Brigadier Murtala Muhammed, became the Head of State.  Naturally, Alhaji Jose was not happy that Daily Times would have come out the following morning without that story.

And the curfew that was imposed was only in Lagos.  Other papers in the country like The Sketch in Ibadan, The Observer in Benin, The Herald in Ilorin The New Nigerian in Kaduna would have published the story and it would have somehow damaged and portrayed Daily Times as still continuing the war against Murtala Muhammed, if we didn’t come out with the story on the same day.

That I think influenced the meeting of the executive directors the following morning where they decided that I, as deputy editor of Daily Times then, should now become the editor of the paper.

Do you agree that Government influence in the paper at that time led to the collapse of Daily Times?

Daily Times was very, very independent at that time.  There wasn’t much of government’s influence at the time of Alhaji Jose.  In truth, Daily Times was feared and respected by successive governments.  Alhaji Jose was becoming too powerful.

There was an element of envy on the part of people about the media power that Alhaji Jose had.  It wasn’t government’s influence.  I would say government was interested more in curbing the power and influence of the Daily Times.

Is that what led to the splitting of the shares of the company with government taking the larger stakes and the ousting of the chairman, Alhaji Jose?

No. There was internal wrangling between Daily Times and government who had always been fearful of the power of Alhaji Jose and the influence of Daily Times.  They decided to use the internal wrangling, they ceased the Daily Times and turned it into a semi-government newspaper.

And do you think that was healthy for the Daily Times?

It was what killed the Daily Times and the coming of government into shareholding in the Daily Times was the beginning of the total destruction and the death of the paper as the most influential newspaper in Nigeria then.

Daily Times was gloried for being first publicly quoted company in Nigeria and you became one on the lineage of its managing directors: What is your position on the lineage and how did you emerge as one?

Daily Times was not just a company quoted in the stock exchange, it was the father and leading newspaper in the country; to the extent that at a point people from Daily Times were sent out as ambassadors to go and man other newspapers in the country.

Haroun Adamu from Daily Times was the one who went and started The Triumph Newspaper in Kano, …Attah was seconded to Jos as the General Manager of The Standard, Effiong Essien was seconded to Calabar from Daily Times as General Manager of The Cronicle, I was seconded to the Nigerian Herald as the General  Manager, Osunaike was seconded to Sketch from Daily Times as General Manager.

Daily Times was much more than a company quoted in the stock exchange.  It was a colossus and it was the father of modern day journalism such that I don’t know of any newspaper that started in this country that didn’t have the influence of Daily Times men.

Take for example the Champion was started by Henry Odukomaiya, a sub-editor of the Daily  Times.  Henry Odukomaiya was a pioneer managing director of the Concord.  He was also a pioneer of a paper started by the Esama of Benin, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion.

The Guardian was started by men from the Daily Times; the likes of Dele Cole, Stanley Makebu, Bade Bonuola, Femi Kussa were all Daily Times people.  I was one of the team that started The Guardian and all of us are Daily Times men.

I cannot think of any newspaper that started that didn’t have the influence of Daily Times.  Take for example, again, when your publisher, Sam Amuka decided to go solo, he went in and founded The Punch in company of Olu Aboderin.

And after that he went and founded the Vanguard.  So, I don’t know of any newspaper in this country that does not have the influence of Daily Times.

Look back at the Daily Times of your time and what the national tabloid has become today.  What are your regrets and what are your consolations?

My regret is that part of Nigerian history was destroyed.  Daily Times is part of Nigerian history and a very major institution: I regret that.  Also we in  Daily Times used to be a family and that incident sort of destroyed the family bond and sent all of us into different directions:  I regret that.

My consolation is that people like Sam Amuka carry on and he’s still a major player in the field today, even at his advanced age of over seventy.  I praise him, I respect him and I praise his courage; he is still the shining example of an old Daily Times that still carries the flag high.

You later joined politics and emerged governor of Ogun State two separate times.  Were you ever in any way challenged for having deviated from your path as an journalist into the politics that,  reputed to be a duty game?

Not at all.  Journalism teaches you lot of lessons.  If one has managed a newspaper, there is nothing he will not be able to manage in any aspect of human endeavour.  Because managing a newspaper is like managing a team.  Newspaper production is a team work, everybody is important, from the reporter to the end line of the vendor, who hawks the newspaper in the streets.

Governing Ogun State was not a serious challenge to me having managed successfully three major newspapers in this country: The Nigerian Herald, The Sketch and then came as managing director of Daily Times, which was the highest point of my career.

Having achieved that, there was nothing else for me in journalism that I wanted to achieve, which God had not given me the grace to achieve.  And that was why I went into politics.  I was already toughened by journalism, fully baked and prepared for the rough and tumble of governance.

I don’t think that politics is dirty.  It is that we have dirty people playing politics: People who have no character, who are fraudulent. Otherwise, in my days, in the days of SDP (Social Democratic Party) and NRC (National Republican Convention), when I first became governor in 1992 and 1993, things got on very well.  There wasn’t these cut-throat, do-or-die, garrison politics, capture politics.  Our language then was civil.

But when you have people coming into politics with terrible background, you will get the sort of politics…  Look at Ghana, there has been transition from (Jerry) Rawlings government to the opposition and now from (John) Kufour back to Rawlings government.  That is how politics should be.

If  I get your message right, you are saying that if you lose an election this time and you wait for another time, it may be your turn to win?


As a journalist, what would you say that journalism achieved under your administration as a state governor?

I can tell you that the Ogun State Television was virtually dead by the time I became governor and I am happy that all the equipment that I purchased, all the work I did to revitalize the Ogun State Television are still there today.

I started with the mast, got it repaired and renovated.  After that we installed a new transmitter.  Power supply was a problem: We bought new generators.

Later the management came to me and said well, we have a strong mast, we have a very good transmitter, we have good power supply but that whatever comes from the studio is what the transmitter will transmit to the mast and the mast will beam to the world.

That we needed to build a brand new studio.  And I am happy that with over forty million we installed new studio, which today is one of the best studios in the country after which LTV 8 went and ordered the same kind of studio and many stations in Nigeria started ordering the same kind of studio.

I will tell you that I devoted a lot of time to making the Ogun State Television one of the best in the country.  All of these things are still the equipment they are using up till today; seven years after I left office and I am very proud of that.

And I have this for my colleagues… I always admonished them not to relax and many veterans tend to be too rigid about professionalism and think that getting something from government may be compromising their positions.  I gave all the correspondents in Abeokuta a piece of land each to make them go and start something, build little boys’ quarters for themselves.

The NUJ in Lagos came to me and I gave them a big chunk of land in Arepo, which is now the Press Village.  And somethng that also gives me joy is that I gave a big chunk of land to Punch at a boundary between Lagos and Ogun.

So, there was no media house that came to me when I was in office that I didn’t give one assistance or the other to.
You are a writer and you also read a lot.  What do you do when you are not doing any of these?

I wasn’t a columnist in my days, I was a reporter.  I was a fieldman, what you call the department of the Infantry men of the newspaper house and I am still a reporter.  I still live the life of a reporter: simple life.

What I do now is: I relax under the tree, you can see now, I sit under the tree during the day, get fresh air, I walk regularly with my wife to exercise our bodies and keep fit.  I spend a lot of time with my grand children.  I live a very much more relaxed life now and, of course, I still play politics; seriously too.

What does Chief Segun Osoba’s life after government look like and what are his plans ahead for Nigeria?

I remain the same.  When I was in government my ADC or my orderly never packed my bag for me. I packed my bag as a reporter, I live the life of a reporter and out of official engagements I was driving myself round in the evening in  Abeokuta and I still drive myself around now which you saw me doing.

When I was in Lagos, during my time as governor, I was always coming to this house. I lived in my house and I lived in my house in Abeokuta as well.  I am carrying on as I have always been: Simple Segun Osoba; even in relax time. Life out of office hasn’t been anything major to me because a reporter lives the life of a simple person.

Was it true that you used to eat in the Cafeteria as a governor?

Oh, that was true! I mean Idi Alamala was my favourite cafeteria in Abeokuta and I am not ashamed.  The reason I did it was when I first returned to Abeokuta and I wanted to contest, the campaign was that ah, somebody who has been managing director of the Daily Times can never relate with the grassroots; he cannot understand the feelings of the grassroots.  They even said they knew I couldn’t eat with my hands.

Then I started going to Idi Alamala to have my lunch every afternoon and throughout my period, first and second time, Idi Alamala was one of the cafeteria who used to cater for us even at state functions.  I would ask her to prepare Egbalafun as well as Ewedu and melon soup (ewedu elegunsi) for us.  It is a delicacy that I help to promote our culture.

No apologies for eating in the cafeteria.  That is living with the grassroots.

I wouldn’t have loved to ask you more question but, aside the trees and flowers that give beauty to your compound, I can see that you have brought the Olumo Rock, its replica, to your house.  What informed this or is it part of the love for promoting culture?

All those rocks you see at different locations in the compound are all rocks brought in from Abeokuta.  You know, Abeokuta is a rock city; I am proud of it and I am proud to promote that as part of contribution to show pride in my heritage, in my culture and in my homestead.


Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.