For all his formidable qualities as a brilliant scholar, an extremely rigorous inquirer, a sound and profound political scientist, an indefatigable reporter, an engaging writer, and a perspicacious editor, he savored his jokes and unobtrusive behavior. In a world where the dun heads, the orchids and the wannabes hug the klieg lights, post as today’s standard bearers, stars and men of letters, sultry greetings and adulation, he appreciates his silence. He prefers to immerse himself in his studies, adding to multidisciplinary knowledge, and further enriching his existing intellectual capital, even overflowing. His chosen choices to remain “backstage” in a manner of speaking, get authenticated by the minimal visibility of photography, even on the internet. And we are talking about a colossus in itself.
Reporting to work on my first day at the good Daily Times of Nigeria Plc in August 1990, my singular identity was Gbenga Ayeni. Ayeni, who is now a professor of mass communication at the Eastern Connecticut State University (ECSU) in the United States, and I were classmates, brothers and best friends at the University of Ilorin. He was already on the staff of the Daily Times about two years before me and I was excited to join him at the then largest media organization in Nigeria. While I was to serve in the Sunday Times in Agidingbi, the Ikeja address of the organization, Ayeni was operating from the organization’s headquarters in Kakawa, Lagos Island.
He was redeployed to the Lagos desk of the London-based West African magazine, owned by the Daily Times conglomerate. Paxton Olu-Idowu was the bureau chief of the Nigerian office of the publication and Ayeni worked with him. Although I would still be in touch with him, I was a momentary loner in Agidingbi. I would later meet the likes of Maurice Ogar, Wole Olatimehin, (now a clerk) and Edwin Baiye, (now in the USA), who were all schoolmates at Unilorin. Tunde Rahman, and Hakeem Bello, media advisers to Bola Tinubu and Babatunde Fashola, respectively, joined us later. This, however, could not replace meeting up with Ayeni who was my coursemate and roommate at school, and with whom I played many school pranks for years.
My initial loneliness was not to last for long, however. I’m told I’m a non-conformist, that I make friends and insert myself into newfound spaces seamlessly. I didn’t need a guard as I walked down that long TPD corridor, lined with a million doors, all leading to the offices and desks of the various departments. I met new colleagues spontaneously and started my reputation. The Daily Times publications, of which there were at one point more than a dozen, were iconic names that one came to know as an avid reader. And here I was, meeting them live and direct, in flesh and blood!
Segun Ayobolu was one of those prominent select underlines that emerged time and time again, etched in the mind’s eye for his insightful political analyzes and resourceful intellectual investments in the Daily Times publications. Ayobolu’s desk was on the left just as you opened the door to the voluptuous hall known as the newsroom. Writers and reporters were writing, typists were busy on their Olympia typewriters. Television sets could be heard in the background. The little rattle from the hinges of the door I opened, Ayobolu stirred and looked in my direction. He nodded in approval and I returned the gesture. I let go of the swing door and walked up to him. I introduced myself as the newest Johnny Just Come (JJC), as we shook hands and introduced ourselves. “You worked for “The Guardian,” I believe,” he asked me. “I’ve read you in the pages of arts and literature reviews”. I smiled and told him that I was just a participant who wanted to be heard in a gathering of A-list professionals. While I was teaching in a rural secondary school in the old Oyi local government area of Kwara State pre-August 1991 and working on my master’s in English, I told Ayobolu, I had unhindered access to some literary figures without the praise of the Nigerians who could stand their necks. to-neck-his-colleagues-elsewhere. They did not get the breadth and consistency of attention that students enjoy in the tripod of Lagos-Ibadan-Ife institutions. David Cook, (British); Zulu Zulu; Olu Obafemi; Oludare Olajubu; Akanji Nasiru was one of those eggheads. While doing my master’s work, I interviewed them and sent the manuscripts to The Guardian, I told Ayobolu.
We met him as colleagues and friends from that moment. I would make more acquaintances after that. One could see Ayobolu’s most sincere function in his work, his unwavering commitment, and the enviable enthusiasm with which he went. Information technology was not as advanced as it is today, so the entire newspaper production system was almost complete. Political activities were taking a turn for the worse under the administration of former President Ibrahim Babangida, and the newspaper maintained a daily tabloid section, and the political desk was trusted to generate front page or back page reports.
Ayobolu attended the daily editorial meeting chaired by the supervising editor which included Onyema Ugochukwu, Femi Sonaike, and Dapo Aderinola at different times, in our generation. He then assembled his team including Emeka Nwosu, Basil Obi, and Tunde Rahman among others, to generate content for the political pages. He regularly acted as sub-editor, wielding that famous metal ruler to allocate space to various essays, reports and photographs. The library was next to the newsroom where there were relevant photographs and illustrations. Ayobolu slept in the office several times, trying to get the job done. We were basically semi-bachelors and could take some risks. But Ayobolu had such a dip in his career.
Ayobolu’s intellectual flexibility, his voracious appetite for knowledge, his scholarly breadth, and his free-range mind on academic protocol are reflected in his journalistic oeuvre. He gobbles poetry, prose works, literary criticism, biographies, and speeches with the eagerness of someone who faces an exam every day—his insight into the broad spectrum of wisdom, flowing from his journalistic output. To make doubly sure, Ayobolu has reviewed four of my published books and written the introduction to my forthcoming collection of essays and articles. As in other cases, Ayobolu leaves you in no doubt of its depth, endless views and abundance of resources. Very few, ranked professors anywhere in the world, will do a better job of dilating the laurels that my works deserve than Ayobolu did in every case.
Joe Ibekwe, one of our colleagues at the Times who now holds a doctorate, was the one who reminded us on the Daily Times Alumni Forum yesterday, that the date, Tuesday, January 17, 2023, is the birthday of this beloved, exemplary brother. colleague and inimitable professional, Segun Ayobolu. Across the road, in our good office at the Daily Times was the White House, a restaurant and bar that we and the regulars christened, after the color of the building. Usually, whenever our out-of-state travel claims, honoraria or travel allowances were paid, or whenever some generous compensation was extended to us for genuine professional help, the White House was the instant convergence. As desks in the newsroom emptied in a wordless sign of assembly on one of those days, Femi Ajayi, who was a science editor, told some of us in earshot: “Those guys have made a killing. They are going to their rendezvous!”
Milestones like Ayobolu yesterday would have sparked a spontaneous gathering at the White House, our famous watering hole. Gboyega Okegbenro, Emeka Nwosu, Lawal Ogienagbon, Musa Ebomhiana, Adamson Momoh, Bayo Oladipo, Yemisi Fadairo, (Basil Obi, Femi Olatunde, Imokhuede Ogunleye, Edna Aguocha, the last four are sadly no longer with us). We were quite a bunch. Friends from other places joined us yesterday, including Ohi Alegbe, Reuben Abati, Gabriel Omohinmi, (Ademola Babajide, Eddie Ayo-Ojo, and they also went to be with the Lord). The waiter at the White House would be deployed in endless shifts, serving a wide variety of drinks, coming and going, coming and going, regularly being questioned about the temperature of lagers and similar liquids. The kitchen would be forever simmering with the aroma of pepper soup, pepper meat and related desserts. the singing of “Oh yes ooooo” seize the space. The title editors will be glad we all turned in our copies before we got into such a joke, which could have gone over to the point and kill sections in Ogba, Alausa and similar places!
Segun Ayobolu was born on January 17, 1964. His father, Elder Bamidele Samuel Ayobolu was one of the earliest batch of graduates from Ahmadu Bello University, (ABU), Zaria, in the 1950s. Baba also obtained a diploma in administration from the London School of Economics (LSE). Thus, the very bright and brilliant Segun Ayobolu made an educational start, obtaining his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science at the University of Ibadan in quick succession, between the ages of 21 and 24. for his doctorate, so that he could pursue a career in academia. However, the young Ayobolu unwaveringly voted for media as a career that could bring satisfaction even as a freshman. Many of us were greatly inspired by the massive “invasion” of newsrooms by academics and technicians, accelerated by the inauguration of *The Guardian* in 1983.
Ayobolu has, at various times, been a reporter, feature writer, political editor and chairman of the editorial board at the Daily Times. He edited the ‘Sunday Times’, a joint publication of the Daily Times, and acted as a publicist in various departments of the nation’s governance structure. He served as chief press secretary for several public office holders, notably the president of the Senate in the unconventional Third Republic (1992 to 1993); federal minister of education, (1993 to 1995), and governor of Lagos state between 1999 and 2007, at the beginning of the lasting Fourth Republic. He was also a special adviser on intelligence and strategy to the governor of Lagos state between 2007 and 2009. A columnist and senior member of the editorial board of The Nation newspaper, he is also an editor of the newspaper. Ayobolu has vast perspectives on various strands of our socio-politics which he must benefit Nigerians.
Ayobolu has been published in many journals and books and has presented papers at various conferences and programs. He was involved in publications such as ‘Tinubu: In The Mirror Of The Press: What The Papers Have To Say: A Collection Of Press Reports On The Activities Of Senator Ahmed Tinubu As Executive Governor Of Lagos State’. He has also produced ‘Biographical Sketches Of Members Of Tinubu’s Millennium Cabinet: May 1999 to May 2003’ and ‘Dele Alake: The Writer As Strategist’. He co-edited the book, ‘Asiwaju: Leadership In Troubled Times’, (published in 2012), with Tunji Bello and Sam Omatseye. He is married to Justice (Mrs) Ayo Ayobolu and blessed with children and grandchildren.
Sege Baba, here’s hoping we celebrate the completion of your doctorate on your diamond birthday. Congratulations!
Olusunle (PhD), a poet, journalist, scholar and author is a member of the Nigerian Association of Editors (NGE).
The opinions expressed by contributors are entirely personal opinions and not those of TheCable.