The Alhaji Babatunde Jose I knew
THE man, Alhaji Ismael Babatunde Jose, who rose from grass to grace in the field of journalism, virtually self- taught and self made, passed on at the age of 82 last Saturday in Lagos.
He heaved his last breath of life at the prestigeous St. Nicholas Hospital in the heart of Lagos Island, not too far from the ‘baby factory’ called Lagos Island Maternity Hospital. The modern father of journalism in Nigeria, the man who stood like the rock at The Kakawa Street for many years, a place referred to then as the Fleet Street of Nigerian media practitioners, had charisma and made many young journalists plying their trade in Kakawa as a nourisher of the bright and up-coming. He was seen in most parts of the country as the unofficial king maker, whose newspapers- The Daily Times conglomerate - set the pace and the agenda for governments of those days. He was feared and respected by all and sundry- business tychoons and government officials - who generally dreaded the opinion and editorial pages of the legendary Daily Times of Nigeria. The post British Daily Mirror-era ownership of the Daily Times saw the miraculous emergence of Alhaji Jose as the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Daily Times and as a first news reporter and production manager of the Daily Times, he saw to it that the Daily Times remained the paper for all and sundry. In fact, the fear of the Daily Times, then, seemed was the beginning of wisdom for political office holders because its views, editorially speaking, were so pungent and influential that several attempts were made to intimidate the Jose -led newspaper empire. The Daily Times was at the apogee of its influential best when the journalistic icons of the early 1960s, the likes of Ernest Sisei Ikoli, the first Editor of the paper, amongst others, emerged and set a standard for other young men, like Peter Enahoro, alias Peter Pan, whose thrice weekly column – Life with Peter Pan, with his portrait of a chubby faced unsmiling look dealt with issues on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, with fearless and beautiful prose, oftentimes vituperative in style with so much fire in his belly. He attracted a lot of readership followers in the country and became a role model for most of us who later joined the happy Daily Times family. We also had the inimitable, ironic and comic cum breezy style of Mr. Sam Amuka, whose hilariously caustic style in the Sunday Times also made it a favourite of many young readers with his cowboyish, cartoon picture with a sad face, depicting his commentaries, poking fun at the way things were being run in the polity. As a newspaper publisher of many years standing, starting from the Punch newspapers which he co-founded with the late Olu Aboderin and had come over to start an equally scintillating Vanguard newspaper whose copious injection of human interest stories has made it likeable across all ages. This is not mention the big masquerade, Alhaji Alade Odunewu, whose simplicity of style and innuendoes had given him the well deserved accolade- as Dean of Satire in the Kakawa stable under the watchful eyes of the late Alhaji Babatunde Jose. With this generation of creative pioneers in the Kakawa tradition, most of whom rose through the ranks as cub reporters and sub editors, it was Alhaji Jose, who saw into the womb of time and gradually introduced many young university graduates into the mainstream of journalism and raised the stakes within the Kakawa empire, where he stood like a giant iroko tree, under whose huge legs most of us who later got inducted into the Kakawa tradition as journalists, were groomed and nurtured in the finer points of journalists of the future. I came face to face with Alhaji Jose in 1973 under circumstances that were more combative than anything else. After leaving the university of Ibadan in 1970 with a nondescript honours degree in English, some of us got appointed into the Rivers state newspaper- the Nigerian Tide-under Governor Navy Commander Alfred Papapreye Diete Spiff and the General Manager, the novelist and poet, Chief Gabriel Imomotimi Okara, the author The Voice, an experimentation with virtual transliteration from his native Izon language and pantheon and aquatic images drawing from River Nun where one of best known poems The Call of River Nun comes from. As an Assistant Editor based in Lagos, my duty was to file stories from Lagos to Port Harcourt, especially, on issues germane to the new Rivers state government created by General Yakubu Gowon. The main issue of those days was the much-trumpeted case of Abandoned Properties, left behind by our Igbo brothers who fled in the wake of the civil war years. For Diete Spiff and his new government, he needed accommodation for his civil servants and other ministries. The government of Papappreye Diete Spiff, faced the with the acute issue of accommodation for staff and residence, had no choice but to annex buildings and houses left behind by the fleeing brethren, following their surrender after the 30 months civil war in which Nigeria was saved from the brink of balkanization. The Daily Times, being the most influential voice in the nation, took unrelieved steps in launching persistent attacks on the people and the government of Rivers state creating what amounted to a press war. On the part of the Rivers state government, we on the staff of the Tide had a responsibility to ‘return fire for fire’, as it were, against the giant Daily Times. And in order to protect our jobs at the Lilliputian David as symbolised in the Tide newspaper, as patriots of the Rivers state government and seen as the underdogs, the ferocious attempts by the Yoruba- land based Daily Times to rubbish the legitimate interests of the minority peoples of Rivers state, had to be halted. The Nigerian Tide also alerted us to do battle with The Daily Times conglomerate through our virulent editorial commentaries in the Tide and the duo of Willy Bee and Tony Talkertive took the battle to the Kakawa war front in a battle of wits, sense and nonsense, throwing brickbats at the Daily Times for its misguided aggression at the young state. Our main plank on which we tried to destabilise the great Daily Times was to draw innuendoes concerning the alleged betrayal by the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, during the war years with Biafra when the leader of the Yorubas had reportedly threatened to pull out of Nigeria if the East if the Igbos were forced and allowed to secede from the federal Republic of Nigeria. While the Daily Times thought it could use its wide coverage, influence and reach across the country to intimidate and run down the government of the Rivers state with our little pens fresh from the universities and quite equipped with the use of the English Language, the Tide miraculously caused a truce to be ordered by Ahaji Babatunde Jose after he had read our powerful counter editorial punches. We did not stop there. We also blackmailed and accused the West - as symbolised by the Oduduwa children-that if they so loved the Igbo, why did they take over all the top civil service jobs left behind by the fleeing Igbo and also took over all their choice properties in the West? I was then compelled to book an appointment with the Chairman and Managing Director of the Daily Times Alhaji Babatunde Jose in 1973 June and thrash out all the thorny and burning issues between the Daily Times and the Rivers state government. After one hour of questions and answers, the late Jose acknowledged the fact that the Daily Times may have erred on some of the issues but still agreed I had done a good job representing my provincial newspaper, by my courageous and bold questions and my oral presentation of questions. Right there and then, he offered me an automatic appointment into the Daly Times group as a senior reporter, giving me an opportunity to resign from the stable of the Nigerian Tide, if it was convenient for me so to do. When the interview was published, it caused a stir in the Kakawa group and my employers in Port Harcourt sent me a letter of bravery and patriotism in the defence of the Rivers state. That I could not resist the offer of employment into the legendary Kakawa - our own fleet street - in order to drink from the deep wells of columnists like Alah De, Peter Pan and Sam Amuka, may have meant in other climes as measure of betrayal from the Nigerian Tide fold. The point one is making here today is to pay my last tribute to a man who turned me from Willy Bozimo into a Willy Bee when I rose from being a senior reporter in The Daily Times and became a Deputy Editor in the Times group with the popular Lagos Weekend as Deputy Editor, where my weekly light hearted column- Every Friday with Willy Bee opened the frontiers of entertainment journalism as sex-oriented columns gained ascendancy and a new vista of journalism blazed the trail for soft sell magazines and newspapers in the mid 1970s. I want to recall Alhaji Babatunde’s integrity as a great manager of men and material, while he reigned supreme as the Alpha and Omega in the Daily Times. With the introduction of graduates into the Daily Times pool of resourceful journalists, most especially, with the departure of the old war horses in Peter Pan and Sad Sam, he had knack for recognizing budding talents. He soon recruited the likes of Gbolabo Ogunsanwo who was one of the finest editors of the Sunday Times and wrote beautifully in a peculiar prose style. He also brought in Mr. Areoye Oyebola, a graduate of Economics and who also had a column called ‘Omo Oye’ as Editor of the Daily Times. During the Murtala Muhammed coup in July 1975 when they overthrew General Yakubu Gowon, the Daily Times was suspicious of the motives behind that palace coup in which, Brigadier Joseph Naven Garba, the Brigade of Guards Commander, Dodan Barracks, Ikoyi, Lagos spear- headed the coup against his compatriot from the Middle Belt. The Daily Times editorial virtually condemned the military coup and it earned the open hostility of the Murtala Obasanjo junta. It was a matter of time before the crack armoured cars were rolled into the premises of the Kakawa newspaper house. On the day of the coup, poor Areoye Oyebola was too frightened to come in to edit his paper and in his absence, the crack reporter in Olusegun Osoba, one of the blue- eyed boys lifted Alhaji Jose, was at hand to produce the Evening Times paper of the overthrow of Gowon. And that Segun Osoba from being a Deputy Editor Daily Times to be appointed Editor Daily Times, instantly. And when Col Dimka struck six months later on February 13 1976, to avenge the overthrow of General Yakubu Gowon, the Obasanjo regime quickly annexed the Daily Times, made it into a toothless bulldog, bought off the controlling shares held by Alhaji Babatunde Jose, and his influence at Kakawa and the Daily Times plummeted to an all time low from which he did not recover until he passed on last Saturday. All those among the tribe of kakawa journalists, tutored and nurtured in the policy of being independent in all things and neutral in everything, as espoused by Jose, the father of modern journalism, the Kakawa style, remains the binding tie for us all, who became ‘show stars’, as he described the columnists within the Daily Times stable. We may have had a rash of columnists, better educated with chains of degrees in the 21st century newspaper working with modern facilities- online and the computer generation, but the innate creative capabilities of the Alhaji Jose era of the Peter Pans, Sad Sams, Alah Des, Gbolabo Ogunsanwos and perhaps, modestly, the Willy Bees, may be difficult to surpass. They now belong to the dying era of the journalistic dinosaurs waiting for time to eulogise them, only at their dying seasons. From me, all I can say to Jose is fare the well. You made me into a Willy Bee when I never expected the transformation from a provincial newspaper Tide in Port Harcourt into the Daily Times family of the Tony Momohs, Tunji Osenis and the rest. Your introduction of graduates into the journalism at the time you did had broadened the vista of the profession, although it created some unease within the Kakawa family when the graduate journalists within the House, felt a slight when Areoye Oyebola, a graduate was displaced by Mr Segun Osoba, a non-graduate. The proliferation of private media was also boosted by the military government of Murtala Obasanjo intervention in the affairs of the Daily Times; the most independent and authoritative voice of the masses was gagged by that satanic takeover. May he rest in the bosom of Allah. Jose, we will never forget you, in a hurry.