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Editing the ‘Tribune’ was exciting — Omole, Second Editor [1951 – 1953]

I was employed by the African Press Limited, publishers of the Nigerian Tribune, on 1 September 1949. I remember that I received my appointment letter inside the chambers of Mr Obafemi Awolowo (as he then was), where I had been taken by one of his friends, Mr Vincent. I was employed as a reporter but I had, before then done some correspondence courses in journalism with the London School of Journalism. As a matter of fact, I had been, as advised by my overseas instructors, to look for a newspaper where I could put some of the things I had learnt into practice Thus, I had known all about features writing, reporting, editing, leader writing, etc. before I joined the Tribune.

On the Tribune, I moved around quite easily I was a reporter, a sub-editor and I did some features writing. The Tribune was originally scheduled to be launched on 1st November 1949, but technical hitches led to this being delayed until November 16. I remember the team of pioneering staffers made up of experienced journalists from Lagos and those who, like myself lacked the experience, but had the necessary education which could facilitate quick learning and mastery. I think a good number of the pioneering staff came from the old Daily Service. The editor, Mr Akin Allen, was from the Daily Times. He attended King’s College and was quite brilliant. Mr Allen was a strict and hardworking journalist who believed that a journalist must know everything about the editorial job of a newspaper. So, he swapped us around quite often – I, in particular, Oladele Bibilari, who is now a Chief in llesa, designed the pages of the first issue of the paper Then, there was Raimi Aliu, now an Alhaji and a retired Chief Information Officer in Oyo State. He had been my pupil at Ibadan Grammar School.

I remember Mac Alabi who came in either 1951 or 1952. Oh, we were a happy lot in those days. And it was good because we built a formidable team and a good working spirit. My salary was four pounds and seven shillings. This was far higher than what I was earning as a teacher at the Ibadan Grammar School where I left to join the Tribune.

When Mr Allen left in 1951, I was appointed to succeed him. He could have nominated me as his successor or maybe the owners of the paper felt I deserved to be, I really don’t know. But I was already getting the necessary inspiration for hard work under Mr Allen and I remember the serialisation we had to do right from the first issue. This was the biography of Nehru whom Chief Awolowo liked so much. It was tedious serialising that book. And I was somehow connected. I read every bit of the serialisation at varied stages sub-editing, proofreading, etc. It was an incentive for hard work and this gave my journalistic career a political impetus.

ALSO READ: Awolowo and the secrets of success

On becoming an editor, I thought of how to sustain the paper editorially – to continue what Mr Allen had begun and by putting my own authority. We were an active nationalist paper. We believed in freedom and self-determination of the Nigerian people. Our columnists understood this and were quite uncompromising in defending the position. We had many people writing for the paper. Chief Awolowo himself wrote mostly signed pieces and editorials. But he was a gentleman managing director.  He never interfered with my editorial liberty.

I remember writing pieces which offended or could have offended his position. Well, I wrote an editorial condemning the educational policy of the government when he was a leader of government business. It was quite critical. Then, he came to our office and showed the editorial to me. He asked, “who wrote this?” I replied: “I did”. The next thing was a letter from the manager asking me to leave my chair. Well, I showed that letter to Chief Alayande who intervened. The matter died there.

The second article I wrote that must have touched him was when I attacked his friends – Mbonu Ojike and so on. Oh, that too was quite strong as I denounced the people. I think it was during the “boycott the boycottables.”.

I believe Chief Awolowo and Mr Ojike and others actually discussed that article before coming into my office. Yes, they came into my office. And after introducing me, Chief Awolowo asked if I wrote that article. I said yes. I felt embarrassed really because some of the people I had attacked in it were there. But nothing happened to me anyway, the matter ended just like that.

Then, I had columnists whose pens were quite powerful. I remember Ore Samuel Kano. He wrote beautiful features. I never knew who he was, but he was based in Kano. He used to send in his pieces, Then there was “Father Niger” a most vitriolic columnist who gave me sleepless nights This columnist was a nationalist.

And he wrote pieces which I thought were seditious of the colonial government It is a miracle I never got into any trouble over this column. Dr Ikejiani who was Chief Awolowo’s friend, and was in the University of Ibadan, also wrote articles for us. He and Chief Awolowo exchanged ideas frequently. Most of the editorials Chief Awolowo wrote were based on things we had reported as news.

Such was the high standard set before I took over as Editor. Nobody told me I had to keep it up. I knew I had to. It was more than just getting the papers filled with materials. On my desk were books on law cf libel, sedition, etc. I read everything that went into the paper. And supervised production.  Sometimes I had just enough time to go home, eat, sleep for some four hours, But all these did not prevent us from getting into trouble.

I mean how I got into sedition and was jailed three months. The Story that brought it about was a political story. It was based on the demands of the Igbomina people, in the present KWd1d State, who wanted to join the Western group of provinces. Their leaders were meeting to articulate this demand. The meeting was taking place in Offa. But the colonial administrators did not like this. The leaders called themselves something like “here and there”, Our reporter who was sent to cover the meeting (AlhaJi R.O AIiu), brought reports that the leaders complained that the police were harassing them. We then published the story – with a dramatized headline “Hitlerism resurrects” in a block, that was it. We had committed a sin, it was the headline that offended the colonialists and not much the story in the body.

Well, I think some of my men then took things a little for granted j had instructed that both the copy of the story and the form (the set types) be destroyed immediately the story was published. But apparently, only the reporter compiled. V/hen the police arrived I was so sure they would find nothing. One ASP led them, They searched my office and other offices but Found nothing. Then they went to the workshop and there they found the forms. They took it away. It was Iater that they came for me … but had gone into hiding. They went to my family house where r was Irving then.

Fortunately, those who came did not know me in person, so they missed Me. Well, we played this hide and seek For about a week. They were going to the office where I wasn’t. But I was doing my job as editor till. My staff who knew where I was, kept bringing thing~ to me. I was editing my paper just as if nothing was happening this continued For about a Week when my father asked me to go and give up That was how I walked up to the police myself. And the charges followed. Unlike it happens these days, r was never detained, up to the last day 01 trial when I was sentenced to three months imprisonment. The judge who sentence me was Justice Mike Abbort, late Justice Adedipe was the DPP He personally prosecuted the case So, I was convicted and sent to Agodi prisons to serve my term. My were to later file an appeal which began when I had already served two months, I was to be released pending the determination of the appeal but I refused. I stayed in prison. And by the time the appeal was heard and judgment given, my term had been served. Of course, the appeal court quashed the sentence.

I returned from jail a hero. Everybody knew it was a politics trial. The reception for me was grand. And I returned to my job as Editor of the paper. I also had my own column, “Harry pincher” in which I  discussed contemporary social issues, I wrote the column both before I became Editor and I while I was on the seat. I remember now how the pastor of my church who incidentally became my father-in-Iaw later, but was then close to my family. I had to draw attention to my column at a sermon one day, to “rebuke” those who “write nonsense about the church” He knew me very well but he never knew I was the writer of the column which offended him so much.

One other incident, I always like to recall was the day Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, as the leader of opposition in the parliament here (Ibadan) used the contents of an editorial I had written “In the waves contrast,” to attack the policies of the government headed by Chief Obafemi Awolowo. And Dr. Azikiwe did made it known he was using the Tribune editorial. Of course the editorial was not meant for the purpose he used it, but nonetheless, it gave me the joy that my paper has such an appeal for him. I must say that neither Chief Awolowo nor anybody in the newspaper’s top hierarchy asked me anything about that editorial. There were many other incident one could recall. But the most outstanding was the sedition case.

I had an exciting period in the Tribune and when I look back today, I feel happy that I did my best as one o] its pioneers, As it celebrates its anniversary, I wish the paper more greatness. I want to see it continued with the political philosophy which propelled it in these early years. I am glad that it now reaches greater audiences than it did in our days. All these should be kept up.

— Culled from ‘Tribune at 50’ publication.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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