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2023 poll and lessons from the masters of journalism

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By Banji Ojewale

I HAVE in front of me the 396-page book, SEGUN OSOBA: The Newspaper Years. It is the 2011 work by the pair of Mike Awoyinfa and Dimgba Igwe on former newspaperman Osoba who went on to become the elected governor of Ogun State in Nigeria’s southwest. Osoba himself is silent in the biography.

But he is present everywhere, garlanded chapter after chapter by those who knew him as a friend, professional colleague, community figure, politician, etc. Both those who mentored him and the young ones he trained are allowed to straddle the pages to say a word. That the eponymous personalityof the work isn’t brought in to say something about himself doesn’t enfeeble the book. The writers’ approach, somehow, glamorizes their delivery.

We can also count on the relative objectivity of the witnesses summoned by the duo of Igwe and Awoyinfa to tell Osoba’s story on account of their proven candour. The book boasts an impressive assembly: Babatunde Jose, without argument the colossus of Nigeria’s newspaper journalism history who discovered Osoba, Lateef Jakande, Peter Enahoro, Sam Amuka-Pemu, Alade Odunewu, Tony Momoh, Lade Bonuola, Kunle Elegbede, etc.

I’m challenged by their own professional exploits as recorded in the annals of the industry. You can push the book aside and independently investigate the pedigree of these Osoba watchers, first by a reach into the archives and secondly by probing the life and times of Osoba as a journalist and politician. A lot of them never left the scene where they met it. They had the Midas touch. Where they met brass, they turned it into silver. A silver setting became golden in their era. For those who inherited a gilded space, the urge crept in to aim for the stars. 

But the greater provocation for me is the process employed to select these great patriots. What search engine, like a magnet, dragged their potential mentees from hiding or from the crowd? What seemingly seamless selection method was adopted by the masters to reproduce themselves as they receded from the newsroom to make way for a new generation which continued with the excellent service they initiated?

I’m intrigued because with our politicians now on the hustings for leadership positions in the 2023 poll, we must be extra cautious in choosing those who want to bear the rule over us. We must take a hard look for instance at Babatunde Jose’s unsparing and disruptive paradigm for recruitment that harvested a galactic crop. I propose we import it into Nigeria’s politics because it ushered in some of the illustrious names we’ve had in journalism. They also operated beyond the profession. Many of these same compatriots would scale the heights in politics, and in public and private spheres, to add their quota to nation-building. Let’s see how Jose arrived at them.

I turn to Awoyinfa and Igwe. They offer Jose’s bare-knuckle brawl at sessions for reporters, the first port of call in newsgathering and dissemination. The authors got the legendary Jose himself to speak on the encounters that gave birth to our distinguished forebears in the industry. Jose said: “We invited these young men for an interview and after the interview panel had interviewed them, I intervened to ask … my own set of questions aimed at testing their love for journalism.

One of the questions was: “If you are going home, if you leave the office at 8p.m. at the end of a day’s job and you are going to your fiancé(e) and on Carter Bridge, you come across the story of a man who had jumped down the bridge into the lagoon in a suicide bid, what would you do? Someone said: ‘Well, I would go to the nearest telephone.’ I asked a second question: “If you are making love with your wife and you hear a bang outside followed by a scream, what would you do?”Another answer I got was: ‘Oh, I would disengage. Then I would take a shower.’ But Osoba said: ‘I won’t shower. I would just put on my pants and trousers and go.’

Another question: “If your wife is sick, is expecting a baby, and in the morning as you are about to leave home for an urgent journalistic assignment, she starts groaning, what would you do?” One young man said: “I would take her to the hospital.” Another said: “I would hire a car and take her to the hospital. Then after she has given birth I would go for my assignment.”

Obviously, one would have sympathy for the man who would call a cab and take his wife to the hospital but on the other hand I would tell the man that: “You are not a nurse, why do you have to wait at the hospital after taking her there?” I was that harsh in my assessment of people’s attitude to work. Overall, Segun (Osoba) topped the list of those who were impersonal, who showed that the love for work transcends personal conveniences.”

Those who were impersonal, who showed that the love for work (for the people as a public office holder, elected or selected) transcends personal conveniences. That’s the critical mass of performance ethic we expect from those who want to occupy the commanding heights in 2023. If you don’t have it, that is, self-abnegation as a public figure, you’ve failed, even before being given a chance to campaign for votes. You perform low and are accordingly scored and esteemed low if you don’t possess that impersonal spirit.

We must be ‘harsh’ on our prospective leaders. We must demand from them absolute denial of self, family and private business along with their gratifications. We must read them the creed of late Mother Teresa of Kolkata: you give and give selfless service to the people until it hurts. Those we vote into office in 2023 must be so consumed by work that they’d be prepared to “disengage,” as it were, from the bedroom at the summons of the masses. It is the people and their welfare first always. 

In that case, we must insist that these men and women who want our votes have their children and ward attend public schools, not private or foreign ones. Also they must patronise our local health facilities. No room for so-called medical tourism. Since we call them public office holders, they ought to go the whole hog by also loving and embracing public utilities. If we compel our leaders to use them, these infrastructures would attract modern and massive facelift reaching the inviting levels of those the political elite enjoy abroad. 

Ojewale, a journalist, wrote from Ota, Ogun State