‘Of all nature’s gifts to the human race, his children’ – Cicero (106-43 BC)
I cannot tell you when I first had my first proper conversations with my dad. I know for sure, that I treasure every conversation we have. You know when my father talks to you, that it is wise to store the conversation as keep sake; you never know when you might need some of those nuggets of wisdom that he freely hands out.
My father, Kola Animasaun, has always been generous and is forever handing out those pearls of wisdom of his for as long as I can remember. I am sure the readers of his column, Voice of Reason can attest to this, and those who have read his book, 1939, loves the way he weaves words and turns his pen into an almighty weapon: he spares no politician or big people. He tells it like it is much to chagrin of the guilty and the corrupt. For those who read my father’s column, they take delight in his fearlessness and frankness, for those, who he crosses literary sword with, they secretly admire his audaciousness.
From my dad’s book; 1939:’I had a salary of £42. Tunde Elegbede was then the Chief Sub-editor; Nath Onyiukwu who later worked with the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA); my classmate at the Grammar School, Sunday Popoola and one funny character called Bashiru (Jagun), kola-chewing and smoke-spewing. The one the people know is the reporter and the romanticisation of the journalist is centred on their perception of him. He is the one they meet in blood and flesh. But if they knew they would “bow and tremble” as they say, when they meet the sub-editor.
He is powerful: he makes small story big. If he is the one with the wicked streaks: he can start a revolution before you know it. It is his province to give a story character. With big bold headline he makes you buy a newspaper only to realize you have merely bought “sounds and fury” signifying nothing. Even as a veteran journalist, I had bought incredibility a few times. He can make a reporter tall and he can cut him to size. I did that for quite a while – precisely throughout my career because even in writing features or holding a column, the sub-editor can dictate the treatment.
My senior and contemporaries on the Express included Chief Olu Adebanjo, Oladipo Fashade, now a lawyer; late Chief Dapo Fatogun (Don Nugotaf) who edited the Sunday Express. There were Dapo Fafiade (lawyer), who was Fatogun’s deputy and Alhaji Ganiyu Akintola-Bello who was News Editor. There was Alhaji Lateef Teniola (Dan Newsman), a consummate newsman (also News Editor); S. B. Osuntolu (ESSBEE), Sola Oluwole, Taiwo Okutubo, Dupe Santos and Dupe Martins.
As the political crisis in the Western Region deepened, it touched the soul of the paper. It was clear the Express was between the devil and the deep blue sea. The paper had to toe the tight rope and as it is well-known no-one can stay on the tight rope for quite long. Loyalty was being tested and it was clear something had to give. No investor would invest in an environment of political instability. Lord Thompson would have been an exception to the rule if he did. Even among the staff the signal for disintegration was unmistakable.
I decided to move on. I reinvigorated my application to the civil service – precisely Federal Ministry of Information. I was asked to interview before the August body, Federal Civil Service Commission that comprised that legend Sir Samuel Manuwa and Sule Katagun. Sir Samuel asked me why I wanted to work with the civil service while the vogue was to work with the private sector – the pay was good, better than in government.
Since I was not going to lie, I gave it to Sir Samuel straight from the hip: for security of tenure. The old man laughed asking me how old I was which he knew from my papers before him: 26! It has turned out that I had prognoses wrongly. Since then, governments have been owing employees, a thing unheard of then.
So I got into the Federal Ministry of Information as Information Officer on a salary of £ 56=5=0d per month. I set to look for another job the second day. Reason: there was no challenge at all. You were lucky if you wrote a release a day or a feature for months. You did not feel the sense of creation as you saw on the daily papers. As you collected your pay, you felt you had cheated the tax payers. But before I had the opportunity to leave I had incurred varying debts: car loan, loan to bring the family back and sundry others.
You had to be inventive not to lose your mind. So you find the creative ones writing plays, or acting them or writing novels or short stories. Notable among these were Cyprian Ekwensi, A.G.S. Momodu, Fela Davies, Demola James and some others. People like us keep columns in newspapers; designed advert copies for our friends; engaged in public relations and advertising mostly to break boredom.
Some of us who had the good fortune of being posted to busy ministries and ministers would thank their stars. My fortune turned when I was posted to the National Provident Fund (NPF) as its Public Relations Officer. I took over from Ernest Etim Bassey who pioneered the section. The job mainly had to do with Public Relations.
If the National Provident Fund was not popular with the workers, it became more so when workers were not getting their benefits when they were due to them. The NPF office on Broad Street then was like a war front. There were shouting bouts and actual fisticuffs. It was not unusual to find people come to the office with juju of deadly reputation – Epe, Afose and Gbetu–gbetu. All that was needed was a buffer, a cannon fodder to take the sting or the shock. I provided that most effectively in my time. The problematic ones were sent to me. I would calm them down, take their numbers and asked them to come back for results after a reasonable time. In the meantime, I would diligently work with the accounts and the compliance sections. Most of the time, it was found that the bureaucracy was more the hindrance than the help.
I got fulfilled when I saw smile on the face of the aggrieved as opposed to the despair he had when he first came to me. One of the memorable people I worked with was Nureni Kessington who retired not too long ago as a Judge of the High Court of Lagos. He struck you as unserious but under that facetiousness was a deep-seated mission. Another was G. B. Ogbemi who celebrated his 80th birthday recently. Yet another was Alhaji Lar, Chief Compliance Officer and Mr. Akinfenwa Donus, a most facetious old man”. And:-’To be immodest, I was very good in English, my Arithmetic was good – usually 100 per cent – and my general knowledge were above average. I consumed the contents of newspapers and magazines – the Daily Times and the West Africa magazines. Foremost among them. I was abreast of events in the country, in Africa and the world. I passed the exam and there and then, I was asked to go for medical examination at Dr. Labinjo’s Hospital somewhere by Bishop Street, adjacent then to Iya Alasooke Mosque on the Lagos Island.
- To be continued