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Exit of ‘a lion in winter’

Posted by By MIKE JIMOH on 2008/08/05 | Views: 2539 |

Exit of ‘a lion in winter’


One day in December 2001, more than a hundred members of staff of Daily Times of Nigeria, prominent Nigerians and journalists gathered at the crumbling newspaper’s premises for a unique occasion.

One day in December 2001, more than a hundred members of staff of Daily Times of Nigeria, prominent Nigerians and journalists gathered at the crumbling newspaper’s premises for a unique occasion. Anyone could have mistaken it for an Annual General Meeting or end of year party of the oldest national newspaper in the country. It was not. Rather, it was a special celebration of a man whose destiny is inexorably tied to that of the DTN, celebration of a lion in winter, as an audacious editor headlined his birthday then.

On that day, December 13, the frail, white-bearded old man whose hands shook slightly and was seated in the midst of adoring guests had turned 76, and relations, friends, colleagues and staff of the DTN had converged to celebrate the grand old man of Nigerian journalism in grand style. Governor Segun Osoba, serving governor of Ogun State then, was around to pay his homage. There were two or so other Yoruba governors in tow as well as VIP guests from the academia and the media.

To the last, all of them had come to celebrate the birthday of Alhaji Ismaila Babatunde Jose, often regarded as the father of modern journalism in Nigeria, and for good reason. Appropriately enough, the organizers chose the company premises where he was, first, technical trainee, editor and, later, managing director. For all his years at the helm, DTN witnessed a transformation that has remained unsurpassed in the history of journalism in Nigeria.

He was only 32 when he became editor of DTN. Coincidentally, his appointment came on December 13, 1957, his birthday. By the time he was forced out 20 years later, on account of irreconcilable differences with government of the day, there were seven separate titles in DTN stable, marking him out as the only editor in post-independence Nigeria to have achieved that record.

"For me the greatest Nigerian journalist since independence is Alhaji Ismaila Babatunde Jose," gushed Mohammed Haruna, himself a renowned and respected journalist. "He rose from the ranks to edit the Daily Times and eventually turned the company into the most successful media business in Nigeria to date. Under Jose, the Daily Times of Nigeria grew into the largest stable of newspapers and magazines in Africa, with 15 publications including the Daily Times, Sunday Times, Lagos Weekend and Spear."
By the time Alhaji Jose quit DTN, circulation had reached a record 225,000, a figure that some of the best-selling newspapers today cannot match. Also, he trained some of the best reporters who later achieved fame in the media. There was Mac Alabi, now an octogenarian, who started as a senior sub editor when Jose was editor. Others who did not meet him as editor found DTN environment conducive and tolerable enough, despite its being a government-owned newspaper, thanks to Jose’s commitment to and passion for journalism.

Born on December 13, 1925 in Lagos, to migrant families from Ondo State, Jose was educated at Lagos Government School, Yaba Methodist School and Saviours High School. From then, he proceeded to DTN as Technical Trainee from 1941 – 46 and then became Political & Trade Union Reporter for Daily Comet and back to DTN as Political & Industrial Correspondent from 1951 – 54. Three years later he became editor.
Fearless but not combative, Jose earned the respect of his colleagues, even from rival newspapers then. One, New Nigeria, a government mouthpiece, also like DTN, editorialized on the former MD of DTN who was forced to quit in 1976.

"The retirement of Alhaji Babatunde Jose, erstwhile Chairman and Managing Director of the Daily Times Group of Companies is sad news. For Alhaji Jose had been part of the industry for as long as most newspapermen can remember. He has given a generation’s service to his beloved profession and reached the top by hard work and ruthless business drive…He laid down certain standards and tried to maintain them. Above all, he ran an efficient and profitable business."
Not only did Jose run an efficient business, the saga of his forced retirement is documented for readers in one of his two books, Walking a Tight Rope: Power Play in Daily Times, published in 1987. The other is Towards Mount Arafat, an account of his role as a mediator in the Middle East as a representative of the federal government of Nigeria.

Jose was married twice, first to Hulaimot Atinuke Lamide in 1951 and, in 1968, to Azeezat Adollo. He was a prolific father – fathering seven sons and three daughters. He was similarly honoured with a sheaf of awards – foreign and Nigerian, professional and academic, traditional and religious.
But none seems to compare with that bestowed on him by some of his colleagues. Again Mohammed Haruna: "What this legend of Nigerian journalism missed in colleges, he made up for with his exceptional and intimidating successes, which were won "through hard grind" as a student of the "university of life. His educational profile is miles behind his enormous achievements in his journalistic career. His colossal contributions to the development of Nigerian journalism are unprecedented and it is to his credit that most notable practitioners of the profession, yesterday and today, are products of his tutelage."

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