He was not born blind. He will be 74 this year. Born to an Anglican Priest in Ilaramokin, Ondo State, Oluwole Falodun was actually born in Lagos when his mother came to Lagos for the Women League meeting of the Anglican church. Falodun loved journalism. He wanted to practise it. And he did. He later went into public relations. All was well with him until he was scheduled for eye surgery, as he was battling with glaucoma . He had it in the right eye, but the surgeon put the knife into the left eye. And he lost the two eyes, permanently. This was in 1996. Since then, Wole, as his colleagues and friends call him, has been trying to make the best of what life has to offer. He refuses his photograph being taken when he had not put on his best dress. “I don’t want to portray the image of self-pity. I am always clean shaven and in best suits whenever I am going to church or any occasion,” he said. He is full of praises for Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, who gave him a three-bedroom flat in Ogba and scholarship to his last child, who is in the university. Falodun says he wants to be taken care of in terms of his upkeep until he breathes his last. He also tells Samuel Ajayi his battle to change certain things about the doctrine of the Anglican Church, his family, journalism and why he will not like to discuss his marriage on the pages of newspapers
Turning Left? And it was a wrong turn…
Is that Samuel?” His voice echoed on the phone. Sharp as that of a wood pecker, he sounded upbeat. “Yes sir,” this reporter replied. “God bless you my brother. Kindly call when you are close by so I could direct you.” Muttering his gratitude, this reporter hurled himself inside his car and drove towards Abule Egba, a suburb of Lagos towards Abeokuta to meet Oluwole Falodun, ace broadcaster, journalist par excellence and public relations expert. Though Abule-Egba is actually along Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway and well known, but the problem was how to locate Falodun. “Turn left,” he directed. This reporter did but in actual sense, he was supposed to turn right! The merry-go-round continued until he asked a young man to come down and pick this reporter at the gate of the estate off the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway.
“Is that Samuel?” he intoned as he stood in front of the gate with his ‘guide’, a walking stick that is more than a companion. “I am very sorry,” he apologised profusely. He fumbled for the gate handle and opened it. When inside, this reporter offered to lead him by hand but he declined. “Don’t bother yourself. With this walking stick, I will find my way in. Just watch.” And he did. Even upstairs to where he usually sit inside the sparsely furnished sitting room. He expressed his gratitude again for searching for him and locating him at that corner of his own world. A world blurred by blindness in the last 20 years but which has not affected an intellect that is still as sharp as it was 50 years ago.
“Please forgive me,” he pleaded. “I might miss timelines because I have been blind for the past 20 years. I have been sitting there for the past 20 years without learning new things. So I might not be coherent as you might have expected. I remember things but I may mix the years up. Kindly bear with me.” And truly he mixed years up but not history. He remembered every era of a glittering career that took him from broadcasting to print journalism and then to public relations. His journey into a life of darkness started when he was billed to do a routine surgery on his right eye that was affected by glaucoma. Olagunsoye Oyinlola, then a colonel of the Nigerian Army and military administrator of Lagos State had offered to foot his bill to Israel for the surgery, but Falodun said he told the military governor that it won’t be necessary. How wrong he was.
The surgery that turned day to night…
“I had glaucoma and at that time I was the publicity secretary to the Lagos State chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), and also a member of the board of Lagos State Sports Council. I told Gov. Oyinlola and he made arrangement for me to travel but I said there was no point going to Israel,” the former reporter with Radio Nigeria told THISDAY. “I told him it could be done here and I went for it. I expected it to go well but it was not to be. It was my right eye that was affected but the doctor chose to operate the left eye and that was how I lost the two eyes.”
That was how day turned into night for Falodun “Bishop Awelewa Adebiyi, then Anglican Bishop of Owo Diocese, was transferred to Lagos and made some arrangement for him but the person who really took it up was Mrs. Ibadapo-Obe, wife of then Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lagos. She felt Falodun should sue the government for claims but the then governor of Lagos State, Senator Bola Tinubu, felt there was no point going to court as it may take decades to get the matter resolved. He promised to take up my responsibility and also pay the school fees of my children. He also said the government would give me a house. He gave me N100,000 that day and said I should come back after three months.
“But throughout his first and second terms, I could not see him again. His aides just ensured that I could not meet him again. All efforts were frustrated. This continued until Fashola came in and I tried to meet him too. But when my daughter was to marry in Ilorin, I went through Lai Mohammed the current Minister of Information and he gave me a paper. The following day, an aide of Fashola called and asked that I should send my account number. The governor graciously gave me one million naira for the wedding. But that was not what I wanted,” Falodun said.
Ambode to the Rescue…
One day, Tunde Thompson, one of the two journalists jailed under Decree 4 of 1984, called and asked him what he was doing and Falodun told him he was doing nothing. Thompson now got in touch with Demola Osinubi of Punch Newspapers and a story was done. According to the veteran journalist, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State called Osinubi after the story was published and asked after him. This was in July last year.
“Eventually, my children, who were promised scholarship by Tinubu, had graduated but my last child was still at the Federal University of Technology, Akure. In November last year, Governor Ambode called us and gave my son a scholarship of N500,000 per annum which has already been paid to him. He gave me a three-bedroom flat at Ogba. May God bless him.”
Falodun was full of praise for Ambode. To him, with the gesture of the governor, his last days would be spent in bliss and contentment until he breathes his last. He thanked the governor for remembering him and giving him a roof over his head.
“I want to commend Governor Akinwunmi Ambode for rising to the occasion. I thank him for the scholarship he gave to my son and the three-bedroom flat he gave me. It is a comfortable place and it is fantastic as I was told. Ambode is a true man of God. The Bible says let your light shine so that your good works can be seen and glorify your God in heaven. Ambode’s good works have started showing at Iyana Ipaja, Surulere, Abule Egba and so on. I cannot see but people are telling me. I appreciate him so much.
“However, I want to ask him more. I need money for my upkeep and also to furnish the house he gave me. I really thank him a lot but I need to keep body and soul together. Something to feed myself until my creator calls me home, which I know won’t be so long again. This is what I want him to do for me and I will be eternally grateful to him,” Falodun pleaded.
A Career so Glittering…
Falodun is a thoroughbred professional who went through the mills to rise to the top of his profession. After his secondary school education, he went to the London School of Journalism where he honed his skills in writing and reporting. He came home and was employed by Radio Nigeria as a correspondent. It was the beginning of a career that would also take him to Lagos Weekend, a publication of the then publishing juggernaut, Daily Times. He was to later go into public relations.
“I attended the 9th World Congress of Public Relations in Bombay, India in 1981 where I presented a paper. I was, on voluntary basis, the PR adviser to the late Archbishop Abiodun Adetiloye, the late primate of Anglican Communion in Nigeria. With all modesty, the image of Anglican Communion, which I built, is still there and it is being built upon.”
According to him, before the coming of Adetiloye, clapping, drumming and taking of photographs were not allowed inside the Anglican Church. Falodun said it was the paper he presented that changed that. And what actually set that in motion was when in December 1985, the then Chief Of General Staff, Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe, came to the Cathedral at Marina for the Christmas service. Ukiwe was the then second-in-command to the military ruler, General Ibrahim Babangida. The military leader’s press crew was chased out of the church and this got Yusuf Mamman, who was then a press attaché to the Chief of General Staff, worried. Ukiwe himself was very disturbed. Cameramen from NTA, Radio Nigeria and so on were all chased out.
“When Adetiloye became the Archbishop, he appointed me his PRO and that was it. We started the process of abolishing this practice. I must confess that it was not easy. I was called names and was insulted but we won the battle. Today, these things are allowed in the church and no one will say don’t take photographs inside the church again,” he said.
The Wakabout Column…
Falodun actually made his name with his ‘Wakabout’ column in the now rested Lagos Weekend. The column did not just come about. The then managing director of the Daily Times Group, the late Alhaji Babatunde Jose, had traveled to Accra, in Ghana and he came back with a copy of a weekend newspaper which was making waves in Ghana then. This was in 1970. Jose showed the newspaper to Oladipo Ajayi, who was then editor of Lagos Weekend who was Falodun’s year senior at Christ School.
“Dipo came and showed me the paper and asked that we make Lagos Weekend look like this, can you join us? I told Dipo to give me one week to think about it and after that, I went to him with a material and he said good Wole. This is what we are looking for. It was a satire, gossip and short takes written in Pidgin English. The writer assumed the image of a riff-raff who was living under the bridge in Oju-Elegba. In fact, there was a prominent Nigerian then who married two sisters of the same parents and this was not proper. The column picked it and was blown out,” Falodun recalled.
Journalism then and now…
Falodun said there was huge difference in the practice of journalism then and now. To him, journalists are lazy and untrained. Or perhaps, they have chosen not to train themselves. He lamented that now that journalists have so many working tools at their disposal, they are still making mistakes.
“In our days, we did not have these gadgets that could make your job easy. In my days, it was tough. I wanted to do a five-minute programme one time; I had to travel to Ipoti-Ekiti to have a voice insert of the late Mr. B.A Ajayi, the first graduate from Ekiti State. I spent three days. Today, I could do it on phone. But then, things were perfectly done. But today, you have simple mistakes like ‘comprising of’. That is wrong. Nothing comprises of. Diaspora too does not have article ‘the’. It is Nigerians in Diaspora; not in the Diaspora. Here you are recording me with your small midget (the reporter actually used android phone) but in those days, what we call midget was as big as that television. It used 10 big batteries. You have to stretch the microphone to the then head of state, General Gowon, to be able to record,” he recalled.
Falodun said he would not like to discuss his wife on the pages of newspaper. According to him, all he could say was that he was “separated” and when prodded further, he said he would not like to talk about it. When asked if the separation came after he lost his sight, he reluctantly answered: “after”.
Falodun might have lost his sight, perhaps forever, but his intellect is still sharp as ever. He remembers events even if he mixed-up dates.