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Time for a ‘Short Break’

By Gbenga Omotoso

I begin with a confession. The title of this article is not original; it is borrowed.

Whenever the late Afrobeat legend wanted to close a show at the Afrika Shrine, he would always face his audience and scream: “Everybody say yeah yeah!” and the crowd would yell: “Yeah yeah.” He would repeat the line and the audience – a mixture of respected citizens, ordinary folks and weird elements who worshipped at his music shrine – would yell: “Yeah yeah!”. Those familiar with this dawn ritual would then turn to the gate to make their way through the sweating and smoking lot for the journey home. End of show. The not-too-familiar would stay put, waiting for the show to resume; it would not – until the next show.

My apologies for this rather long opening. I assure you this is not about Fela “Abami eda”Anikulapo-Kuti of exciting memories. No. Nor is it about contemporary music – every dude with access to a microphone (ear rings, long necklaces, colourful trainers, shredded jeans, dreadlocks and all) and can scream some obscenities is a music star. Not at all.

This is about “Editorial Notebook”, the column that I have written, first as a fortnightly offering and later weekly (every Thursday) for about 13 years. It is taking a “short break”.

The column might never have been written by this reporter, considering the rigour of combining such a task with editing the newspaper, which is enough trouble to face everyday as it is like writing an exam, which thousands of teachers will evaluate the next morning.

When this newspaper made its debut on July 31, 2006, Managing Director /Editor-in-Chief Victor Ifijeh and I launched a search for writers. Many shunned us; they would not write for an unknown newspaper. Some veterans signed on right away to encourage us. Prof. Olatunji Dare, revered scholar, wordsmith and Nigeria’s most popular satirist, Ambassadors Jide Osuntokun and Dapo Fafowora as well as Mohammed Haruna, “the Northern Star” signed up. So did others. They were not enough.

We then at an editors conference allotted days to some of our colleagues, who protested the additional burden. Needless to say, today, dear reader, many are finding it difficult to get some space in this newspaper, “The Newspaper of the Year”.

Mohammed Haruna went on a rather long break and did not write for about five weeks. Readers were grumbling. I then decided to fill the space. I wrote. The piece was titled “President Obasanjo’s future”, a conversation in which the ex-president was offered a job in Somalia. And, boy, the excitement- and applause- was remarkable. For the next few weeks, I turned out a delectable dish the readers munched as kids would lick lollipop.

When Mallam Haruna eventually said he was ready to return, I annouced the sudden death of the column. Readers kicked. Prof. Dare, the Editorial Consultant, aforementioned, and General Editor Adekunle Ade-Adeleye encouraged me to keep the column, suggesting that I write fortnightly. I thank them. In fact, Prof. Dare suggested the name of the column.

The column went on to win awards – against all odds. Yes. How can a hilarious column be meaningful in a country where many are hungry and angry? Boko Haram, armed robbery, kidnapping, corruption (in which many leaders gorge themselves on the cash that is meant for the good of all), incompetence and crass impunity. Where is laughter in all this?

But, the Yoruba say “ t’oro ba k’oja ekun, erin laa rin” (we laugh when crying won’t be enough to express our pains). It is in that spirit that “Editorial Notebook” carried on. The article, “A comedian’s fate” on frontline actor Baba Suwe, who was detained for alleged drug trafficking, won the Diamond Awards for Media Excellence (Informed Commentary) in 2012. It was written on November 3, 2011.The piece, the organisers said, wittingly analysed the Baba Suwe vs NDLEA saga. The famous actor’s toilet activity suddenly became a matter of public interest as anti-drug officers waited on him to defecate, believing that he had ingested some drugs. Baba Suwe would not defecate any and his fans were hailing: “O ya gbe ti” (the one who would not be forced to defecate).

“The Saka Sensation”, which celebrated the rise of another comedian, Afeez Oyetoro, published on May 9, 2013, won the National Media Merit Award in 2014.

Many readers found quite hilarious the yearly “Honours” in which the column offers awards to our leaders, cleverly highlighting their fables and foibles even as it appears to be praising them. “Where are they now?”borrowed from Prof Dare, occasionally probes into the lives of former public officials and politicians. There is also the yearly mailing list that precedes the Yuletide when this column offers our leaders gifts of various kinds, which this reporter believes such personalities would like. The title: “Season of Goodwill”. And more.

Octogenarian Deji Fasuan, a chief, retired technocrat and one of those who led the battle for the creation of Ekiti State, is a big fan of this column. He would often tell of how he has been in high spirits after reading a submission. He loves it when it mimics Obasanjo or Chief Gani Fawehinmi, he of blessed memory, or MKO Abiola, winner of the June 12, 1993 election whose deployment of Yoruba proverbs and anecdotes remains unmatched. This column brought them all back to life in a vivid manner that gripped the reader. Prof. Bola Osifo, head of Department of Nuclear Medicine at the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan often calls to comment on the column and offer fresh perspectives after perusing it with clinical eyes.

Now, this column is taking a “short break” as this reporter moves on to take up another challenging role. I have been nominated for commissioner by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, whose passion to put Lagos on an enviable pedestal in the comity of city-states is remarkable.

Nevertheless, the engagement continues. This reporter will be communicating with this audience and others in a different language – frank and fair – on another platform, the public platform. I promise that the patriotism and sincerity that characterise this column will be sustained.

I will do my very best to make you – and all other stakeholders – proud. I hope it is not too much for me to ask that the love you have shown this column, my humble contribution to public discourse, will be transferred to my new assignment in the Sanwo-Olu administration so that our dream of a Greater Lagos will be achieved.

So long.

For Segun Osoba at 80

NOW that the itinerant drummers have gone home and the revelry has subsided, it is fit and proper for this column to pay tribute to a worthy elder statesman, journalism giant and frontline politician. No need to stand up for recognition; you are widely recognised, Aremo Olusegun Osoba, former governor, Ogun State.

Aremo Osoba came into journalism by chance. Many do not know that he was a sub-editor, one of those guys who mould the character of a newspaper but who are never seen or heard, unlike reporters who are the glamour boys of the trade. But, for Osoba, reporting is the soul of newspapering. Many of today’s journalists do not see it so. Unfortunately, features and column writing have dwarfed reporting. Exclusive stories have dried up in the media, even as purveyors of fake news are having a field day.Osoba

Osoba excelled in reporting and became a reference point for editors telling their subordinates how it should be done. His newspaper days have been well documented by Mike Awoyinfa and Dimgba Igwe in his biography. Besides, his autobiography, “Battlelines”, which documents his rich exploits in journalism and politics, has just been presented at a colourful ceremony in Lagos at his 80th birthday.

Osoba, sub-editor, reporter, editor and managing director, conquered a vast territory in journalism before moving on to politics where he has excelled.

Here is wishing the Aremo (the chosen one, the favourite) of reporting in Nigerian journalism more exciting years ahead.

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