•As He Releases His MEMOIR
Kayode Soyinka is a big name in the Nigerian media. He has been practicing journalism for about 45 years. He is one of the few media practitioners who can tell the story of the evolution of the Nigerian media because he was privileged to have been tutored and mentored by some of the most accomplished names in Nigeria journalism.
Kayode Soyinka, who today is the Publisher of Africa News Magazine started his journalism practice with the now rested Sketch Newspapers before finally berthing in London to set up his own magazine, 25 years ago.
He was also very close to the late Dele Giwa, founder and Editor-In-Chief of Newswatch Magazine. Kayode Soyinka was Newswatch’s London Correspondent at the time. He was with the late Dele Giwa when he was killed with a parcel bomb. This celebrated journalist is presently celebrating 25 years of Africa News Magazine and his 45 years in journalism. To mark the occasion, he has released his memoirs titled, “Born Into Journalism: Memoir Of A Newspaper Reporter”.
A couple of days ago, this very humble and unassuming gentleman spoke to City People Publisher, SEYE KEHINDE, via the Instagram live chat and took us through his journey in journalism and how he got his big break. Enjoy excerpts of the interview.
Let me start by saying a big congratulations to you, sir, on your Memoir that’s making waves already, titled Born Into Journalism: Memoir of a Newspaper Reporter and I also congratulate you on the 25 years of Africa News Magazine. We all know how challenging it can be to sustain a brand of that nature. We are celebrating your 45th year in your career as a journalist, everything is just coming together about the same time, how does that make you feel, sir?
Well, I can’t believe that 45 years have come so fast because it is a straight 45 years every day. I have worked in the newsroom for 45 years. I’ve done nothing else but going after news since I was a teenager in Ibadan.
Exactly what year was this, sir?
It was 1976. I did the interview in the summer of 1976 and I was lucky to be one of those accepted and employed. I was the youngest of all the journalists that were interviewed. I was the only one without experience because I was just coming out of secondary school and I was working in Lagos with PZ Industries in Ilupeju. But right from school, there were three major professions I wanted to get a career in, either go to the university to study Law, or to study political science, and that was one subject that I liked so much, another option was journalism. As it happened, journalism was the first opportunity that came my way. I was 18 years old when I started in the Sketch Newspapers. I never had any chance of being employed because as I said, I didn’t have experience. I had a West African School Certificate, all the other journalists who were to be interviewed came from Daily Times, The Observer, The Herald, The Punch. They were already in the business and they had the experience.
Somebody advised me before I went in that if I was asked by the panel that which department I would like to work in the Sketch, I should tell them that I would like to be a sports reporter. The whole idea was that it should be easier for me to enter through the sports desk. And that was exactly what I told them. The panel that interviewed me was impressive and intimidating. It had top editors, including the General Manager of Sketch at that time. The Editor was Dayo Duyile who himself was a very good journalist and editor, Kayode Awe, the night editor, all of them were there. When I told them that I would like to get into the sports desk, they didn’t object to that. I didn’t know what their views would be but luckily, I got the job. One thing that was significant was that on my first day when I entered the newsroom, I didn’t go through the sports desk, I went straight to the newsroom. That was how I escaped being a sports reporter and they took me in in the newsroom. The News Editor, a very fine gentleman, Biodun Famojuro, late now, liked me so much and immediately welcomed me to the newsroom. He introduced me to the senior reporters and other correspondents working in the newsroom. I was attached to a senior reporter who actually was my namesake, Kayode Muritala, he’s late now. A very brilliant newspaper reporter. He later became a news editor himself and then became the press secretary to several governors in Oyo State. In those days, it was the tradition to pick young ones fresh from school, train them in the newsroom, so I was one of them and I was attached, in my own case, to Kayode Muritala. What I was doing is that I was like an apprentice. I was following him to the beat and beat was the High Court in the Iyaganku area of Ibadan. He was covering the high court and I was covering the magistrate court. So, he was supervising me in what I was doing. What was in vogue at that time during the Obasanjo military regime was the issue of profiteering in those days because there was a price control board, retailers couldn’t sell beyond the prescribed prices of items. If you were caught to be selling above the stipulated prices, you would be arrested and taken to court in violation of the price control. I don’t know whether there is a price control board in the Nigeria of today. So, that was what I was covering at that time. Apart from that, I would also do my beat in the customary court which you could say is the lowest in terms of court coverage. But I was still getting good coverage out of Customary courts. There were very interesting cases of wife and husband fighting each other and they would like to get a settlement through the chairman of the magistrate court. So, I started from that very humble beginning and then moved on to being given higher responsibilities. But you know, journalism can be very frustrating as well because all the time I was filing stories from the customary court and the magistrate courts, my stories would not be published the following morning like my senior reporter, Kayode Muritala’s stories, were headline stories in the newspaper. And I was wondering why my stories were not published the following morning, they would be published late, perhaps two or three days after, and you know, for journalists, the byline is a big deal. You want to see your name in print. In my own case, when it came out eventually, my name looked good in print. So, I got concerned and frustration was setting in and one day I walked into the sub-editor’s room to complain that, why is it that you’re not using my story, and when you use them, you use them three days late and then take out my byline from them. The Chief- Sub-Editor, Mr. Kolawole and all the other Sub-editors were interested in my complaint. Mr. Kolawole then got up from his desk and the chief sub himself put his arms around me and said, Kayode, we have been seeing your stories, you’re doing very well, just continue. And he was following me back to the newsroom as he was talking to me and said, one day when you get a good story to be used, you won’t need to come to the sub-editors’ office and ask for your byline to be used. I said thank you very much. So, he took me back to my seat in the newsroom and gave me words of encouragement. At least, I knew they were impressed by my work and that thing went into my head: the good story.
What would be the good story?
That good story came one morning when I was not actually going to my beat, that’s the court. I was lying in bed that morning when I heard a big explosion in the area where we lived in the Odo-Ona Plantation area of Ibadan and I was wondering what happened. As a young man, it was easy for me to get out of the house to see what was happening. When I got out of the house, I saw people running towards a particular direction. By the time we got to the place where the incident happened, it was a balcony that fell. There was a naming ceremony going on below the balcony and there were people also on the balcony following the naming ceremony going on below them. So, the balcony fell on those people including the baby. As a reporter, what would first come to your mind is, what about the baby? Where is the baby? And I was told that they just rushed them to the University Teaching Hospital with those people that were injured.
So, I just went back home, changed into my Jean and got on the bus heading to the UCH in Ibadan. As you know, UCH is a very big place, it was very difficult to know what was going on in the day. We used to have a PR guy there that we all used to go to. And I went to him and asked if he heard about the incident and he confirmed that yes, it was just reported. I said what about the baby, he said unfortunately the baby died and several people were injured. I thought that was a good story, although a tragic incident. So, I got all the information, went back to the newsroom and told the news editor what has just happened. He promptly assigned to me a photographer, an old man actually, Mr. Adesanya, who followed me all the way back to where the incident happened and took pictures. I went back to the UCH to do more investigation. Then, I came back to the newsroom, did the story, and by the time I was done with my story the pictures were ready and we submitted to a news editor. When the editors went for the afternoon editorial meeting to decide the stories for the next morning newspaper, by the time Mr. Famojuro, the news editor, came back to the newsroom, I saw a broad smile on his face, looking towards my direction. I just heard him congratulating me that my story would be the front-page lead story in the Sketch the following morning. I was so delighted about that. I think that story was the lead story of July 7th, 1977.
That was my first lead story of a newspaper. So, I got it and got my first byline. A very good picture was taken, and an ironic one as well because the plan was that there would be a party after the naming ceremony and they had a ram tied to the rope that survived. I think the headline was something like, ’Disaster at the naming ceremony! 7 Day-old baby dies but ram for festivity survives. And that was it. I hit it. And then I made a promise to myself that from that day on, my stories would not go into the inside pages of the Daily Sketch. My story would always be the front-page story, or the back page lead story, at the worst day, it would go to page three which was the third most important page in the newspaper. I did that constantly. In some days, I would have the front page lead story, back page lead story and page 3 lead story, all in one day’s edition. So, I became a star reporter in the Sketch. I was now being given more important responsibilities like covering the Court of Appeal.