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Friday, 9 September 2016

COLUMNISM: A JOURNEY THROUGH COMMENTARY IN NIGERIAN NEWSPAPERS


First, a confession: I am a sucker for the written word –beautifully crafted words. With the kind of acumen many students reserved for Mathematics and English Language, I devoured stuff written by Nigerian newspaper columnists all through my elementary school days, through my years at the College. Perhaps, I would have had better grades in secondary school if I had devoted a substantial part of my time (and my brain too!) to studying school texts rather than following newspaper columnists. The decision to study Mass Communication, and ultimately Journalism, has its root in this rather weird antecedent.



Now, I must say that if you are a columnist, I do not need to agree with you or your submission. My mind is an open field of ideas where zillions can dwell without chaos. Just give me an incisive analysis, brewed with beautiful, orgasm-inducing sentences and you already have me as a follower.

So, my romance with Newspaper/Newsmagazine columnists began in my elementary/secondary school days when I would stay glued to very old editions of Drum and Spear magazines, which were subscribed to by my newspaper-loving uncle, “egbon Dele”. Then old and contemporary editions of daily newspapers such as Daily Times, Sketch, Tribune, New Nigeria and Concord were also a delight to read as I became educated on the various ideologies of our political elites, in their attempt to convince –and ultimately confuse!– the Nigerian people.

In the Nigerian Tribune, I discovered Tai Solarin’s ‘State of the Nation’, ‘Ayekooto’ by Bisi Onabanjo as well as ‘Periscope’. I also discovered ‘Wakabout’, a column in the Lagos Weekend, then the most popular weekend paper. There was Ndaeyo Uko’s column in the Daily Times which was a blend of humor, satire and beautiful prose; Doyin Osagie-Okojie’s Vanguard column titled ‘Lipstick’ as well as Doyin’s husband, Chris Okojie’s column on the back page of Vanguard newspaper, titled ‘Outraged’.

The late 80’s and early 90’s witnessed the boom of soft-sell magazines like Prime People, Vintage People, TopLife, Hearts, Heritage, Hints, Hentertainment, Sweetheart among others. Writers of note in this genre are those who dealt with music, movie, entertainment, fashion and showbizz from a sensual, less-serious and fascinating perspective. There was Toni Kan and his risqué lines in HINTS Magazine. And there was Reuben Abati, too, in HINTS. There were genuine articles like Helon Habila, Goke Jaiyesimi, Maria Adejare, Kemi Koleosho and Kayode Ajala.
The late May Ellen Ezekiel’s ‘MEE and You’ column in Classique magazine also thrilled me, and of course, Richard Mofe-Damijo’s ‘Adlib’ column. Entertainment and fashion magazines like Fame, Global Excellence, Treasure, City People and Climax also thrilled me and I grew to like the writings of Femi Akintunde Johnson (FAJ Live), Seye Kehinde, Bode olowojoku, Mayor Akinpelu, Dele Momodu ‘Bob Dee’ (PENdulum), Steve Adikaibe, Ojo Oriolowo and Funke Egbemode.

The period of oppression under the tyrannical regimes of Buhari (déjà vu!), Babangida and, the very one I witnessed as a teenager with some level of consciousness, Abacha, created a lot of psychological challenges for teenagers like me. There and then at Igando, I would haul sacks of sawdust from the Alimosho Multipurpose complex down to our house, all in a bid to ‘power’ our ‘Abacha stove’. The psychological oppression was real. But we were practically helpless. We only had ‘soldiers’ in columnists who took on the government on behalf of the rest of us. It was therefore plausible that one would be less fascinated by beautiful prose and become more concerned with punchy, no-holds-bared submissions detailing our fears and anxieties. I read many stuff by the fearless Dele Giwa, whom I never met alive. Dare Babarinsa of TELL magazine was the numero uno of style; ditto Kunle Bakare, Wale Olomu, Tosan(Motoring), Desola Bakare and Kunle Ajibade of The News.
There were others: Yakubu Mohammed, Ray Ekpu,Bayo Onanuga, Dan Agbese, Dapo Olorunyomi, Okey Ndibe, Sonala Olumhense, Paul Nwabuikwu (before he joined government and disappeared from the radar), Peter Claver Oparah, Luke Onyeakakah, and Levi Obijiofor. There was Edwin Madunagwu, Odia Ofeimun, Biodun Jeyifo, Michael Egbejumi-David, Mobolaji Aluko, Stanley Macebuh, G.G Dara and Godwin Agbroko.

In contemporary times, THE NATION newspaper arguably parades the most incisive set of columnists. There is Sam Omatseye, the irreverent critic whose poetic style is a delight…anyday, antime! There is Olatunji Dare, the master satirist; Olakunle Abimbola, that amazingly brilliant, witty writer; ‘Sheikh’ Mohammed Haruna, the mobile encyclopedia of newspapering; Ambassador Dapo Fafowora; Segun Gbadegesin, the culture icon; as well as Gbenga Omotoso, the humorist. There are others: Tatalo Alamu (Snooper), Idowu Akinlotan (Palladium), Segun Ayobolu, Femi Orebe, Femi Abass, Jide Osuntokun, Waheed Odusile, Steve Osuji, Yomi Odunuga, Femi Macaulay and Ropo Sekoni.

Before we witnessed that infamous editorial kerfuffle at PUNCH, I had favourites in Wale Adedayo, Casmir Igbokwe(MUSINGS), Azubuike Ishiekwene(AZU), Joseph Adeyeye (that dude who, twice or more sef, referenced our very own Nairaland!), Baba Tunde Fagbenle, Doyin Abiola(Sunday Punch), Jonathan Power(that Oyinbo man with big vocabs!)and Gani Fawehinmi, who also briefly wrote for Punch. Ditto Festus Keyamo. Today, I admire the writings of the hypercritical Henry Boyo, Abimbola Adunni Adelakun, Tolu Ogunlesi, Sabella Abidde, Ayo Olukotun, Niyi Akinnaso among others.

VANGUARD still has a reader in me because of the exceptionally brilliant, analytical and equally gutsy newly appointed DG of the NBC, Mallam Ishaq Modibbo Kawu, whose column has now been rested. The eternally ‘combatant’ Dele Sobowale, Tony Iredia, Ochereome Nnanna (Modibbo Kawu’s nemesis!), Owei Lakemfa, Odia Ofeimun and Kola Animashaun(VOICE OF REASON) are others I still follow.

Although while growing up, I had issues comprehending the contents of highly technical, hyper-serious GUARDIAN columnists, I had favourites in pundits like Reuben Abati, unarguably the most popular public intellectual pre-2011. Other notable columnists are Edwin Madunagu, that rabid marxist, Levi Obijiofor, Banji Adisa and the unrepentantly technical Luke Onyekayekah who wrote mostly on MDGs.

NIGERIAN TRIBUNE had Festus Adedayo, the immediate past media assistant to Oyo state governor; Wale Okediran; Lasisi Olagunju, earstwhile media assistant to governor Oyinlola; the Old (and not the latter day PDP cry-baby!) Ebenezer Babatope and a host of other columnists. Today, I still read Tony Afejukwu’s ‘In & Out’ and, sometimes, Aare Afe Babalola’s pieces.

THISDAY also paraded some of the most brilliant young intellectuals in the mid 2000’s. They include wordsmiths like Simon Kolawole (LIVE), Yusuf Olaniyonu (The Polity), Ijeoma Nwagwugwu (Facts Behind the Figures), Akin Osuntokun, Dele Momodu (PENdulum), Olusegun Adeniyi (The Verdict),Chidi Amuta, Bolaji Abdullahi, Waziri Adio, Bisi Ojediran(Tolling Bells) Eniola Bello (Eni-B) and others. Femi Falana also writes occasionally.

THE SUN also had and still has good columnists in UNILORIN’s very own Olu Obafemi(Reflections), the late Dimgba Igwe(Side view), Mike Awoyinfa (Press Clips), Femi Adesina (Kulikuli), Steve Nwosu (Frank Talk), Amanze Obi (Broken Tongues), Lindsay Barret(From other side), Shola Osunkeye, former CNN African journalist of the year(Random Notes) and others like veteran journalist and IBB's former Press Secretary, Duro Onabule(Today) as well as Funke Egbemode.

Northern Nigeria has always been at the receiving end of the somewhat negative misrepresentation of the ‘other’, occasioned by the dominance of the Nigerian press, otherwise known as the ‘Lagos-Ibadan press’, by southerners. DAILY TRUST newspaper, however, seeks to balance the equation with its array of brilliant columnists like Mohammed Haruna(ex-Media Assistant to Head of State Abubakar Abdus-Salam); Mahmud Jega, that master of colloquialism; Adamu Adamu, the humourist and Tunde Asaju, the satirist. Others like Sanusi Abubakar, Jideofor Adibie, Kabir Mato, Bala Muhammad, Idang Alibi, Garba Deen Mohammed, and Muhammad Al-Ghazali (Ghazalism) are beautiful columnists too. LEADERSHIP newspaper also has the irreverent Sam Nda-Isiaha, Hannatu Musawa and other informed columnists.

Today, I must admit that the quality of commentary and column writing in Nigeria has declined. What we call commentaries today are beer-parlour gossips written in the most disgusting language –-especially on social media. But even in the middle of this elevated mediocrity, there are analytical columnists worthy of commendation. May their source(s) of muse never run dry!

Olawoyin Oladeinde Olamide
A graduate of Mass Communication from University of Ilorin

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