In the next few days, veteran journalist Chief Eric Teniola will be 70. A few weeks back, he spoke to City People Magazine Publisher, SEYE KEHINDE about his new life at 70. He also spoke about his journalism career and how he served 3 Ondo State Governors, as Chief Press Secretary, plus his stint at The Presidency. Below are excerpts of the interview.
Chief Eric Teniola is 70 but he does not look it. He is still very strong and vibrant. Though he is in semi-retirement, he is still very active online. He still writes opinion articles and weighs in on national issues giving historical perspectives.
He has had an accomplished career in Journalism before he left to pick up a state government job and left after serving 3 state governors in his home state, the Old Ondo State. He later joined The Presidency when he accepted to work with the late Secretary to Government of the Federation, Alhaji Gidado Idris.
Why did he choose to be a Journalist? What was the attraction? He told City People.
In the interview, he spoke about how he began his Journalism career as a Reporter at The Tribune in 1971. He found the salary very attractive, then coupled with the adventure of the job. That made him leave the Civil Service job at The Ministry.
Why did he leave The Tribune? Because he had problems with his boss, Alhaji Lateef Jakande. He went to cover an event in Ile-Ife with him and Alhaji Jakande wanted him to write the story inside the car. “I told Oga, sir when I get to Ibadan, I will write it.”
The event took place the previous night. That was the problem. We are all afraid of him. We used to call him Jacko.
When we got to Ikire, he bought bananas. He offered me I said no sir. He said you mean you have not written my story and you refused to take my banana? I will deal with you. We laughed over it. We went straight to the office. Immediately we got to the office, he called the News Editor. He said go and give Eric a query. I was suspended for a week, despite the fact that I had written the story. Honestly, I felt a little bit bad. I made sure I wrote the story and I left. I came to Lagos. I went to a club at Marina. I saw Chief Abiodun Aloba alias Ebenezer Williams. I saw him at the club. He was with some friends, I went to greet him. He now asked after my Oga. I said he is fine.
He said what are you still doing in that Tribune? I laughed. I said I am still working there. He said I will offer you a better job at Nigerian Herald in Ilorin. He said I will double the salary that Jakande is giving you. I said are you sure sir? He said yes.
That was how I joined The Herald.
He made me fill a form and that was it. I went back to Ibadan. On the 4th day, Kayode Osifeso who was then the Sports Editor of The Tribune rushed to my house that Ebenezer Williams wants to see me at Premier Hotel. He said what did you do wrong, I said I don’t know ooo.
The 2nd day, I went to see him, he was in his Pyjamas. He said Eric I have employed you. He went into a room and brought out a big envelope. This is your 2 months salary. That was how I joined HERALD, the Kwara State Government-owned newspaper. I looked at the money, I couldn’t resist it. He said so go to your office. He said but there is somebody who is going to boss you, Mr. Adebayo. But you are going to be the Senior Reporter in Western State, whilst he will be Chief Editor. The office was at the Adamasingba area. I met Mr. Adebayo. He is a nice man. I worked in The Herald for some time until Mr. Tayo Kehinde, (May His Soul Rest In Peace) came to Ibadan and said The PUNCH wanted to go daily. It was then weekly. He said he wanted me to come and work at The PUNCH. At that time at The Herald, Mr. Adebayo had left for the Ministry of Information and I was already the State Editor for The Herald.
So, I was in charge of The Herald. As usual, they gave me a form to fill. I didn’t apply, just as I didn’t apply to work at The Herald I filled the form. All of a sudden, he said I have been appointed the State Editor. That was in 1975. At that time there was one Mr. Olayiwola working with me. That was how I joined The PUNCH. I was a pioneer staff of The PUNCH and for 2 weeks before The PUNCH started becoming PUNCH went daily. I was sending stories to Tayo Kehinde because he was the News Editor. He is older than me. He was the City Editor for New Nigeria in Oyo State. I was the Nigerian Herald City Editor in Ibadan. So, I joined The PUNCH and I was retained in Ibadan. Our office was at the Gbagi area, very near Kingsway Stores.
I was there until the Constitution Drafting Committee came in, I was asked to come to Lagos. I handed over to one Mr. Tunji Phillips. That was how I came to Lagos. Since then, I have been in PUNCH. I served in PUNCH. Sam Amuka was the one who employed me in The PUNCH. We later had a real financial crisis in The PUNCH. Chief Moyo Aboderin then decided to make me the Editor of The Evening PUNCH. I was the 1st and last Editor of The Evening PUNCH. The paper later folded up and I was later transferred to the Editorial Board as The Chairman. The Editor at that time was Mr. Najeem Jimoh.
A very hardworking gentleman. We were working with Alhaji Liadi Tella. By that time, a lot of staff had gone to The Vanguard. I didn’t go to Vanguard because I made a pledge to the late Olu Aboderin. He called me that he will take care of me and I made a pledge to him that I will work for him. My Oga, Sam Amuka wanted me to come to Vanguard, I didn’t go.
HOW I SERVED 3 STATE GOVERNORS
In 1985, some friends contacted me that the Governor of Ondo State wanted a Press Secretary. The Governor then was Col. Ekundayo Babakayode Opaleye. He is a gentleman, a very nice man. I went to him in Akure, he offered me a job and I became his Press Secretary. Shortly after, not quite a year, he left. Another Governor came. That is Captain Olabode Ibiyinka George. He retained me. Thanks to his wife, Feyisitan George, who I had known in Lagos. When he was going, he handed me over to Navy Captain Abiodun Sunday Olukoya. He is from Ijebu-Ode. He retained me also. In 1991, I thought I have had enough being a Press Secretary so I left. Gov. Olomilua wanted me to be retained as his Chief Press Secretary but I thought it is enough, having worked for 3 Military Governors. Olomilua was surprised that I left because I didn’t tell him I was leaving, I just left. I just walked out of the job. Two days after I left, he was not convinced that I have left. He started looking for me. Then I sent a word to him through my late Uncle, that I have left. That I was tired. Having served 3 governors, I thought if I should wait again, I was looking for trouble. Do you know that as at the time I left I had no job? But I left with the conviction that I have had enough. After I left, I came back to Lagos to manage some businesses I set up. With help from friends like Yinka Guedon, then of Ecobank, who gave me printing jobs, I was sustaining myself, until later when I got the PR Consultancy of the Telecoms Company MTS.
I was appointed by Aggrey, the Ghanaian boss of the company. That was where I met Otunba Niyi Adebayo. We were in the same company doing consultancy for MTS.
HOW I SERVED 3 SGFS
After Abacha came to power, one of my friends called me. I have this friend whom I have cultivated his friendship.
He is a Fulani man. His name is Alhaji Gidado Idris. I met him when he was the Secretary of the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC). I covered the committee. I was introduced to him by Kanmi Ishola-Osobu, (Peoples Lawyer) whose friendship I so much valued. Till he died, I was close to Kanmi Ishola-Osobu. Myself, Toye Akiode and Tunde Fagbenle. Kanmi Ishola-Osobu was the one that introduced me to Gidado Idris, as the then Secretary of the Constitution Drafting Committee.
And from that time till he died almost 2 years ago, I will regard myself as being very, very close to Alhaji Gidado Idris.
So, when Abacha came in, I went to meet Gidado and he said Eric, what do you do now. I said I am doing some consultancy job with MTS. He said you are my friend, come over and join me. This is our government.
He was appointed Permanent Secretary Ministry of Transport. I went to Abuja 3 or 4 times to see Alhaji Gidado Idris. By the turn of events, Abacha dropped Alhaji Aminu Saleh and appointed Gidado Idris as SGF and I phoned him to congratulate him. He said Eric you are coming to join me. The 1st time, I went to see him at Federal Secretariat, he called somebody. He said I should fill a form. Honestly, that was how I was enlisted into the Presidency, as a Director and I was there for 12 years. It was Gidado Idris who took me to the Presidency I will always remain grateful to him.
Till he died, I was close to him. He made me know a lot of Northerners, so many of them who later had an influence on my life. He made me know Alhaji Shehu Shagari. Gidado is an in-law to Alhaji Shagari. He made me know Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki, so many.
Alhaji Ismaila Funtua, Mahmod Waziri, Alhaji Uba Ahmed. We all traveled to so many countries. Basically, I will say friends have always piloted me and helped me in life. After 2007, Alhaji Babagana Kingibe came in. He was the last person I served before I left the Presidency. So I served 3 SGFS and 3 Military Governors. As for SGFS, I served Alhaji Gidado Idris. I served Chief Ufot Ukaete from Akwa Ibom, a gentleman, very hardworking. I served Alhaji Baba Kingibe. I found them very interesting to serve.
I was lucky to have served them. I was just lucky. That is the way God wants it to happen. It’s not by my making. Most of the things that have happened to me in life have been by accident, not by design. I try to be myself, to be hardworking, to get some things right, but somehow, someway, God has been kind that he has given me those opportunities to serve. I don’t think anybody could be much more grateful to God than me.
No. Why should I regret if I can get to the age of 70, having passed through what I have passed through. Life is about living. Everything has not been rosy, in terms of many things, financially, health-wise, but then when you come to the world, you don’t expect everything to be rosy. There must be hiccups here and there. There must be tragedies and there must be successes. You are lucky if the successes outweigh the tragedies.
That is why I will always say, God has been very, very kind to me. Most of the things that have happened to me, have happened by accident, not by my making. God, family and friends have been those that have shaped my life. They have all been extremely helpful. I have loads of friends. I have so many. I was so close to Chief Segun Osoba when he was in charge of The Herald, I was his Special Assistant. Anytime he is coming from Lagos, he will pass through Ibadan and you can be sure, I will follow him to Ilorin. When I get to Ilorin, I will stay there for 2 days. He will say, Eric, just stay there, don’t go anywhere. Chief Olusegun Osoba has been very nice to me. So also Sam Amuka.
He gave me a column in PUNCH. He has given me another column in his paper Vanguard. I write every Tuesday. All of them have been very kind and nice to me. They have all been extremely kind to me.