Mr. Olusoji Akinrinade was the Editor-in-Chief of Newswatch Magazine until May 5, 2011. He is a damn good journalist and a veteran one for that matter. He was born in Yakoyo, in Osun State. He studied both in Nigeria and United Kingdom. He has had a long and distinguished career in Journalism, having worked for the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), The Punch Newspaper, where he was the Features Editor and Deputy Editor and the Sunday Concord.
Akinrinade joined the Newswatch in November 1984 as one of its 3 pioneer Associate Editors and rose to the rank of Executive Editor and finally Editor-in-Chief in 2010.
In this interview with City People’s Tessy Moore, the man who is affectionately called “The General” revealed his sojourn in Newswatch Communications, where he was in charge of the Newswatch newsroom during the magazine’s early years.
This fair complexioned and veteran journalist revealed what many don’t know about Dele Giwa, who was the Editor-in-Chief of Newswatch and how he met him in a dramatic way. He also revealed how he started MayFive Media Limited with his colleagues from Newswatch, Ray Ekpu, Dan Agbese and Yakubu Mohammed, amongst many other burning issues. Excerpts.
What do you do now that you are no longer in Newswatch?
I am still a Journalist. We retired from Newswatch in 2011, May 5. Though, not the way we would have wanted to be retired. But at the moment my colleagues and I have this company called “May Five Media Limited” which symbolizes the day we retired from Newswatch, though, not out of our volition as I said ealier. We got retired in May 5, 2011. So, we decided to honour that day by naming our new company May 5, so as not to forget our retirement date. Now we have a company which publishes books and does other things. We are still in the process of getting some kinds of publications together. I can’t say what format it is going to be now but we are working on it. We do other things at May Five Media Limited, we write books, we do a little PR for people who need our services and all of us have other things we do. We write biography for people. E.g, my colleagues write columns for papers while I am the consulting editor for a London-based magazine, Africa Today. I do things regularly for them. These are the things we are doing now.
Whose idea was MayFive Media Limited?
It was our collective ideas. It was incorporated as a Limited Liability Company on October 4, 2011. The new company was founded by Ray Ekpu, Dan Agbese, Yakubu Mohammed and my very self, Olusoji Akinrinade, the 4 former executive directors of Newswatch Communications.
We just sat down and asked one another what we could do since we were no longer in Newswatch? Some ideas were discussed, there and then, we decided to set up a company that would involve what we were doing before which is publishing.
As I said earlier, MayFive Limited derived its unique name from a significant milestone in the lives of four of us. On May 5, as I said, we were retired by Mr. Jimoh Ibrahim as executive directors from Newswatch that the three of them, Ekpu, Agbese and Mohammed, cofounded with Dele Giwa in July 1984. Our retirement followed the company’s invitation to a private investor, Mr. Jimoh Ibrahim as a majority shareholder. This was a sad end to an era that spanned for 27 years in the newsmagazine publishing industry in Nigeria. Really sad ending.
Though, to us also it was a new beginning of a new era of a new challenge, the challenge to replicate the successes of Newswatch magazine in the book publishing industry in Nigeria.
Can you tell us more about MayFive Media?
MayFive Media Ltd is primarily a publishing company with core areas of book publishing. This is the pillar of the company; it undertakes the publication of all genres of books, autobiographies, biographies, religious books. We are also into Literary Consultancy; we provide assistance to potential authors in conceptualizing their intended publications. We also render editorial services, media and public relations to individuals, political parties and corporate bodies.
How long have you been into journalism?
Aah! A little while. I actively started when I was in the University of Louisiana in the USA. Then I did some works for some local newspapers even though I was in school. I was also the News editor of my school’s newspaper which was a real newspaper and not just a joke. That was in 1976.
My first piece that earned me some money, I wrote for Shreveport Journal. It was one of the big towns in Louisiana. Louisiana is one of the States in the USA. I was paid $30 for the piece in 1979.
But when I got back to Nigeria in 1979, I did my NYSC with News Agency of Nigeria in Kaduna, thereafter, I took a job with them at the Lagos headquarters of NAN. I started fully with NAN in Nigeria. That was where I started fully and from there I joined Punch Newspapers after 6 months. I was an assistant Feature Editor and feature editor and later became deputy editor in the Punch.
Why did you choose journalism, out of all professions?
I don’t have a special story to tell in journalism. In fact, what I had always wanted to do was to be a Lawyer because people have pen names for you and one of my pen names in those days was Young Barrister. But as time went on, we had a little school paper that we were doing and I got interested in that. May be I got so much that my interest was stocked from that point on. But I don’t have a dramatic story to tell about journalism at all. It was just something I thought I could be good at. When I was applying to study Journalism in America, I just thought to myself that journalism was just something I could do. But there were names that inspired or I heard then like Uncle Sam, Publisher of Vanguard Newspaper, Chief Osoba, etc.
What has been the challenges in your chosen profession of journalism?
Well journalism has been very good. I’ve really enjoyed my time. Those of us who were in The Punch in those days had a formidable bond. It was so exciting to go to work and likening that time to when Newswatch started. You have loved to be at work because it was such an exciting time. But the challenge then was for the enthusiasm not to wane, or dissipate. I have thoroughly enjoyed myself in the journalism profession. Though, challenges have always been there, I remember when I was the deputy editor of Punch and also acting editor when my editor was away. We used to carry page three girl, but for some reasons the government didn’t like it.
So, they came for the editor for an arrest, the editor wasn’t around, so, they took me away instead and took us to Alagbon. I wasn’t the only one; some other journalists had their infractions. Other editors were also arrested in what government calls infractions. It was one great experience and of course, we had challenges when we were still in Newswatch.
We had our Editor-in-Chief, Dele Giwa killed in parcel bomb, we were banned for 6 months and at certain time we faced arrests either by judges or by the government itself. At least, I spent a weekend at Alagbon Police Station in Lagos with Ray Ekpu and some others because of some stories we had done. So, all those were some of the challenges at that time. When you take a critical look at it, they were just what passed on in the part and parcel of what goes on in the profession in Nigeria. So, it wasn’t too strange and you also have the June 12 fraction, all those years from IBB to Abacha, the years of brutality and jungle justice.
Some of us survived it. I had to leave the country after some constant harassment and brutality on some of us. Eventually, it was a member of the Nigeria Intelligence Agency that took me across the border and I went to Ghana, stayed with a friend of mine who was an editor and from there, I went to England. My wife is British, so, it was very easy for me because she had left Nigeria earlier, I just went to join them. You needed to be alive in whatever happens. I still did some works while with my family in England, like the Pro-Democracy day of June 12, I did interviews of which some of the interviews were been launched in General Alani Akinrinade’s book launch,”My dialogues with Nigeria.” I did some while I was in the US and UK. I got close to some people who are my big brothers, friends from Nigeria, like Prof Akinyemi, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, all got close to me during the Pro-Democracy era. I went to America, covered many stories related to it and conducted many interviews for Newswatch.
How did you get to work with Newswatch?
When Dele Giwa, Ray Ekpu, Dan Agbese and Yakubu Mohammed started Newswatch, they were looking for people, in some instances, test, tried and trusted hands. For Dele Giwa because I had been with him from Sunday Concord, it was easy for him to say I want Soji, Soji should come join us. I was from The Punch to Concord and Concord to Newswatch. So, it was easy, Dele Giwa didn’t have to say it twice before I joined them. Not only Dele Giwa, Yakubu also spoke to me about it because I had already started getting close to Yakubu. Though it was Dele-Giwa who asked me to join the team of Newswatch.
That was how I joined them and I joined them before the magazine started. I joined them in December of 1984 while the first issue of the magazine came out in 1985. In fact, the cover story wich was on education issue that they used as test-run to show people of the nature of the magazine that was coming into existence was written by me. What I am trying to say is that the first edition of Newswatch Magazine cover story that was test issue, was written by me, it was on education.
There’s this believe that you and the Newswatch executive directors, Ekpu, Agbese, Mohammed betrayed Dele-Giwa by pretending not to be aware of what was about to befall him, especially Kayode Soyinka?
(Tone high). Hmmm! People say that from lack of knowledge. Because why would we betray Dele Giwa, there was no reason to. Newswatch was a family. So, the question of betrayal, well, I don’t want to describe people as uninformimed, that is why I say from lack of knowledge. I think that is a little better, from lack of knowledge.
Why then did you award IBB Man of the Year, a year after Dele Giwa was killed?
(Angry) I dislike people who see things from afar to come and tell me something that I know and was part of. And I hate people to argue with me that this is it, you weren’t there, I was. There’s nothing to cover up.
But don’t you think you might not want to say the truth because you are also involved in it?
No! absolutely not, there’s nothing to cover up, can any of us have inherited Dele Giwa’s shares? Absolutely No! So, what are we fighting for? That is why I say to people, if you want to read Newswatch story, get the book we did, “Jogging in the Jungle” which some staff of Newswatch who left us long ago also contributed to. I only wrote two chapters in that Jogging in the Joggle. People who want to read the story of Newswatch should go and get the book. Because the death of Dele Giwa is a very huge chapter, it is part of the trials and tribulations of Newswatch. We had our triumphs but we had our trials too. And we had our problems too. But I think it is lack of knowledge for people to say we betrayed Dele-Giwa. We did it in what sense? How? How did we betray him? So, it is a very sad time for everybody.
Many, many times when people ask me about Dele-Giwa, it isn’t something I feel too comfortable to talk about because we all have a little, little stories or personal stories about Dele-Giwa. And I have mine. Dele Giwa was the god-father of my son, Jide. My son, Jide, Dele-Giwa was his god-father with Femi Akinrinade. They are the two god-fathers he has. When I told Dele that my wife and I had decided that he had to be one of the 2 godfathers of my son, he was so ecstatic, he flew from Nigeria and came to us in England for the dedication in church. Dele attended it with Kayode Soyinka who is now the Publisher of Africa Today. That is why I say some people are suffering from lack of knowledge because it baffles me when I hear that Dele Giwa was killed because of one girl, Glory Okon who was carrying Cocaine. But nobody ever knew that Dele Giwa was never part of that story. He was never for once involved in that story of Gloria Okon. Do you know who brought the idea? It was Bose Lasaki who is a niece of the former President, Olusegun Obasanjo.
How do you mean?
She was the one who brought up the story of Gloria Okon to our newsroom, and said all she heard about Gloria Okon and because we weren’t satisfied about it, we asked her to go and do more works on it. And people now turned it round that Dele Giwa brought all the information of Gloria Okon to Newswatch. They are saying what they know nothing about. That Dele Giwa knew Gloria Okon, had a relationship with her and that, he saw her in London alive and whatever.
So, you would have read many stories and that is why sometimes I don’t get bothered about these things again. Honestly, I know what I know and I have no apologies to make. I am sad because Dele Giwa died absolutely because he meant a lot to me. We had a story together, a story of my family, remember being the god-father of my son. All the years we played Squash, did things and played together, it is a personal thing for me. I’m very glad, very glad that I knew him.
How did you actually get to meet Dele-Giwa?
But most people don’t know that the way I knew Dele Giwa wasn’t the most cordial. In fact, it was a kind of competition sort of. What happened was that my friends who were at Radio Lagos then, Segun Obatope, Dele Alake told me that they invited Dele Giwa to a show and that Dele Giwa wanted to know who else was coming. They told him that the Deputy Editor of The Punch was coming.
And he told them that he wouldn’t want to appear in a show with a Deputy Editor because he was an Editor which was higher than my position. So, they now told me all what he said. One day, I was at Concord and I went to see him immediately in his office there because he was still at Concord then. So, I went to him and too big at him that I heard all that he said. You are too big to be on a show with the Deputy Editors. But I swear to God, that is how we became peers. But he told me that he felt I wasn’t using my skills enough that I am to shroud to be sitting at the desk of a deputy editor.
Dele Giwa tried as much as possible to get me to Concord where he was at that time. Yes, he invited me to join him at Concord. At that time, I was having some problems with The Punch then. Eventually, I decided to move to Concord and join him before finally joining him at Newswatch. So, some people say things out of lack of knowledge that we betrayed Dele Giwa.