Mr. Dare Babarinsa is one of our admirable and indomitable veterans in the journalism profession. He clocked 66 on May 9, 2021, and YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, AZUH ARINZE sat down with him to chronicle his life story and journalism odyssey. This was on Wednesday, May 12, 2021.
A proud son of Okemesi, in Ekiti State, the good works of the good man who read Mass Communication at the University of Lagos, till date, are still visible at Drum, Concord, Newswatch, Tell and Gaskiya, his newest baby.
A historian par excellence and respected author, among his popular books are House of War and One Day and a Story.
Please, come with us…
You were 66 years old on May 9, 2021. How did you celebrate it and what was the first thing you did when you woke up that morning? Also, how does it feel to be 66?
I think it’s nice to be 66. I looked forward to it and I thank God I have attained it. It was a Sunday morning and therefore we prayed, myself and all the children. All the children were at home and then we went to church, Archbishop Vinning Memorial Church (in Ikeja GRA, Lagos) to pray to the Lord and like a typical Ekiti man, we came back home and I ate pounded yam! I believe that it was a good day and we also had cake in the house. I think my wife (Modupe) got cake for us or the children got cake and some of the visitors who came were able to share in the cake.
What is the greatest lesson that life has taught you at 66?
You must learn to leave the past behind you and go forward, because even though you may agonize about the past, it is past. You learn your lessons, you take your punishments, if there are punishments to be taken, and then you move to the next challenge. I think I have learnt to do that – not to agonize too much about things that are lost.
In your 66 years of existence, who has affected your life the most? One person…
I can’t really say specifically, but I’ve enjoyed what I would call the love of great women – my mother, Chief (Mrs.) Sarah Oyeladun Babarinsa, the Iyalode of St. John’s, in Okemesi. I came to UNILAG (University of Lagos) to read Mass Communication; I was doing English-Education in Ife (University of Ife) before crossing over to UNILAG. So, I’ve enjoyed the love of great women. My mother, my two grandmothers, my paternal grandmother and my maternal grandmother and then my sister, Ebunoluwa. They’ve all been influential to my life and that taught me to respect women and to also know that you cannot really do all things on your own. So, between the twists and turns of life you need the support of people who love you for you to achieve what you think you should achieve.
To be a better journalist, what must one do?
First, you must learn to be observant. A journalist must observe. And you must be patient to observe seriously. That’s why they say a journalist must have the power of observation. And you must also have the capacity for empathy, because if you don’t empathize, you will not be able to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. If you don’t empathize, you will be running into libel and libel cases all the time. But if you empathize you will be able to see the other side and do a more balanced story.
To succeed in journalism, what must one do?
Like in any other job, you must learn to work hard. The first thing is obedience. You must obey your superiors, when they say come and go to Maiduguri (Borno State), you can’t say oh, I don’t want to go; Maiduguri is dangerous, there’s Boko Haram there (laughing). You must be able to go straight, you must learn to obey. Secondly, because journalism is a skill, you should learn to see properly and learn from those who had been there before you. But thirdly and more importantly than any other one is that you must learn to read. You cannot give what you don’t have. If you allow yourself to be overwhelmed by the epidemic of ignorance, you cannot really perform well as a journalist. So, a journalist must learn to read. They must have what I will call an omnivorous intellectual taste. They must be able to read far and wide and that will affect their writings. It will also make them to become civilized. Properly civilized journalists.
To write well as a journalist, what must one do?
Read! And read and read more. And then do what we were told in UNILAG – write and continue writing. As long as you continue writing, the improvement will come for you. But you must not become lazy about it. Try and read as much as possible and then sit down and write. Like in those days, our editor, Mr. Dele Giwa used to say that until blood starts coming from your forehead, then you know you are writing well.
Now that you have mentioned the legendary Dele Giwa, what fond memories of your working with him do you still remember?
You know he died quite young… And it was so sudden, and his death affected all of us. I met Dele Giwa when I was in the University of Lagos with my friend, Waheed Olagunju who later became the MD/CEO of Bank of Industry (BOI). The other two persons who came before me to Newswatch were Rolake Omonubi, from The Tribune and Dele Olojede, of The Concord. So, I was the third editorial staff of Newswatch. Dele Giwa was our editor-in-chief and it was a great inspiration working so closely with him and other great journalists who were our bosses in Newswatch. As you know, Newswatch brought in people like Mr. Ray Ekpu, Alhaji Yakubu Mohammed and Mr. Dan Agbese, with Dele Giwa. Those were the four people who founded Newswatch. It was a great experience.
Still on the late Dele Giwa. What was the greatest lesson you learnt from him?
Don’t hesitate to do anything, or to do what you ought to do, because you can’t really be too sure of what will be the next thing. I will only like to recount the last few days of Dele Giwa – he was invited to the headquarters of SSS (State Security Services), on Awolowo Road, Ikoyi, Lagos where they questioned him about four things – they claimed that he was involved in gunrunning, they claimed that he was trying to start a revolution, they claimed that he was trying to do a follow up story on the removal of Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe as deputy to Babangida (General Ibrahim), they also accused him of trying to hire Alozie Ogugbuaja, who had then just been removed as Police PRO in Lagos. And he was quite popular with us, journalists then. The one that said soldiers were not better than Police men and they were enjoying pepper soup and planning coups. So, Giwa was quite flabbergasted. Although he could actually be planning to do a follow up story on Ebitu Ukiwe or to hire Ogugbuaja, but to accuse Dele Giwa, a dye-in-the-wood capitalist of planning a socialist revolution was totally out of this world. So, he was angry and ruffled. It was on a Friday, and he went to SSS with his friend, Mr. Ray Ekpu and when they returned, before coming to our office, on Oregun Road, in Ikeja, Lagos, they went to the Anthony Village office of Chief Gani Fawehinmi. So, Chief Gani Fawehinmi said, oh, this is a serious matter; you have to write about it and to show you that Gani and Mr. Ekpu, they like to take action immediately; immediately they put everything in writing. They could have waited and said let us wait or I will submit the letter on Monday.
But they wrote the report as advised by Gani Fawehinmi and on Sunday, about 49 hours later, Dele Giwa was dead. So, if he had hesitated, that document would never have seen the light of the day. So, the capacity to do what you need to do immediately, to do what you have to do today without waiting till tomorrow, I think, is a lesson that we should all learn.
Let’s talk about your writings, particularly, the historical bent. What prompted it?
I will say I don’t know (laughing). I just like to background my story and when I was in Ife (Osun State), I took a course in history, but my basic course was education. So, I love reading historical works, I love reading about Nigeria, I love reading biographies. In 1985, Nigeria celebrated 25 years of independence and Newswatch decided to do a special on 25 years of independence and our oga, Dele Giwa wanted to give the assignment on the biographies of Nigeria’s former heads of state to an outsider to write. So, I went to him, I said ah-ah, I can do this. He wanted to give it to a professor. So, we just left it like that. Then, the professor disappointed Newswatch. So, Giwa called me and said Dare, can you still take up that thing? I said why not, I can do it! Are you going to do research? I said no, I know a lot already, I’ve read about all these people and I can write it. I don’t need to do any research. I can even sit down and write it immediately. So, I wrote it. It was the biggest section of the magazine and then the following week; in those days The Guardian used to have quotes; quotes of the week – different writers, from different news publications. Sunday Guardian used to have it. But for that week, The Guardian newspaper quoted only Dare Babarinsa. So, I’ve always enjoyed putting historical perspectives to my stories because in this country we have short memories about public events.
So, I try to put perspectives to my writings so that people can understand where we are coming from and know that there is nothing new. This afternoon I was talking to some of my colleagues here. They were talking about the crisis in the country and that this thing will break the country. I said ah-ah, this is even one of the most peaceful periods that this country has ever had. They said how can you call this one of the most peaceful and I said we lost over one million people during the civil war; how many people can the kidnappers or Fulani herdsmen kill? Nigeria has survived worse crisis. So, there’s nothing to fear about. Anyway, that’s just the idea of history. Also, Akiga, the TV historian said, “old mushroom rots, new mushroom springs up, but the mushroom tribe lives on”. We should know that this is an epoch and then another epoch will come. Let us do our best for this period.
To write a good column, what are some of the things needed?
You are asking questions that are quite deep and interesting. Well, I like to sit down and write. That’s what I enjoy doing. But the most important thing is that you must learn to tell the truth. Don’t use your column as a propaganda weapon, don’t use it as a place for getting angry. You can’t because you are angry about something, therefore you just abuse people or you want to propagate something that’s untrue. If you want to propagate, go and join the Islamic movement or go and join the Christian crusaders. Because as a journalist, your column is held in public trust. You are not supposed to misinform the public and you are to aggregate opinions so that education, public education can be gotten from your column. So, for me, I’ve been writing for all these years, I’ve never been sued for libel. Nobody has ever done that to me, to say I libeled him in my column or any of my writings or any writing, including my books. I’ve not received a single indictment from anybody.
Talking about libel, how does a journalist navigate the terrain or stay away from that?
If you are not sure of your facts, drop it. Don’t assume. Somebody has said so, so or N50 million is missing from NNPC (Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation), therefore you assume the money must be stolen. No! Report only what you have been told. If you now extrapolate further to say ah, the NNPC people are corrupt, then you are running yourself into trouble because certainly there are people who had been building their careers all these years and it is clear that it’s not every public officer that is corrupt. There are honest public officers. There have been governors who have retired in this country since 1999 who have never gotten any indictment from EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission). Nobody has written any petition against them and they had been governors for four or eight years. So, how will you say everybody is corrupt, everybody is a thief? It’s not true. If we all steal, where are we going to get things to steal again? Which means that stealing is still a minority offence; it’s not for everybody. So, you must be sure of what you are writing. Be sure. If you are not sure, drop it. That is the first rule.
A whole lot of people read your column, who are the people that you read their columns?
All my ogas! How can I see writings of Ray Ekpu or Dan Agbese or Yakubu Mohammed and I won’t read? I will read them! Not only will I read them, I will go back to search my old editions of Newswatch and re-read their old columns. There are many beautiful writers in Nigeria – Mike Awoyinfa, Dele Momodu, all these brilliant people. Many Nigerian writers are brilliant and they are well informed. When you are talking of informed people, Nigerian columnists are well informed. We are practicing great journalism. I remember that there’s a book, Obasanjo, Nigeria and the World.
The name of the author just escaped me now. The author said in the preface of the book that I thank Dr. Abati (Reuben) for good journalism. That’s a British writer. He said I thank Reuben Abati for good journalism. So, Nigerians are practicing excellent journalism of world standard. So, we should be proud of them. There are many, many good writers in Nigerian journalism.
Specifically now, what got you interested in journalism?
In secondary school in Ife, Anglican Grammar School, we had a first class library and I used to go to the library to read so many magazines – Drum, Trust, Sadness and Joy, African Films, Truck and Car, Reader’s Digest, Spear magazine, Flamingo, Headlines. So many magazines in those days. Any young man who had an impressionable mind, you will love to do it. So, I really loved it right from that point and wanted to be a journalist. When I finished my secondary school in 1973, I was always writing to newspapers. Then in 1974, there was a weekly newspaper called Times International, edited by Elsie Idowu. Then, they said there was a competition for their readers on African High Command. I wrote the essay. I came first in that essay competition in this country and the person who came second was a teacher at Mayfair College, Ikenne (Ogun State), a graduate teacher and at that time I had not entered university. So, that strengthened my mind to really be a journalist. But because I had ordinary school cert., not A-levels; in those days you can only enter UNILAG with A-levels. You cannot enter as a Jambite in those days. So, I did concessional exam and I was taken at the University of Ife to read English-Education. So, I decided to do A-levels also at home. I passed my A-levels papers very well. I think I did very well, and that was why I now used that result to crossover to University of Lagos in 1978. So, journalism for me was a direct choice. I didn’t even think about any other course; there was no competition between it and any other profession at all.
Professionally, what was the title of the first story ever that you wrote?
As a journalist, I wrote about a beauty competition in Abeokuta. I was then doing my NYSC (National Youth Service Corp) and I reported for Drum magazine. I was not working for Drum then, but I covered a beauty competition for Drum magazine in Abeokuta and it was on the cover of Drum magazine.
Can you remember the title of the story?
I cannot remember the title of the story, but it was on the cover of the magazine and I was very happy and that was my first story. Later I joined Concord. Then in Concord, myself and my friend, Wale Oladepo, both of us were graduates from the University of Lagos, Mass Comm. Department. They didn’t even reckon with us at all in Concord and we said ah-ah, what kind of place is this? Nobody was giving us any serious story to do. They were treating us a small-small boys, but luckily for us, one day some people came from Surulere and said Alhaji Aminu Kano (of Peoples Redemption Party fame) would like to talk to Concord and all the big journalists were not in the newsroom. They had all gone out to their beats. So, it remained only me and Wale who were not considered of any serious importance. So, we were taken to Alhaji Aminu Kano and because we had never interviewed a man of such substance before in our lives, the two of us were afraid. Then Wale said, we are in trouble today. How are we going to talk to the man now? But luckily, when we got there, Alhaji Aminu Kano looked and said ah-ah, these are really small-small boys. He said they have sent me my children to come and talk to me. He was very excited that we were so young, so he started interviewing us. Then he said, because you are so young, let me serve you first. So, he made tea for the two of us. So, we were relaxed and we interviewed him and it was our first cover story in Concord newspaper. It was on the front page…
What a beautiful and memorable story. Now, talking about interviews, which has been the most memorable interview that you’ve conducted in your journalism career?
I have conducted hundreds of hundreds of interviews, with different kinds of people all over the world. I’ve met governors, I’ve met presidents, I’ve interviewed those who are not prominent and I’ve interviewed journalists. In our next edition of Gaskiya magazine, we interviewed our oga, Ray Ekpu. So, I’ve interviewed journalists. Yes, I’ve had good interviews. But I’ve had some troublesome ones too. Not really big, but troublesome ones. Let me tell you an old story – my boss, Dele Giwa sent me to interview General Olusegun Obasanjo in Ota (Ogun State).
So, I went to Obasanjo, and we did the interview and the interview was on millionaire farmers – big farmers in Nigeria then. He had retired as head of state and had now become a farmer. Then I asked him about the Land Use Act. If you remember, Obasanjo was head of state when he promulgated the Land Use Decree. So, I asked him, did you promulgate this decree so that you will have access to land? He got angry with me and seized my tape recorder. It was an interesting encounter. I begged him and begged him, but he did not release my tape. So, I went back to Newswatch and I wrote my story. When the story came out, he called my oga and said that your boy really tried. I had been faithfully reported. Since that day, I’ve been close to Baba Obasanjo. I’ve interviewed him more than 20 or 30 times since then.
Of all the stories you have written in your entire career, which is the most memorable and why?
I’ve just told you my encounter with Alhaji Aminu Kano. I really liked that. I’ve told you about Obasanjo. We have interviewed many other people. We interviewed Mama HID Awolowo, we interviewd Baba Ooni Sijuade, we interviewed Alhaji (Ibrahim) Dasuki, the former Sultan of Sokoto, we’ve interviewed a lot of people. Unless I check my record. We’ve interviewed everybody who is anybody in this country. But for me, as a journalist, I think our interview with baba, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was quite memorable. First, you know that no journalist has come that far. I’m not saying anything may not happen in the future, but for today, no journalist has risen higher than Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. So, myself and my friend, Dele Omotunde, we went to Nsukka, now in Enugu State, to see him and when we got there, we met him. Then he said, you mean you came all the way from Lagos to see me? We said baba, that’s why we came. He was quite receptive and he said you are my colleagues; we said baba, we are not your colleagues, your level is beyond ours. He said Dare, I read your stories very well; I said baba, please sir! I think that was a great encounter that we had with Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, and for me, very fine old man. I don’t know of any more fantastic man. Good memory. A person to recall.
Now, what makes a good interview?
Hmmm! Let the person who is responding tell the story he thought he will never tell. If you are able to bring him out, then you’ve had a good interview. If you are able to bring him or her out, to tell the story he thought he will never tell, then that is a good interview. And when you’ve gotten to that level, you will know yourself.
What mistake must a journalist not make?
Don’t deliberately spread falsehood. Don’t spread falsehood. You know we have a platform. Don’t use your platform to spread untruth. Unfortunately, now, we are in the age of what they call the social media. The social media has the capacity for limitless untruth. They just feel it is good to spread as much fabulous lies, but those who are trained in journalism should know that the truth should remain the strength of our profession and so, when we were trying to start another publication, after my retirement from The Westerner, I was looking for a name that could mean truth, a Nigerian word. That was how we came to use the word, Gaskiya, because it means the truth. That’s what journalism is about. Journalism is about the truth. We don’t need to tell lies about other people, we don’t need to blackmail them. Once you tell the truth, it doesn’t mean that you cannot criticize them. So, journalists and journalism should rely on the truth. Let the facts guide our discussions. It will help our country greatly.
You’ve been into journalism now for decades. What would you say has kept you going?
Maybe I’m enjoying it a lot. I’m also enjoying myself because I love writing, and I get paid for it. What else do I want?
Before you set up Gaskiya, the last three places you worked were Newswatch, Tell and Westerner. What fond memories of your days at those places would you like to share with us?
I think I’ve told you about Newswatch, but let me talk about Tell magazine. I am one of the founders of Tell magazine and after our adventure in Newswatch, we decided that Nigeria needed another news magazine and that was how we started Tell. But when we were starting Tell, we never knew that the military will stay in power. We thought we were starting a magazine that will now be operating under a democratic government. So, we suddenly found ourselves on the battlefield to ensure that our country becomes a democratic country. Let me say superbly that we paid heavily for that fight. It’s a pity that those who fought for this democracy are not recognized or celebrated by the Nigerian people. But that is one of the accidents of life.
What was the most difficult experience you had with security agents back then? And under the military when Tell took on the military seriously…
How many experiences am I going to talk about? (laughing). The fact is that you don’t get yourself hurt. That is the most important thing. I will write about those ones little by little. Certainly, it was a difficult period, and for us, you know we had to leave our houses, our families and go fully underground. Of course, we cannot operate from our offices. My experience has been that Nigerians are very brave, Nigerians are patriotic, and during the period we were fighting Abacha, it would have been impossible without the cooperation of many patriotic Nigerians. Especially when we were moving our offices from one place to another. We never got betrayed by anybody. So, we had so many, of what we call, bush offices – from one place to another. That was quite an experience.
I’m trying to write a book on those days so that all those things will be listed there.
What eventually happened to Tell?
I won’t be able to answer that question, because I retired in 2007. But my colleagues are still managing the place. It may not have the vigour of the past, but they are still managing the place.
Legitimately, how can a journalist make money from the profession?
Are they not making money? What has happened is that we, as media managers, we must re-organize our business so that people can make more money than they are making now. Part of the problem is that people are no longer interested in journalism and if there’s lower investment, there will be lower returns. Some years ago, I was asked to come and talk to Mass Communication students at the University of Lagos and I told them that there was a man called Gbolabo Ogunsanwo who was an old student of University of Lagos and when he was about 32 years of age, he became editor of The Sunday Times and he was living in a duplex in Surulere and a very prominent lawyer was living in his boy’s quarters. He was living in a duplex, a whole house, and a very famous lawyer who could not afford more than that was in his boy’s quarters…
Tell us the name of the lawyer… It was a long time ago…
Thank you very much (laughing). Thank you for the advice (still laughing)… So we have not managed the investment in journalism well enough and that has affected the profession, the income and the expenditure. I was also talking to some people some time that when people like Chief Segun Osoba were reporters in Daily Times; Daily Times had access, Daily Times reporters can go to the airport and hire aircraft. I’m not saying they will enter plane o! They will go to the airline and they will give a note from their editor; editor says Aero-Contractors, I want to go to Kano, can you fly me there now? Hire a plane! It was as prestigious as that at the time. And in those days, the chairman of Daily Times, Alhaji Babaunde Jose; it was rumoured that General Yakubu Gowon was planning to appoint a civilian prime minister and he may likely appoint Alhaji Babatunde Jose. Then, Babatunde Jose said how can anybody leave the office of the chairman of Daily Times to go and become prime minister of Nigeria? What is the purpose of that? Things have rather come low. In those days, you don’t see an editor leaving his desk to go and become chief press secretary to anybody in this country. No full editor will leave his desk; like the editor of Daily Times, to go and become chief press secretary to the president. It wasn’t going to happen. So, we have not been able to manage the investment in the media properly. That’s why you are asking how can journalists make money. But I believe things are changing anyway, and it can only change for the better.
What is the greatest thing that journalism has done for you?
I said I love writing and I get paid for it. So, that is a life that I really like. I don’t mind it at all! I’ve had options to leave journalism, but I prefer the straight and narrow path.
What would you have wanted journalism to do for you that it has not done?
Well, this is something that you cannot really control. But I wish General Murtala Muhammed had not interfered in Daily Times – that Daily Times had been left as it was, because when you look at the other newspapers in Africa at that time, that were lower than The Daily Times; The Ahram of Egypt, and all the other newspapers, they are still there. But Daily Times was seized by the government and that affected all of us. In 1982 when I wanted to join Daily Times, during my NYSC in Abeokuta, and we came for interview in Daily Times; Daily Times was a powerful, rich company. All of us who came for the interview, we were lodged in hotels in Ikeja. Daily Times lodged us in hotels and they paid us transport fare. So, I don’t know whether there’s any media house that can think like that now. That’s how much we have lost.
What makes a good story?
What makes a good story is what makes a good book. First, the story must be accessible. What is the meaning of accessible? It must be accessible because the reader must know what he/she is reading about. You are not going to try to intrigue the reader with big English and all those fanciful words. Tell the story, say it straight as it is and then the reader will be able to read on. So, a story must be accessible, and you must answer the six questions, the 5Ws and H. If you cannot do that, then you are not really on. So, who, when, where, why, what and how. All those things, you have to answer those questions in that same story. When you do that, it will be clear that you have really done well and that the story is good enough.
What makes a good magazine?
A good magazine, as we have said also, must be beautiful. When you look at it; it must be visually attractive, people must like to look at it and the text of it is very clear. If you leave it in your office, somebody must be willing to steal it away. If they are not stealing it, then it’s not good enough.
Briefly, tell us about your new baby, Gaskiya and what prompted it?
Gaskiya is basically for education. It’s to educate young Nigerians about this country, because young people continue to hear only bad news about their country and it’s giving them the impression that everything about the country is ‘jagajaga’ (upside down), because he has never really travelled outside Nigeria. If you travel by road, from Monrovia, coming down to Lagos, then you will understand the greatness of our country or let’s say you are travelling from Accra. Immediately you leave Ghana, then you get to Togo, then you get to Benin Republic, by the time you are entering Nigeria, from Idiroko, you can see people right and left, the number of cars, you will know that this is a different country from where you are coming from.
So, Gaskiya is to tell the truth about our country, the truth about the past, the truth about the present. We have interviewed for our covers stories, the Ooni of Ife, Kabiyesi Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi, we have interviewed Ayo Adebanjo, we have interviewed Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, we have interviewed Mr. Ray Ekpu and that is the magazine aspect. And we have done stories about the past. We did a story on General Aguiyi Ironsi and his generation, things people have never heard about; we did a story on the day Awolowo was released from prison. So, we try to revisit aspects of our history so that younger people can understand that this is a great country. It’s not a ‘jagajaga’ country. It’s not!
What is your take on the coming of the social media? Especially as it concerns our profession…
Yeah, it’s very exciting, it’s very good to be living at this period, so that we can also enjoy this idea of social media. But it is more social than media. It is more social than media! You can see that young people love to use it for their social needs whereas we need to also emphasize that it should be a medium for education. Not just for frivolities. It’s driving away our youths from education. So, what should be an instrument for education has become an instrument for disempowerment, because when you don’t have knowledge, you are disempowered. So, our young people are not using it to empower themselves, to give themselves knowledge, instead they are allowing social media to take away their knowledge. They are more interested in frivolities, they are no more interested in their country, they don’t know anything about the geography… If you ask a student now, who’s attended a university, what’s the name of your vice chancellor, he may not know. That was unthinkable in our days that you don’t know the name of your VC. I’ve asked a student, her university was named after a prominent leader in this country, do you know why your school was given that name? She said she doesn’t know, but she believes that the man was a rich man who founded the school. I said ah! So, we are being overwhelmed by the epidemic of ignorance and this epidemic is being strengthened, unfortunately, by the social media – and compared to what is happening to other parts of the world. In India, China, Japan, people are reading more. But Africans are not reading more. Whereas the future belongs to those who have knowledge. It’s not those who can just take pictures on social media.