Olusegun Osoba, reporter, editor, politician and now statesman at 80, deserves all the encomiums he’s being getting this week.
In fact, I would say Osoba has earned the bragging right to a seat in the upper echelon of the hall of fame dedicated to those great members of the fraternity of the pen who moved from being press boys to being great nationalists before becoming great politicians and then great statesmen – the likes of the Great Zik of Africa, Herbert Macaulay and the immortal sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, whose legacy lives on in the minds of his die-hard apostles.
In their mould, but before their time, was Sir Winston Churchill, war-time British Prime Minister, journalist and great writer who has left a lasting legacy for writers and political scientists.
Like his worthy predecessors, who traversed the arena of politics after a successful stint in journalism, Segun Osoba has proved to be a worthy ambassador of the media in the corridors of power, having served as governor of Ogun State between 1992 and 1993 and between 1999 and 2003. He was the second most successful journalist in Government House in Abeokuta, the first being Chief Victor Olabisi Onabanjo, the first civilian governor of the state who governed in the Second Republic as the Unity Party of Nigeria flag bearer from 1979 to 1983.
Bisi Onabanjo’s trenchant column, Aiyekooto (Yoruba word for the parrot that was reputed for speaking the truth), was published in the Daily Service and Daily Express. Bisi Onabanjo trained as a journalist and he acquitted himself creditably in the profession before he took to active politics in the Action Group era in the First Republic.
His contemporary in Lagos State was Governor Lateef Jakande. He is, arguably, one of the founders of modern Nigerian journalism. Trainer, editor and administrator, Jakande helped to give birth to numerous media organisations like the Newspaper Proprietors Association Nigeria, the Nigeria Institute of Journalism, NIJ, and the Guild of Editors.
He was known as action governor of Lagos State because his era witnessed no dull moment. He moved like a bull dozer to demolish whatever looked like an insurmountable problem. He started the Lagos State University, LASU and built more classrooms to accommodate the teaming pupils who were hungry for education but who were being denied the chance because of shortage of classrooms.
He was credited with turning parks into schools, which ran three shifts. To reduce housing problems, he built as many estates as the limited funds would accommodate. Today, Jakande housing estates are in various locations in the metropolis. He was later appointed minister of works in the military administration of General Sani Abacha.
Segun Osoba faithfully followed the footsteps of these icons. He moved from the newsroom to government house and made a huge success of it. To mark his 80th birthday, he made a public presentation of his memoir, Battlelines: Adventures in Journalism and Politics last week.
I had an interesting occasion in 2015 to cite the examples of Segun Osoba and all these eminent editors and journalism icons to disprove the egregiously mendacious claim of a highly placed government official that journalists do not make good governors. Somebody of note and a worthy and respected leader of the All Progressives Congress, APC, had tried to sell me to him as a good and credible material when I indicated interest to run for the governorship election in Kogi State. The man in question, citing no empirical evidence, snapped back, claiming that journalists never make good governors.
And, wonders of all wonders, this man did not bother to keep his preposterous notion to himself. One thing led to another and he could not hold back. He sent me a text message telling me exactly what he had told my benefactor.
For his education, if he was utterly ignorant of it, I did not hesitate to lecture him about these icons who not only made journalists proud by their professional accomplishment but who, more than some of their contemporaries, had contributed greatly to the founding of the Nigerian nation. This first generation of Nigerian journalists fought with their pen to help in securing Nigeria’s independence. They also helped in laying the foundation for democracy, rule of law and good governance. Uppermost on their minds was the unity and rapid development of the country.
Today, instead of excellence in governance and probity and accountability as state policy, moral turpitude and all manner of political shenanigans have become the order of the day despite President Muhammadu. Buhari’s pronouncement to the contrary.
On further reflection, perhaps what this fellow meant is that journalists who become governors would not tolerate perfidy of any kind. By his own definition, as events have shown much later, being a good governor is like being a good boy who, because of unbridled incompetence, is most willing to be used as a tool to commit maximum harm to the well-being of the people. Perhaps being a good governor is, in a show of exuberant generosity, to collect state allocations and fritter it way to his local and absentee godfathers leaving his people impoverished.
Is it any wonder therefore why some state officials stubbornly ignore the welfare of their people in their determination to make other people happy and contented, failing in the process to pay salaries to workers, failing in the process to take care of pensioners who are left to wallow in unrelenting pain and the anguish occasioned by penury. Is it any wonder?
Journalists who had been schooled in the libertarian theory of the press recognise that the welfare of the people is the prime reason for the existence of government all over the world, except possibly in the authoritarian regimes, which are beginning to wither away by the attrition of nature. Governments exist to secure the lives and property of the people, promote their well-being and create the necessary environment for people’s innate capacities to flourish.
And journalists, constituting the fourth estate of the realm, have a constitutional responsibility, using their various media, the radio, the television and the press, to hold governments accountable to the people. Coming from this liberal background, the likes of Segun Osoba and his predecessors were fully equipped, morally and intellectually, to run people-oriented governments with social services like health, education, housing, provision of portable water and other infrastructural developments given priority attention.
Mr. Osoba didn’t lose sight of this and he says so in his memoir: “I hold that a government with focus and well defined work processes and procedures will find governance challenging but fulfilling. When I was sworn into office on May 29, 1999, the state was indebted to virtually every sector and stakeholder: civil servants, primary and secondary school teachers, pensioners, contractors etc. There was pain and tension in the land. To ease things, we devoted about 70 per cent of the revenue of the first six months to settling debts. To conserve funds I cut down running costs to the ministries and departments.”
Common to Governor Jakande and Governor Osoba was modesty in office. Both of them lived in their private houses with less overhead costs, devoid of any ostentation. Those who, by the nature of their profession, provide constructive criticisms to officialdom, live with the burden of practising what they preach. This business of walking the talk is even more imperative especially for those who come to office with names to protect. At every point of their sojourn in government houses, this must have been uppermost on their minds.
Osoba, in my view, succeeded largely because he brought into government the formula that worked for him as a newspaper administrator, reporter, editor and a great social mixer.