The headline of this piece is almost a heresy. Unbeknown to him, our boss at the Tribune Newspaper House, Imalefalafia, Abiodun Oduwole, Fellow of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (FNGE) was known and called by his junior staff as simply Abbey. We however dared not bring this appellation to his attention. Abiodun Oduwole, Editor-in-Chief of the Tribune newspapers in the 1990s, was identified by that funkivised inflection of his name by his junior staff like me. Those who belonged to his school called him EiC, the shortened form of his title. Perhaps, that was our own way of taking our pound of flesh from him. Oduwole loomed too large at Imalefalafia that any attempt to deconstruct his mystique was welcomed. When his car entered the premises of the newspaper house, staff in the know of his entrance gleefully volunteered information to others that he had barged on the party of reporters who took time out to relax from their exerting duty by engaging in office prattles. “EiC is around!” whistleblowers announced. And everybody pretended to be at their worktables.
Last week Friday, EiC was 70 years on earth and his protégés walked up to him at an Ibadan event centre to celebrate him. That ice of the fearsome boss had thawed considerably. You could even throw banters at him! The junior staff of those days had become bosses themselves. The boss was so genial, so harmless, so de-fanged that you began to wonder what the matter was. But for the tiny grey on his temple, Oduwole hadn’t changed a bit!
Oduwole is a story I have told repeatedly. But for his recognition of excellence – apologies for that immodesty – I probably wouldn’t be what I am today. Fresh from the University of Ibadan in 1995 as a graduate student of the Department of Political Science, with over a hundred published works, Oduwole had recognized me. As he leafed through my published works in virtually all Nigerian newspapers, with one of his mentees, Sina Kawonise, sitting on a sofa and egging him on to give consent to my appointment, Oduwole had told Segun Olatunji, now a PhD holder, and the editor of the Tribune on Saturday and Sunday, to immediately recruit me. That recruitment is the incubator of what I am today.
Oduwole taught us the rudiments of journalism. He was a stickler for journalism rules and procedures. If you envied column-writing as I did, his Cock-a-too column was enough material for a mentee. Oduwole laid the foundation of what we are today.
So, on Friday, we filed out to celebrate his 70th birthday. Looking twenty years younger than his age, we did not allow history to stand in our way. He too was very happy that God had used him for our advancement. He had morphed from the youthful Oduwole, thrown hither thither by the winds of age, into an elder to boots, even becoming a pastor in a Pentecostal church. One of his mentees, Victor Oluwadamilare, summed up our general impression of what time had made of our boss thus: “If Oduwole could become what he is today, then no one is incapable of becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ,” he said. We all agreed.
This is wishing our boss, mentor and pathfinder, Biodun Oduwole, a happy 70th birthday.