By Rotimi Fasan
IT was ten years ago this week that the first article appeared in this space. It was 13 May, 2006, I think, that the first article was published. Even though I had known for several weeks now that the anniversary of this column would be this week and I had mentally noted the fact and planned to say a word or two about it, the day seems to have come upon me rather suddenly. It is a testimony to just how harried and occupied one has become in the course of ten years that I had not found the time to check out details of the very first title I wrote here.
By the time I wrote my first piece for Vanguard, I had been writing on a fairly regular basis for different Nigerian newspapers and magazines for at least ten years. Indeed, before I took on the invitation to write for Vanguard I had a similar invitation from an editor of The Guardian in Lagos. But I did not follow up on that invitation for reasons I told that editor just a few months ago after he made references about my failure to take up his offer to a friend he was with during an event at the University of Ibadan.
By the time I started this column, therefore, I could not be said to be without experience writing in the media. But Vanguard editors still wouldn’t take chances. They didn’t say it but they wanted to be sure, it was obvious, that I could write and indeed do so within a weekly deadline. The invitation to write had come directly from Mr. Sam Amuka Pemu, the publisher. This publisher was not just an entrepreneur.
He was a highly respected writer and editor who has been deservedly praised for his uncanny ability to spot talent. It was at an event, the public presentation of a book compilation of the past columns of a former Vanguard columnist, Mr. Solomon Uwaifo that Mr. Amuka had seen me at the MUSON Centre in Lagos.
Mr. Uwaifo’s book centred around electric power generation, transmission and distribution. You could describe it as a book about Nigeria’s problem with the provision (or the lack of it) of power. The collected articles were published under the title, That Nigeria May Survive and I had reviewed it.
The job of the reviewer was originally meant for Reuben Abati, then editorial board chair of the Guardian, who couldn’t make it on the intended day. Mr. Amuka had sent his invitation to write through Mr. Uwaifo and it would be many weeks before I would meet him at Vanguard Media in Apapa. As a journalist, editor and writer, his reputation preceded him. He it was who had spoken with me and he couldn’t by any chance be said not to know the trade. He thereafter sent for the editor and handed me over to him.
But as the authorised gatekeepers on ground, the editors were determined to ensure that quality was not compromised. And so they asked me to hand them enough copies to last for at least four or five weeks. This again, it was obvious, was to ensure they would be able to keep the column running in the event I ran out of ideas or had a writer’s block. Although I obliged them, I sent them updated copy of each of the four or five copies I had handed them initially.
Apparently they didn’t see or just failed to use these. For several weeks they went on using what I had originally handed to them and I just had to wait for them to exhaust what they had in their article bank before I started sending them new copies. My deadline then was Friday even though my column appeared on Wednesday, almost one full week after submission. Looking back now that looks like a very long time to send in a copy before it is published. But I ensured that I wrote in a manner that kept the topic of discussion still fresh and without any hint of being almost a week old.
Apart from the fact that events are reported at a much faster pace these days, necessitating round-the-clock updating of news, I have since pushed back my deadline to Sunday and sometimes early Monday morning. The demands on one’s time are so many and enormous.
But I consider writing this column as important as any other task I have to undertake. Many times I finish writing and send off my copy for the week in the very dead of the night or in the early hours of Monday (it’s nearly 3 in the morning as I write this).
Rarely do I write and send off a piece before Saturday now. I take this opportunity to apologise to the editors, especially the sub-editor, for the inconveniences this may cause them even though it has the advantage of ensuring that issues discussed are kept almost oven fresh. Even then, I still find that I sometimes have to send in updated versions of a piece sent earlier.
In the ten years since I embarked on this journey, I have yet to record a week in which I didn’t write my piece. Yes, I have hosted about five guest writers, two of whose articles ran for two weeks. There have also been a couple of times when due to some mix-up (in the early years) when sent copies didn’t appear in print.
Outside these instances, no week has gone in the last ten years without me writing my column. I have yet to experience the disappointment of waking up to the realisation that I had failed to send in my copy for the week. No matter the inconveniences (and they keep mounting these days), no matter where I happened to be in the last one decade I have made every effort to write my column.
It’s not been easy at all writing in circumstances that are not at all friendly. Many times one has to work without electricity (as I do right now), one is often cut off the internet or immediate demands on one’s time simply crowd out any thought that one hasn’t written one’s copy for the week. But in all of this my immediate family has been wonderful.
My wife who knows the nature and demands of my daily activities and who has a clear sense of how strenuous it is writing in the circumstances I often have to write, tries to urge me to write my column within the week. When as I often do these days- when I fail to write before weekend and sometimes forget all about it, she is the first and only one who reminds me of it.
To be continued next week