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My introduction to journalism

Posted by From MURPHY GANAGANA and LAMBERT TYEM, Abuja on 2008/08/16 | Views: 1585 |

My introduction to journalism


World War I was starting and the Northern and Southern Governments of Nigeria had amalgamated into one Nigerian Government in 1914.

World War I was starting and the Northern and Southern Governments of Nigeria had amalgamated into one Nigerian Government in 1914. The first Legislative Council of Nigeria had been constituted in 1922, but it was far from being fully representative of the whole country.

The giant North was not represented. Lagos and Calabar had elected representatives, the other members were British administrative officials and nominated Nigerians from the Yoruba and lgbo-speaking areas of the country. Politically, Lagos was Nigeria. There was a proliferation of newspapers published in Lagos strongly critical of British rule. Five months after the Nigerian Printing and Publishing Company Limited was incorporated and seven months before the Nigerian Daily Times saw the light of day, Herbert Macaulay, then doyen of Nigerian politics, launched his Lagos Daily News on November 9, 1925 to articulate the views of his Nigerian National Democratic Party.

The Daily Times and Daily News started as rivals - the former reflecting moderate views of its owners - Anglo-Nigerian businessmen and professional interests, the latter reflecting the radicalism of those whose relations had experience of slavery and therefore bitterly resented the white man's rule.
Later the readers broke into two groups - the old, typified by Herbert Macaulay's Democratic Party, and the young, articulated by the Nigerian Youth Movement found in 1936 by young professionals who prided themselves in what was popularly described as the "aristocracy of intelligence" led by Dr. J. C. Vaughan. Its own newspaper, "The Daily Service" started on June 27,1938.

It was in this setting that Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe returned to Nigeria from the USA where he had studied politics, anthropology and journalism. He joined the Nigerian Youth Movement and later started the WEST AFRICAN PILOT with the motto: Show the light and the people will find the way. He revolutionized journalist and politics in Nigeria. He established newspapers in Ibadan, Onitsha, Port Harcourt and Kano, and thus carried the anti-British rule crusade from Lagos to other parts of Nigeria.
By his political writings and speeches, he inspired many young men to take up politics and journalism. I was one of those he' inspired. The PILOT championed the cause of the Poor, the needy, and the under-Privileged. World War II (1939-45) and the political consciousness of desalinization of British dependencies provided good Copy for the PILOT.

I had started school in January 1931. Ereko Methodist School Lagos was near { the family house at 6, Bakare Alley, Off 39 Agarawu Street. Yahya Jinadu (a ' retired judge of the Lagos High Court) one month older than me and his parents were in the adjacent house. Our parents took us to Ereko Methodist School where I was refused admission because I was considered to be under age. Yahya was admitted.

The test then was for a child to stretch his right hand over his head to touch the left ear. If the finger did not reach the left ear, you were considered I not old enough to start school. So, my parents took me to the Lagos Government School at Isalegangan Square, popularly known then as ONOLA. At the beginning of 1932, the school moved to the present site of the Lagos Municipal Primary School at Epetedo area of Lagos - three miles from my house to the school.

It was while playing around Abari Cemetery adjacent to the school on June 27, 1932 that another pupil who lived next to Our house shouted at me, "Ismaila. Ismaila, your mother is dead." I did not react to the news. I returned home at the normal school closing time. I had no feeling of loss. At 6 years and 6 months, I did not recognize my mother.

I spent the first four years of my life in Port Harcourt with my father's mother, Ajaratu Lafinjuara, and my father's younger sister, Rabiatu Ode. I remember the thatched roof houses and the ever wet grounds of the Port Harcourt market. It was as if it rained every day. Even when I started school in Lagos in 1931, having given me a sister Nosmot (1927) and a . brother Isaak (1931) my mother continued to commute between Lagos and Port Harcourt.

In a polygamous home, I had one father and many loving mothers and aunts. Therefore I did not recognize my own mother. I remember seeing a slightly I built woman with a white bandage round her neck always reading a book in the )' house. I did not see that woman again after June 27, 1932. I was later told that that was my mother. She had tuberculosis; and the book she was continuously reading was the Holy Koran. My father kept the Koran until I was able to read it and I still treasure and read it.
In December 1932, the family moved from Lagos to the new house built by my father at 51 Olonode Street. Yaba.

The following month, January 1933. I was admitted to Infant II at Yaba Methodist School, under the headmastership of Mr R. A. Keleko. Miss Ibisomi Allen, later Mrs Carew, a senior who took me to school, registered me as ISHMAEL, instead of ISMA’IL. She did not mean to convert me to Christianity. She just gave the Bible version of my name. My outstanding classmate throughout primary school was Gabriel Akintunde Dada, who later became Chief Architect of the Federal Government. Akin kept the first Position in all the weekly and terminal examinations and I yielded to no one in the second Position. Akin's mother lavished love on him, his father having died; my father lavished love on me. my mother having died.

Others in Yaba Methodist School. were Edmund Oluwole Oduba, James Olumide Duggan, Abiodun Harrison, Samuel Duro Adebiyi, a retired judge of the Lagos High Court, Ambassador Deinde George Olawale, businessman and his brother Lanre Fisher, an engineer, Rowland, a businessman and his brother Cornellious Adefarasin, a lawyer-pharmacist and my own brother, Alabi, now a Deputy Chief Registrar, Oyo State High Court, Ibadan, Elizabeth Cole (later Mrs Bamgbose), Yinka Coker (later Mrs Bankole), Mr Olujimi Jolaoso, (later Ambassador) Bamidele Oniwinde, Ben Oluwole and Albert Oluwole, both lawyers, all Christians. My only Muslim friend outside school was Abdul Raheem Bakare, now a retired judge of the Lagos High Court.

Among the teachers mostly trained at Wesley College and United Missionary College, Ibadan, were Miss Gladys Shy lion (Mrs Williams), Mr Oladipo Bateye, who later became a Permanent Secretary in Western Region Government, Mr E.E. Ekpe, who retired as Assistant General Manager of the Nigerian Railway Corporation and Professor Sanya Onabamiro.

In January 1941, the economic recession caused by the Second World War created serious economic problems for the nation, and papa could not pay my fees at Saviour's High School, Oko-Awo. Lagos. The shops had reduced from six to the smallest one at Victoria Street. The room tenants in the house could not pay their rent of five shillings a month. And so, at the end of the first school term which I missed, I told my father not to strain himself, that I would learn a trade. He suggested teaching and introduced me to the headmaster of a primary school nearby. I taught for one day and gave it up. I could not cope. Managing a class of little children scared me.

My father was a member of Herbert Macaulay's Democratic Party, therefore the Daily News and the West African Pilot were available in the house every day. So was the Daily Times, regarded then as a government newspaper. It still puzzled me how my father devoutly practised Islam in those years, because. with no exception, all his friends who were regularly visiting the house were Christians. They read newspaper articles and discussed politics. I was also reading the Pilot and the Daily Times.

When therefore my father asked me what trade I wanted to learn, I told him I wanted to be a newspaper man like Zik. But it was not to Zik's Pilot that my father took me. It was to his friend. Sir Adeyemo Alakija, the founder and Chairman of the Daily Times. Sir Adeyemo contacted the Editor of the Daily Times, Ayodele Lijadu, one of the most loving and cultured gentlemen it has been my fortune to meet. He said there was no job in the editorial department and suggested that I could be employed in the production department as a technical trainee.

This did not appeal to me; but when I told my father, he advised me to accept it as a stepping stone to the editorial department. My father, may Allah be merciful to him as he was to me, was not only a father, he was a friend, my confidant, my guardian angel.
The following day, April 14, 1941 I assumed duty in the Daily Times at 172 Broad Street, Lagos as a technical trainee. A whisky-drinking Englishman, R. S.

Mackenzie was the General Manager, another Englishman, R. Marshall was the Works Manager, a Nigerian, J. Cowan was the Works Superintendent. Ade Omidiji was the machine room foreman; J. M. Odumosu was the composing room foreman; H. J. Ayodele was head of the binding room and it was in this section I started. G. Gikonoo, a Ghanaian was the Accountant, T. M. Asuni, father of Professor Tolani Asuni, was the Advertisement Manager Ayodele Lijadu was the Editor and he had a sub-editor. O. Ogunrinka, J. S. Oloyede, a versatile shorthand writer was the chief reporter covering the High and Supreme Courts while William Saata Savage was the reporter for Magistrate's courts and social events.
I served five years apprenticeship, moving from binding to newspaper composing, jobbing composing and machine room of the company.

I was the only trainee who had seen the inside of a secondary school, the rest were primary six and below. So, I showed additional interest in edited copies sent for typesetting. A number of times, I took copies to the Editor to point out mistakes. Mr Lijadu thanked and commended me. Sometimes, I wrote letters to the Editor on current affairs and these were published. I took a correspondence course in printing from a college in Britain. My father paid for the course.

I was not paid for the first eleven months in the Daily Times. The twelfth month, I was given 5s (50 kobo) wages and Is 8d cost of living allowance, making 6s 8d. Bus fare from Yaba to Lagos was Ip. But my father bought a second hand Hercules bicycle for me. I joined the Muslim Reading Circle. an association of young Muslims improving themselves through reading and public discussion. Other members included Prince T. Sanusi Olusi, H. J. Ayodele who sponsored my membership, M. N. Jinadu, Justice L. J. Dosunmu, T. S. Adio-Erinkitola and Justice B. O. Kasseem. Mr now Dr Taslim O. Elias the distinguished jurist and one-time President of the World Court at the Hague, Netherlands. was our chairman.

I joined the British Council library. I took part in public speaking contests. My late uncle, R. A. B. Jose. a distinguished school teacher introduced me to Mallam Adam Abdullahi now Sheikh Adam Abdullahi, the renowned Arabic scholar, to teach me Arabic. I was doing shift work in the Daily Times, so I had time to cope with working and studying. From 1941-45, I learnt Arabic language and the Koran.

On April 1. 1946, I gave notice to the company that my five year training would end on April 30 and that unless I was given a job in the editorial department as a reporter I would withdraw my services. Mr Lijadu had considerable affection for me and left to him, he would have employed me as a reporter. But it was unacceptable to others that the "small boy" as I was affectionately known and called by all the staff should go "upstairs." And so, I left the Daily Time on a salary of Ł 1.13.4 (N2.27k) a month. Mr Lijadu gave me a testimonial which I treasure.

He wrote:
"This is to certify that I have known Ishmael Adisa Babatunde Jose for over live years during which period I have always found him a hard-working obedient and aspiring young man. His industry and ambition have been most exemplary and inspiring and have marked him out as a young man who ought to go far in life. I therefore have no hesitation in recommending him to anyone who desires the services of an intelligent, painstaking and very well-behaved as well as useful employee.’

With that testimonial, I walked out of 172 Broad Street on April 30, to seek employment on Dr Azikiwe's Daily Comet; a four-page broad sheet, printed at King George Avenue, (now Herbert Macaulay Street) Yaba, quarter of a mile from my home.

I applied for and got a job as a page proof reader on the Daily Comet. It had a skeleton editorial staff - the Editor, George Mbadiwe (younger brother of Dr Kingsley Ozumba Mbadiwe); and a reporter, Manuel Babalola Jorge Ferelra (MBJ). May 1946 was a month of editorial staff reshuffles on both the Pilot and the Comet. Kola Balogun and Abiodun Aloba (Ebenezer Williams joined the Pilot as assistant editors). The Advocate, a newspaper which they were editing having ceased publication. M. C. K. Ajuluchukwu joined the Comet also as an Assistant Editor of the Comet. Sam Agbaje-Williams (now the Chief Judge of Oyo State) had joined the PILOT in 1945 as assistant editor and in May 1946, was Assistant Editor of the COMET.

We had all been inspired by Dr Azikiwe's "My Odyssey" and "Renascent Africa." We read the Pilot and Comet every day, cover to Cover. We were determined to fight British rule in Nigeria because we believed that Nigeria was ripe for self-government. We wanted "political resurgemento and economic determinism" and a Nigeria where there will be "no man's inhumanity to man."

Aloba, Balogun, Ajuluchuku and Williams were employed on N6 (N12) a month because of their higher education. Editor Mbadiwe was on N 15 (N30) a month. I was on N4 (N8) a month, nearly three times my last salary on the Daily Times.

My job was to read the page proofs of the paper after make-up, correct spelling and grammatical mistakes in text and headlines, everyday except Saturday, from 6 p.m. till mid-night. Ajuluchuku's job as an assistant editor was to edit the advance copy for pages 2 and 3 (the Comet was a four-page paper), to write headlines for pages I and 4 and to approve the four pages for printing after double checking my work. He too was permanently on evening shift. He was also writing a daily column in pidgin English under the pen name "Monger". It was a seller in the Comet. Twenty-five years later, on my suggestion, Lagos Weekend, started a pidgin English gossip column - "Waka About" - which again was very popular.

Sam Williams' job as assistant editor was to edit the back page of the paper and to write a column "SAWIMS". He also assisted the editor to edit the front page. Both worked in the day time.
Aloba and Williams lived at 34, Moleye Street, Yaba, 10 minutes walk from 51, Olonode Street, where I lived with my father. Ajuluchuku lived in a house at 62 Olonode Street.

In the quest for learning, I made myself available for work in the morning and Williams assigned me to cover events. Later, he gave me odd copies to re-write. I also placed .myself at Ajuluchuku's disposal to assist him. He was very fond of the cinema. And a month after 1 started work, I found him asking me to do his work. once a week and later almost every day. Many years later, he said he was all the time attending secret night meetings of the Zikist Movement. Editor George Mbadiwe had health problems and was not returning to the office at night to supervise us. By August, 1946, he had been replaced by Tony Enahoro who paid surprise visits to the office at night. He always paid special attention to reading the front page banner headline stories and editorial columns.

He soon found out that half of the time, between 8 and 10 p.m. 1 was doing the assistant editor's job. He never asked for Ajuluchuku; presumably he talked to him privately. All he would say to me was: "Good evening Jose. Any problem? Please give me page one proof. Very well, thank you, good night." Later he would offer me a cigarette and chat briefly on current political events. He was a very humane person and very affectionate. One night, he saw an advertisement headline: "FIRST YEAR ANNUAL ANNIVERSARY" in a proof. He drew my attention to it and pointing out that "year" and "annual" meant the same thing, he deleted "annual" and said "never allow such mistakes in the paper."
One night, Dr Azikiwe, who then lived next door, strolled in and saw me relaxed and smoking. I threw the cigarette on the floor and greeted him. He shook my hand and said: "Pick up your cigarette." I was too frightened to do so. Indeed, 1 crushed it with my foot. He looked round the machine room without making changes on the proof and walked out.

Soon after, Enahoro was jailed for sedition; Aloba came from the Pilot to be acting Editor of the Comet. Ajuluchuku was moved to morning duty and I assumed full responsibility as a night editor without pay. The Comet, like the Pilot, was publishing three or four editorial comments daily and first editorial was on the inadequacy of the Yaba Post Office.

Approving the paper for printing was an enormous responsibility in the Zik's Press of those days. The penalty for a front page banner-headline mistake was one shilling, six pence for a mistake in other pages or headline, three pence for a mistake in the inside text, and one shilling for a mistake in an editorial. I made mistakes at the beginning but not so many as to seriously affect my take-home pay. Zik's Group of Companies opened a bookshop with credit facilities for the staff and had a Club House with credit facilities for buying beer. I took advantage of both. So books plus beer plus occasional mistakes in the paper took off a quarter of my monthly salary.

Sir Arthur Richards (later Lord Milverton) was the Governor of Nigeria in 1946. He had introduced a constitution which divided Nigeria into three Regions, East (now Anambra, Imo, Rivers and Cross River); West (Oyo, Ogun, Ondo and Bendel); and North (the rest of the country). Each Region was to have an elected legislature and a Governor. From the Regional legislatures men were to be elected to a central legislature in Lagos. It was the first time the Northerners were to take part in the central government. Before then, the Legislative Council of Nigeria was made up of elected members from Lagos and Calabar and nominated members from Ibadan and Enugu.

Herbert Macaulay's Democratic Party had been absorbed into the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons, (NCNC) the first truly countrywide political party in Nigeria, with Herbert Macaulay as President and Zik as Secretary. The Zikist Movement was under the leadership of Kola Balogun, the Assistant Editor of the Pilot. I joined the Zikist Movement; I also joined the NCNC Lagos branch. Soon I found myself in 1946/47 at the age of 21/22 mounting soap boxes at street comers in Lagos condemning British rule and criticizing the "obnoxious Richards Constitution." The front page of the Pilot and Comet listed me among other speakers like Tony Enahoro. Abiodun Aloba, Fred Anyiam, Pa Okonlawon Balogun, Miss Adunni (Joan of Arc) Oluwole, Kola Balogun, Mokwugo Okoye, Francis (Secret Document) Coker, Oged Macaulay, B. B. Salami and Osita Agwuna, etc.

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Comments (3)

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Abieyuwa(Edo, Nigeria)says...

Otasowie means evening life is better than morning life. There is an error in your “evening life is better than evening life”?

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Naija g(Houston, Minnesota, US)says...

Sokari doesn’t mean joy. Joy is Biobela. Go to the village and ask the meaning of the name.

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Fay(Katy, Texas, US)says...

Actually translates to bravehearted.