•How we met, became close friends •Day deceased saved IBB, Bode George from embarrassment •Why Onabule remained Zik’s disciple till death
Chief Eric Teniola was a Director of Press at the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. He’s also a former Chief Press Secretary to three military governors of Ondo State – Ekundayo Opaleye, Bode George and Biodun Olukoya. A bosom friend to the late Chief Duro Onabule, former Editor of National Concord, former Chief Press Secretary to the Nigerian former military President, General Ibrahim Babangida and Chairman, Board of Directors, Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Chief Teniola was the one Onabule’s family authorised to announce to the world the death of the veteran journalist and The Sun columnist, at 82.
President Muhammad Buhari, IBB, Governors Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State and management of The Sun Publishing Limited have since sent their condolences to Onabule’s family. In this interview with Saturday Sun, Chief Teniola, Akogun of Idanreland and Akinpote of Akinade, Abeokuta, Ogun State reveals how he met and became friends with the late Onabule. He also talked about what many might not have known about the late popular columnist popularly known as Double Chief.
I met him by accident. There was a party in Ijebu Ode. At that party, a friend, one Awosanya said, “Come and meet your Egbon’ In Yoruba, Egbon means the elder one or your senior or elder. He was then writing for Daily Times. He was a features writer.
Being a trained journalist yourself, what paper were you working for at that time?
I was with The Nigerian Herald owned by the Kwara State government. I was the State Editor of The Herald in Ibadan. So after my friend introduced us, I said, Ah, I used to read his writings. So our friendship started after we met at the party in Ijebu Ode. His name is Ganiyu Durowaiye Onabule. He was a Muslim. But not many people knew that he was called Ganiyu. It became solidified when I came to Lagos to cover activities of the Constituent Assembly Drafting Committee
The one that the late Chief FRA Williams was part of?
You are right. But as you well know, the committee was later disbanded after the Constituent Assembly was inaugurated. At that time, I used to go to Daily Times at Kakawa Street. I had a friend there, one Dayo Sobowale. He was close to Egbon. But I will not forget one aspect of his life. In 1987, General Ibrahim Babaginda came on a state visit to Ondo. He was the Head of State then. I was the Chief Press Secretary to the governor. Navy Commodore Olabode George was governor then. During that state visit, they allocated official quarters to Egbon. But he said he was not going to stay there. Rather, he stayed with me throughout the duration. But there was one story that would have marred the event. One of the military escorts mistakenly crushed someone during the visit. The pressmen got wind of it and went to interview the man’s family and relatives. But I was able to convince them to drop the story. I told them that that was the first day of Babangida’s visit, and that if they reported it, it was going to mar the whole event. It is not as if I asked them to kill the story. I just didn’t want them to blow it up and make it the main story. Most of the boys were ready to cooperate with us. But there were two – I don’t want to mention their names – who didn’t want to do so. One was from Daily Times and the other from The Nigerian Observer. They felt that the story was more important than the state visit. So I was in a panic. I met Egbon and told him what was at stake. He said, don’t worry. He asked me to call those correspondents. I did. He didn’t appeal to them. He gave them an order not to publish the story as long as the General was around.
While he could do so with the Daily Times correspondent, I wonder how he was able to wield the same influence on the guy from The Observer where he didn’t seem to have such control.
You are correct. But because he was an ex-Daily Times man, he believed that he could talk to any journalist. He said, ‘I don’t want that story.’ That was how the story ended.
That was what cemented your friendship?
Not only that. Through him I became close to the ADC to General Ibrahim Babangida, Lt. Col. U.K. Bello. He introduced me to him. There was a day he came to spend the night in my house. So my apartment was fortified in the sense that powerful men were around. Egbon told my governor to take very good care of me. Two months before his death, we met in Surulere in the home of Bunmi Sofola. She is a columnist with Vanguard newspaper. Every last Wednesday of the month, some selected veteran journalists and people meet there. After eating amala, we would go. We meet there, talk over issues and go. We call it the Amala Group or Joint. In that meeting, Sam Amuka, publisher of Vanguard, Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi, Senator Olajumoke, Muyiwa Adetiba, Jimmy Disu and Egbon were there. Immediately, Egbon saw me, we sat down and started discussing. Before then, I saw him last about four months ago, although we regularly interact on WhatsApp almost every day. We talk almost every day on WhatsApp. But that day we were talking physically. There was this argument between him and Jimmy Disu. Uncle Sam intervened. He raised an issue about what I wrote in my column. I said, “Egbon, I am entitled to my opinion.”
What do you usually discuss, national or personal issues?
Both! These are people who have spent over 40 years in journalism and acquired experiences. We don’t go there to share anything but to interact and share ideas and opinions. That’s why we invite like minds. We discussed at length. I said I want to go. Egbon said, “you can’t go, Eric. Sit down.” You need to know him. His yes is his yes. His no is his no. He was a forthright man. He was a Zikist, not an Awoist, to the end. He is a man of high principles. He would say it as it is. And if he is with you, you don’t have any problem. But if he is against you, please, plead with him because he would say it as it is. He doesn’t make friends nor trust people easily. But the ones that he trusts, he gets closer to them. He defends them for the rest of his life. Even the June 12 annulment till tomorrow he defended it. His defence is that circumstances at that time made it justifiable. He believes that his Principal, Ibrahim Babangida was highly objective in taking that decision.
Did he explain the real reasons behind the annulment to you?
He didn’t but I believe that there is no point in over-flogging the issue. Once Onabule believes in you, he can never go against you.
IBB said that much in his press release. He called him a very loyal friend…..
He phoned me concerning his death because he knew that I was very close to him. He called to express his condolences. I said it is all of us that lost a great friend. Unfortunately, his death came on the eve of General Babaginda’s birthday. You can’t know Babaginda and not be loyal to him. He’s a man who likes to see people around him. But Egbon till tomorrow is loyal to Babangida and whatever decision he took and he does not hide it.
But nobody fully knows what transpired. As you said, your friend, Onabule never told you what actually happened even if he knew more than he was willing to let out.
That June 12 annulment was a scam. Babangida can never tell you what really happened. Why? Because those who forced him to take that decision are still around! The issues that forced him to take that decision are still with us today. Don’t let us deceive ourselves. But then we are talking about Chief Duro Onabule, not about the annulment.
You said you saw him a few months ago?
Yes, and I spoke to him last week
Obviously, he was hale and hearty. There was no sign that he won’t be with us today.
My friend, as you grow old, anything can happen to you. He is 82 and would have been 83 next month, precisely on September 27. If you reach the age he has reached, you can suffer from any age-related diseases or illnesses. Death can come at any time despite the fact that you might have been very, very active. Onabule lived a beautiful life and he was a great guy. He was highly principled. He was a Zikist to the core. He wore the badge of Zikism to the end. He believed in Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe as one of the great pillars of this country.
Did he tell you how he became such an ardent follower or fan of Zik?
I think it was love that developed when he used to cover Zik’s political rallies for his paper, Daily Times. You know that when Zik was here, he could move you with his deployment of the English grammar. You couldn’t but love him. Another thing about Onabule is that he was a detribalised guy. He treated human beings according to the content of their character, not their tribe. He does not believe in relating with you because you are Igbo, Yoruba or Hausa. He is too highly principled for such. I am going to miss him personally because he has been part of my life. There are some people who are close to you. But you don’t say much about them. But I can say that I was close to him mentally, spiritually, and physically.
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