Osoba: Star Boy @ 83 By Sola Lawal

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By Sola Lawal

“Speaking of prudence, I recall that no commissioner could at his/her level transact government business beyond N100,000 in value. We had the shock of Osoba treatment on the eve of our departure on May 28th, 2003. Gaily dressed in flowing agbada with various sizes, colours and shape of caps to match, we sauntered to his office to receive our “parting gift”. Oga, as we called him, did a thorough visual scrutiny of all of us as military bosses are wont to do at parades. Seeing this he knew what exactly what we wanted.  He shocked us with a staccato response:  “Se e fẹ́ kí a pín owó ìjọba ni. Kí a má lè sùn mọ́ lóla. Mí ó se o. Ẹ lọ gba àgbò kọ̀ọ̀kan lọ́wọ́ Commissioner Agric. O dabo “. Do you expect us to share government fund among us so that we lose sleep tomorrow?. I’m not for it. Go get a ram each from Agriculture Commissioner. Good bye. The rams, kept at Ministry of Agriculture extension , supervised by Alhaji Sina Adegbenro, its Commissioner, were gifted to the governor by appreciative rural communities across Ogun state.”

IT was 11: 15am. Date was May 25, 2021. Olusegun Osoba, an Ẹ̀gbá , Ogun state , High chief, politician and reporter extraordinaire , stepped into the precinct of Okemosan, the seat of the government of Ogun state. The last time he did was eighteen years earlier in May 2003 when he stepped down as the governor of the gateway state. Not once did he come visiting in the 16 years of the gubernatorial assignments of the duo of Otunba Gbenga Daniel and Senator Ibikunle Amosun. But now the celebrated journalist , boss of loads of other reporters , was being honoured by the incumbent governor of the state, Prince Dapo Abiodun. A fitting attestation to his first love – the journalism profession – in the character of a prestigious press center- appropriately named after him, was being unveiled. That the event was taking place in Abeokuta, the birthplace of Journalism where Africa’s first newspaper- Ìwé Ìròhìn Yoruba- was published in 1959 by Reverend Henry Townsend of the Church Missionary Society, was telling enough.

Expectedly, the event drew many contemporary greats in the profession. All attested to Osoba’s torch-bearing role in the media industry in Nigeria. He remains the only Nigerian reporter to date to have managed three national newspapers at topmost position at different times. First he was boss at Herald newspaper. Then Daily Sketch and Daily Times came after.  On the field , he was credited with mastering scoops – a newsroom craving of editors and a term denoting the hottest exclusive ground-breaking piece of news. For a couple of tension – filled days following the Nigerian first military coup of January 15, 1966, the then Prime Minister’s fate was unknown. Many top political figures of the period including Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto and enigmatic Premier of Northern region; Chief Ladoke Akintola, Western Region Premier and Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh, Finance Minister, had been declared dead. Shot by coupists. But where was the Prime Minister of the nation, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa? This put the nation on tenterhooks  for days until the young reporter from Daily Times, Olusegun Osoba , then 27, solved the riddle when he broke the news of Balewa’s bloody transition.

Ten years later in 1976 , another bloody coup claimed the life of then military Head of State, General Murtala Mohammed. It was led by Colonel Bukar Sukar Dimka who disappeared to thin air following the collapse of the putch. On the trail of the search for the top coupist, Osoba also beat other reporters to the story of the arrest of the fugitive coupist. “ Reporting is my life” , he enthused in his 341- page memoir, Battlelines. Other envious strides in the media space earned Chief Olusegun Osoba a deserving position of reference point in good journalism till date. Among many professional bodies he bestrides till today are Governing board of Nigerian Institute of Journalism, Executive Board of International Press Institute among others. My path dutifully crossed his in 1999 when Democratic rule was installed once again in the nation after a long jackboot rule of the military which started in 1983 when then General Mohammadu Buhari sacked Shehu Shagari administration. Chief Osoba had won the gubernatorial election of Ogun State for the second time in 1999. The first being the election that ushered him into the position on January 2, 1992. As he stepped in as head of the government,1 he pulled me along among others into the executive arm of the administration.

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The two Osoba administrations can only stand shoulder to shoulder with late Chief Bisi Onabanjo’s in the history of democratic governance in Ogun state. In particular this is in the unenviable manner the two governments came in on the heels of military pillage. Onabanjo came in after Brigadier General Harris Eghagha ( Rtd) in 1979. On each of the two occasions – 1992 and 1999- that he was sworn into office , Osoba took over from a military governor. In 1992, he succeeded Navy Captain Oladeinde Joseph (Retd). In 1999 he came in after Navy Captain Kayode Olofinmoyin ( Retd). Now this meant starting democratic governance from scratch, particularly setting up the legislature and the judiciary , two main victims of military rule. This he did in 1992 and again repeated in 1999 following destruction of these institutions once again by the military.

Many years of military rule in Nigeria witnessed unabated dislocation in socio-political structure , merciless distress in the economy and devastating attack on the ethos of the people. Consequently on assumption of office each time he came, Osoba shouldered the onerous task of total renewal of lost character of Ogun state. Evidently, taking over after years of military rule came with peculiar challenges ranging from retooling  the system of public service of authoritative command – obey mentality; revamping neglected socio- infrastructural collapse and , most regrettable of all, redirecting the psyche of the people themselves to the new reality of representative governance. It bears being remembered that sometime in 2002 in the count down to primaries of the Alliance for Democracy, AD, he had to personally supervise conduct of party primaries in each of the 20 local government headquarters of the state. He did a good job of it.  Despite these challenges, he left an indelible imprint in infrastructure, education, road rehabilitation and reconstruction, provision of potable water, rural electrification, accountability and transparency in government. In appreciation of his efforts in infrastructural transformation of their areas , many rural communities renamed their ancestral homes after Osoba.

Speaking of prudence, I recall that no commissioner could at his/her level transact government business beyond N100,000 in value. We had the shock of Osoba treatment on the eve of our departure on May 28th, 2003. Gaily dressed in flowing agbada with various sizes, colours and shape of caps to match, we sauntered to his office to receive our “parting gift”. Oga, as we called him, did a thorough visual scrutiny of all of us as military bosses are wont to do at parades. Seeing this he knew what exactly what we wanted.  He shocked us with a staccato response:  “Se e fẹ́ kí a pín owó ìjọba ni. Kí a má lè sùn mọ́ lóla. Mí ó se o. Ẹ lọ gba àgbò kọ̀ọ̀kan lọ́wọ́ Commissioner Agric. O dabo “. Do you expect us to share government fund among us so that we lose sleep tomorrow?. I’m not for it. Go get a ram each from Agriculture Commissioner. Good bye. The rams, kept at Ministry of Agriculture extension , supervised by Alhaji Sina Adegbenro, its Commissioner, were gifted to the governor by appreciative rural communities across Ogun state. Well, as they say, atal atal na im bad.

That was how we went running after rams in our agbada since civil servants would no longer look our way. It is noteworthy that neither Osoba nor any single member of his cabinet has had cause to be questioned by any of the plethora of anti-graft agencies in Nigeria more than 20 years after and three successive regimes.

Exemplary, accommodating, modest and a gentleman, Osoba attracts to himself friends and loyalists as much and as easily as he does sworn enemies. Trusting? That is an area his close associates heap loads of blame on him. His level of trust in people and agreement is, many times , suicidal. Till today, nineteen years after, all of us who served in his government blamed him for the defeat of the party in Ogun state. The story is that in the countdown to the 2003 election, desperate President Olusegun Obasanjo approached Afenifere leadership for support in winning South West in the coming presidential election. His outing in an earlier similar election in 1999 had given him a bloodied nose in the zone. Although he won the presidency, losing the region was embarrassing enough. So a deal with Afenifere was crucial. He would disarm South West opposition Peoples Democratic Party in all other elections particularly gubernatorial, paving the way for Alliance for Democracy’sDomocracy’s easy win. In return, PDP would get all the presidential votes. All governors of AD in the Southwest bought into the deal except Bola Tinubu of Lagos. In Ogun state, Osoba commenced a campaign for the election deploying all resources to sell Obasanjo who , in line with the agreement, also assured Osoba of not allowing PDP gubernatorial rallies anywhere in Ogun state. At every stop, Osoba would seek vote for Segun òkè ( Obasanjo) and Segun isale ( Osoba). Soon word started filtering out that Obasanjo and his men were not keeping to the dictates of the agreement. PDP gubernatorial candidate , Otunba Gbenga Daniel, was all over the place. Obasanjo, against the grain of gentlemanly understanding, attended and even publicly endorsed Daniel at the Ake PDP rally. We were apprehensive. Many of us sought an audience with our boss to argue the futility and self-injuriousself injurious toga the understanding has assumed. We should back off. We should run on our steam. We insisted. Sina Adegbenro, Agriculture Commissioner and nephew of Obasanjo came up with a trillion reasons – some of which are too dirty and debasing to state here -why Obasanjo should not be trusted. Akinrogun Osoba kept assuring us Obasanjo would keep his own part of the deal. Unconfirmed reports even hold that on the day of election Obasanjo visited Chief Osoba as voting progressed to get himself treated to a feast of amala and ogbono soup while his boys held us down at gunpoint at counting centres across the state. The rest is history.

By mid 2001, Mid term of Osoba administration, Daniel, already eyeing the gubernatorial seat of Ogun state had effectively warmed himself into Osoba close system. He even got himself a vantage and obvious placement in Royal Advancement for Development (RADEV), an NGO run by first lady Bere Aderinsola Osoba. While savouring the advantage conferred by closeness to the Osobas, he deceptively floated Gateway Front Foundation, an NGO designed to mobilise local folks for his aspiration. At first GFF looked harmless. Suddenly it started organising health programmes in communities , rivaling the state health Ministry. We started raising concern with Governor Osoba. Again trusting that Daniel was one of us and wouldn’t do anything to hurt the administration, Oga demobilised everyone till Daniel’s team was malignantly cancerous. He would soon decamp to the opposition PDP and became the arrowhead of Osoba traducers.

As steadfastness and loyalty go, Osoba has played his part admirably. At every critically challenging moment in the affairs of Yoruba nation when men, real men, were needed to champion the cause of the people, when self interest had to be subsumed under group sympathy, when personal gain must be jettisoned for the benefit of all, Osoba was there.

At the 1992 Jos Convention of the defunct Social Democratic Party, he led the pack of enforcers who ensured that late Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola won the ticket to contest on the platform of the party. And so the biggest prize came to Yorubaland from Jos.

Thirty years after , Osoba would help achieve the same feat in Abuja when former governor of Lagos, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, wọn the presidential ticket of Nigeria ruling party, All Progressives Party, APC. The story was robustly told of how he , relying copiously on the primacy of Yoruba interest above all other considerations, persuaded every aspirant from the region to step down for Tinubu who  eventually wọn the primaries. Earlier in the month he had deployed wisdom in ensuring aspirants to national offices of the party from the zone did not fight themselves dirty in full glare of other regions by voluntary ceding of the turf for one another. Abdulraheem Adebayo Shittu, ex minister of communication, publicly alluded to this when he credited Osoba with his decision to drop his aspiration for the prestigious position of National Secretary of the party.

And when Abiola’s victory at the polls was truncated , he teamed up with others in the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, to press for the restoration of Abiola’s mandate.

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NADECO soon morphed into Afenifere which became the nucleus of AD which in turn installed all the six Southwest governors in 1999. Barely two years after AD suffered internal quake, engendered in large measure by contradictions among the various dynamics within Afenifere. The party split into two faction. One led by late Deputy Leader of group, Chief Bola Ige, supported by four of the six governors of the zone. The other faction was championed by majority of old leaders of Afenifere, bolstered by two governors including late Ade Adefarati of Ondo State and Segun Osoba of Ogun.

What else can be fitter than deploying the boundless possibilities of words to celebrate a man of superlative sartorial power, who lives by the dynamics of the written words and attained dizzying excellence in politics and journalism, two engagements that delight in powerful use of words.

Lawal is a journalist and public commentator

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