Columns

March 9, 2024

Punch At 50: The Labours Of Our Heroes Past, by Muyiwa Adetiba

Punch At 50: The Labours Of Our Heroes Past, by Muyiwa Adetiba

Muyiwa Adetiba

Although Punch actually turned fifty early last year, the celebratory drums were not rolled out until last week. I am reliably informed that the golden anniversary celebrations were deferred by a year to honour and celebrate the 40th anniversary of the passage of its founding Chairman who died on February 28 1984, eleven years almost to the month that the first copy of Sunday Punch rolled off the press.

So what we witnessed last week were two important landmarks in one – the birth of a baby and the death of its father. Combining the two makes sense. It saved cost during these hard times and more importantly, conserved energy. I could talk about both the baby and the father intimately if not authoritatively because I was nurtured by both. After all, I was there virtually from the beginning and my formative years as a professional journalist were also the formative years of the Punch as a newspaper organization.

I was also like a son to Chief Aboderin – a few of us were. I was there when Punch was an unknown quantity and we had to lean on the name of Sam Amuka – the founding partner with Olu Aboderin who had already earned his reputation as a formidable journalist – to secure appointments, to the time when Punch became a household name that every important personality in the country wanted to talk to. I knew when the editorial team was just a handful. I was also there when the features department alone became twice the editorial hands Sunday Punch started with.

I was in the newsroom when the story that was to make the Punch broke and knew the risk taken by the Editors and owners to carry such a story during a military era – the kind of risk that was to define the paper over the years as a brave defender of truth and the public good. I could talk about the earlier printing process that started with letter press which could take days to produce a newspaper to the transition to web offset which could take just a few hours – people who use computers these days might not know when production was with hot metal. Fortuitously – I like so see it as a sheer coincidence- I was the one chosen by two different Editors to write about the first year of the Daily Punch in 1977 and the first five years of Sunday Punch less than a year later thus making me perhaps the first official chronicler of the early years of the two flagship newspapers.

Punch at 50 makes me feel old because it dates me in a way. But it also makes me feel proud. I am proud that it has not only survived when almost all its predecessors had fallen, it has stood tall and true to its ethos. From being a ‘lively paper for lively minds’ Punch had evolvedto a more serious, more hard hitting newspaper. But the evolution did not affect its integrity or its uncommon love for the common man. Punch at 50 feels me with memories and nostalgia. My years in Punch were among my best years as a professional journalist. I was young and impressionable but was lucky to have a boss in Sam Amuka who took me under his wings and shaped me.

I got to travel the world visiting places that even my bosses had not been to. But all I got were words of encouragement. I got to meet and interview many interesting personalities locally and internationally. I also got into scrapes, some of which might have been serious but for God’s providence. You know what they say about school years being the best because they were usually devoid of any responsibilities besides reading your books and passing your exams? That is how I feel about most of my Punch years. I did what I liked doing which were to write, meet people and travel, in that order. It was not my responsibility to worry about travel tickets or travel allowance. In fact, I was shielded from the business side of newspapering until I first became an Editor and got involved with circulation and advert figures. From then onwards, some of the ‘thrill was gone’ to quote blues singer B.B King.

It was probably nostalgia that got me interested in being part of the Punch celebrations. I knew about the dates from the grapevine – I am still a reporter. But I switched off when no contact was made. Then I got a morning call from the immediate past Managing Director – Demola and I have always got on well. He hinted at my being interviewed and invitation cards being sent. I am sure he sensed some excitement in my voice as I really wanted to be part of the three-part event. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I expected to meet some of my old colleagues, relive memories and trade jokes. My uneasiness started when I called a few of them and was told they were either not invited or were out of town.

When I got to the photo exhibition and met fresh faces of pharaohs who never heard of Moses, I knew too much time had passed and mine had become just a face from the past, a blurred, fading one at that. And like school re-unions, one must learn which event to attend and which to leave for younger ones. The scope and depth of the exhibition also reflected this passage of time. ‘These photographs didn’t go far back enough’ said AremoSegunOsoba to me as we went round. That was putting it mildly. Save for one or two, the photos didn’t reflect the humble beginning that was Punch. Or the characters that helped define the young paper. And irrespective of what happened, I expected at least a photograph of the first Executive Directors – Olu Aboderin, Sam Amuka and Ayo Akinwale. One expected no less from Punch as a worthy custodian. 

The events were well organized and well attended. They made me feel proud to have played a small part in the success story of Punch -there are people today who still remember me by my Punch years. However, the survival of Punch and its transformation to being the most financially viable newspaper at a time were due to the yeoman’s effort of certain individuals led by Chief Ogunsola as Chairman. Many of them went beyond the call of duty. Credit to them. And part of the celebration must be for them too because they made sure that the labours of the heroes past were not in vain. Still, it would have been nice and appropriate ifthe few surviving members of the Class of ’73 were recognized at one of the events.  Punch is here today partly because they were there fifty-one years ago.