As a reporter, and much later, the managing director of one of Africa’s biggest media empires (Daily Times), Chief Olusegun Osoba stood out and also emblazoned his name in gold.
The iconic journalist and two-term governor of Ogun State – equally with a long list of achievements – shared his success secrets with YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine Publisher/ Editor-in-Chief, AZUH ARINZE, on Thursday, November 12, 2020.
Going down memory lane, Osoba, who is still stylish and special at over 80, confessed that indeed the Lord has done everything for him.
Of course, being one of our most respected and revered elder statesmen, I didn’t take my leave without asking for suggestions on how best to change the fortunes of our country, Nigeria and more. Much more. Enjoy…
First, what makes a good journalist?
A lot of factors. First of all, a good journalist must be a man of high courage, reasonably intellectual in his life, must be somebody who can live reasonably above board, must be a good reader, because journalism makes you to continuously educate one’s self and in the course of educating yourself, you gather a lot of information. You must be very vast in information gathering. Nobody is totally honest in life, but a good journalist must be true to his conscience, and be honest. In my younger days, the idea of brown envelope was there. We’ve always had corruption within the profession and any journalist who wants to be great has to determine whether he will succumb to brown envelope or be true to his conscience and be honest and live a life above board. Now, he must be respectful, but he must fear nobody. He should be able to confront anybody. A good journalist is one who is ready to write according to his conscience or a reporter who is ready to face anybody and put the most unpleasant question, without fear or favour. These are some of the attributes of a good journalist.
What makes a good editor; you moved from being a reporter to an editor…
Well, a good editor must be a leader. It’s different from being able to write successfully, being able to edit a newspaper, plan pages and things. Being a good reporter does not make you a good editor. A good editor, first of all, must see himself as a captain of a team. The captain of a team is not necessarily the scorer. He’s not the striker. The duty of an editor is motivation. He must be able to motivate the team, he must be very hardworking. A good editor doesn’t go to bed until the paper goes to bed. That means you are up almost 24 hours and then a good editor, showing leadership means that you respect all those who are with you. Newspapering is not a military operation, it’s a team work. There are so many editors that shouldn’t be editors. The editorial board has its own team, the sports department has its editor, the features department has its editor, the news editor is there, so you are a manager. An astute manager for that reason, before you can be a successful editor.
For a reporter to become an editor, what must he or she do?
A good reporter will never like to be an editor. I regretted the day Alhaji Jose (Babatunde) appointed me as editor of Lagos Weekend. I was a reporter at large. Because I liked just my ability to investigate serious stories and to do what we call exclusive stories – stories that are exclusive to the then Daily Times, and because I had my freedom, I didn’t have any desk in the office. I come in, sit down at the newsroom, write my story, submit to the editor, and I’m off again. So, I had my freedom. But the day I was appointed an editor, I nearly wept because it now means that from then on, I became desk-bound. It was painful! Because that cut off my freedom. But you see, it’s not the freedom that I abuse. I was working almost 24 hours. But eventually, I adjusted, I became comfortable.
You said that a good reporter will not want to be an editor. Why?
Because a very good reporter is in the field; a good reporter is his own boss, a good reporter has the time to himself, a good reporter is a goal-getter, a good reporter is a man about town and when you become an editor, you are restricted. You lose your freedom.
Tell us your most memorable story as a reporter and why. You broke too many exclusive stories, had too many scoops…
I had too many memorable stories. People talk too much about the story of the body of Tafawa Balewa. The body of Col. (Ibrahim) Taiwo, the then governor of Kwara State, I was one of those who discovered where it was dumped. For example, the story of the capture of (Bukar) Dimka, the man who organised the coup in which the late Murtala Muhammed was assassinated, in Enugu. It was one of my most memorable stories. The reason is this – I was paying a courtesy call on the governor of Enugu State then when the message came that Dimka had been caught and Dimka was with the commissioner of Police, late Kafaru Tinubu, at the Police Headquarters. And the governor just aborted our courtesy programme. He went into his car, and I quickly ran into my car. I joined his convoy and when he got to the Police Headquarters, Alhaji Kafarudeen who recognized me said, ‘ah Segun, what are you doing in Enugu?’ It was that singular recognition that I used to smuggle myself in with the governor, into the conference room of the Police Headquarters where they were keeping Dimka and I sat down there among the officers and the governor. I did not betray any movement of any kind and for over one hour Dimka was just talking like a parrot. He related everything that happened about the coup, about his movement and I sat down there. I did not even shake for a second, I did not bat an eye, nobody was even conscious of me being a reporter and I sat down there. That’s why I say a good reporter must have a sharp memory, a gumming memory, where he can gum information into your brain. So, after that session with Dimka, I returned to Ilorin (Kwara State). For almost two weeks, I was producing a lead story on the front page of Herald everyday for two weeks and that was what shot up Herald and turned Herald into a major national newspaper. I think that’s one of my memorable stories. And I was no more reporting then. I was then the chief executive of Herald…
All the places you worked; from Daily Times to Herald to Sketch, I need you to single out the most memorable editions you did and why?
Difficult! Difficult! They are too many…I’ve given you the example of the capture of Dimka. You see, it gives you joy to be able to capture a good story in such a tense situation…because the country was in suspense, the country was under serious tension over the assassination of Murtala Muhammed. Too many! My own style then was, I followed Alhaji Jose – casting good headlines. Alhaji Jose was the one who cast the headline, ‘You Tarka me, I Daboh you’. It was Alhaji Jose that created that headline. So, page planning, high class headline were part of the things I enjoyed. There were too many experiences. It’s too much for me to now recollect a particular one.
Of all the headlines you cast as an editor, can you remember one that left an indelible mark?
I can tell you that I was the one who cast the headline: Mr. 12 2/3! That was the story of Akinjide (Richard) who propounded the theory of 12 2/3 against Awo, because the election was to go to electoral college. This was the election of 1979 between Awolowo (Obafemi) and Shagari (Usman). Shagari came first, Awolowo came second, but it was inconclusive. And by the electoral act; Obasanjo himself had enacted an electoral degree. They were to now constitute an electoral college that was to now vote and determine who was the true president, because none of them attained 25 precent in 13 states. Then, Akinjide now went and propounded the theory of once you get 12 states, the last state, not the whole state, it’s 2/3 and thus the theory of 12 2/3. So, the headline, I was the one who cast it and said, ‘Mr. 12 2/3, Akinjide 12 2/3’. And it stuck. Till today, people still talk of Mr. 12 2/3. It became a nickname for late Chief Richard Akinjide.
Now, from experience and also with the benefit of hindsight, why do we have too many editors who are not successful, who are poor, who are not living very well…
That is the unfortunate thing about our profession. A good editor is the one that is totally independent and then is not beholden to any bloc of influence or patronage. A good editor; if you want to produce a good newspaper, you can’t be collecting patronages here and there. You lose your reputation and respect. So, when we are editors, we tend to be true to our conscience and our profession. If you go on acquisition of influence and property, you lose your reputation. For example, I, having been involved with editing Lagos Weekend, deputy editor of The Sunday Times, became editor of Daily Times, was the general manager of Herald and MD of Sketch, I did not have a land in Lagos. I did not apply, because the tradition in Daily Times is that you must not open yourself to any patronage from any government. Even though the first governor of Lagos State, General Mobolaji Johnson was my house captain at Methodist Boys’ High School (Lagos), he was my house captain in 1957. In the cabinet was also a classmate of mine, Rasheed Gbadamosi, who were all involved in the allocation of Victoria Island land at that time. But because of the policy in Daily Times that time that you should not apply to government of the day, I didn’t. I had the opportunity to have a choice land in Victoria Island, either through Rasheed Gbadamosi or my former boss, Alhaji Alade Odunewu or through my house captain, General Mobolaji Johnson, who was then the governor, but I did not apply until 1984 when I became managing director of Daily Times and Mudashiru (Gbolahan) became the governor. He was a younger brother to me. He asked me when I retire, where am I retiring to? I said well, nowhere! So, he was shocked to hear that I had no land in Lagos. It was Mudashiru that allocated a land to me for the first time in Lagos. So, these are debacles that we editors face. We tend to keep a straight-forward life, a life dedicated to the profession and by the time we get to retirement age, we face problems.
What are the legitimate avenues through which a journalist can make money?
My advice is involvement in stock trading. If you have a good stockbroker, it’s a very, very legitimate way to make money and without being obliged to anybody. But you need to have a highly experienced, serious-minded stockbroker to advice you, and landed property is also good. For example, when I was in Ilorin, being a government newspaper, land was offered to chief executives of parastatals in Ilorin and I got one, I was allocated one, without soliciting for it. But I got the Oodua Mortgage Company, they were the ones that financed the property for me. It was one of the first properties I ever bought in my life; I ever constructed in my life. And when I got to Ibadan too, same thing was offered and I got the Federal Mortgage Bank to give me loan with which I built the house in Ibadan. So, again, you can go into property business through clean methods. For example, the first house I had in Lagos was a bungalow built for the All African Games in 1972, and when they were selling it, I bidded and won one of the buildings. Again, investment in property through legitimate sources – through mortgage, through other things can also be very helpful.
To have a taste of success in life generally, what must one do?
For anybody to be successful, you must be serious-minded, you must have dedication to whatever thing the person is doing, you have to be hardworking and then you have to be very, very frugal. I’ll give you an example – I’ve been wearing the same watch since 1984. Here is it; you can say it’s Cartier. I bought it in 1984 and I’ve been wearing it since then. It has become a collector’s item. I don’t waste anything. Take for example, a man like Aliko (Dangote). I’m close to him. He’s always the first to be in his office, every morning and he’s the last to leave. When the owner of the business is there almost 18 hours, who are you then not to be in the office to work? To be successful, you have to lead by example. You must manage your time. Management of time and resources are crucial to success in every aspect of life. Leadership by example, highly crucial too.
What is the greatest thing that journalism has done for you?
Exposure; and journalism gave me courage. I fear nobody! It gave me exposure. I was covering a tournament in 1965/66 and later, through covering the then parliament, I had the opportunity of interacting with the likes of Sir Tafawa Balewa, the then Prime Minister, giants like Chief Adeniran Ogunsanya, Okotie-Eboh (Festus). Late Maitama Sule and I, at that time, we used to nightcrawl with Sam Amuka. We went to night-clubs together. Journalism gave me exposure and made me not to fear anybody because, I mean, who else is there? I relate practically with anybody who has been head of government in Nigeria – from Tafawa Balewa to Ahmadu Bello, to Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, to Baba Obafemi Awolowo. As a young man, I interacted with all of them and wrote their stories and so I cannot be intimidated by anybody. Anybody!
What has journalism not done for you? It’s obvious that it’s done a lot for you…
What it has done most is to deny me of sound sleep. Journalism has denied me that and I’ve struggled to adjust my body clock to sleeping early for an old man like me; maybe at about 10/11pm. I still stay awake till 2am every day. The earliest I think is about 1 o’clock in the morning and I wake up in-between to still want to read the early morning headlines online before I then go back to bed, and I don’t pick calls before 12 mid day. So, my body clock is totally distorted, my sleeping pattern is distorted. That one is one major problem that journalism gave to me. It disrupted by body clock.
What fascinated you about journalism in the first place?
There had been something in me that is journalistic. I was among the people that were producing the school magazine when we were in secondary school. We called it The Magnet. The magazine at Methodist Boys’ High School then was The Magnet and l worked with the people involved in producing and contributing and I think the idea started from there.
What is the commonest mistake that most journalists make?
Hmmm! The costliest mistake you can make is to ever lose your guard in trusting, perhaps, at times, too much…Putting too much trust on your reporters in the field. It can be very costly, it can be very, very costly.
Would you like to tell us why you said that or share an experience?
Yes! An example was a story done on Oritse Jolomi-Thomas who was the vice chancellor of University of Ibadan. He was a member of the trustees of Osogoro Estate in Ifon. The trustees were taken to court and the court ruled against the trustees. But our reporter in Akure, where the judgment was given, did not write the story at the time the story happened. Months after, I think the lawyer to the other party influenced him. We thought it was a fresh story and used it. Whereas Oritse Jolomi-Thomas had appealed and the appeal process was on, which he eventually won. Now, we carried the story and the students of Ibadan went on riot on the grounds that as a trustee, he was involved in mismanaging the estate, which was not true. Because, at the appeal, he won the case and the story was also not fresh. I regretted it, but we were misled by our reporter. That’s one good example of a regret as a journalist.
Let’s veer into politics now. What made you go into politics?
In truth, we journalists, we are involved in politics all our lives. All our lives is political. Everything is political as a journalist and along the line, I became close to Baba Obafemi Awolowo when he came out of jail and I covered his tour of the then Western Region. I became closer to him when he became Federal Minister of Finance, because his office was not far from The Daily Times office in Kakawa and he used to come occasionally when he had issues. So, I became a disciple to Baba Obafemi Awolowo and then I had the opportunity of taking serious tutelage under him. Papa Awolowo, when you sit with him, particularly at dinner; his dinner lasts an average of 3 hours – from 6pm – 9pm. And during dinner, he will give like a tutorial. He will discuss life with you, he will give you anecdotes, he will give you experiences and through it you learnt a lot. Also, through another great leader, Papa Alfred Rewane. He was an encyclopaedia of political developments in Nigeria. So, I became close to these people and then the likes of Baba Lateef Jakande to Chief Bisi Onabanjo who were also journalists. They were also influential. We became the kitchen cabinet then. That was part of the exposure and part of the thing that necessitated me to go into journalism. If the likes of Alhaji Lateef Jakande and Chief Bisi Onabanjo, great journalists, respected journalists, had become first class governors, who did very well and their landmarks are still there till today, well, it was part of the motivation for me to carry on from where they left off.
What is Aremo Olusegun Osoba’s personal definition of politics?
Politics is service. If you go into politics, it’s like you are offering yourself to serve your country, you are offering yourself to serve your community, you are offering to serve humanity and that’s my own definition of politics. It’s not like the modern day situation where people are tagged as looking for wealth or see it as money-making. To me, that’s not politics. You offer service.
What is the greatest lesson that politics has taught me?
(Laughs) – The greatest lesson was the experience we had in 2003, when we were all rigged out in the South West, except Bola Tinubu in Lagos. It’s a good lesson (shaking his head). It was a calculated ambush, serious ambush and betrayal.
Where do you think that most politicians miss the point, where do they normally get it wrong?
First of all, when you are in office, we miss it, if we become a slave to the system. The protocol system is very misleading. If you become a slave to security, a slave to civil servants, you lose it. I refused to change my character, to change my life, even as governor. I lived in my house, I did not have any retinue of aides. When I travelled abroad, I still lived as an ordinary Nigeria, I pushed my trolley, I collected my luggage, I went through all the immigration processes. In actual fact, in year 2000, I was still a governor and there was a general meeting in Boston, Massachussets. At the end of the conference, I was returning, Segun Babatope was on the same flight with me and he saw me arrive at the airport. I was pushing the trolley with my luggage and my wife pushing hers. He was shocked. He said, ‘egbon, ah-ah, where is your orderly?’ So, I said to him, when I cease being governor of Ogun State, would I be able to afford to take an orderly aboard? For me, when I was governor, anywhere I was going, 11 o’clock was 11 o’clock. So, you lose it, if you lose your character. When I was governor, there were times I just drove myself to wherever I was going. I never, never had chief of staff, special assistant, special adviser, special this…I had only nine commissioners and our meeting didn’t last more than, maximum, 2 hours. The longest was 3 hours…
What will you describe as your greatest achievement as a two-term governor of Ogun State?
Hmmm! Without being immodest, I can tell you that my penetration into rural areas in Ogun State still remains a benchmark.The likes of Chief Bisi Onabanjo created infrastructural facilities for a new state like Ogun State, but when I got in, I followed his footsteps. I decided to open up the rural areas, because in Ogun State, we are village people and I can tell you, I electrified hundreds of villages. I opened them up with electrification. Some of my rural roads are still some of the best in Ogun State. I concentrated on education. Before I became governor, primary school children were carrying desks from home to school. I was the one who started paying the West African Examination Council fees for all students because a good student who has no means suddenly finds himself not able to pay for WAEC; you would have destroyed geniuses. And I can tell you, in terms of infrastructural facilities, apart from education, road network, rural development, I also ensured that civil servants were fully motivated. By the time I became governor, they were owing; the military left civil servants’ salaries unpaid for six months and seven months’ salaries of teachers unpaid. By the end of 1999, I had cleared all those payment. Pensioners; their pensions were in arrears. By the time I spent two, three years in office, I had cleared all the debts. In Ogun State, in my time, salaries were paid as and when due. In actual fact, civil servants’ salaries were paid around 23rd or 24th of the month. I never owed a day’s salary, and at festivals, Christmas time, on 19th or 20thof December, Ogun State civil servants were paid salaries for them to have something in their pockets for Christmas. That was the system, and I can tell you, part of my programme was to restore wholesome water, treated water to all the areas in Ogun State. In my time, there was no urban centre that didn’t have pipe-borne water supply – Sagamu, Ijebu-Ode, Ijebu-Igbo, Abeokuta, Ilaro, Ota, Ifo, everywhere, I made sure that water flowed. Because you reduce health problems with that. That is the first area of primary healthcare – when you supply treated water. Those are some of the things I’m proud to say that I did in my time, with little money. Little money!
What would you have wanted to do for Ogun people as a governor that you were unable to do?
My greatest regret was that my second term was when I wanted, on the advice of many, many close friends; for example, my wife was passionate, and was doing cottage industries as part of her own pet project. She was advising me that we had to find a means of getting young people engaged and educated. Not necessarily degree – holding or people going for degrees. And I was going to do it – provide massive technical education, where electricians, plumbers, vulcanizers and things could learn. I said well, let me first of all stabilize the formal education sector by getting desks to schools, paying teachers regularly, paying for WAEC, etc. I was to start massive technical institutions. If we had had that, we won’t have a lot of our young people roaming the streets, becoming Yahoo boys, doing all kinds of things. We would have created people who as artisans will earn more than you, with all your degrees. Because what they will earn as plumbers, electricians would have been massive. I regret that I didn’t have the chance to do that.
There’s no arguing the fact that God has been so nice to you, what more do you want from God? Anytime you go on your knees to pray, what do you normally ask God for?
(Laughs) – Nothing! And I repeat it seriously – I don’t bother asking God for anything. What God has done for me, in that common song, I cannot say it all; at all! I feel highly fulfilled, satisfied. What I do in my prayer is thanksgiving. My prayer everyday is thanksgiving to God for what He made of my life. I’ve no ambition whatsoever to own an aircraft, I don’t pray to own one, I am not even interested. Where I live, I’m comfortable. I don’t have any ambition to build any new mansion. I pray that any aircraft that God wants to give to me, He should give it to you…(Amen!) Young people like you… When you have your own aircraft, you can always give it to me to ride. The rest of my life is thanksgiving to God for what He has done for me. I was not the brightest in class. In fact, last week, we lost one of the brightest boys, the boy who used to come first in my class – Prof. Mojola. He was always the first in class. I was not the brightest, but I will tell you that among my classmates and I have many successful classmates, I’m one of them. I mean, for example, late Nureni Yusuf, he was chief of Air Staff. He was my classmate. Late Admiral Elegbede, he was my classmate. Rasheed Gbadamosi; former deputy governor of Lagos State, Biodun Ogunleye, our current chairman, Oderinde Gbolahan, a high class oil and gas entrepreneur. I had many classmates who are successful. Late Senator Munir Muse was my classmate. So many of my classmates that are highly successful. So, I thank God.
What’s your prayer for Nigeria?
My prayer is that the younger ones, I pray for them – never to lose hope. They must not give up, I pray for them to have the courage to continue to advocate for a better Nigeria and for them to have the determination to be involved in creating a better Nigeria. I had been holding high offices since when I was only 30. I became the editor of Daily Times in my 30s. Before I was 50, I was already made. I was the managing director of many newspapers before I became 40. I pray for younger ones, for God to give them the grace, the determination, the ability to make a difference, to create a better Nigeria than we ever created.
As an elderstatemen, where would you say Nigeria got it wrong?
We got it wrong when the military came in. The military destroyed everything. The military coming into governance was the beginning of the problem of Nigeria, and they had been in government longer than anybody, until recently. So, we got it wrong by the military intervention. Although, I can say Major (Chukwuuma) Nzeogwu meant well, the coup didn’t go well and from then on, Nigeria had been in trouble.
Finally, what is the way out of that quagmire, cul-de-sac?
The way out is that the centre must devolve power. The centre is too powerful. Nobody can run Nigeria from Abuja. It’s impossible. Nigeria is too big. India is not run from the centre. Australia; there’s devolution of power and the regions are powerful. In Canada, even U.K, tribalism is everywhere. The Scots are not English, the Welch are not English. The English are just a tribe in England. We have to decentralize, we have no choice.