By Olusegun OSOBA
‘Chief Obafemi Awolowo was at home one sultry day in the mid-80s when he was informed that an unlikely visitor had come to visit him. When he was told it was Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, his archenemy, so to speak, Awolowo was stunned. It sounded like an April Fools’ Day joke, but he decided to receive the visitor if only to find out his mission. As Abiola spotted the old man coming in his direction, he threw himself flat on the ground in the Yoruba tradition of paying homage to a respected person.
On getting up, Abiola embraced his old nemesis, apologizing for breezing into the old man’s home without notification. He did not stop at apology; he demanded food. “Baba, I have come to eat lunch in your house today”, Abiola announced. “Eat lunch in my house?” a surprised Awo asked, as if he wasn’t too sure what he heard, adding “As a rule and habit, I don’t eat lunch.” “Baba, I am hungry. I want to eat eba,” Abiola insisted. As arrangement was being made to prepare lunch, Awo sat there bemused. After some waiting, lunch finally arrived and Abiola ate like a truly hungry man. He cleared every morsel on his plate – a sign that he enjoyed the food.
After lunch, Abiola formally explained his mission. He had come for peace. He had come to ask the old man to forgive him of all his political transgressions. Everything, he had done, he informed the old man, was political, not personal. He said that even while playing politics he still respected and admired Awo as a leader whose achievements would forever remain evergreen in history. Awolowo was touched; he agreed to forgive Abiola and even prayed for him. Chief Abiola was a paradox- a man of complex extremes, a man you could love to hate and yet hate to love at the same time. He was a man of destiny. Fatebeckoned him to toss hat into the political arena to vie to be Nigeria’s President under the transition programme of the military government of our mutual friend, General Ibrahim Babangida.
A wealthy man, Abiola was also an epitome of generosity, who supported people and causes he believed in. He was a man with a large heart. I had not always been his friend, though I had never regarded him as an enemy. Our relationship had started on a quarrelsome note. March 1986 afforded me the opportunity to appraise him publicly. I was a guest at the New Nigerian Newspaper forum in Kaduna where I was asked a question about him and I bared my mind about this stupendously rich man whose wealth naturally put him under all kinds of pressure and made him behave sometimes inappropriately. I told the New Nigerian in an interview published on April 1,1986. Each time I think of Chief MKO Abiola, rather than hate him in spite of all that he has done to me, I have great sympathy and pity for him. Any human being who stumbles on the kind of money that Chief MKO Abiola stumbled on would naturally go through all kinds of pressures. Extended family pressure will be there, societal pressure will be there, group pressure will be there, ethnic pressure will be there.
On top of all these, you have sycophants putting their pressures, flatterers and flag wavers putting their pressures on such an individual. I suspect that all these pressures are working on Chief MKO Abiola in terms of his attitude to certain people, especially in relation to me. This is why I say I have great sympathy because Chief Abiola doesn’t know me at all. He and I have never had an occasion to sit down like this for any reasonable length of time. I have never been to his house and don’t know the way he lives; he doesn’t know the way I live. I have never been to his office. I have only been to his residence in London once when Dele Giwa and I travelled, and he arranged that I meet Chief MKO Abiola. So you find that Chief Abiola based his approach and attitude towards me on hearsay. On what he has heard from other people, I take my case as an example of how he arrives at some of his attitude to people.
You can see why flatterers and sycophants who are hovering around him are telling him tales about people: ‘This man doesn’t like you; this man is destroying you and this one hates you.’ perhaps they have been telling him this kind of story. So Chief Abiola has brought himself to a point where he totally hates my face. I know that Islam (some of my own family on wife’s side and on my side are Muslims) abhors hatred of fellow human being. My public outburst was the culmination of the spat that had attended my relationship with him. My first dirty encounter with Abiola was in1979. I had left Herald Newspaper in Ilorin to take up a new job in Ibadan with Sketch Newspaper as the General Manager. I got that job after a rigorous interview involving consultants such as Mr. Emmanuel Adagogo Jaja, the then Managing Director of the Daily Times, Mr. Vincent Maduka, the Director-General of the NTA and a chartered accountant, Mr Kayode Ajasin from the Nigerian Institute of Management to the panel. But my appointment did not go down well with certain elements in the Sketch led by Dayo Duyile who wanted the job.
A week to my resumption at Sketch, something unethical happened. The elements who didn’t want me to come into Sketch as their General Manager cut my signature from the letter-heading of the NPAN and pasted it on a letter purportedly written to the UPN in which I was quoted as saying “now that I have gotten the Daily Sketch job I am going to use it to propagate the aspiration and interest of the UPN in the 1979.” They then sent a photocopy of their forgery to Chief Abiola, a stalwart of NPN, who in turn took the letter to the then Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo. Putting his weight and influence behind the forged letter, MKO got Obasanjo to cancel my appointment as General Manager of Sketch Group of Newspapers. This forgery was a dirty and criminal act. It was a subject that caught the attention of the Daily Times of July 9,1979. Its ‘Grapevine’column in “Intrigues at the Sketch”put the issue in context: “since Felix Adenaike left the Sketch as General Manager, the newspaper has been trying to find a replacement for him.
There has been quite a lot of wheeling and dealing over at the newspaper, and it doesn’t look as if the intrigues and conspiracies are going to be over for a long time yet. Towards the end of last year, the newspaper placed an advertisement inviting qualified Nigerians to apply for the post of General Manager. A number of journalists, including those already working at the Sketch, applied for the post. AND Mr. Segun Osoba was one of those who applied from outside. Our information is that at the interview, Mr. Osoba came first. The interviewing panel passed in their recommendations to the Board of Directors of the Sketch. But two members of the Board, representing Oyo and Ondo states, were alleged to have refused to ratify Mr. Osoba’s appointment on the grounds that respective governments had mandated them not to appoint Mr. Osoba to the job. On further inquiry, however, it transpired that the Ondo and Oyo state military had not given any such instructions to their representatives on the Boards, and consequently directed that Mr. Osoba be appointed General Manager of the Sketch with effect from July 1, 1979.
The matter ought finally to have ended there but it appears that someone determined that Mr. Osoba should not assume that post. Segun Osoba is a well-known journalist who, we admit, his incredible high jinks for aggressive troubleshooting journalism. The thing is in his blood. But he has sometimes tended to be excessively enthusiastic in his attempt to scoop rival reporters and influence people and events. And this has naturally not sat well with everyone. His quarrel with the former military Governor of Kwara State, while he was General Manager of the Nigerian Herald, assumed the proportions of a legend. He left that newspaper in rather curious circumstances, and for a long time the debate will go on as to whether he was a saint or a sinner.
But our concern here is with truth and justice and fair play, not with Osoba’s personality. We are indeed painfully aware that bringing this matter up here could seriously injure Mr. Osoba’s chances of getting his job at the Sketch back, and so we make these observations with a sense of great responsibility. A few days before he was to assume his post at the Sketch, a strange letter surfaced. The intent of the letter was to suggest that Mr. Osoba has sought the post at the Sketch as part of a grand design to capture that newspaper and use it as a partisan organ for one of the political parties. But more damaging was the insinuation that Mr. Osoba was in the pay of the party in question. Our investigations have revealed however that this letter, which was alleged to have been written by Mr. Osoba himself to the officials of the party, is a forgery and a rather crude one at that. His signature on the letter was genuine enough. But whoever was responsible for the surgery omitted to use the same typeface for this signature and for the main body of the letter itself.
So, it now appears that Mr. Osoba is not the only one who has been embarrassed by all this. The perpetrators will no doubt be found out and will no doubt discover that those who live by the sword always die by it. The newspaper industry in Nigeria is unfortunately riddled with intrigue. And as always happens, it is usually those who consider themselves adepts at it who ultimately become its victims. We understand that the three governments that jointly own the sketch are now inclined to the view that Mr. Osoba is too controversial a figure to be General Manager of that newspaper even though they are certain that the letter was a forgery. But we are firmly convinced that should these governments persist in their view, they would in fact be helping to achieve the very goals for which the letter was cooked up. Truth is always uncomfortable and sometimes controversial. But we must not for that reason appear to be collaborating with them without scruples who (that) forge documents to attain selfish ends
Without even bothering to call me or hear my side of the story, Obasanjo simply cancelled that appointment and I lost the job of general manager at the Sketch based on a forged letter masterminded by “men without scruples who forged documents to attain selfish ends,” to borrow the words of the Daily Times columnist. Unfortunately for my detractors and their collaboration, the UPN won the three states in the South-West and my appointment was restored on October 1, 1979. That was the beginning of my war with Abiola. But reconciliation came dramatically, as had happened between Abiola and Chief Awolowo. And it happened in the air of all places. I met Chief Abiola aboard a London-bound flight. On spotting him, I looked the other way to avoid any contact with him. I had made up my mind not to talk to him. But Abiola’s large heart came into play. He came to where I was sitting and started to talk to me. “I am MKO Abiola,” he started. “I know,” I replied icily. “I say I am MKO Abiola,” he repeated. “I know. Thank you very much, Chief.” “Will you please shake me at least?” He held out his hand. I paused for a while.
Then, something came over me; something peaceful and reconciliatory. I got up to shake his hands. After the handshake, he said: “Mr. Osoba, whatever must have transpired between us, let us end it here without a third party.” I looked into his eyes and saw a different man. A man of peace who didn’t want a prolonged war! I told him: “Chief, you are a true Muslim and to an extent, I am a reasonable Christian. I think it’s all over.” We shook hands and deep in my heart, it was all over. I also recall that after Awolowo died, there was a fundraising launch for Awolowo Foundation ceremony at Liberty Stadium. There again Abiola made a public apology in his speech. He said: “To all you followers of Awolowo, I apologise to you and to Awolowo, for whatever I might have done.” At that time, he was not contesting for any office. That was Abiola’s way of doing things. He could eat the humble pie and ask for forgiveness and settlement of past quarrels whenever the need arose. But the war between me and Abiola didn’t stop in spite of our handshake and truce in the aircraft. He had started his Concord, a newspaper dedicated to fighting Awolowo, while we in Sketch and Tribune defended Awolowo to the tilte.
We never saw eye-to-eye.it was a case of Abiola’s Concord versus Sketch and Tribune, fighting for Awo and the political tendency he represented. At that time, the then Inspector-General of police, Mr Sunday Adewusi was the scourge of the opposition newspapers. He started charging those of us tagged the opposition newspapers to courts all over Nigeria- a tactic aimed at punishing or frustrating us. I appeared before the Federal High Court in Sokoto, before the Magistrate Court in Lagos for authorizing ‘seditious’ publications. Peter Ajayi and I were shuttling from one court to another all over the nation. Chief Abiola in Concord newspaper started attacking us, asking us whose freedom we were fighting for since we were political “agents fighting for a particular political group.” I took it all in good faith. As nemesis would have it, he resigned from the NPN after a bitter disagreement with party leadership over his quest to contest for the chairmanship of the party.
Adewusi turned the same weapon used against us as opposition newspapers on Concord, locking up the paper’s top editors like Ray Ekpu and Dele Giwa. They were charged with having inspired arsonists through their pens and commentaries to set the NITEL Building along the Marina, Lagos, on fire. As General Secretary of Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria, (NAN). I mobilized NPAN and NUJ members to mount pressure for their release and to attend courts when their case was brought up. At one point we broke the law on the ban onpublic procession by conducting a protest match. We walked from the Lagos High Court in Tafawa Balewa Square to Saint Anna’s Magistrate Court where Ray Ekpu and Dele Giwa were being detained. We went there to insist that the High Court had ruled that they should be released, so there should be compliance. And the editors eventually got out of jail. Abiola was so happy with my effort in getting Ekpu and Giwa released. He flew all the way from Europe to attend the opening of the building of the new block of offices of Daily Sketch. At the event, he danced happily. A thaw had occurred in an otherwise frosty relationship.’” ~
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