CHIEF AREOYE OYEBOLA Ex-Editor, Daily Times
By ’YINKA FABOWALE and TUNDE THOMAS
Thirty-seven years after, Chief Areoye Oyebola has dismissed as falsehold, allegation that he was sacked as editor of Daily Times as a result of his negligence. Rather, he said his unceremonious removal was a result of high-wired intrigues by Aremo Segun Osoba and Alhaji Babatunde Jose. Osoba was Areoye’s deputy while the late Jose was the managing director of the Daily Times. According to official sources, Areoye was fired because he was not at his duty post to produce the newspaper on the day Murtala Mohammed led a putsch against General Yakubu Gowon.
But speaking to ICON in Ibadan, Areoye said it was not true that he was missing in action on a coup day. He blamed Osoba for his travail
“Osoba betrayed me. I gave him all the support and love as my deputy, but he didn’t reciprocate my good gestures to him,” he said.
In this interview, the second in two weeks, Areoye in an effort to set the records straight noted: “It is not my removal that pained me, but the circumstances, and the falsehood being peddled that I was missing in action on the day of the coup.”
A development happened in Daily Times, you were removed probably because of poor judgment, in that you were found missing on a coup day, what exactly happened on that day sir?
Thank you. This is nothing but a total fabrication that I went missing on a coup day. Thank you for the opportunity given me to state my own side of the story.
The argument was that you are supposed, as an editor, to have deployed your reporters on the coup day, but that it was your deputy then, Chief Olusegun Osoba, that took charge, and used his own initiative to lead with the coup story which the Daily Times carried the following day.
This is nothing but total falsehood, and this falsehood has been spread over the years all over the place. During a recent interview I had on BCOS TV, I explained in detail what transpired that day.
Let me start by saying that on the day I was appointed editor of Daily Times, people were coming to congratulate me. This was in 1972. One person came to me, he was among those that were congratulating me. But he waited while others had dispersed, and he said, ‘Mr. Oyebola, I congratulate you once again, but note it that Alhaji Babatunde Jose has a sinister motive by making Segun Osoba your deputy.’ I was surprised. But the man quickly followed by saying that time will tell whether what he told me was true or not.
From that day till I left the seat of Daily Times editor, Osoba decided to operate on a parallel line with mine. You know that parallel lines don’t meet, and when that person told me that the motive of Jose was doubtful. The fellow who gave this information was an old fellow, and he had been part of the Daily Times system for a long time. He had been there with Jose, Osoba and others.
As a human being, what he said touched me. I wondered why Alhaji Jose wanted to do this against me. But as a committed Christian, I knelt down in my office, and told Jesus Christ to take control. That whatever might be Jose’s motive against me would come to nothing.
After the prayers, I refused to be bothered again. Not long after I was appointed editor, I started preaching at revivals in Mushin. The Daily Times management didn’t know about it, but I continued attending the fellowship and revivals at Mushin. Mushin at that time was a rough area. I later started distributing tracts about Jesus Christ, and the words of the gospel both in Mushin, and later in the office.
One thing surprised me greatly one day, Alhaji Jose made photocopies, about 200 of my tracts, and was distributing them.
One of those people he gave later came to inform me, and said, ‘Editor, are these tracts by you?’ I replied the fellow that Jose was a top leader in the Ansar-u-Deen Movement, but how come he was distributing my tracts? I then went to his office, and said, Alhaji, you are distributing my tracts, how come? He then said, Mr. Oyebola, if that is your strength, it is worth being looked into. I left it at that and went out of his office.
But coming to the day of the coup, I told you Osoba and myself, we don’t see eye to eye, and I will tell you something he did that you will know that he disliked me, and he was digging holes around me.
In 1973, when the University of Ibadan was 70, I was 25, Chief Obafemi Awolowo was made the guest speaker for the occasion. This was during the university’s Alumni Association dinner event. On that occasion, I was on leave, and I had travelled out of the country, but I was informed that Awolowo in his speech during the event said among other things that University of Ibadan has produced so many good people that had dominated journalism, both print and electronic media. He added that two names readily come to his mind in this regard- Messrs Areoye Oyebola, and Adamu Ciroma.
Awolowo further added that paradoxically, Ciroma and I had many things in common, that we are shy, quiet, and unassuming, but that we are formidable in wielding the pen. But do you know that Osoba who was my deputy killed that story. That great testimonial for me and my good friend Adamu Ciroma, Segun Osoba killed the story. Only New Nigerian and Nigerian Tribune published that story. What further evidence of hatred and malice of Osoba towards me do you need again?
Let me tell you this again; on the day of the coup, it took place early in the morning. It was a dawn coup announcement. I was in office till around 5.30 p.m. Until I left the office in the evening, Osoba was nowhere to be found. All the rubbish people have been saying against me on this are fabrications. They are rubbish. Jose had malice against me. He grudged me for a supposed wrong I did to him which was not true.
What was that?
No, I won’t say it. On the day of the coup, I was in the office with other members of staff. How can people say I abandoned my post? How can people say I was missing in action?
Obasanjo, when he was a member of the then Supreme Military Council, confided in me that he was going to lead some military officers to take over American Embassy at Race Course in Lagos. I was there with him till 1.30 a.m., and I refused to go even when Osoba who I took along with me, and others were saying that I should go home. But I insisted on staying with them being the leader of the team. I went on that risky assignment knowing fully well that there could be stray bullets or exchange of gunfire between Nigerian soldiers and security officers attached to US embassy.
I refused to leave until we produced the paper carrying that story and circulated the first edition. How can you now say I abandon my duty?
Then, when we produced the paper, that was the first edition of the day the coup took place, I didn’t see Osoba. He was not around in the office. May be he and Jose were planning what they would do against me and unfortunately, circumstances worked in their favour.
By the time I got to my house in Surulere, I discovered that the people who announced the military take over made a fundamental mistake. I later went to Dodan Barracks very early the following morning before coming to the office to face Jose’s persecution.
At Dodan Barracks, I met all the senior military officers and told them that they had made a fundamental mistake. Babangida, Obasanjo, and others were there. I told them that the announcer of the coup should have exempted some category of workers like nurses, journalists, and others on essential duties rather than the blanket order clamped on Nigerian populace. What the military officers now did, although belatedly, was to give me a letter exempting Daily Times from the no movement order.
But on that day, what happened was that when I got to my house that evening, my official car was undergoing routine maintenance. A cab was hired for me to take me to the house. The cab driver promised to come back later around 6.30 p.m. to pick me.
However, by this time, the restriction order had been put in place, and there was no way the driver could come to my house to pick me again. This was how I became stranded. The cab driver later apologised to me profusely.
In desperation, I started trekking to office. I had walked for almost half a kilometre, and was approaching Eric Moore, when a security man approached me, and said: ‘Sir, where are you going?’ I told him my predicament, adding that I was on my way to my office. But he advised me against taking the risk. He said I should not allow myself to get killed. I then came back to my house.
But this will, however, interest you; before I left the office, other key members of staff crucial to production including the night editor, were all there. The night news editor and the production editor were all there. Everybody was there fully before I left for home.
That was the night editor, Chief Ayo Adefolaju, who is now late. Others were furious that why would anybody complain that I was not around. They openly grumbled that if I were not around, that wouldn’t the paper be published?
Surprisingly, the following morning at 7 a.m., Osoba surfaced in my house having known what he had done, or the things he perpetrated against me with Jose. He came to my house at Lucina Joseph Street, Surulere, and he said: ‘Editor, I know you are somebody with high sense of responsibility and you are a courageous man, when I didn’t see you, I was worried and disturbed, and I sent a scooter rider to come to fetch you but he was turned back at the Lagos end of Eko bridge.’
Was there no phone then?
The military people had ensured that all telephone lines were dead. There was no signal. But while Osoba was saying all these to me, I didn’t know he and Jose had perfected a scheme to remove me from office. Unfortunately for Jose and Osoba, when the news of my removal filtered out, workers on duty that night became furious.
The following day, Daily Times was engulfed in confusion. Members of staff kicked against my removal. But, however, I am happy about three things people can’t forget all the time, the truth must come out one day. Papa Awolowo was so fond of me. He loved me. He said he loved me because I was bold.
When Awolowo sent for Jose and asked him that he was told he removed Areoye Oyebola as the editor of the Daily Times, Jose said yes. Awolowo now said he should confirm the following facts that he (Jose) removed me without hearing my own side of the story, that he alleged that his deputy worked to produce the paper. Awolowo now followed by asking him again, whether there were no night shift. Jose could not answer.
Awolowo said again to Jose, was it not the same Areoye Oyebola that I know very well, he was a fearless writer, when I was in the prison, Oyebola at a time went to Ogbomoso to stage a protest in front of Samuel Ladoke Akintola’s house – Akintola was then the Premier of the defunct Western Region, but it was the belief of many people that he was rigged into office. That I went to Akintola’s house, chanting slogan and cursing against electoral manipulation that put him in office.
I remembered clearly that Akintola told his aides, including security details, not to touch me, that I was looking for somebody that would kill me.
Awolowo now told Jose that was it not the Oyebola the courageous and bold writer that you say was missing in action?
Awolowo also told Jose that was it not Oyebola you removed that you gave double salary increment because he used his own initiative when you sent him on assignment to Ghana to cover Kwame Nkrumah’s burial, but was able to maneouvre his way to Conakry with the help of S. G. Ikoku to cover unfolding events in Guinea where the late Guinean president, Sekou Toure, had refused to release Nkrumah’s corpse to Ghanaian government? He was sending stories from Conakry, which were exclusive, how do you now treat such a man like that?
Papa Awolowo told me that Jose could not reply, and Awolowo further said that Jose promised to correct the situation, and make me editor-in-chief of Daily Times, but he never fulfilled that promise he made to Awolowo.
Jose’s action, however, provoked a rebellion in Daily Times as no fewer than 95 percent of the workforce rose against him in protest against what they perceived as unfair treatment meted out to me. Nearly all the departments including marketing, editorial and production kicked against Jose’s action.
The protest was led by Prince Henry Olukayode Odukomaiya who pioneered Daily Champion, and the defunct National Concord. He is a great newspaper pioneer. He was a Director of Daily Times Training Institute when I went there for some courses when I was appointed editor of Daily Times. He was the arrowhead of this protest against Jose. The other five percent remaining members of Daily Times workforce could not raise a finger against this group.
The protests and agitations against my removal was so serious that at a point Daily Times could no longer function again.
Further still, Obasanjo and Murtala Muhammed later called Jose, and asked him what happened. They felt he was high-handed. They later felt that an organization as sensitive and as big as Daily Times, which was an octopus couldn’t be left in the hands of a man that was power drunk.
I was reliably informed that during Jose’s encounter with the duo of Muhammed and Obasanjo, they asked him whether he took his time to hear my own side of the story? I was told Jose didn’t have an answer.
They further asked him whether I had been queried before or whether I was a first offender? Jose reportedly told them that I had not been queried before. They then reportedly told him that even in the Army, they have provision for first offenders, and that if I have not been queried before, why did he remove me without hearing my own side?
The third question they asked him was: ‘What is the meaning of a deputy, so if Oyebola had taken dead by any chance, and the deputy did his work, would you remove him from the grave to punish him or what?’ They then told Jose, as I was informed, that the duty of a deputy is to act for his boss when the circumstances warrant that, and Muhammed and Obasanjo further told Jose that they were informed that Osoba, who was my deputy didn’t show up in the office until Oyebola left for home around 5.30 p.m., and that what type of deputy was that, that what kind of cooperation was I enjoying from my deputy? Then, there were no phone services for me to communicate with any official including Jose himself.
It must be Osoba’s guilty conscience that made him to come to my house very early the following day. Unknown to me, Osoba and Jose had conspired to do what they did to me.
It is not my removal that pained me, but the circumstances, and the falsehood being peddled that I was missing in action on the day of the coup.
At least, I had resigned on my own volition twice before. I’m not happy that Jose and Osoba wanted to damage my reputation by pretending that I didn’t come to work on coup day. This was nothing but falsehood.
Osoba betrayed me. I gave him all the support and love as my deputy, but he didn’t reciprocate my good gestures to him.