By FEMI ADESINA
Hahahahahaaaaaaa. I burst into an uproarious laughter as I write the headline above. What a way to celebrate your boss, mentor, an icon, and your journalistic dad at 70.
Yes, Mike Awoyinfa, editor of the celebrated Weekend Concord, and pioneer Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief of The Sun, which hit the newspaper market like a tornado in 2003 under the payoff, ‘Nigeria’s King of the Tabloids,’ turns 70 on July 23, 2022. The ever youthful Awoyinfa, with the luxuriant mustache back in those days, is now a senior citizen. To God be the glory.
I remember a tribute he did to me in June, 2015, a couple of weeks after my appointment as media adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari. It was under the headline, ‘Femi Adesina: The world is his laughter,’ and he described me as his son, brother and friend, “man of laughter and a man of peace.” Yes, I am a journalistic son to Awoyinfa, for he taught me all the vital practical things I know about the profession. In fact, the only thing I didn’t learn from him was iniquity. Hahahahahaaaaaaa.
The deputy to Awoyinfa as editor, and later editor-in-chief, was Dimgba Igwe, now deceased. He died sadly in year 2014, knocked down by an obviously crazy driver as he jogged in the streets of Okota area of Lagos in the wee hours of September 6.
Igwe was cherubic, pastoral, a born-again Christian of the old mould. ‘Give me the old time religion, it’s good enough for me.’ But how he and Awoyinfa struck such perfect rhythm, that they were called ‘twins’ is both baffling and admirable.
One was staid and sedate, the other was happy-go-lucky, and a man of affairs (connotatively and denotatively). One minded the things of Heaven, while the other was epicurean, focusing more on the earth and its honeypots. But they did all things together. Virtually inseparable. They chased news together (Awoyinfa also chased other things, and I hope his wife of many decades, Madam Bukky is not reading this), edited winning newspapers jointly, wrote books together, built their homes side by side, and generally were always seen together.
Igwe was a pastor at Evangel Pentecostal Church, Okota, while his ‘twin’ at best flirted with Christianity. And that was why the latter gave him the sobriquet, the ‘Iniquity Man.’ It tickled me to no end each time Igwe called Awoyinfa so, and it was as many times as possible in a day.
Michael Ajibola Awoyinfa (to dress him in his full robes) loved his beer in those days. He was no drunk, no alcoholic, but a social drinker. In fact, he was accused at a point of deciding cover stories of Weekend Concord with Eric Osagie, his reporter and accomplice, at beer parlors.
But craving for beer often goes with other appetites. (Please, keep this piece away from Mrs. Bukola Awoyinfa, lest there be the domestic version of Russia-Ukraine War. But what doesn’t she know?). Because of those two ‘unholy’ appetites, the ‘Iniquity Man’ was named.
In the past decade, I believe our journalistic father and friend has reformed. He is now more ‘churchy’ and possibly with less roving eyes. Hearty congratulations sir.
While an undergraduate, I had religiously read Mike Awoyinfa as he filed reports and features for Concord Press from Kaduna, where he was stationed then as Chief Correspondent. Later, he was moved to Sunday Concord under Dele Giwa, where he stamped his imprimatur on the Sunday Concord Magazine, a pullout within the newspaper. That was where they met and struck their legendary, inseparable friendship that has remained strong even after the tragic death of Igwe.
Mike Awoyinfa became Features Editor of National Concord, and turned the features pages to a paper within a newspaper, with breezy, human interest articles. Eventually, Dr. (Mrs.) Doyin Abiola, Editor-in-Chief, asked him to pioneer the Weekend Concord, a true tabloid in content and design.
I want to write out my heart today, but many pages of newspaper will not contain my Awoyinfa story. I had gone to meet him one day in 1989, from Radio Lagos, where I was a Current Affairs Officer. He was still using the Features office of National Concord, preparatory to moving to the full Saturday paper.
I went armed with a piece on the creativity behind names of some bus stops in Lagos, delving into the etymology of the words. A young man, just three years out of university, I just wanted to write and write.
Awoyinfa welcomed me, collected the script, and began to read. He looked up, and asked: who wrote this? I said I did. He got up from his desk, went into the general part of the office, waving the script and screaming: “Come and see what this young man has written! You will become famous. You can write!” He was addressing his staff, and all eyes were on me. I was so embarrassed, and felt like crawling under one of the tables.
That was how the journey began. He then asked me thereafter to go to Pepple Street in Ikeja, where Afrobeat King, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, was like the Lord of the Manor. He charged me: “Do an impressionistic piece, with all the marijuana, music and sex.” I did, and it was the cover choice of the third edition of Weekend Concord.
I met Mike Awoyinfa as Features Editor of National Concord. Six years later, I was sitting at the same desk as Features Editor. He was editor of Weekend Concord for about a decade. I became editor of National Concord some years after. He was MD/Editor-in-Chief of The Sun between 2003 and 2010. By 2013, I was occupying the same position.
When I got married in Akure, Ondo State, in 1991, Awoyinfa drove all the way to attend. My delight to celebrate this clean, crisp writer, master of creative headlines, lover of boxing, music, literature and Chelsea Football Club, as he turns 70 on July 23. And here’s hoping the ‘Iniquity Man’ has now fully become the ‘Virtuous Man.’
May the ink in his pen never dry. Amen.
*Adesina is Special Adviser to President Buhari on Media and Publicity