Osoba Reprise By Mohammed Haruna


Tomorrow will mark an important day in the media calendar of this country as two younger colleagues of mine and Nigerian Journalism’s tag team, Mike Awoyinfa and Dimgba Igwe, make the first public presentation of their book on the reporting career of Aremo Segun Osoba, titled OSOBA: The Newspaper Years. Osoba is arguably the country’s most successful reporter since Independence over 50 years ago. Apparently in keeping with its now long tradition of book serialization, Vanguard has published excerpts of the book in recent weeks.

Until lately managing director and deputy managing director of SUN, Awoyinfa and Dimgba have spent several years working on the book. Their record of transforming SUN into one of the country’s top newspapers and their painstaking research on the subject should make the book a must read not only for media professionals. It should also attract anyone with an interest in the connection between media and politics.

Six years ago when the subject celebrated his 65th birthday I paid him a tribute for his excellence in journalism. At the risk of boring the reader, I thought I should revisit the tribute as we celebrate the man once again at Muson Centre, Lagos, tomorrow. Here’s an edited version of the piece:


For me the greatest Nigerian journalist since independence is Alhaji Isma’il Babatunde Jose, who rose from the ranks to edit the Daily Times and eventually turned the company into the most successful media business in Nigeria to date. Under Jose, the Daily Times of Nigeria grew into the largest stable of newspapers and magazines in Africa, with 15 publications including the Daily Times, Sunday Times, Lagos Weekend and Spear. Towards the end of his career in the early 70s, the Daily Times alone had an average daily circulation of 225,000, which is widely believed in media circles to be about half the entire circulation of today’s newspapers and newsmagazines.

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No compliment to Jose’s great skill and integrity in successfully managing Daily Times of Nigeria could have been better than the one the rival New Nigerian paid him in its editorial of March 11, 1976, following his forced departure from the company after the Federal Government acquired 60% of the company in September, 1975.

“The retirement of Alhaji Babantude Jose, erstwhile Chairman and Managing Director of the Daily Times Group of Companies,” said the New Nigerian, “is sad news. For Alhaji Jose had been part of the industry for as long as most newspapers-men can remember. He has given a generation’s service to his beloved profession and reached the top by hard work and ruthless business drive… He laid down certain standards and tried to maintain them. Above all he ran an efficient and profitable business.”

The story of Jose’s departure from Daily Times is the stuff of great works of fiction; the lies, the half-truths, the betrayals by trusted subordinates and all that. That story has been told by the great man himself in his 1987 book, Walking a Tight Rope: Power Play in Daily Times, and corroborated by even his traducers at the time. I will therefore not bore you with its details suffice it to say that most of the principal actors in it are still alive today.

These actors include Areoye Oyebola, then editor of Daily Times and Jose’s designated successor as Editor-in-Chief, Gbolabo Ogunsawo, editor of Sunday Times and popular columnist in the paper and Jose’s designated successor to Oyebola as editor of the Daily Times, and, no price for guessing right, Segun Osoba himself, as deputy editor of Daily Times and Jose’s editor designate of Sunday Times. Another key player was then Brigadier-General Olusegun Obasanjo, the second-in-command to General Murtala Mohammed as head-of-state following the bloodless coup against General Yakubu Gowon in July 1975.

What triggered Jose’s departure was the July ’75 coup itself. As Jose narrated in his book, on the very day of the coup it became his lot, along with Osoba, to produce the following day’s edition. Both Oyebola and Ogunsanwo, as the most senior editorial staff, were simply not available to do their job. Impressed, on the one hand, by Segun’s resourcefulness and courage in defying the solders’ dusk to dawn curfew, to help produce the newspaper and, on the other hand, disappointed that Segun’s senior colleagues had shirked their responsibilities at a critical moment in Nigeria’s history, Jose decided to promote Oyebola sideways and appoint Segun as editor of the daily ahead of Ogunsanwo. “I see myself in Osoba,” said Jose in Walking a Tight Rope, “the way Cecil King sees himself in me.” Cecil King was one of the last of Britain’s newspaper barons who sought to establish newspapers in Britain’s colonies. King’s Mirror group was the principal owner of Daily Times.

Naturally displeased by Jose’s action, the two, along with several others, including Henry Odukomaiya, the deputy chief executive of the newspaper division, counter-attacked. Among other things, they petitioned the authorities accusing Jose of tyranny and monopoly of the ownership of the paper. Jose and his nominees, they alleged, owned and controlled about 54% of Daily Times.

“Oyebola and Ogunsanwo”, Jose said in his book, “were obviously displeased. They attracted sympathizers and went to complain to the new military rulers. They wanted the revolution that swept Gowon out of power to sweep me out of power.”

They succeeded, thanks to the sympathetic hearing they got from the new military rulers, more specifically from Obasanjo. Jose himself did not help his own case when he rejected Obasanjo’s plea to rethink his changes in the editorial leadership of the company and when he stood his ground against publishing an article by Chief Harold Sodipo welcoming the new regime. Sodipo had gone to Obasanjo to complain about Jose’s refusal. Jose said he refused to publish the article “because Harold had always welcomed all new governments, Balewa, Gowon and the new one.”

If Oyebola and Company succeeded in sweeping Jose out of power at Daily Times, they also paid a price; unlike Jose who only felt honour-bound to leave, Oyebola and Co. were dismissed from their editorial chairs when a subsequent investigation by the authorities established that they told half-truths against Jose and were derelict in their duties.

As a casualty of that historic massacre at Daily Times, a massacre that triggered the decline of the newspaper, Segun did not waste time mourning his loss as perhaps the shortest serving editor of Daily Times; he sat on the powerful editorial chair for barely four months from August 1975. Instead of mourning, Segun moved on to become the most successful General Manager of the Kwara State Nigerian Herald. There, along with his friend, Peter Ajayi, the editor, and one of Nigerian journalism’s “Three Musketeers”, (the other two being Segun himself and Felix Adenaike, who managed Sketch at one time and had worked at Daily Times before then), they turned the paper into one of the most formidable in Nigeria, at one time beating the older New Nigerian into third place in circulation. This was in the aftermath of the Dimka coup attempt in which General Murtala Mohammed was killed in February 1976.

After serving as the General Manager of Herald between 1976 and 1978, Segun moved onto Sketch as managing director for five years from 1979. He finally capped his journalistic career by returning to his alma mater, the Daily Times, as managing director between 1984 and 1989.

Two years later in 1991 he followed the footsteps of those illustrious fathers of Nigerian journalism, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Alhaji Lateef Jakande and Chief Bisi Onabanjo, to become the governor of his native Ogun State.

This was during the transition programme of military president, General Babangida. The programme, as we all know, came to grief in August 1993 when Babangida was forced to “step aside” following widespread agitations against his cancellation of the June 12, 1992 presidential election which his friend, Chief M.K.O. Abiola of the SDP, seemed set to win. General Sani Abacha, Babangida’s Minister of Defence, brought his erstwhile boss’s transition to an end when he staged a coup against the interim government of Ernest Shonekan that Babangida had cobbled together before stepping aside. This was in November 1993.

The rest, as they say, is history. Abacha’s sudden death in June 1998 ended his attempt to transform himself into a civilian president. He was succeeded by his Chief of Defence Staff, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, who then organised the shortest transition programme and the most voluntary transfer of power in Nigeria’s history.

Segun once again contested the general elections of 1998 as the governorship candidate of Alliance for Democracy for Ogun State and easily won. Then came the debacle of 2003 in which all but one of the AD Governors in the party’s South-West stronghold lost their seats to the ruling People’s Democratic Party. Segun was one of the five casualties.

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