By Josephine Igbonovia
Three years into his education at the Baptist Boys High School in Abeokuta, his father was retired from the Nigerian Tobacco Company and couldn’t get another job because he had come of age since child-bearing didn’t happen quickly for him. This was unfortunately when he needed to see his six children through school! The second child, Kayode Soyinka, therefore decided to sacrifice his university education for his elder brother and siblings, and this soon landed him in the world of print journalism as a reporter with the defunct Daily Sketch in Ibadan at age 18 in 1976.
Despite the agony of watching his stories dumped in the news editor and sub editors’ waste baskets and never getting published for months, doggedness spurred him on as in two years, he transformed into a celebrity journalist. He was soon appointed the London Correspondent; a position he retained when he joined the defunct Concord Group at 22, working at the same time as its Bureau Chief.
Kayode also worked with the legendary editor Peter Enahoro and Dele Giwa until his mastery of the ropes culminated in the birth of Africa Today, a pan-African news magazine presently on international news stands in about 90 countries around the world. The author of ‘Diplomatic Baggage: Mossad and Nigeria – The Dikko Story’, a book used in many universities around the world, Kayode recounts his thirty-seven year romance with journalism just a day to his 30th wedding anniversary.
He was covering the magistrate court in Ibadan while his senior colleague and tutor, Kayode Muritala, covered the High Court. Frustration, however, engulfed him each morning when he opened the papers for his stories- none was published and even when any eventually was, it came without his by-line while Muritala’s by-lines flooded the papers! This went on for months until 18-year-old Kayode could no longer swallow his anguish.
“One day, I left the newsroom and went into the sub-editors’ room next door to explain my pains. I said: “Sir, please I want to know why my stories are not being published. I spend a whole day in court, write my stories, but do not see them in the papers the next day!” The Chief Sub-Editor stood-up, tapped my shoulders very nicely, and said, ‘Kayode, the day you get the right story, you won’t have to come to this room to ask that it be published. Just continue to do your work’.”
Getting the ‘right story’
Resolute on getting that ‘right story’ that would get his name on print, an opportunity knocked at his doorstep. He was resting at home one morning when he heard a bang in his neighbourhood. On sighting a motley crowd heading in a direction, he joined and soon discovered that a two-storey building had just collapsed in the middle of a naming ceremony, killing the baby, injuring family members but leaving festivity rams unharmed. He called a photojournalist from the office for a shot of the scene and thereafter visited the University College Hospital, Ibadan, where the victims had been hospitalised, for clarity.
“I couldn’t believe my eyes when the next morning, July 8, 1977, that story was the front page lead of the Daily Sketch and the headline, ‘Disaster at naming ceremony: FALLING WALL KILLS BABY – mother, 13 others seriously injured…but rams for festivity saved, looked so fascinating. For the first time ever, my by-line, ‘BY KAYODE SOYINKA’, was in print!”, he recalled.
At that point, he made a personal commitment to always have his stories on either the front page, back page or, at worst, lead page three, which was the third most important page in the newspaper. He did not only maintain this but had his by-lines on almost each of these pages on certain days.
Rise to stardom
From covering Magistrate Court, Kayode soon began covering High Courts – a sort of promotion. Another assignment that launched him into journalistic stardom was the case of one prominent Chief Shodeinde who had been sentenced to two years imprisonment and had gone to the Federal Court of Appeal. Editors were the ones handling that case, but one day, Kayode’s News Editor was not available and he was asked to go and cover the proceedings. There, he was the only teenager amongst editors from other media houses. The proceeding took a new twist, Kayode got a new inspiration and, by the following morning, he had the catchiest report and even the justice noted this during the next sitting.
“Throughout the days I covered court proceedings, none of my stories was indicted for contempt! That’s why I say the best place to start, for a reporter who wants to do well, is the court”, he added.
Two years after
At age 20, he became the Sketch’s Acting State Correspondent in the old Bendel State until he suddenly got a letter from the head office, sending him to London for an all-expense paid study at the College of Journalism on Fleet Street, the home of newspapers. While in London, he was appointed the paper’s London Correspondent.
“I was at that job when the Concord Newspaper was established in 1980. There was a crisis in Sketch and some of our colleagues were moving to Concord. Though I didn’t apply, Concord invited me to be their London Correspondent. At that time, I was destabilised for the first time in my journalism career because of the change that took place in 1979 in Daily Sketch, which brought in Chief Osoba as the Managing Director of the paper.
I therefore resigned from Sketch and joined Concord. By the time I became the London Correspondent for the Concord, I was already 22, and that appointment opened a floodgate of global journalism opportunities for me. The first time I met Chief Abiola in London was to collect money from him, to pay for our bureau which I had been given the mandate to set-up. I did that tastefully and was eventually appointed the Bureau Chief”, he explained.
Peter Enahoro, Dele Giwa
Always adventurous, four years later, Kayode left the Concord Group to work with Peter Enahoro who was the publisher of Africa Now, a leading pan-African news magazine, as General Editor.
“Working with Peter Enahoro was like going to college of journalism again because he regaled me with Nigeria’s history. He writes better than the English man! When you look at Africa Today, it’s like the old Africa Now! So, for me, it’s a sort of pride that I have represented well the old journalists who tutored me. My career has always been one of opportunities given to me by people I will never forget”, he narrated.
Newswatch letter bomb experience
Few years later, he joined the Newswatch where he worked with Dele Giwa, Yakubu Mohammed and Ray Ekpu, and was again appointed London Bureau Chief.
“It was while at the Newswatch the historic letter bomb was sent to us on October 19, 1986. Dele unfortunately did not make it; he died as a result of shock and fatal wounds that he suffered, being the one that had the parcel in his hand when he tried to open it. Miraculously, I survived. I did not have injury on my body apart from my eardrums which were badly affected and slight hair burns on my head.
There were some stains of blood on my night gown I was wearing which must have come from Dele’s body. It’s a shame Nigeria did not get those behind the bombing. It will be 27 years ago this October 19. I thank God for life. I am 56 years old this year, but when I remember my miraculous escape of the letter bomb, it’s like I am 27 years old because I could have been killed like my best friend and colleague, Dele, on that day.
University at last!
His success notwithstanding, Kayode did not rest on his oars though he had one of the best jobs in journalism- being a London Correspondent.
He went on: “As a London Correspondent, you are the representative of your newspaper on the global stage. I was not only covering the UK but was also covering the Commonwealth, OPEC, New York(United Nations) and South Africa, amongst others. All along, I, however, knew it would be advisable to have a university degree in readiness for the future.
I therefore did a part-time degree programme in international relations at the UK campus of the United States International University, San Diego, California, and a master’s in international journalism at the City University College of Journalism, UK. I was going to withdraw from the master’s programme because of work but the school’s Senate decided to let me run it in two years instead of one year, on the grounds that they wanted me in the school. Perhaps Nigeria’s Kayode was becoming famous!”
Now at 32, a real confirmation of his fame came when on the day he collected his certificate from the City University in 1989, a letter from the Cambridge University, England, invited him to Wolfson College as a Visiting Scholar! His stint at Cambridge in 1990 was paid for by the Commonwealth and his book, Diplomatic Baggage, was written while at Cambridge.
On leaving the Newswatch, after 10 remarkable years of service, Kayode decided to establish a news magazine that would report Africa, just like his former boss, Peter Enahoro.
“I had worked for 18 years as a foreign correspondent and did not want to waste that experience. My goal was to project Africa appropriately on the international scene, as against the projections we were getting from the western media, and, really, that’s what we’ve done with Africa Today since 1995. I’m grateful to Nelson Mandela who granted us the first interview for our cover.
Institutions in the US and Canada subscribe to Africa Today, most western newspapers rely on Africa Today for writing their stories on Africa, and, as a matter of fact, they barrage us with telephone calls when they do not get copies. There’s a famous UK news magazine that comes out with an annual report on Africa- which the Nigerian press re-reports. Actually, one of our in-house editors puts this together for them!”, he revealed.
Kayode repeatedly attributed the progress of Africa Today, which has also produced two sector-specific news magazines, Africa Oil & Gas Today and Africa Telecom Today, to God who exposed him to even the business aspects of journalism at a young age. He would not forget in a hurry other great journalists like the former Daily Sketch’s Managing Director , Mr. Felix Adenaike, his first editor at the Sketch, Dayo Duyile, his Managing Director at the Concord Prince Henry Odukomaiya, his editor at the Concord, Doyin Abiola, and senior colleagues in Newswatch: Dele Giwa, Ray Ekpu, Yakubu Mohammed and Dan Agbese.
“Journalism could be very frustrating if you do not have the mind to give it a long haul. It’s like running a marathon as far as I am concerned. Really, if I die tomorrow, apart from the stint I had recently in politics in Ogun State, I won’t be known for anything else but as a newspaper reporter, both in Nigeria and internationally.
I’ve said it several times that what should be written on my tomb stone is `Kayode Soyinka, Newspaper Reporter: 1957-’ because journalism has given me everything I have in my life. Right from my days at Sketch, I’ve kept cuttings of my reports because, as far as I’m concerned, that’s my own P.hD. I’ve been able to send my two children to the best schools in the world and they are doing very well today. I’m most grateful to my wife for being so supportive and for not throwing me out all these years because of my consistent trips”, Kayode Soyinka remarked.