The meeting was at his residence at OYSDPC Estate, Akobo, Ibadan in Oyo State. The reception was a clear testimony to the humility and warmth he accords everyone that comes his way. Oloye ‘Lekan Alabi, the Aare Alaasa Olubadan of Ibadanland, a veteran journalist, author and a Public Relations consultant, was the pioneer General Manager, Corporate Affairs of the Odua Conglomerate for 17 years. He was also a Press Secretary to four governors of the old Oyo State from 1983 to 1989. In this interview with Femi Ogbonnikan, Alabi, who is the chairman, Adegoke Adelabu Foundation, goes down memory lane, and discusses several intrigues and landmines he survived while in the saddle as the General Manager, Corporate Affairs, Odua Conglomerate; coordinator at Sketch Press Limited, his sack from office as Press Secretary by Dr. Omololu Olunloyo, the NPN gubernatorial candidate who won the 1983 election in the then Oyo State, and his reinstatement by Lt. Col Oladayo Popoola, who became the state’s Military Governor, when Generals Muhammadu Buhari took over, among other issues
Who is Oloye Lekan Alabi?
Oloye Lekan Alabi is an indigene of Ibadan. He was born on October 27, 1950 in Ibadan, capital of the old Western Region (now, Oyo state) to the now late Pa Abdulraheem Oladosu Alabi; may his soul continue to rest in peace. Pa Abdulraheem Oladosu Alabi (alias Right time) was from the Oyetunji Oludegun family from Isale Ijebu and Ekerin Ajengbe family in Ibadan. My mom is alive and she is a native of Emure-Ekiti, Ekiti State, but her paternal origin is Agbede-Adodo in Ibadan. I attended Seventh Day Adventist Primary School, Oke-foko, Ibadan from1958 to 1963.
I was class captain in that school from Primary Two in 1959, class captain in Primary Three in 1960; class captain in Primary Four in 1961. In 1962, when I was in Primary Five, I was made the school’s mail-boy. Mail boy meant leaving Oke-Foko School at 11:00am every school day to collect mails from the Adventist Church headquarters at Okebola on foot. In my final year in 1963, I became the school’s head boy. After Seventh Day School, I attended African Church Grammar School, Apata Ganga, Ibadan between 1964 and 1969. Prior to that, my public acts of civil rights, demand and promotion of justice, law and order, tradition and culture, etc, actually started in earnest in 1967, when as a 17-year-old student of African Church Grammar School, Apata-Ganga, Ibadan, I wrote a letter of solidarity to Professor (then Mr.) ‘Wole Soyinka in Kaduna Prison where the retired General Yakubu Gowon-led Federal Military Government had clamped him in detention without trial for visiting the late Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, the then Military Governor of the old Eastern Region of Nigeria, who was on the verge of seceding the region from Nigeria. I also wrote a letter of protest to Gowon on his government’s detention of Soyinka without trial.
Upon completion of my secondary education, I became a village school teacher at St’ John Anglican Primary School, Akinajo near Ayelogun in Akinyele Local Government Area of Oyo state. Thereafter, I was employed by Onibonoje Press Limited in Ibadan in 1972, as the first editorial assistant of the press. From Onibonoje, I crossed over to Sketch Publishing Company Limited in 1973, and I was employed as a reporter/writer/reader. I was placed on the Yoruba desk, ‘Gboungboun”, where I had a column. The editor of Sunday Sketch, the late Mr. Philip Bamidele Adedeji -may God bless his soul- in 1974, gave me a column, later a page in the Sunday Sketch, making me Nigeria’s bilingual columnist in both English and Yoruba. My column in ‘Gboungboun’ was ‘Morifiri’ (that is narrative), while my column in Sunday Sketch was ‘What’s Happening’, by Lekan Alabi.
I went to the famous College of Journalism, ‘Fleet Street’, London in 1976 and I did my graduation in 1978. I came back to Sketch and resigned from it to join Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Ibadan. I was there from 1978 to 1982. In 1982, when the present Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State Television was established -it was then known as Television Service of Oyo State – I was one of the pioneer editorial staff, when the station started transmission on October 30, 1982. I was the first reporter to appear on the Channel and also the first chairman of the station’s chapel of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ).
In February 1983, the governor of old Oyo state, that is the present Oyo and Osun states, the late Chief Bola Ige, my boss and mentor (may his soul also continue to rest in peace), ordered that I should be seconded to him as his Press Secretary. I was with him till September 30, 1983 when he handed over, because the then Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO) said we lost that year’s gubernatorial election, which is a matter of the past and don’t let us re-open the past. Everybody knew the condemnation of the 1983 general elections. So, for three months, I was unemployed, deliberately, because Dr. Omololu Olunloyo of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) had been declared the governor and he sacked so many people at the TSOS and Radio OYO. And I was one of the unlucky ones but I remained unbowed, because the condition was that if you wanted to return to your former post, you would need to go and apologise, which I refused to do. So, graciously, God brought Generals Buhari and Idiagbon, who led the military in staging a coup d’etat that toppled the civilian government on December 31, 1983. By the first week of January 1984, Lt. Col. Oladayo Popoola was appointed military governor of the old Oyo State.
Today, Oladayo Popoola is a retired Major General of the Nigerian Army. He is also a lawyer and a printer. And I have always described this incident as the ‘eighth wonder of the world’. You know there are seven wonders and, I think, my own was the ‘eighth wonder’, because in February 1984 Gov. Popoola ordered that they should go and find the person called Lekan Alabi to come and resume as his Press Secretary. Remember the word ‘resume’, because I was previously a Press Secretary to his predecessor, ‘assume’ is a technical word and I became his Press Secretary and I served two other successors of Popoola, retired Brig-General Adetunji Idowu Olurin and the late Brig-General Sasaeniyan Oresanya. I was Press Secretary from 1983 to 1989. So, I served four governors, three military and one civilian, for a period of six years. I left the service of the Governor of Oyo State on March 30, 1989 and I was appointed the pioneer Public Affairs Manager of Odua Investment Company Limited. And I assumed duty in Odua Investment on August 7, 1989 and voluntarily retired 17 years after, as the pioneer General Manager, Corporate Affairs.
My resignation was not accepted by the management that was led by Dr. Adebayo Jimoh, who wanted to know the reason for my resignation, but I told him I had a plan, which God said I must execute and that was how I left. As we are conducting this interview, I am still in parley with the Odua Group. So, that is it. I must add that I got married in the UK where I met my wife, who was then a student. So, we got married in the UK at St’ John’s Wood Anglican Church, Lord’s Roundabout, UK on August 12, 1978, and we are blessed with four children; two men and two women and adorable grandchildren.
Did you encounter financial difficulties while schooling or your parents were able to pay for your education?
I was from a well-to-do family, because I had everything. My father was well off. My mom was and is still well off, but my paternal grandmother was a role model and she was the one in charge and I lacked nothing. At Seventh Day Adventist Schools, then they used to run a programme called ‘camp meeting’. It was something similar to the NYSC scheme now, because we would pay. Our parents would pay. So they would take us to a town in any part of the old Western Region and for those students, who could afford it, they would now put us in a camp and, for two weeks, we would be there learning about life, endurance, and etiquette, of course. And as Adventist Mission religion, they never converted any Muslim to become Christian.
As I am talking to you now, I am a Muslim and I enjoyed the period of the ‘camp meetings’. The first ‘camp meeting’ I attended was in Ede in 1958, and we had everything. We thank God. My father met the late ‘Sakara’ music doyen, Yusufu Olatunji (aka Baba L’egba) and engaged him free of charge. They were friends although, he was older than my father but he engaged the late Baba L’egba, Yusufu Olatunji, to play at my naming ceremony on November 3, 1950. The late Chief Lekan Salami was the ‘Master of Ceremony’ (MC), and you could imagine my father, the pure, fine, qualitative aristocratic family head, in what they call, ‘Omo Ola’ in Yorubaland.
So, you didn’t bother whether there was free education programme in the old Western Region?
Of course, I benefitted from the Western Region free education programme that was led by the late Premier Obafemi Awolowo, later succeeded by late Premier Samuel Ladoke Akintola, and the free education programme started in 1955. I started school in 1958, and free education, yes. But it was not free in all ramifications, in the sense that our parents bought books for us, because books were not given to us free and, mid-day meal was provided by our parents. On Monday, 10 pence would be paid to the school for the caterers, who were engaged by the school at the rate of two pence for a meal per day.
While choosing your career, did anybody mentor or influence you?
I should say this, my father was a staff of Daily Times and he served under Alhaji Babatunde Jose, and later Chief Laban Omowale Namme, who took over from Alhaji Babatunde Jose, in the then Western Region. He was a Cameroonian, who naturalised as a Nigerian and later became the chairman of Daily Times. Initially, he was regional editor in the Western Region and he sold his official car to my dad. The registration number of that car was ‘LA 9’; I still remember it clearly. My father started his transport service with that car. Eventually, in 1990 when my book, ‘Speaking for Governors’ was launched in Ibadan, Chief Namme graciously accepted to chair the occasion because he remembered me, as the son of his former junior colleague at Daily Times. So, my father brought Daily Times copies home everyday and that inspired me, particularly when I read bylines of great reporters and columnist and they put, ‘just back from London’, ‘Just back from Canada’ etc. So, from class three in secondary school, I started taking tutored courses in journalism. So, I didn’t just happen to be a journalist; I had Daily Times background and I deliberately studied journalism and I thank God, that I studied that profession, which, as I say always, makes you ‘Jack of all trades and master of all’.
You served four governors in the old Oyo State as Press Secretary. How were you so favoured?
I was Press Secretary to four governors; made up of one civilian, the late Chief Bola Ige, and the military governors from 1983 to 1989. Last week, I went to give a talk to students of a secondary school in Ibadan and it was one of the questions this young student asked me, because we were asking them what career they would like to choose. So, one of the young ladies asked that question and the answer I always give is this. It was those who found me worthy of being appointed and re-appointed that the question should be directed to. But if I am to answer, I would say, it is just ‘destiny’.
How did you prove your mettle before you were appointed and further re-appointed?
I was also coordinator and I thank God for this. I joined Sketch Newspaper Limited in 1973 and, exactly 25 years after, in 1998, I became coordinator of Sketch Press Limited and I was coordinator four times. It is on record. Four times and they called it coordinator, but actually I was doing or performing the duties of the Managing Editor/Managing Director. Let me say this, with due respect, anybody, who wants to practise journalism or media must first of all be convinced within himself or herself that it is a passion that is driving him or her into the profession, because it can be very, very hazardous. We work odd hours. We work anti-social hours and we are supposed to, and you must be ahead of the public and of your interviewees. That is why I said, ‘jack of all trades and master of all’. And, then you must ensure that, you go to a very good school, where academic and professional angles will be given. So, with all modesty, it was a passion and I happened to attend one of the best journalism schools in the world at Fleet Street, London. I was well equipped. Fleet Street is a famous street in London for media houses, particularly newspapers.
You had a long stint at the Odua Conglomerate as the pioneer General Manager, Corporate Affairs. Who were the god fathers behind your successes?
None! None! Let me say, please, I think destiny drives my life. Before I was born, predictions had been made and after I was born predictions were also made and predictions are still being made. So, like all men and women of destiny, in the world, I fit into that box; that it is destiny, certainly – it is not my making. It is not perfection. But as I am approaching 66 years, by the grace of God, and I look back and I say, Lekan Alabi, everything was beyond you, but it is God; nothing like that (godfather). And I survived all the intrigues, schemes at Odua Conglomerate. I survived them all. As we are conducting this interview today, it is still a marvel how God made me pass through the landmines, not only in Odua Conglomerate, but also in Sketch Press Limited, particularly, as I was there as coordinator four times. As it was at TSOS, BCOS, and as it is in life, there will be challenges, but one should just pray that God will always give you victory.
Don’t you have passion for partisan politics?
I do and it is still burning in me, because my paternal grandmother, Mama Asma’u Odunola Alabi, as I said at the beginning of this interview, my role model, with due respect to my mom, was the woman leader of NCNC under Adegoke Adelabu in Ibadan in the old Western Region. Look at it again; as we are conducting this interview, I am the chairman Adegoke Adelabu Foundation. So, with that background, and serving four governors, having been taken to government by the cicero of Esa-Oke, the brainbox, late Chief Bola Ige, who had every plan for me to play politics. Until he was assassinated on December 23, 2001, the question he was always asking me was, “Oloye, why are you not in politics?” But I would respond and say, “I would love to, but two things clearly scared me. One, it is too much money-driven. I don’t have such funds, slush funds, I don’t have. Since I want to serve, why would I have to pay through the nose? That’s the first condition. Second condition, I can’t stand the violence and the incivility, largely, practised by the Nigerian politicians of today, unlike their forebears or in Britain, USA and in other civilised societies. So, if they can make politics affordable, whereby the nomination form or whatever form is sold for, at most, N25, 000 then, maybe, I can find money for that. And where they will allow constitution and the fear of God to guide them and say, oh yes, you will find me on the field, but now, count me out.”
How did you meet your wife?
It is a long story. When I was a student, I lived at 82, Prince George Street, Stokenewton, London, N16, UK. She attended Pittsman College in London and there was a lady, a co-tenant with me (she is late now), who was my wife’s school mate. So, she (my wife) was returning to Nigeria and there were certain things she wanted to pass over to my wife and she now deposited them in my care for her. But before then there was a party in our house; another co-tenant organised it and I was the MC. So, somebody now came and she was pressing the bell incessantly, but the celebrant thought perhaps, it was a gate-crasher, but I said for anybody to be pressing the bell incessantly, he or she must have a mission. So, I went to open the door. Lo and behold! I saw this pretty lady. She said, she was looking for her friend and I told her, her friend had gone out. All my persuasions to ask her to come in that we were having a party fell on deaf ears. So, I said, ‘I will deliver your message to your friend. May I know your name?’ She gave me a wrong name. She said she was Tokunbo Williams. When her friend came and I said, ‘you had a visitor o, Miss Tokunbo Williams’! She started laughing and said, ‘No’! Don’t mind Tokunbo, she is Tokunbo Laditan.” She now left those things for me to give her. When she now came the second time, I said, ‘The things your friend left for me to hand over, are for a Miss Tokunbo Laditan and since you are Miss Tokunbo Williams, they are not meant for you,’ and she started begging me. Anyway, the rest is history.
Initially, did her parents object to your union?
No! They didn’t. As I told you, my life is driven by destiny. Before she travelled to the UK, her grandmother, when she was a young girl, told the father, Chief Abraham Adejumo Laditan, the late Seriki of Ilaro that whoever her daughter, that is, my wife, brought home should be accepted by the father. So, they said she was always choosy about men and they were afraid that maybe she would not get married, because she might become too finicky, sending them away, finding faults. So, when they got a letter from her, saying she had met someone she would like to marry, I think they celebrated in their house that at last. So, I was a welcome son; until Papa Laditan died, it was not a father/son-in-law relationship, but he was a father, o yes; because he had taken me into their family as his own son.
Were you a ladies’ man when you were young?
I will be modest, but let me say, that my father, of blessed memory, extremely handsome man, very, very neat, punctual, very, very devoted, if he could arrange for ‘Baba L’egba’ to play at my naming ceremony, you could see his social standing. I think I take after him. But I am weaker than him that I have only one wife and this is the 38th Anniversary of our wedding. We got married in 1978 and this is 2016, and I have only one wife. My father, at a time, had eight wives, while his younger brother had six. So, I have not been able to meet up with them there.