By Olayinka Oyegbile
Growing old is one of nature’s infuriating imperfections- Peter Enahoro
How time flies.
It is October 2023 already and as the clock ticks, that little boy of yesterday has turned 62. Not only that, he is a husband, father, and by His grace a grandfather soon. Whenever I reflect on my station in life, I thank God for bringing me thus far. I never thought I could journey this far going by the route I had passed through.
In this piece, I intend to do a little recollection of my journey from boyhood to adulthood. The journey of that little boy from the Tin City (Jos, in Plateau State) where I was born. I have said many times that as a child I was troublesome and always falling ill – two irksome combinations. However, today I always thank God that the kinds of stress I made my parents, especially my mother, pass through, none of my kids gave me such. I was always been hopped from one hospital to another, and as it was common at the time, from one Iya alagbo to another in search of a cure for the many ailments that troubled me; from my eyes to cough and asthma. Then the knowledge and research about asthma were not very advanced. I was forbidden from running from one end of a room to the other to avoid being short of breath, which usually triggered my asthma. This made sure I was barred from indulging in any form of strenuous chores or sporting activities.
I remember the journey from Jos by train to Kwara State. It was an idyllic period I still cherished with the lush green landscape that flew past as the train travelled down south. The sweet fruits and other edibles that are on sale at stations along the train route. The story would be told fully one day.
After five years of secondary school education, I began a new phase of life because I was unable to secure an immediate university education. I was perhaps not fully prepared for university education, anyway. But I had no doubt that secondary education had opened my eyes to the beauty and limitless possibilities of a good education.
I started my work life as a clerk in a cousin’s bakery in Jos. It was then the biggest bakery in the city and was perhaps the second in the state to stop using firewood-powered furnaces to bake bread. It made use of electric ovens, thus making it the neatest and most hygienic bread in town. After two years I left the bakery to work with the National Museum as a clerk.
It was at the Museum that I began to realise and demonstrate my potential in the direction my life was to take later in life; a life in words, reading and writing. Working here gave me a boundless opportunity to read voraciously and write; two pastimes I had developed as a secondary school student when we competed among ourselves to know who read the biggest number of novels during the last holiday! It was also a period when regional and state newspapers thrived and most of them circulated across the country.
My first newspaper publication was a poem in the Jos-based Sunday Standard. It was a poem. The day it was published, I was so elated and proud that I bought copies and carried them to show and boast among my friends. I was transported beyond the cloud. I had before then thought those who write for newspapers were some creatures from the outer world. I never knew I could also be published just like that. I had dropped the poem at the newspaper house’s reception desk asking that it should be considered for publication. The next Sunday, I saw my poem published in the literary section of the paper!
That was the beginning. I became a frequent guest submitting poems and later I expanded my horizons by reviewing books and music albums for publication. Some months after one of the line editors asked the receptionist to ask me to see him any day I came to drop more articles for publication. On my next visit, he asked if I knew I was supposed to be paid for writing for the paper as a freelancer! I never heard that word before until that day. He took me to the accounting department. There I saw many vouchers in my name, I was astounded. I signed some papers and was paid. As a full-time clerk in a federal government ministry, the money I got was like a windfall. I never knew anyone could be interested in paying for what I thought was just fun and something to shine with among my friends that I could write and be published in a newspaper!
Those were the days when newspapers paid you for supplying content; such token payments came to my rescue as an undergraduate. Nowadays, no newspaper pays you for writing as a freelancer, things have really gone south.
After getting a foothold in the newspaper, I extended my writing forte to radio and television. I began to write playscripts, short stories, talks and current affairs pieces for broadcast.
After graduation, there were moves to make me serve in the north but I was not keen about it. I had lived all my life in the north and only occasionally travelled southwards, I was eager to explore my country and be able to feel the pulse. The opportunity came when the NYSC decided to post me to the old Anambra State. It was a dream come true. I moved to Awgu Camp, which was said to have served as a military camp or so during the Civil War. The one year I spent as a youth corps member in Enugu was simply one of the most educative parts of my life – a Southerner born and bred in the north and serving in the heart of Igboland. It was a wonderful experience. The Southeast was not then a death zone that it has been turned into recently.
After the one-year service, I returned to the north and resumed work at the National Museum Jos as a curator for a few years. I was no longer a junior clerk. However, full-time journalism later beckoned and I joined The Guardian. It was in the middle of the June 12, 1993 crisis. Later I moved to The Punch and then to the Daily Independent to be one of its pioneering editors from where I moved briefly to the Daily Times. The next port of call was for me to experience magazine journalism, I joined TELL Magazine. A few years after I moved to NEXT, the truly investigative daily newspaper founded by Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Dele Olojede. I finally berthed at The Nation newspaper where I was until COVID-19 led to the radical change in the media landscape. In 2021 after almost three decades of broken sojourn in the newsroom, I bagged a doctoral degree in communication studies.
The details of my sojourn across newsrooms in Lagos will be told hopefully later in a full memoir. This will tell the story of the good people I have met who have been my destiny helpers and the not-so-good ones who were the levers God used to propel me to greater heights despite their bad intentions.