By Azuh Arinze
I devoted my weekend to devouring Aremo Olusegun Osoba’s autobiography, Battlelines – Adventures In Journalism and Politics. And without any apology, I want to confess that I thoroughly enjoyed it. I also would like to recommend it to all, but especially journalists and politicians whose terrains were well covered in the book.
Parading all of 341 pages, and published by Diamond Publications Limited, Battlelines, besides being racy and unputdownable, is simply one ‘helluva’ book. Once you pick it up, you won’t want to put it down. And personally, I never stopped till I finished.
Like most autobiographical works, the book is littered with life’s lessons. But below are my 25 favourites:
1 Always be prepared: Osoba, from my deductions from the book, was more than prepared, especially by his godfather, Alhaji Babatunde Jose, for all the roles he ended up playing, both in journalism and politics. Simply put, it was that preparation, both internal and external, that enabled him rise to the top ‘so fast’. Imagine having a Vespa and a telephone line even as a reporter! Osoba sure invested in himself and his craft.
2 You need quality contacts in journalism: Osoba, in his active days, was not an ‘office journalist’. He was always out there in the field. And armed with enough quality sources and contacts, his report card is still being admired and saluted till date, even by the younger generation. For example, while the Nigeria Civil War was on and Zik made a surprise appearance at the Lagos airport, he was there to capture it. He also interviewed President Tubman of Liberia, General Gowon and equally got some exclusive photos from the singular event although the headline he gave the story: “Head Of State Excited, Very Happy” later earned him an arrest by Umaru Shinkafi, who was in charge of national security then.
3 To succeed, you must be ready to take risks: Osoba, a master risk-taker, captured it thus: “A journalist who cannot take risk and is unadventurous is not worthy of the name…” Risk-takers, sincerely, usually succeed more than those who are lily-livered. And it’s evident in the book. From moving even when there was a curfew to venturing where many dreaded, Osoba, simply put, is lion-hearted.
4 Record keeping is very important: Facts, indeed, speak for themselves. So, always keep records. Osoba, besides making some shocking revelations, was able to back them up with incontrovertible evidence(s). From Confidential government documents to decades-old letters, the Akinrogun has them all in the book. Obasanjo/I.A Taiwo, Jose/Sketch, Momoh/Ibrahim, Omowale Kuye/ Herald…Even personal communication/letters between Alade Odunewu/Babatunde Jose/L.L Cross concerning his studies abroad were all captured in the book.
5 Pray to be at the right place at the right time: Journalists are not spirits. They only depend on sources, ideas, tip-offs and so on to write beautiful stories. Being at the right place at the right time also helps. And it really, really helped Osoba. Just two examples will suffice here – he had gone on a visit to Atom Kpera in Enugu and while waiting in the man’s office, the then CP of the State, Kafaru Tinubu came to inform him that Dimka had been arrested and thus he became the first to break the story; same with his discovery of the corpse of our then Prime Minister, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.
6 You must always state your side: And then let the people judge/decide. Osoba, from the book, detests being ‘lied’ against. And here is a solid example. Despite having concluded work on this very book, Afenifere chieftain, Pa Ayo Adebanjo, released his own book, ‘Telling It As It Is’, where he said certain uncomplimentary things about Osoba. Know what he did? He recalled his own book and added an extra chapter, which he called ‘Replying It As It Is…’ Just to state his own side!
7 Tribalism has always been in Nigeria: Yes, tribalism didn’t just start in our country. It has always been with us and most likely will continue to be. According to Osoba, just because he’s from Ogun, himself and Mr. Peter Ajayi were labelled non-Kwarans at the Nigerian Herald. So much so that the people after them almost succeeded in instigating General George Innih, the man who took over from Ibrahim Taiwo, who recruited him, to send them packing.
8 Loyalty matters so much: Besides his own angles, Osoba also talked about the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo; how despite advice against fielding J.S Olawoyin as UPN guber candidate in 1979, he still went ahead, just because of the man’s loyalty. And guess what? Olawoyin later lost to Adamu Atta of NPN.
9 Always give honour to whom it is due: I love people who admit their imperfections, inadequacies, foibles and mistakes. Osoba, magnanimously, acknowledged APC National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu as a man of both immense political sagacity and strategy. He gave a public ‘Tuale’ to the man whose followers and admirers fondly address as Jagaban, Lion of Bourdillon, Strongman of Southwest Politics, Alpha & Omega of Lagos Politics for the two new parties that eventually ended up as APC, the roping in of more political parties and ultimately the dislodging of Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan’s administration and PDP.
10 Lies have short legs: But certainly not truth or the truth. Mercilessly accused of betraying Chief Frank Kokori, the erstwhile NUPENG President, who tormented the hell out of late General Sani Abacha’s life, and following the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, won by Bashorun MKO Abiola, Osoba was however exonerated after 20 obviously agonizing and sad years of carrying that cross and stigma by Kokori, who exposed it in his memoirs that the fellow who sold him to his enemies was Mr. Fred Eno. The just, indeed, shall always be vindicated. Though it may take long, it must surely happen.
11 Be nice to the peasants: The saying that ‘oga’s life is in the hands of his houseboy and vice versa’ rings through in the book. While the security agents were looking for him here and there, the vulcanizers on his street, and who obviously he had been very nice to, were always tipping him and his wife off whenever they suspected any person or smelt any rat. Thus, he was able to repeatedly escape from Sergeant Rogers and his gang.
12 Keep your hands clean: History never forgets. In fact, it always sticks out like a sore thumb. The shameful role played by Chief Francis Arthur Nzeribe, Abimbola Davies, their cohorts as well as their ignoble ABN (Association for Better Nigeria) was well documented and frozen for posterity in the book. So, let’s always remember tomorrow and be mindful of the things we do.
13 Always make your boss look good: Robert Greene, in one of his classics, 48 Laws Of Power, admonished us never to outshine the master. And this was exactly what Osoba did when himself and Abiola were trying to get the late General Musa Yar’Adua to convince his men to support Abiola. Abiola, according to Osoba, made a political mistake, but rather than blame him for that when confronted by an obviously angry Yar’Adua, Osoba chose to be the fall guy.
14 Pray for a good wife: He that findeth a good wife indeed has it all. And Abiola’s first wife, Simbiat, was a good example. According to Osoba, while trying to govern Ogun, which is also Abiola’s State of origin, it happened that Abiola was not only supporting SDP’s Abdullateef Dele, but had also given him N500,000 then. On getting wind of this, Osoba, a member of SDP and from whom Abiola not long ago sought a favour, visited him at home to complain. While they were at it and arguing back and forth, Simbiat, who obviously was eavesdropping and watching the drama unfolding in their sitting room, went to bring Abiola’s cheque book, insisting that he also be given a cheque of N500,000. And ‘na so equation come balance’.
15 Be a man of principle: The late conscience of the nation, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN, used to have one popular quote: ‘Stand for what is right even if you are standing alone’. Osoba, on a few occasions, did exactly that. And two examples will suffice here – one was when Obasanjo needed the support of Egba people, and face to face with Ebora Owu, Akinrogun told him he wasn’t going to do that; the second was when he personally issued a statement countering Egba’s support for Chief Ernest Shonekan, to ‘inherit’ Abiola’s mandate.
16 It pays to learn from the masters: We all need mentors; quality mentors. And just like the disciples of Jesus learnt at his feet, Osoba, politically, learnt at the feet of masters of the game like Obafemi Awolowo, Bola Ige, Michael Ajasin, Bisi Onabanjo…
17 A little madness is sometimes good: Yes! Nobody has a monopoly of madness, and Osoba confirmed it in Battlelines. Believing that Sketch, which Osoba was overseeing then was against him, Governor Omololu Olunloyo, had visited in Osoba’s absence and locked up the office. On his return, Osoba broke all the padlocks and ordered his men to return to work. To cut a long story short, a truce was eventually brokered. And that was it.
18 Going to parties is not bad: In fact, we must all cultivate the habit of attending parties. But mostly quality parties. It is good for networking and other things too. It was while at a party at the Officers’ Mess in Marina, Lagos that one John Momodu informed Osoba about his sack from Daily Times, and instantly he swung into action and eventually had it reversed. Again, it was also at another party in Apapa that he met his wife, Derin, after their first encounter at the airport. Even the controversial story on the deportation of Shugaba, the GNPP Majority Leader in Borno State, accused of being from Niger Republic, equally came at a party.
19 Life is an unending battle: So also is jealousy. And Osoba had his fair share, both in journalism and politics. The sweetest thing, however, is that ultimately he triumphed over most of them. A vivid example in the book is Mr. Dayo Duyile’s alleged futile attempts to scuttle his joining Sketch.
20 Carry your people along: The popular saying, ‘chop alone, die alone’ must have ‘guided’ Osoba in most of his undertakings. Nearly all through the book, you would hear him talking about his two buddies, Peter Ajayi and Felix Adenaike. In fact, the trio were so inseparable that the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo nicknamed them ‘The Three Musketeers’. They were together in good times and in bad times. Which all of us must also learn from.
21 Forgive all, but don’t forget all: Yeah, our Christian brothers and sisters may disagree with this. But that is Osoba for you. He forgives and forgets some, but definitely not all. Currently in the same political party with Chief Tony Momoh, who incidentally succeeded him as the MD of Daily Times, Osoba couldn’t resist capturing how Momoh attempted to have him sacked from Daily Times until he deployed his wide network to circumvent that. And according to him, both of them are still friends!
22 We all love women: Yes, all men do. Except those who pretend or choose to be discreet about theirs. Osoba admitted sowing his wild oats and tumbling under the duvets with daughters of Eve. He was a man about town and even dated a white lady, whom his mother never wanted him to marry. Everything, however, changed when the ebony beauty called Derin appeared on the scene, bought his heart ‘wholesale’ and locked it up permanently.
23 Always think on your feet: To his then editor, he was after his job. But having occupied that position myself and also seen how panicky some editors become whenever they begin to see you as a threat, Osoba has my total support. A coup had just taken place, but rather than race to the office to do the story, an editor remains at home. A daring reporter steps in, does the story beautifully, ably guided by the great Babatunde Jose, his editor makes it to the office after almost 24 hours and then begins to accuse the reporter of eyeing his position! Anyway, Osoba eventually landed the position, but certainly not because he had his eyes set on that from the onset. Rather it was his good works that did it. So, you must always be strategic; don’t just do anything, but do the most strategic ones. They will always announce you and open special doors for you.
24 We enjoy defending our mistakes: Osoba, alleged to be temperamental, interestingly, blamed it on journalism. Hear him: “You cannot be in the newsroom and not be temperamental…” Hmmmm! Coming from an elder, I won’t say more than that.
25 And yet we all make mistakes: Yes, nobody, including the master is insulated or exempted from mistakes. So, what exactly am I trying to say? Simple – it’s that some things could have been done better, especially editing-wise. On page 295, paragraph 1, …as Rogers told the curt (instead of court); still on that page, but in paragraph 2, …earlier in this book, I have (instead of had) narrated; on page 283, paragraph 6, …Ooni…was the first of (instead of to) discuss; on page 286, paragraph 4, …continued making ight (instead of light); on page 293, paragraph 2, …at Ogun Stae (instead of State) INEC; on page 306, paragraph 2, …Economic (and was missing) Financial Crimes Commission; page 315, paragraph 3, …earlier is (instead of in) the same speech; page 318, paragraph 2, …The (National) Independent National Electoral…; on page 40, last paragraph, you (instead of your); on page 17, paragraph 2,…Animashaun whose remains is (instead of are); page 31, paragraph 2…such as the Ajiborishas (,), Ajibodus and other (s is missing); page 108, paragraph 2,…succeeded also of because (instead of because of); page 153, paragraph 3…accussations (instead of accusations); page 160, paragraph 1,…while Ikenne wouold (instead of would); page 184, paragraph 1,…meant winning ar (instead of at)…
Hopefully, all that’s been noted above and others will be corrected in subsequent editions of this awesome book, which once again I implore everybody to get copies of. Thanks so much for reading and may all our battles always end in our favour…
- Azuh is a journalist, author and motivational speaker