By Ikeddy ISIGUZO
AS a cub reporter at The Punch, 41 years ago, Toye Akiyode was one of the senior reporters we looked up to, then we had mentors without tags. He spent minimal time in the newsroom from his beat at the Murtala Mohammed Airport, a facility that shared a fence with The Punch. The international wing was only built in March 1979.
Those rare moments would light up the newsroom with pearls of laughter from a unique entertaining combo of Segun Obilana, Labour Editor, his luxuriant beards broadcast his proud Soviet leanings, Sports Editor Owolabi Ilori, whose emphatic steps on the wooden deck announced him well before he arrived the newsroom.
Add the duo of Yomi Sangodeyi and Akani Al-Maroof. Yomi’s beards competed with Mr. Obilana’s. But nobody came close when discussing crisis reporting. Five months before my arrival, the police had battered Yomi at the University of Lagos, where he was providing live reports of the ‘Ali Must Go’ students unrest. Thereafter, Yomi earned his wings to define news reporting under fire.
Al-Maroof was a worthy companion, dishing out adequate socialist jargons with the upended conclusion that they were all “gas”.
Akiyode turns 70 today. It is a great time to remember those days when camaraderie was the order of the newsroom, and the larger journalism profession.
Agosco, as friends and colleagues call him, had a life built on selflessness. He lived for colleagues. The generosity of his spirit is tailed by a level of professionalism that tests the limits of searches for “the story”.
If you deliver “the story”, you become “Super Star”, his class of reporters from whom he expected much, and on whom he lavished his bounteous attention.
Too young to participate in the senior jokes at The Punch, I met Agosco again at Vanguard in September 1984, he was Deputy Editor. The reception shocked me; I didn’t realise he knew me back then.
At Vanguard, he became Editor, a little over a year. Mr. Muyiwa Adetiba, pioneer Editor, left to start Prime People.
Reporters knew that excellence was all Agosco expected. If you failed, you had to work twice as hard to re-gain his confidence. The quality of work was what mattered to him. In minutes, he could ferry out the story, where it had been lost to poor style.
Accounts of his interest in raising new talents include students on internship that he fired into new dreams with responsibilities he bestowed on them.
“I can’t forget him,” Dr. Jossy Nkwocha told me a few years ago. “I was an intern when he sent me on an assignment, edited the story, and I was shocked he used it as the front page story. An intern, with a lead story? It meant the world to me.”
A younger colleague told me of a director level job that Agosco secured for him in a federal agency. He missed the job because he was still in school, and lacked experience.
He cared for his reporters and made the point about eminence of the Editorial Department in a few words. Actions did the rest.
His humour was imitable. I succeeded Chris Okojie as Sports Editor. I took Chuks Ugwoke to Agosco for engagement. “If he says you are good, we will take you,” Agosco told Chuks, almost the same word Vanguard Publisher Mr. Sam Amuka, Uncle Sam, used when Chris presented me to him.
Introductions over, Chuks went on about the work (value, they call it these days) he will do for the publication. Chuks was making a case for high pay.
Agosco handed him a copy of Vanguard, telling him to leaf through the pages. When he was done he asked him, “Did you see any empty space that we left because you were not available to fill it?”. Enough had been said.
A dedicated news craftsman, he often wrote the lead stories before heading to the club for his daily dose table tennis. This involvement showed in the story of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s “death” in November 1989.
Editor penned the lead story, taking the quotes from reporters who had been in the field all day. Three or so reporters stood before him, answering his questions as he wrote the story.
“When next Zik dies,” Uncle Sam said the next day, the story was false, “we will publish the first year memorial”.
Agosco supported my decision even in those days when only the Editor could “stop press”, or someone with the Editor’s imprimatur. I stopped the press on 12 August 1989 without recourse to the Editor.
Vanguard had the exclusive story of Sam Okwaraji’s death. There wasn’t time to call Agosco for permission to run late. All I did was write a note to Mr. Dada, Production Manager, taking responsibility for the production delay. I knew Agosco would support me.
He rather surprised me. Agosco thanked the Sports Desk and gave us letters of commendation, as well as N50 cash each, a lot of money at a time buffet at Sheraton was N65, yes, N65.
It was not all work with him. He took some of us to a weekly after hours meeting at Chief Kanmi Isola-Osobu’s place in Ebute Metta, where the people’s lawyer (Fela’s lawyer) regaled us with stories of his encounters with the law and the lawless.
Those sessions on the open air top floor of Chief Isola-Osobu’s chambers were very enlightening about Nigeria.
Happy birthday Agosco. Thanks very much for the memories. Your works speak for you.