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I did not plan to be a journalist – Jola Ogunlusi

By Olayinka Ajayi

Baba  Jola Ogunlusi, a veteran journalist, came into journalism by accident and  bagged the best investigative reporter of his time with a gift of a brand new Olympia typewriter in 1974. Ogunlusi also rose to become the first  national executive secretary of NUJ. He shares his experience in this encounter.

I came into journalism in 1963 by accident. I needed something doing back then, so I took the job out of survival.  My dream was to be a medical doctor. Even ten years after my sojourn in journalism, I was still aiming to go into medicine. Sincerely, l would have left journalism if I had passed  chemistry and physics.

I failed chemistry more than seven times and I was in the profession till 1977 as an investigative reporter until I became fully the first National Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Union Journalists, NUJ. I was privileged to work with the few media houses then like Iroyin Yoruba, Daily Sketch, Tribune and New Nigeria. Along the line, I joined some people to start Lamp magazine which was in form of the old Drum.  I also wrote for the African Ark published by the University of California.

My challenges

Those days, we didn’t have access to portable recording  gadgets  like you have in present times. We did most of our reporting in long hand. In fact, we were not even advised to use tape recorders. I remember the training  I got, that if you had to do an investigative story, you were  not to carry a note book or anything that will show that you were a journalist. If possible, you should hide a piece of paper  and your biro such that nobody would notice it.

By the time you were talking to people, they would respond confidently without them knowing who you really were. Back then, people were afraid of journalists; once they knew that you were a journalist, they would definitely conceal information . But in government  Ministries, you were left in the dark by civil servants.  The best they could do was to refer you to the Minister and sometimes the Minister could refer you to the public relations unit, and they will refer you to the press secretary.

Getting news-worthy stories

Like I said earlier, when you were not on special assignment like conference, tribunal or court, you were not advised to carry any suspicious materials that would make your source hide information from you.  But when it came to investigative journalism, you shouldn’t show anything that would make your source avoid you.

*Jola Ogunlusi
*Jola Ogunlusi

Once your source mentioned a name to you, you’d call the name three times to make it stick into your brain in order not to forget it. However, when you are using long hand to take your point, by the time you write the introduction of the story, every other point would naturally flow into place because you were there when it started.

In Daily Times those days, Tony Momoh, who later became the Minister of Information, taught journalists to write in thin-line abbreviation. During those days, we didn’t have difficulty writing our stories; once you get your facts correct, you’d go to the news room, write your story and submit to the news editor. But if your story is not correct, a good news editor would tell you there was a missing link somewhere, urging you to go back and look for it.

It happened to me once. Although I argued with the news editor, I  later went back to get the missing  link and the story made the front page. I did a lot of investigative journalism and did it by making friends with people. During our days, we were the ones feeding our source with money we earned from claims to get information, not as we have it now.

There was a story I wrote in New Nigeria about (Chief Anthony) Enahoro during the coup when Gen. Murtala Muhammed took over. Then,he wanted to travel to Ghana and the National Security Organisation, NSO;  later   State Security Service, SSS and now, Directorate of State Security, DSS, stopped him from going.

So, I went back to the State Security Service (SSS) to get their reasons for not allowing him to travel and it was revealed that his diplomatic passport was still with him and there was a story about him in the news before. So, we headlined the story, The Fugitive Offender.

Two months later, he wrote to us faulting the story but we stood our ground because I had facts about his traveling documents. When he came to our office because he was a friend of the house and demanded to see me, I walked up to him and explained everything that transpired at the airport.

He was shocked and he said I was a very good investigative reporter.  He congratulated me and also offered me N100. Back then in 1974, I was the first person to win the best investigative reporter and I was commended for the good work with a brand new Olympia typewriter.

Threats on the job

I remember, there was a time I was hiding from some Lebanese people called Labanbid.  Then, there used to be some powerful Lebanese men across our office in Ijora, Lagos. If you write any story, they would start making enquiries about you and they would be monitoring your movements, but one thing I enjoyed about my bosses was that they would protect you.

Getting rich in jounalism

In cash, I must say no but in knowledge and influence in the society at large, I will definitely say yes because journalism made me have little knowledge about  one thing and then knowing one thing about everything. It availed me  the opportunities of traveling around the world and shaking hands with more than twenty high-profile Presidents of countries around the world, an opportunity I would not have had if I had turned out to be a medical doctor.

My philosophy of life

My philosophy about life is that whatever you do in life, do it well and make a mark.  Like I said earlier, I came into journalism by accident. But I had it in mind that I would make a mark for which I would be remembered which I achieved.

I would not have ventured into journalism because I struggled to be a medical doctor, but, as fate would have it, hard work paved the way for me in journalism and I was privileged to have trained seasoned journalists like Gbenga Aruleba of the AIT.

Present engagement

I am writing a book about the history of Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ. I observed that most practicing journalists are not aware of the history of their promising  profession. So, I took it upon myself to write about it. It has been endorsed by former governor of Lagos State, Alhaji  Lateef Jakande.  It will be launched soon.


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