WHEN on May 1, readers of this column asked me to suggest herbal medicines for Nigeria working people, on account of MAYDAY 2021, I replied that the short notices made it a herculean task. But I change my mind when he reminded me that I was a deadline man for 36 years from 1971. For I do not know of any profession outside Journalism that can quickly installmentally kill anyone with a heavy deadline load. Time is set for everything, and there are many things to do by the hour.
The newspaper, otherwise known as the DAILY MIRACLE, must come off the news machine every morning, rain or shine, peace or war, electricity supply or electricity failure, dawn to dusk or dawn to dawn curfew or no curfew, food in the stomach or biting stomach ulcer, regular salary or salary arrears for one or two years, detention under Buhari military government or harassment under Abacha military government. This is why the Journalism recruit discovers on the first day of work that he/she is in Military-type employment. The journalist has no time for his/her health or his/her life or his/her family. And that is why, in dedicating this column to hardworking and selfless Nigerian workers, my mind goes first to the Nigerian Journalist, a member of whose family I am, because of the sufferings and deprivations of Nigerian Journalist approximate experiences in the Nigerian Labour Market.
My first encounter with the Brutish Journalism life must have been about June 1971, three months after my recruitment by Mr Henry Odukomaiya, Editor of the Daily Times, at that time Africa’s biggest newspaper South of the Sahara. I did about three months of sub-editing training with Mr Odukomaiya before he sent me as a trainee Sub-editor to Mr Shola Odunfa, Editor of Lagos Weekend, as his only reporter and Sub-editor.
Mr Odunfa thought I could plan the “centre spread”, and went home, leaving me to beat the deadline of two hours to submit it to the printers. He returned the following day to find out that I did not go home and battled it overnight without success. By December, I was too shocked to find I had to spend Christmas Day at work and give up New Year’s Day as well. I quit the job and went to work on double my pay as an accounts clerk with the nearby Mandilas. But I returned to the Daily Times more for the antisocial nuances of the Mandilas Managing Director, a German, that lack of flair for the job. Soon, I got used to deadlines but prayed never to become an editor from the way I saw Mr Odukomaiya do the job. He would be at his desk by about 9am, go home for lunch at about 4pm and return at about 7pm to close after we Sub-editors had left the office at ten or eleven. It was a life completely devoted to work, reading almost everything that would be printed in the newspaper the following day.
At the start-up of The Guardian, I had more baptisms of fire. Twelve years at the Daily Times were incomparable with one week at the start-up Guardian. Our debut lead copy which I did with Lanre Idowu having failed at the last minute, I went to Ibadan for a substitute. I was on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway notorious for armed robberies, by 11:30pm, in, of all cars, my Jalopy Voxwagon Beetle 1500CC, the lone occupant, driving with one hand and, with the other, holding a walkie-talkie over which I was dictating my copy. The reporter has indeterminate hours of work. That is why our letters of employment always do not state work hours. Thus, when American President George Bush gave Iraqi President Saddam Hussein a deadline to pull his troops out of Kuwait, and I sensed war would trail the deadline, I told about 20 young men and women who had been out all day and returned to the newsroom between six and eight O’clock they would work in the office overnight with me. In the newsroom, there is no escape from work. Something to do next hour, next day is set against the reporter’s name before he returns to the office, irrespective of whether his/her initiative had unearthed exclusives, the pride of any newspaper. We got the “bukataria” next door to prepare dinner for 50 persons with drinks of all sorts.
In those days, we had no GSM and CNN reception was not formalised as it is today. We were lucky to tap it, as they had not begun subscription. We had many tape recorders at the ready for recording and ladies and gentlemen who would transcribe recordings in what we call “takes” and photographers who would take CNN still screenshots. We were the only newspaper that reported this midnight war break out in the morning. We rotated night work every day. One day, I left the office about five in the morning, drove home and went to bed by about 6:00 only to be woken up by a VOA or BBC news reports that the Iraqi’s had fired skud missiles into Isreal. That was a new dimension to the war. I got into the car in my pyjamas and headed straight to the office to STOP the press and run a Lagos edition. That day, The Guardian newspaper sold in Lagos Island differed from the edition sold and read in Oshodi. It would not necessarily bring more money immediately for the newspaper, but a reputation that would translate into money in the future.
There were too many events that sapped the Journalist’s energy than can be reported here. As editors are stressed by deadlines and all that, so are the rank and file staff. I remember Dupe Fagite, (later married to Engineer Amos Olabiyi Komolafe of FIIRO), who ended up in the library and later became a librarian at The Punch newspaper. She came for youth service with a political science degree. I assigned her to the Women’s Desk, erroneously thought by many Journalists to be a soft landing for softies. “You are a male chauvinist”, she accused me. We like boldness in Journalism. So, I reassigned her to the Political Desk. Her first assignment that afternoon was with a group of reporters assigned to cover the death of Chief Bobby Benson at Ikorodu. Soon, I forgot about her and remembered her assignment only at about 11:45 pm when her parents were ushered into my office. They looked worried. They had expected their daughter back home by five or six. They were shocked to learn Dupe and her colleagues were still at Ikorudu and we were waiting for them. The next day, Dupe was reassigned to the library. But Titiola Oba, Chief librarian of The Guardian since then till now, will confirm that the newspaper library is no resting nest. It has to stock updated information on every subject imaginable.
I returned home about 2am one morning. Jullyette Ukabiala, the first correspondent, drove straight to my house by seven in the morning to announce to me a coup attempt against general Ibrahim Babangida. From Surulere, she had driven to Doddan Barracks, picked some spent bullet shells as evidence, got beaten by some angry soldiers. I packed my small bag with briefs, toothpaste and brush, garri and groundnuts and some biscuits. Who could tell for how long I will be away? I remember Abayomi Ogundeji with fundness and sadness. He went on an assignment in the east. As he was returning to Lagos, the passenger bus he boarded ran into a crossfire between the policemen and armed robbers at a notorious junction. Everyone fled into the bush. Ogundeji lost his shoes, money and was bitten by mosquitoes. But he did not forget he had a deadline to beat. He came out of hiding in the morning and went to the police station to introduce himself and beg for food, money and clothes. They gave him new shoes, a polo shirt and some money to continue his journey. It was in this condition Ogundeji arrived in the newsroom, went straight to the Library and wrote his copy to beat the deadline. Of course, he won a commendation from the editor and invitation to be the editor of the Sunday edition of THE COMET newspaper when his editor moved on to that stable as editor-in-chief. My sadness, whenever I remember him, is that Ogundeji was killed in Iyana-Ipaja area of Lagos by robbers who wanted to steal his car.
I would leave Jide Ogundele behind in the office at 3am, return at 10am to find him at his desk and literally chase him home. From the airport, Teddy Iwere called Mr Lade Bonuola, pioneer editor of The Guardian, to announce he had just returned home from the United States. Mr Bonuola asked him over to the office. Together with the party of relations who went to meet him at the airport, Ted Iwere came to the office only, without any ceremony, to be given an air ticket for an urgent assignment in Gboko he never prepared for. His relations returned home without him! Etim Imisim disguised as a guest to cover the secret wedding of a brutal former military governor who cordoned off the neighbourhood with soldiers. He wore a Yoruba agbada which was strange on his Akwa Ibom frame. But the soldiers saw nothing. In his huge pocket was a tape recorder. Each time the machine snapped at the end of recording time, Imisim said he thought he heard a bomb blast. But the soldiers heard nothing. Each time he went to the toilet to reload the cassette, the soldier at the entrance ought to have suspected him, but he didn’t. Etim Etim was not so lucky. He caused such information leakages at the Central Bank that made the bank look like a basket of water. Journalists do not see their sources on the “battlefront”. They meet in unsuspected places if possible cemeteries. Many reporters saw news editor Nduka Irabor howling at them in their dreams every day. One day, one of them came to my office with red eyes, saying Nduka called him an “illiterate”. He expected my sympathy because he was a classmate of my wife in their M.Sc class. I looked at his copy and told him Nduka was right.
Tunde Thompson was jailed along with Irabor for what he knew nothing about. Nena Uche wrote the story for which they were bailed and I was detained for 24 hours. Doyin Mahmoud, Chief sub-editor, and Sunny Abiandu were for a long time the only sub-editors for the titles of The Guardian stable which could need about 25 or more. Harriet Lawrence was more than four men put together. Krees Imodibie was killed in Liberia along with Tayo Awotunsin of the champion by Charles Tailor’s troops. It is not surprising that Ayogu Eze became a Senator and Taiwo Obe established a thriving communications company. Our baptisms of fire prepare us for all sorts of professions. Adigun Agbaje became a Deputy vice-chancellor at Ibadan.
I salute our worthy companions. Journalism hardly affords them time to express their womanliness. Dupe Oshinkolu deftly balanced home and work. Adetutu Folashadekoyi is still high on the ladder, rubbing shoulders with tough-going men. One day, Mr Olatunji brought his children to the office to spend the night with their mother. Many women spent more than three days in the office. They bought new briefs from the nearby shops. As Editor-in-chief, I led a convoy of staff cars many times from Ijora to Ikeja between 2am and 3am, sometimes dropping staff off in their homes. Cecilia Umadi would get off around Jibowu. Yemi Gbenga Mustapha would take me as far as Pen-cinema, Agege or Tabon-Tabon in the same area. Sometimes, I would take Bunmi Idowu as far as Command secondary school in Ipaja. Tolu Osundulire could also sometimes need help to Ikeja under bridge or Pen-cinema, Agege. There was Seun Ogunseitan, who would braid unhealthy radiations of toxic wastes illegally imported and dumped in Koko, to warn the community and Nigerians. There was Philip Oluyemi, our press manager at The Comet who slept neither day nor night for months. One day, he decided to quit the job if need be and go home. At the bus garage, he forgot his bus route and where he was to go. The next day, his eyes opened to conscious life in the hospital. The Comet newspaper had about six old-fashioned type-setting machines where it needed about 100 for a newsroom of its days. The newspaper had no electricity plants where a standard newspaper had to have four. It had no printing press. To beat the deadline of the market, different sections of the paper had to be printed in no fewer than three facilities and inserted in the night. Academy Press printed the cover pages, Lagos Horizon printed the first inner section while the Punch printed the last. In the confusion which often occurred during the insertions, Page two, for example, was sometimes followed not by Page three but by, say, Page fifteen. One day, I arrived home by 4am. By five, the production team was by my gate to complain that one of the insertions had not been printed. Trust women, my long accommodating wife chased them away. How Gbenga Omotosho coped as editor was unimaginable. It is agonizing for an editor to produce a damn good newspaper that cannot be printed, let alone sold because there is no newsprint to print it. Omotosho would get a newsprint loan from his friend at This Day, Godwin Ifijeh, when other newspapers should be on their way to Ado-Ekiti and Ilorin, for example. It was a traumatic time in the career of Lade Bonuola, managing director and his colleagues. A rival newspaper had shut the paper out of the vending market in despicable underground manoeuvres. Agent hid the paper from public view and vendors did not display it. Therefore, outside a feeble budget and crippled budget, Bonuola had to hire the paper’s own vendors at an additional cost which compounded salary problems.
What I have described is not all the toiling man or woman goes through in a newspaper business for which I dedicate to him/her this column on WORKERS DAY 2021. I have not spoken of the management of finances, the confrontations with fraud, Nigerian cancer. You ask a printer to print 150,000 copies. He knows there is a counter on the press. He manipulates it. The printer stops reading. So, the first 50,000 copies are not counted as they rolled off the press. That is his own gain for doing the job for which he is paid, the same man who will scream to high heavens if his salary is not paid on time. This heartless fiend sends his own 50,000 copies to the market at half the price before he dispatches yours. He makes sure your dispatch van has a flat tyre on the way to justify your lateness and poor sales. You can hardly beat his fiend. What about the drivers of distribution vehicles? They replace new tyres with old ones, cannibalise new engines.
The advertisement staff are one of the fattest cows most difficult to deal with. They dislike employment, say, on a target of four pages and post-target bonus. They set up their own advertising businesses, procure advertisement under the image of the company but in the names of their businesses to earn agency free on each procurement to the detriment of the company’s budget. There was the BROWN ENVELOPE reporter to also watch over. They write a libellous report in the exchange for cash. They persuade advertisers news reports would serve them better than an advertisement…in exchange for about a tenth of the advertisement rate. This reporter may be taking a cue from an editor who mortgages front page and inside pages for business and other photographs.
Many pick eye problems from reading tiny page proofs, many replace wholesale food with beer and cigarette to beat stress. I needed a cold beer to figure out a magnificent “intro” or headline. Many relieve the pressure with women, setting the stage for prostate gland questions in future. No wonder, the Medical Director of JUNE ONE HOSPITAL on Opebi Road, Ikeja, Lagos, who managed the health of Journalists once remarked that only a few of them were not hypertensive.
In the next column, I will share some of the herbal medicines which kept me agile all through 36 years of hectic Journalism work and well into my seventies. This copy cannot address all the problems which psychologically, physically, emotionally, or spiritually seeking straightforward men and women who toil in the news machine and other spheres of Nigeria’s economy.