Memoirs are the backstairs of history ~ George Meredith
By Olayinka Oyegbile
Journalists always feel good saying their profession (journalism) is history written in a hurry. This is no doubt the truth, because the journalism of today is what historians of later years would turn to as source materials for the writing of their history. Anyone who has read one of the world’s most prolific Historians of note today, Prof Toyin Falola’s Counting the Tiger’s Teeth, would understand the importance of journalism as a rich reservoir of history.
So, if journalism is the first draft of history, why then are journalists not leading the pack of those who write memoirs? Many journalists have written memoirs. However, the number of those who have written are not as many as those who have not, especially in Nigeria. Majority of those who have written and published theirs are majorly those who went from journalism to politics and as such their memoirs are usually a blend of politics and (little) journalism. Perhaps the ones that are purely journalists who wrote their memoirs that I can easily remember now are: Ismail Babatunde Jose, former managing director of Daily Times (Walking A Tight Rope). He published the first part but death did not allow him to complete the promised second part. The other is Peter (Pan) Enahoro, also from the stable of the Daily Times (And The Thunder Spoke). Others who wrote are Aremo Olusegun Osoba (The Battlelines), the late Lateef Jakande and host others.
Picture what it would look like if the likes of Dan Agbese, Ray Ekpu, Yakubu Mohammed, Henry Odukomaya, Femi Kusa, Lade Bonuola, Doyin Abiola, Mike Awoyinfa, Bayo Onanuga, Kunle Ajibade, (who has written his prison memoir) and others write what it is to be a journalist and what lessons they have learnt in the profession.
Seth Akintoye who plied his trade as a journalist of note in The Guardian for several years and at The Punch for more than two decades has decided to gift to the profession his memoir and his verdict about the direction of the profession with the advent of the internet and the spiraling economic downturn that has dealt a very severe blow to the world of journalism in Nigeria as it has in the whole world. The disruptive power of the internet did not escape Akintoye’s scrutiny.
The memoir, Twists and Turns of Life: My Birth, Career and Faith, is no doubt a small but powerful book that should be a compulsory read for anyone who loves good writing shorn of jargon and cliches. The writer has come a long way; his story started from his humble birth in Ikare in the present Ondo State, and dovetails to how he later moved to Lagos after secondary education in search of the goodies of life that was believed to be on the streets of the city.
He tells the story of his challenging birth and battle with a certain congenital disease and how God miraculously healed him and how a child that was thought would not make it in life was able to work and retire at 64!
The story of his birth and struggle in life may have been typical of most young men of his days, who grew up in a country where medical expertise was not very accessible or advanced. However, within the limits of the resources then medical workers were able to carry out their work. Akintoye laments that things have turned out for the worse in the country today.
For those who are close to him or have worked with him, many know that he is a strong member of the Deeper Life Church, but the part of him which many may not know is that he was once a student at an Arabic school. In Yorubaland, this may not be an issue because as the author confessed, “On important church occasions as the harvest, the Muslim members of the family and their traditional worshippers-counterparts would follow us to church. Eid-el-Kabir and Eid-el-Fitr, we were together eating and drinking. It was the dark ages of Nigerian nationhood! No Pentecotalism then! No division! No segregation! No holier than thou attitude! We played together, ate together, schooled together, brainstormed together and farmed together!”
That period is gone. The bind that held us together has fallen apart. In a subtle manner, the writer seems to agree that Pentecostalism has been responsible for this! He writes about his years spent in banking and other facets of life and how and he was a ‘happening guy’ before he was captured by Christ.
For those who are interested in his career as a journalist, which is the most important aspect of his life, the book did not disappoint. The writer, without minding whose ox is gored laid the facts bare as he feels. His encounter with one-time editor-in-chief of The Guardian who wanted him to submit his stories to him and not to his editor is captured. He also writes about the intrigues that were rive at the Flagship of the time. His story of how he laboured day and night to make the paper better is almost the same with that of his contemporaries who passed through the portal of Rutam House.
According to Akintoye, “I didn’t aspire to be an editor at The Guardian. So, I did not scheme for it. I was convinced beyond doubt then and even now that editorship is a political appointment. Being an editor does not necessarily mean you are the best among your colleagues in the newsroom. It is like the post of a prime minister, who is first among equals. No editor could succeed without a crop of resourceful reporters. They are the foot soldiers; what the army call infantrymen!” (p73). This was also the view of Donald Woods, the South African journalist and editor who brought the late Steve Biko’s plight to the attention of the world. He wrote extensively on how he became an editor.
Journalism, at least in Nigeria, is a profession that fights for the rights of others but from the inside perpetrates the injustice it is fighting on behalf of others within its own confines! This is the case of The Guardian (and perhaps other media house in the country) which Akintoye tries to paint in his memoir. Many ex-Guardians can identify with this where people work for upward of eight years on the same salary level and grade!
His movement to The Punch is a professional break away from the stagnation of the Guardian years. There is no doubt that he enjoyed his years there and felt better treated than his previous employer. The book is full of grains of truth about journalism and the great and trying moments of The Punch. The exit of Steve Ayorinde as editor and later Azu Izikwene as a director did not also escape his attention. However, as stated above, it would be interesting to have the two actors write their own versions of the story of their exits.
Akintoye has with the publication of his book enriched the body of memoirs by Nigerian journalists and hoping that others, especially many of those who held commanding positions in the media during the country’s trying periods would one day pen their memoirs.