•TELL Magazine’s Ex-Editor
Ayodele Akinkuotu is the latest Septuagenarian in town. He turned 70 a few weeks back. His name is a big name in Journalism. He started his career with the defunct Daily Times and went on years after to join TELL Magazine. He was with TELL for 25 years before he retired 4 years ago. Since then, he has been in retirement, though he doesn’t look 70. Last week, he spoke with City People duo of Publisher, SEYE KEHINDE and Assistant Editor, SUNDAY ADIGUN about his life at 70. Below are excerpts.
How do you feel celebrating your 70th birthday?
It feels good to be 70. This is the 4th year I left Tell magazine. I thank God that I was the one who applied to work in Tell and I was the one who said I wanted to go, after working for about 25 years. I thank God for my life.
I look around and I have cause to be grateful to God Almighty. My children are okay in their different capacities. I equally thank God that I am not ailing in anyway, because that can be so frightening when you are 60, 70, and you don’t have anything to be afraid of. In terms of health. I feel bad going to hospital, because you are going to see the general state of decay. We may have beautiful building, but there is nothing there in terms of facilities. I was at LASUTH sometimes ago, and it’s so funny that there wasn’t even power supply. Some patient’s relations were using hand-fans to make them comfortable. I just have cause to thank God for the gift of life.
What went through your mind the day you turned at 70?
I thanked God that I didn’t sleep last night and wake up as a dead body. I was happy I made 70. I was praying God’s willing, I want to make 80, God’s willing I want to make 90 as my father did. But beyond that, the greatest joy I have had is that, I looked at my children and I am happy. I have been able to use the resources God gave me to take care of them to some extent that even if I am not around now, God, who has helped me to take care of them to that point, will continue taking care of them.
How did you get into Journalism?
I started work in Lagos in 1969 with my School Certificate in P&G and P&G is like a next-door neighbour to Daily Times. Whenever I was on night duty like around 1 am, 2 am, we would go out to find something to eat. While waiting to get snacks, I always saw Vans preparing to load news papers and I always saw many vendors. Prior to that, I have stumbled on Gbolabo Ogunsanwo and Alhaji Alade Odunewu, who I have been reading their colums.
I always saw and admired them from afar. Also, my father used to buy daily times in those days, though as a young boy, the first that would attract you were the pictures. I remembered a headline of the Daily Times, “Akintola Taku” and I was wondering what was “taku” in English language until my father said Taku was not an English word, it’s Yoruba. So, when I came to Lagos and I started seeing those who were working with Daily Times, I started getting engaged, reading their colums, especially on Sundays, and I was wondering wether I could become a Journalist or write like them.
I spent almost 10 years with P&G before I went for further studies by taking a Sabatical. Before I finished my studies, I was asking myself what was I going to do after leaving the University, and it kept nudging that I wanted to do Journalism.
At first, I didn’t know how to go about it, but as fate would have it, I was posted to Imo State for Service. Usually, I will go to the library during the break time to see Daily Times and one Imo State newspaper. On this particular Tuesday, I was just going through Daily Times, and it used to be massive because of adverts and immediately I saw those adverts, I always go through them. And I saw where they were asking for students to apply, and it remained just a week before the deadline. I quickly wrote my application and sent it to them, with the hope that by the time they would reply maybe I would have conclcuded the Youth Service Scheme. So, I decided to put my address in care of a friend in Lagos. As I was getting back, my friend had been looking for me, that I have a letter from Daily Times, that he had opened it and I was supposed to come for an interview, that was in November, 1981.
I went for the interview and luckily, I was one of the people who were taken. That was where I met for the first time my good friend and brother, Onome Osifo. We were the two graduates. All others were those who were already practicing with A’levels and they were coming to do the 1-year diploma course.
That was how the whole journey started.
What was your experience like in Tell?
Wonderful, the Tell days were wonderful, in spite of the challenges and crisis, it was my best years ever. You couldn’t spend over 20 years in a place and not have something tangible to show for it.
Because of the nature of Tell. The push to investigate stories really gave us a an edge working in Tell. The kind of story we did, holding government accountable, interpreting the trends, the analysis of what the trend means, especially when you look at the Babangida’s era, we actually said Babangida wasn’t interested in leaving power; that he had a Hidden Agenda which he did. Give it to him, of all the leaders Nigeria ever had, Babangida was one person who plotted his way into power. He knew what he wanted, right from day one, and that was why he started dribbling the politicians.
I think he must have felt a great relief when Chief Obafemi Awolowo passed on because he must have seen in him, somebody who could have given him a challenge. He must have seen Chief Obafemi Awolowo as a politician you could not bribe, a politician who would always say his mind, a politician you could not dribble. I remember when Tell was saying Babangida did not want to go anywhere, that he had a hidden agenda, one top Journalist who did not believe us was Chief Alade Odunewu because he had a close relationship with Babangida. So, when after 8 years, his transition programme came unstuck, then following the death of Abacha later, Chief Odumewu came to our office and said: “I came here to apologise” that he believed us now, that truly Babangida did not want to go. Those were things that challenged us at Tell Magazine.
And I remember what we went through, thank God, you were part of us. For 5 years, I couldn’t stay at home, same with my other colleagues because there was a permanent siege by the SSS, but rather than for those things to make us quit, it was further adrenalin for us. We always thought of what future do we want to leave for our children, and we planned to give Nigeria a good future. You would remember, at a time in this country Journalists were the other political party, challenging the Military.
And they saw the critical media as the opposition. Unlike now the critical media are sticken. The pen is still mightier than the sword, but those who are ready to wield it, as a sledge hammer are becoming fewer and fewer.
How do you see the situation of things now in the media?
It is depressing. Why do I say so? Many media houses now are treating the same stories. When you wake up every morning, on your Whatsapp now, you have seen all the major headlines, of many newspapers, and they are very similar. They are treating same stories. In fact, at times, you will read a story and you will be wondering somebody wrote it and it’s been distributed (laughs) it is so unfortunate. Interpretation has fled. Analysis has fled. I find it curious that until Sunday Adeyemo Ighoho came, I didn’t know what was going on in Ibarapa, and it has been happening for years. I didn’t know the mother of Dr. Fatai Aborode. I didn’t know of that woman who runs a filling station, who was killed. Even some of the towns folk are now just coming out, and this things have been happening for years. I was listening to a man from there, who said the thing had been on for 15 years. So, where is the media in all this? But I zero it on something, the media have become weak because they don’t have resources. We lack capital. You could have gone to do something else when you left the newsroom even by going into other businesses, maybe by now you would have made more money.
In fact, the fact that you are coming from a critical media, many people will call you, so that you can make money, so that they can compromise you. Journalism is a calling, but the calling has become endangered because we lack resources, we lack capital. We are losing resources in other ways, like good hands. The best hands in journalism are outside the media, even before now.
Look at our people who are outside the media, some of them have good money, but they are not happy doing what they are doing. If they are earning that money in the media, they won’t go away. Back to the question you asked. You know the kind of investigation we were doing in Tell and The News, you can’t do it without money.
One of my formal former colleagues in Tell was telling me recently of where he works now, and a few staff/member of Tell were there also, that when they were asked to investigate a story and there is no money forthcoming, they would say this is not how we do it in Tell, and they will start laughing at them, “that, so, they always use all the money they should have used to pay salary to investigate stories. No wonder, where is Tell now?”
So unfortunate, same thing with The News. Because we committed a lot of resources to getting good stories. These days, you have not paid salary, you did not release money to investigate stories or to do report, how can you expect a good story from your reporter. If your reporter has not been paid for 2 to 3 months and you are saying he or she should go and do good stories, and he is still coming to work, then he is doing somethings because he has bills to pay, I don’t see why journalists want to live like superstars. Although, there is nothing wrong with it if your pay can sustain it. I didn’t say you shouldn’t ride a Hummer Jeep or the best Range Rover in town, if it is your pay that is bringing it. But if you are earning 100k per month as a Journalist then you are living the life of somebody earning a million then there is something wrong somewhere, you have compromised. I hear that some media house owners, when they complain to them that you have not paid their salary, they would say but you have your ID card, what are you using your ID card for? So, what is that suggesting? That they should go and compromise your organisation? And that is one of the things we frown at in Tell.
I didn’t say you should not wear good shoes. I didn’t say you shouldn’t wear good clothes, but if it is your honest earning that is providing them, it is good. Nobody should envy a journalist if he rides a good car but is it the job that has provided it? So, when you look at the media, there is a lack of capital. There is still a lot of capacity in the media, but the energy, is so diffused, pursuing the same things, but if we merge and combine efforts to have more gravity in a merger. A lot of papers have gone down and online media seem to have taken over. What I noticed is missing is contents, it has become empty.
When you look at some Newspaper there is nothing there again. And don’t forget, there are so many editors now, who should still be reporters. The day I was made acting Features Editor in Daily Times, I was afraid because the question I asked myself was: “have I acquired enough experience?” And I shared my fears with one or two persons, I had a feeling that. I do have enough experience but praise be to God, the shoes didn’t become oversize. Couple with the fact that a few month to my joining the daily times, I have had so many experiences that prepared me.
So, like I said, one of the problems facing the media is the lack of capital. If you can’t pay the salary, they may be smiling while you are there, but immediately you turn your back, they start mocking you.
Do you think social media will kill the print?
I am afraid, many Journalists, even the trained ones now rely on Social media. A good number of them don’t read newspapers. They will tell you this is my favourite newspaper, but they don’t know who the Editor is. I was lecturing in a class one day and during a conversation with the students, one of them said, we the social media are the news now. I asked what does that means, he said anything we see we put on social media. I told him that’s not journalism, because there is nothing like citizen journalism. You may have Citizen reporters, who can tell you City People, something like this is happening in this place, can you go and investigate. But in this case, somebody tells you, they have killed 10 persons in Agege without verifying and you put it on social media. And so unfortunate, you discover that even our newspaper repeat the same story without investigating, that is why lots of people are not taking us seriously anymore. It goes back to the issue of contents. All the messages on Instagram, Twitter, Whatsapp, they don’t investigate them. The only way journalism can rise above that is to investigate stories rather than slamming it.
Instead of us doing our job, we are giving too much room to fake rumours by enjoying social media to promote those rumours. It is so unfortunate. I just believe it is only God who can help us.