From editorial assistant in a book publishing firm to Sketch newspapers where he was the first journalist in Nigeria to write for an English, Language Sunday Sketch and Gboungboun, a Yoruba language weekly, Oloye Lekan Alabi’s journalism course was marked by outstanding performance that took him to the electronic media, Nigerian Television Authority, Ibadan and Television Service of Oyo State crowning it with working for four governors as Chief Press Secretary in Oyo. It was Springboard for his ever-rising profile in life.
What were the things you did as a boy?
In Yoruba culture, responsibility is placed on the firstborn, they would want you to be a role model to your siblings. I had that responsibility, which means I must lead by good examples. Second, my grandmother was dreaming of an Adegoke Adelabu in me and from that angle too the expectation was high. Now I can see that my grandmother, my dad, mother and others could see the future. I was taught about our ancestry, the aristocracy, the leadership, the exploits of my progenitors, so I was raised in that mould. My grandmother ensured all that. I would spend part of my holidays in Emure Ekiti with my maternal grandfather where my uncle was also the late Elemure, Oba Oshin. There’s royalty on both sides of my family.
Then, my school, Seventh Day Adventist mission school, Western Region used to organise an annual camp meeting for 2 weeks, it was just like the NYSC scheme. Our parents would pay and we would attend the camp with our mats and other utensils. There, they would mix all those who could afford to come on a large field. The first one I attended was at Ede. We went by train. They put us on the field and select at random and we would be put through leadership training and endurance. Despite being a Muslim, nobody ever raised an idea of conversion, they were good in those times. Liberalism was ensured. My name is Abdulrasheed and I attended Seventh Day Christian School. The training was of a high standard and it moulded our lives in orderliness, discipline and fairness. I also engaged in the activities of youngsters of those days, I played Table Tennis and visited Baba Jebe. Baba Jebe was at the place where the present Central Mosque at Oja Oba is, he was a bicycle repairer. We would go there and rent bicycles. I also played table tennis at Oloja, Gege and I played ‘Toronto’.
What is Toronto?
It’s what we called bootless soccer. I had a great time as a boy.
How did you come into journalism?
It was deliberate. After my Secondary School, there was an exam called prelim that you take to enter the university, which I took in 1970. The centre was at the Polytechnic, Ibadan, and I was a village school teacher, that was my first job ever, at St John’s Anglican Primary School, Akinajo near Arulogun. That was the practice at that time, you had to get a job to prepare yourself till when the results come out, or you go straight to HSC. I was in Akinajo enjoying my life. On Fridays, I would come home. The ‘atokowagbowonle’ band that you see now, some of them were my pupils and they were staying beneath my apartment, the building was an official quarters and I was staying up. Anytime they were misbehaving, their father would come and call out to me ‘teacher’ and they would all run away. Their father was the official drummer of the NCNC and when he got to know that I was the son of ‘MamaI Ile Ekerin Ajengbe’ (that was what they used to call my grandmother) wow!
So, one day, he called me and asked why I was always going to Ibadan on weekends, he told me I could also enjoy myself at the village. He had an engagement that weekend and he took me. I was at a VIP, they put all sort of food and meats in front of me and I decided I was no longer going to spend the weekend in Ibadan again. But unknown to me, my admission letter into the University of Ife was at home, nobody knew Akinajo in my family. They didn’t know the content and they didn’t open the letter. When I got the salary for that month and came home, they gave me the letter and I opened it, I realised the interview had been conducted. I was the first passenger on that old Ife road that morning to the University of Ife. I’ve been saying this that I hope the admission officer was still alive. When I got to the office and he saw me, he shouted at me asking why I was just coming, that I came first in the exams. Despite not knowing me, he was taking me from office to office and was trying to present my case, but in those days there were standards and nothing could be done, it’s not now that there is a shortcut to everything. They said what they would do for me is that I would not write the coming year exam. That month I left the village and was looking for another job in the city.
That year Onibonje Publishers at Felele advertised for the position of an Accounts Clerk, and I was very poor in mathematics, but I felt since they are a publishing company I could have experience in printing. So, I applied, did the written exams and the oral interview. Around 4pm they called us out and said when you hear your name, stand here. They started calling names and they called the last name and said these are the successful candidates, they now turned to us and said we were not qualified and we could apply whenever there was a notice for vacancy again. Later, they asked ‘who among you is Mr Lekan Alabi?’ and I raised my hand, so they asked me to step aside and there they told me that I came first, but my mathematics was very poor, but that because of my performance they would appoint me the first Editorial Assistance of the company. I was glad, because that was exactly what I was looking for, and that was how I became the first Editorial Assistant of the company.
At Onibonje my boss was the younger brother of Baba Onibonje, who was the Chairman. Our department dealt with all manuscripts and as the editorial assistant, they would bring all manuscript to my table, whatever comment I wrote on any manuscript is what I would pass to my boss, and he never changed whatever comment I made. Whether to accept or reject, they rely on my judgement. So Sketch newspaper now advertised position for Reporters, Writers, Readers Grade 2 and I applied. The interview was conducted by Sketch management and the Western State Ministry of Establishment. Nigeria used to have standards. Those of us who passed were invited for an interview, and only two of us were employed, I and Baba Goke Morenikeji, he assumed duty a week ahead of me because I needed to give Onibonje a notice that I was leaving.
At Sketch Newspaper they put me on the Yoruba Desk called ‘GbohunGbohun’. Sketch in those days used to be Sunday Sketch and ‘Gbohungbohun’ was the Yoruba version.
I was a regular at WNTV. I had a column entitled ‘MO RI FIIRI’. I forgot to tell you that I was very good in Yoruba, I had distinctions in it. In my column, I was writing about current issues. So one day, I went to a party and I saw a band playing just exactly like Ebenezer Obey’s. When they had a break I went to them because I knew all the band members of Ebenezer Obey at that time. I was a member of ‘Come Let’s Dance’, I dance very well and I was also a member of Chief Afolabi Majekodunmi’s King of Boys Circle. It was a social circle at that time. Baba Majekodunmi was a big-time transporter that, he was the King of boys, he likes boys flocking around him. He drove a Chevrolet and he would take us to parties. If you didn’t dress well he would tell you not to follow him. He taught us many things, he was grooming us socially, and that time he had his eyes for those of us who were brilliant and had focus. It was the focus that led me to journalism and I became a great writer, I thank God for what He had done for me and I’m still thanking Him for what he is doing.
So, I attended the party and interviewed Makanjuola the manager of the band that played like Ebenzer Obey. I asked if they were Ebenezer Obey’s second band, he flared up and told me they were all copying Tunde Nightingale. I wrote the article and gave it to the editor of Sunday Sketch, the late Mr Philip Bamidele Adedeji. He published it and it caused trouble. People never believed I wrote the story because it was well written. He called me and said the article I wrote was standard for my age and experience and that it raised dust and he asked if I was the author and when I said yes, he asked me to write another article. I learnt there was a play going on at Obisesan Hall that night, I bought a ticket, went there and reviewed the play and gave it to him. He was so happy. He now said I should go to the photo section where they took my picture while the editor designed the montage and named the page WHATS HAPPENING. it was a review of play, books, theatre by Lekan Alabi, it was a very popular column and I became the first dual columnist in Yoruba and English language newspapers, not only in Sketch but in this country. From Sketch I now went for my professional training in London at the College of Journalism 62, Fleet Street.
When I came back I joined NTV, from there I became one of the pioneer staffers of TSOS, Television Service Of Oyo State in 1982. I was later seconded to Governor’s Office under Governor Bola Ige as Press Secretary. We won the 1983 election, but FEDECO said otherwise and the rest is history. But instead of allowing me to go back to TSOS the government of Dr Victor Olunloyo said no and anybody who returned to either O.Y.O or TSOS were sacked, many were sacked and many were transferred. So they were all begging but I refused to beg. My father and uncle were puzzled, they were socialites and friends of Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu. My father went to Adedibu, and Adedibu said ‘Lekan Alabi? Ijesa Ni Omo yen!. That was because I was so loyal to Bola Ige. He said they should bring me, but I refused. I said i would not beg. All the pro-Ige in the civil service were sacked, they were calling us UPN sympathizers. So, I was home for three months without a job. Lo and behold! There was a coup. I could remember the headlines in the newspapers then ‘Happy New Year, Happy New Government because the coup took place on the 31st of December, 1983. My father was looking at me and was wondering, was this the reason this boy refused to beg? Did he know there was going to be a coup? He summoned a family meeting the next Sunday and relinquished the leadership of the family to me. The leadership of the whole Alabi family!
The following month, I was reappointed the Press Secretary to Governor Oladayo Popoola. There were many miracles in my life. My letter of the appointment came, but the officials said they couldn’t locate me, they were lying. The new government ordered all the people dismissed, suspended and penalized by the civilian government to return, so that the new government can set up a special investigation panel to look at their cases.
One afternoon I was at the Total fuelling station at Bodija when one of our uncles, Engineer Popoola, who was a cousin to the Military Governor, saw me and asked ‘Lekan, how is your boss? I thought he was referring to Bola Ige and I said ‘Oga has been taken to Lagos’. He said I wasn’t talking about Chief Bola Ige. I now approached him and he asked why I’ve not resumed. It was through him I heard I’ve been reappointed. He asked me to come to his house in the evening, I went there and he told me the Governor said they couldn’t locate me and he was already thinking of appointing another person. He now said if I was still interested I should come to the office the next day. That second day I wore one of my best suits. When I got to work, I pinched myself, I felt I was dreaming.
Working with Bola Ige at that time must have pitched you against Dr Omololu Olunloyo?
Dr Olunloyo wrote the foreword to my book.
So, you never had any problem with him?
Nothing personal. Till now, he still calls me. You need to read my book, Speaking for Governors and what he wrote in the foreword of my book. Let me quote him, he said ‘he would have loved to retain me as his Press Secretary but for some do-gooders, that they didn’t want Lekan Alabi’.
What did you learn from that experience?
I learnt that Destiny can never be changed. Remember my beginning and the predictions. For Dr Olunloyo to have accepted to write the foreword, it was enough gratitude. For him to have written that he would have loved to retain me. Governments must be careful, particularly when they are new. There are people who would come, give bad advice in the sense that they want to take a pound of flesh. They are there in one’s family, group and religious sectors. Anything that has to do with leadership. May God give them good advisers and aides that are God-fearing. People that won’t call white black.