The Unusual Ogbeni Turns 60 Years

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Lanre Arogundade, President of the International Press Centre eulogises a colleague in the journalism profession on his birthday

Laugh uncontrollably, have mouth wide opened or simply stay stunned in amusing silence while shaking your head!

Any of these is bound to happen when you encounter him for the first time; or even a second, a third, a fourth, etc, time. For close associates, you may say it is the occupational hazard of being friends with someone who seems to have been born with talkativeness, wit, sharp jibes and humour.

Sometimes, these natural gifts could cause near commotion, as it did on the playing field of the Catholic primary school, Osi-Ekiti, during the funeral party of my elder brother’s mother-in-law few years back. So great was that performance that we couldn’t resist recording the one-man theater even as we laughed and laughed. Town folks who had not seen him before watched in disbelief.

Those jibes are not often about idle matters. They are sometimes political for he’s a keen follower and observer of political and social events.

Indeed one mistake you could make is to assume that Gokus, Gokus, as we often call the one who would normally introduce himself as Ogbeni Goke Odeyinka, is a clown. You would be dead wrong if you do.

Indeed, my first encounters with Gokus was at the second Saturday monthly general meetings of the Lagos Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists at the NUJ Lighthouse on Victoria Island in the late 80s. He was a regular as he rarely missed meetings. He was easy to notice. He seemed to know everyone by name and he seemed to have punchy yabis for each and everyone.
I noticed that some call him Baba Fela and initially thought it was merely because he was a Fela fan, having now met him on occasions at Fela’s People street, Ikeja, Afrika Shrine. But it turned out that he admired Fela much more deeply so much so that he named his first son after him and his second son after Fela’s younger brother, Beko. Gokus is therefore Baba Fela. He’s also Baba Beko and of course Baba Bolatito his split-image daughter. Only the deep appreciated and stood by Fela. Gokus is one of them and one of the few who could authoritatively and factually talk and write about Fela. He’s probably more on the fanatical side and you would be incurring his wrath if you question his often stated assertion that Fela is the greatest Nigerian, dead or alive.

We emerged from those early encounters to become team members of the New Trend Movement of the Nigeria Union of Journalists and on the night that Ladi Lawal (of blessed memory), the arrow head of that movement in Lagos NUJ emerged the Council Chairman after a keenly contested election, we ended up – in the company of Baba Nla himself – at Fela’s shrine (where else? ) to celebrate the victory.

Getting closer to Gokus as co residents in Ijesa area of Lagos meant knowing him the more but the cycle became complete when I joined Concord newspapers where he was already excelling as Communications correspondent in the early 90s. In the newsroom he was always a star attraction. Only Gokus, Gokus, would be writing a story and still have the eagle eye to see a female reporter leaning on the table to chat with or answer querries from Niyi Obaremi, the News Editor. On such occasions, he would scream – that is illegal standing!. If the ladies fight back, he would threaten them with his weapon boastfully singing…….’ Union Bank – big, strong, reliable’.

As a jolly good fellow, it was obvious that Gokus would have good sources in the Communications Ministry. He regularly had bylines. And if you really think about it, he did have good sources as we can now reveal the state secret that he met his two wives in that Ministry!

As a witty jolly good fellow, Gokus, Gokus could not but have enjoyed mutual affection with Bashorun MKO Abiola, our Publisher whose wit and humour was more than legendary. On one occasion, they slugged it out, wit for wit. Gokus as Chairman had led the members of the League of Aviation Correspondents to Abiola’s house for his investiture as their patron. MKO was ‘money’, ‘kudi’ and ‘owo’ and there were expectations. Abiola welcomed the honour but was silent on the main question. The event over, he offered to see Gokus and his agitated league members off, at which point, Gokus roared into action. Turning to MKO he hailed: MKO Sir, you are Bashorun of Nigeria, you are Bashorun of Africa. They were about getting to the car and MKO retorted: Gokus, Gokus, ‘ma tan mi’ (don’t deceive me), I’m not Bashorun of Africa but Bashorun of Ibadan land, simultaneously slipping a big brown envelope into Gokus’ hand as he remarked further…. ‘Gokus, Gokus, League of Communication Correspondents…… PLCeeeeeeeeee’.

As a jolly good fellow who identified with the New Trend’s philosophy of journalism with social relevance, Gokus did not have to campaign much to emerge the Chairman of the National Concord Chapel. When asked to make a speech prior to voting, he stood up and simply said: “I am Ogbeni Goke Odeyinka, you know me and I know you”. He won with a landslide. We knew him.

He knew me. I knew him. Later, he was one those who endorsed my form and energetically campaigned for me to emerge as the Chairman of the Lagos NUJ in 1995.

I know Gokus. He is a reliable friend and he is very passionate about a better Nigeria. He detests injustice and hates politics of deceit. He has played a great role in building a radical and independent NUJ. He often expresses worry anytime he detects elements of compromise or abdication of social responsibility in journalism. I admire these qualities in him and I thank him for being part of our success story in Lagos NUJ.

I know Gokus. Sometimes when you ask him why he seems to revel in the unusual, he would say it is because he’s a Methodist and he has his methods. Yes, he his a Methodist and he’s an active member of the Olowogbowo Methodist Church, just as he’s active in the other post-service cathedrals of the green and black bottles.

I know Gokus. I know he is Ogbomoso born. But I know he would rather announce:: ‘Omo Eko lemi’. I know that Gokus knows Lagos streets and in a sense I know that Lagos streets know him. He does not fear them and they show him respect, with or without area boys.

I know Gokus. I attest to the fact that he’s an authentic African man.

I know Gokus. Like other friends, I’m happy that recent health challenge has not taken away his humour and his mind remains razor sharp. He’s bouncing back. He remains keen about socio-political events and he’s ever present on the social media.

I know Gokus. I celebrate him as he marks his 60th anniversary today, Thursday June 25, 2020. I wish him good health and happiness.

Gokus, Gokus, happy birthday. 60 gbosas for you.