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A reporter’s reporter turns 70

By Muyiwa Adetiba

They came out in good numbers to pay a befitting tribute to a man who had devoted more than half of his working life which spanned four and a half decades to active journalism.

Even the other half in government, was either as a Press Secretary—to three Military Governors—or as the Director of Press in the Presidency. So in essence, Chief Eric Teniola, otherwise known as Ericoco, has spent his entire working life in the realm of the pen profession.His professional colleagues led by Uncle Sam, our boss when we were all at the Punch,did him proud on the day.

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The attendance was also a fair representation of his many constituencies. Club 86, his age-grade club in Idanre his home town, which has virtually become my own club due to my long association with its members, came out almost to a man. Members of the Ikoyi Club which is also my club, came to honour one of their own. Members of his church society at Archbishop Vining Memorial Church many of whom are again, well known to me, were in copious attendance. My face is also familiar to many of his close family members due to my attendance at his family occasions over the years. So, I was almost as at home at the book launch and reception that marked the 70th birthday of Chief Eric Teniola as the celebrant. The point I am making if you haven’t noticed, is that Eric and I have come a very long way.

Our paths first crossed in the 70s in the early days of the Daily Punch. We were young, and at the risk of being immodest, we were good. Our numerous by lines across the paper bore testimonies to that. So it was inevitable that we would notice ourselves. It was only natural that we would eventually start hanging out together. Those were the days. We worked hard and played hard. It didn’t help that we had ‘happening’ Directors who alternated the hosting of parties virtually every week! Often, the lines between work and play were blurred. Our work was our play. Often, our personal relationships or romantic dalliances, were the casualties. There is the story of one of us who went to the airport to meet a girlfriend coming in from Benin. While waiting for the plane to come in, a prominent political figure came out.

They greeted. It turned out that a major political meeting was about to take place. He asked if he could go with the man. The man first hesitated and eventually agreed. In the excitement of a possible news coup, my colleague ‘forgot’ the reason he was at the airport. Not only was that the end of a romantic weekend, it was also the end of a promising relationship.That kind of situation was par for the course for many of us. Our work was our life. But we made life-long friends across board in the process.

I have watched Eric evolve from a carefree bachelor of that almost wanton era into a loving husband, a responsible father and a doting grandfather. I have watched Eric give up things I never thought he could give up. I have heard him talk of giving up even more things that were inconceivable some ten years ago. Much of that is due to his attitude to life, his contentment at home and of his station in life. Eric in our youthful days, was a lover of good music; especially contemporary jazz music and most of his close friends benefited from his generosity as he constantly dubbed tapes for us.

It was the era of cassette. He was also a fountain of inside information. He could hold a group enthralled with background information to the many things that happen in the public space. Or, the probable reasons behind some policy announcements. No wonder our boss, Uncle Sam calls him ‘Inside Story.’ Our regular breakfast meetings with Uncle Sam were never the same if Eric was absent.

Eric is a reporter’s reporter. Let me break that down. Journalism has a wide field like most professions. No single individual that I know is proficient in all the fields. And unlike what most people outside the profession think, writing good grammar does not necessarily make you a good journalist. In fact, there are sections where your grammar matters little. A good columnist might not be a good news reporter and vice versa. Both of them might not have the skill sets to be a good Editor. Just as a good Editor might not have what it takes to be a good columnist or news reporter.Most of us come into journalism with a natural gift in an area and train ourselves to be above average in the other areas. Eric’s natural gift is in news reporting. He has what is called, a ‘nose for news’ in the profession.

A sweeping definition of news is that it is anything out of the usual. But to spot the unusual, you must understand the usual. That is the rub. You need to understand the pattern of the pieces before you can notice when a piece is out of sync. A good example was an experience with Eric during the Second Republic. The two of us had gone to see a prominent politician. We spent about two lively hours drinking and chatting. When we got up to go and headed for the car, Eric said excitedly that we had a lead story for the following day. I was taken aback. We did not interview the man.

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And to the best of my knowledge, there was no typical question and answer format. But it was when Eric pointed out that ‘the man said so and so when the policy of the party on the matter is so and so’ that I began to understand the news value of what we had. You don’t learn that in any journalism school. It is a natural talent that is honed by knowledge and alertness; an instinct that is developed over time.

His book is aptly titled: ‘On the Spot.’ It is a collection of articles that speaks to the Nigerian situation across time zones. Many of the people featured were prominent actors in Nigeria’s unfolding drama. Eric was at his reportorial best during the Shagari era when he knew and was known by many people in government. His subsequent work with State and Federal Governments gives him an uncanny insight into the workings and fault lines of Nigeria. You could say Eric has truly been ‘On the Spot.’Enjoy your new age my friend and remember to take things easy.

Vanguard

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