Abiodun Adeniyi pays deserving tribute to Olusegun Adeniyi, Chairman, Editorial Board, THISDAY Newspapers on his birthday
The missionary zeal of the writer is always in evidence. This is because he sits on the thinker’s pedestal, juggling issues to fit for sharing, in a delicate process of ideation. In reflecting, the writer imagines himself in the fashion of one with an apostolic responsibility, the charge of the visionary, and the baton of the finisher. Not a few writers have been prophetic, or formed the catalysts for some reform, or even revolutionary changes in systems and societies. The writings of Russell Baker, Terence Blacker, Mike Downey, Tina Dupuy, or even the bigger legends like William Shakespeare and our own, Wole Soyinka, have been instructive.
What these ones have simply done is to elevate the art of thinking, of systematizing thoughts into columns, fiction, non-fiction, via novels, books, and in other formats, for the possible appreciation of readers. That zeal of the missionary writer sometimes also distances him from his immediate, material environment, enabling him to be elevated in thought, deeper in his dissections, and concentrated in the evaluation of situations he seeks to capture.
Watch him on a day supposedly meant to be his birthday, this writer, journalist and columnist never appeared like it was for him that a former minister, an agency head, university professors, journalists, reverend gentlemen, were gathering. He clutched to his laptop, like a toy he won’t surrender. He read and re-read a next column, and inviting you to debate it, just if you think he was ignoring you.
The man then suddenly jumped off his chair, beginning another topic in a book he is concluding, after another one, a short while ago. As more guests came in, it dawned on him that he would now have to quit the computer. Quitting it does not mean leaving it behind. He clutched it, still, and occasionally attempted to get the gathering to weigh in on the subject matter he was intervening in. Again, another hallmark of a thinker. Food and drinks were being assembled, and the aroma was becoming irresistible, but someone was here trying to distract us from it a little more.
That was the route of Olusegun Adeniyi, famed journalist, writer and presidential spokesman, for whom we all recently assembled, courtesy of the invitation of his dear Madam, gorgeous Mrs. Tosin Adeniyi, to mark his birthday, with elegant Mrs. Sandra Adio assisting. Segun, as fondly called, was the celebrant-writer on this day. A host of practiced writers equally populated his guest list.
Former THISDAY columnist, former UNDP Consultant, Columbia University Alumni, and presently, Nigeria Extractive Industry Transparency International (NEITI), helmsman, Waziri Adio, was in audience, just as another former Editor with THISDAY Newspapers, notable Chevening Scholar, and former Minister of Sports, Bolaji Abdullahi. Reuters and Tribune Newspapers’ legend, and now spokesperson for the President of the Senate, Ola Awoniyi was as well present.
It is better to imagine the outcome in a house where journalists, writers, polemicists, and scholars were gathered. While tempos hovered from the cataclysmic to the temperate, the topics migrated from sector to sector, somewhat provoking calls for a communiqué. The influence and mediations of Adio’s logic was palpable. A levitated technocrat who has successfully chaperoned NEITI activities to new heights, Adio captured imaginations from the prism of persons and personalities influencing processes and procedures. Through their examples, he located trends and possibilities ahead of time. Alongside the equally epistemic intervention of Abdullahi, it combined to shape focus towards redemption, to the path of progress and development, despite mounting challenges. And this was a birthday meeting!
But back to Segun, who, indeed, shares birthday with another colleague and thinker, a telling prose stylist, and publisher of The Cableng.com, Mr. Simon Kolawole, the meeting was in its elements. But more than that, my path with Segun has been coterminous. I share a surname with him. Through this similarity in surname, I sometimes always lose my first name, Abiodun, to his own, Segun, principally because of his well-deserved fame. The story of this occasional loss of first name is a long one.
First, the man, Segun and I began our journalism careers about the same time in The Guardian, in the early 1990s. He, however, was in the Rutam House home of The Guardian Newspapers before me. Soon after I arrived the newspaper, the upbeat Segun was on his way out. Before leaving, however, he had made a name as a crack reporter.
The lead stories, especially on politics, and related matters, were almost his exclusive preserve. It was a challenge beating him to this placement, in the right evaluation of top rate editors that included Emeka Izeze, Kingsley Osadolor, Rasaq Adedigba, Akpo Esajere, amongst others. Segun was a resourceful person. He was the type that could disarm a source, melt his stony paths, and eke out information, to the delight of his editors. And what was more? He delivered his reports in breezy, lucid and concise prose, making him an editor’s delight and even a benchmark for peers.
As a front pager, he was quickly a popular name, not just in the newsroom, but also to readers of the religious club of burgeoning The Guardian readers. This club of readers had gathered over time pursuant to a loyalty to the famed Flagship of the Nigerian press, an exemplar in the fine art of letters and a believer in scintillating prose-all epitomizing quality journalism. With Segun’s name already ringing a bell in the newsroom and far beyond, how would it be easy for another Adeniyi to surface? From where, please? Where will he start? How will he find his own identity?
Each time I filed in my reports, therefore, my name will be clearly spelt out on the manuscript. But by the time the story is processed and published, the byline would become Olusegun Adeniyi! It happened a couple of times, not because the sub-editors wanted to deny me of my due credits, or because Olusegun needed more credits, even when unsolicited (the man already had a deluge of it, anyway), but just that it then appeared in the subeditors consciousness that the brand Adeniyi has Olusegun as his first name.
Segun once became sympathetic. He advised me to go tell them at the subdesk that I was in-house. I did, and I had an absolution thereafter. That personal, first person experience was a witness to the conflation of identity, which is often inadvertent, often only a happenstance, and needing some form of genial negotiation, rather than aggression, for it to be resolved. It is the character of identity construction and deconstruction, which we have not come to terms with, even as a nation.
Fast forward to years later, far away from the newsroom one. Remember I earlier described Segun as a mobile person. His mobility is reflected in his meteoric rise in his profession, his adventures in literature, his long years of columning and his service to fatherland as presidential spokesman. It all translated to more fame, far beyond The Guardian days.
And like the other Adeniyi in The Guardian was mistaken for Segun, it was going to happen in the larger world as well. Through the years, Segun remained tenacious, had sustained his affable nature and had become synonymous with consistent journalism practice in the land. Everywhere I forayed career-wise as well, the question was regularly thrown at me whether Olusegun Adeniyi was my relative. I will tell you of one response shortly.
Other than the question was the fact that most of my bosses and colleagues often referred to me as “Segun!” Some would apologise upon realization. Others will not. Since I already knew what the problem was, I cared not. I responded to the calls, again conscious of fact that a name is only a form of identifier. You could also be identifying me during the calling with your gaze, your mien, or gesture.
Once it was possible to know I was the one in reference, whether you were calling Abiodun or Segun, I would respond. And mercifully the Segun in the caller’s consciousness is an achiever in many ways. I would therefore always respond, as if Segun is my name, instead of a now tiring correction. I know there is a very popular Segun in public consciousness, and his first name has become synonymous with every other Adeniyi. I always also react by congratulating Olusegun himself, anytime I met him. The man, in his trademark humility, will often discountenance the congratulations.
I hinted I would tell you about one of my reactions when someone once mistook me for Olusegun Adeniyi. Once as a Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) World Bank Economic Reform and Governance Project (ERGP) Consultant, I had a function with my boss deeper into the Presidential Villa. For some reason, my boss had unfortunately gone ahead of me. I therefore had a slight issue with entering a core area. “What’s your name again?” a senior security operative questioned from a distance. “I am Abiodun Adeniyi!” I answered. “Oh, you are the Olusegun Adeniyi?” he said in excitement, between a question and a statement.
I looked at him, thought for a second and wondered if he did not hear what I said, when I mentioned my first name. I again quickly thought this was an opportunity for me to prevent being bounced off the place, perhaps. I quickly decided to take the risk. ‘Yes, I am!” I answered. “Awww, alright! You should have called your name out very well naaa. Well-done! I like your column in THISDAY. Please come in!” Oh my God! The person in reference was not me, but here I was with a wild card. Reject it? Never!
I bounced in, straight into the meeting venue, relieved by the positive side of a conflating identity. The discomfiture in personalities had reared its head, easing me into a hallowed place, courtesy of sharing a surname with a celebrated person. It did not matter if I could come on my own, or if my identity card as bona fide Presidency consultant was flashed at the operatives. What mattered was the existence in their consciousness of a popular Adeniyi.
Anyway, on this birthday, I again saw a man with good fame, great network, and superb influence, but who won’t take advantage. Here was a man who lately did a book presentation, where nearly all the who’s-who in Nigeria’s business and politics attended. He closed the presentation the moment events were steering towards donations. That would not make us mute the idea of donation at his birthday, therefore!
Regardless, Segun’s birthday was another good day for like minds to get-together, to think through things, and to network. It was another day to pay homage to consistency, to tenacity of purpose and to journalism and writing excellence. It was indeed another day to pay respect to professionalism, and service to nation through the instrumentality of the pen.
*Adeniyi, a diasporic and strategic communication scholar, is an associate professor, and Head of the Department of Mass Communication, Baze University, Abuja