Chief Olusegun Osoba, two times former governor of Ogun State and one of the founding fathers of All Progressives Congress turned 81 years on July 15. However, Osoba’s exploits in the pen profession, marriage and politics, despite five close encounters with death, attest to the power of the prophecy that led to his birth, writes Gboyega Akinsanmi
At a session with select journalists in July 2019, two times former governor of Ogun State, Chief Olusegun Osoba pointed out one factor that kept him going on the bumpy, rough journey of life. He personally convened the session as part of activities to mark his 80th birthday and the unveiling of his memoir, Battlelines: Adventures in Journalism and Politics.
Right there, he acknowledged the role of his father, Pa Babatunde Osoba, who according to him was God’s rock upon which his foundation was built. He, also, recognised the doggedness of his mother, Remilekun Osoba, whose unflinching support made his academic pursuit a huge success at the time only few had access to formal education.
As fundamental as the roles of his parents were, Osoba then revealed that his birth was divine. Before his birth, Osoba’s parents had lost two children, who did not survive beyond infancy. Obviously burdened with the agony of losing two children, his mother had a prophetic encounter with the Founder of Christ Apostolic Church, Prophet Joseph Ayodele Babalola, who by providence happened to be Osoba’s maternal uncle.
The man prophesied Osoba’s birth, a much-needed intervention, which the former governor said, put an end to child mortality in the life of his parents. He, then, told the session what his father shared with him about his birth and christening.
“At my christening, my parents chose the names Tanimanwo and Oluwasegun. But my father told me that the prophet advised him to stick to Oluwasegun, because he predicted my birth.
“Unlike the first two children of my mother, who died at their infancy, Prophet Babalola prophesied that I would survive all spiritual vicissitudes of life. Oluwasegun means God has conquered or God is victorious,” Osoba said, reliving how his father explained the circumstances that preceded his birth.
Apart from prophesying his conception, Osoba spent quality time with the prophet while growing up. He acknowledged that the prophet raised him along the path of godliness and righteousness. In the memoir, Osoba wrote: “Whenever I spent my holiday with Prophet Babalola in Efon Alaye, Ekiti State, I often went on crusades with him and on his missionary journey.” Now cruising his path to the club of nonagenarians, the power that prophesied his birth is still effectual and working wonders in the life of this illustrious Egba son. At every phase of his life, the power of God’s words that defined his existence had distinguished him in academic pursuit, profession and politics, having served in different capacities for over four decades.
As designed by his revered teacher, the late Chief Adenola Oshuneye, Osoba had wanted to study Law. He even secured admission at the University of Lagos to study Law. But when Osoba’s path crossed that of a former Managing Director of Daily Times, the late Alhaji Babatunde Jose, this singular episode completely changed the direction of his career, truncating his dream and Pa Oshunkeye’s plan to see him become a leading legal icon on the continent.
Against Pa Oshunkeye’s human design, he claimed, Jose persuaded him to take up Journalism and jettison law. What a decision! But why did Jose advise him against Law? Why did Osoba jump at Journalism? As the session progressed, Osoba could not provide answers to these questions.
But providence has settled Osoba’s case by the power of prophecy that worked with his mother, even before his conception. That, perhaps, explained why God brought Jose his way and used him to provide professional guidance for him at the early stages of his work life.
That, perhaps, also explained why the late media icon provided Osoba much-needed institutional support that placed his name in the roll call of Africa’s great journalists. He enrolled him at the University of Lagos to study Journalism, a programme that the university was offering then in partnership with the International Press Institute Training.
After completing his programme, Osoba’s career progress was unprecedented, a development that pitted his colleagues against him at Daily Times. Amid scathing criticisms, Osoba left Daily Times for Herald, a publication of the Kwara State Government. This time, he was no longer under Jose’s supervision. Yet, Osoba distinguished himself.
As former President Ibrahim Babangida remarked, Osoba was stubborn with extreme brilliance. These qualities, possibly, explained why he managed three newspapers – Herald, Sketch and eventually Daily Times, successfully. Under his management, Osoba claimed, there was no newspaper he managed that he ever collected subventions from the government. Against all odds, he said he made Herald profitable.
Osoba’s record in Sketch attested to his virtue as an astute manager, an ardent reformer and a progressive by birth. Osoba said: “I built new office complex and bought new equipment.” At the time he returned to Daily Times, the former governor revealed how the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN) had destroyed it between 1979 and 1983.
Despite the depth of decay he inherited at Daily Times, Osoba brought invaluable experience he had garnered in Herald and Sketch to bear on the new assignment. He said he was able “to turn it around to the extent that we were paying dividends to shareholders. Will a man, who did not know his left from right, be able to lead Daily Times profitably and successfully?”
In Nigeria, Osoba was perhaps the only journalist, who managed three major newspapers and made them profitable. Beyond making these papers profitable, Osoba’s management was committed to the payment of salaries as and when due and provided housing and car loans.
Apart from managing three successful newspapers, he was equally involved in the establishment of The Vanguard and The Guardian newspapers, two leading national dailies that still largely shape Nigeria’s public life. In his words, “Alex Ibru and I started The Guardian together. That was why he reserved the position of Managing Director for me for years.”
After a stint in Journalism, Osoba made his foray into the world of partisan politics, which most professionals often detest in the Nigerian context. First, in 1988, he was elected a member of the defunct Constituent Assembly. Subsequently, he joined the People Solidarity Party (PSP), which metamorphosed into Social Democratic Party (SDP). Since his foray into partisan politics, his progress was as unprecedented as that of his profession.
In 1991, Osoba contested and won the governorship election on the platform of the SDP, a political party the President Ibrahim Babangida administration promoted in the late 1980s alongside the National Republican Convention (NRC). But the military intervention by the late Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha abruptly terminated his tenure midway.
For him, it was a sordid episode that later turned nightmares that almost brought his life to a halt. But providence never allowed the enemies of state to axe him. Precisely, after the annulment of the June 12, 1993 election, Osoba’s position brought him to the forefront of the political crisis. As a result, he claimed that there were at least five attempts on his life, for defending the course he believed would help his fatherland.
After Chief M.K.O Abiola was arrested, the attempt on Osoba’s life started on August 24, 1994. It was around the period the pro-democracy actors were planning to mark Abiola’s first birthday in detention. The agents of the late tyrant overpowered his security aide attached to him as a former governor and then gained access into his residence without using any key. My escape again, according to him, was divine.
But before that time, Osoba had gone into hiding after being a witness to what happened to his fellow comrades in the struggle for actualising the June 12 mandate. The attempt to bomb the house of Dan Suleiman and the plan to set the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi’s Chamber on fire gave clue of the danger to come. Hence, he stopped sleeping in his own residence. If not for divine protection during this period, Osoba’s life could have been cut short.
Osoba did not know other attempts on his life until Sargent Roggers, the hit man of Abacha’s junta, gave evidence in court. Roggers narrated he was trailed alongside other pro-democracy actors by those he described as the agents of the late tyrant. But for God’s divine protection he has been enjoying at birth, the agents never succeeded in their evil plot.
The second attempt took place sometime in September 1995, an account Roggers recounted before an Ikeja High Court. This time, it was a grand plan to set his Abeokuta house ablaze. Like the first attempt, the former governor said: “I managed to escape because I did not sleep early on that day. I just heard a spark and smoke engulfed the entire room.” But he escaped it, also by providence.
There was another attempt to kill him alongside the then leader of Afenifere, Senator Abraham Adesanya; Publisher of The Guardian, late Dr. Alex Ibru and former Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Chief Bola Ige. Roggers gave these accounts before the court about all the attempts on Osoba’s life during the dark era of Abacha’s junta.
In another attempt, Osoba narrated how the state agents markedly trailed him on the road to Abeokuta. As they trailed, the military officers “at a checkpoint waved down his car and passed him immediately. Few minutes later, the military officers stooped his would-be assailants. As soon as the military officers stopped them, Osoba said the action of the military officers gave him opportunity to escape.
At least, five times, he escaped attempted assassination. From all indications, Osoba’s life is an account of uncommon exploits with the devotion to serve the people of Ogun State between 1999 and 2003. As an unrepentant progressive schooled under the tutelage of first Premier of Western Region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Osoba devoted his productive years to the task of setting Nigeria on the path of progressivism. Yet, according to him, Nigeria of his dream has not evolved. “But I am hopeful to see it emerge in my lifetime.”
More graphically, one of the national leaders of APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu captured the essence of Osoba’s voyage into politics in a tribute he paid to him during his 80th birthday. The APC leader described the former governor as an honest and open man, with unquantifiable contribution to the establishment of the APC.
Tinubu explained how Osoba vigorously steered the committee that drafted the APC constitution. He also cited Osoba’s emphasis on the need “to introduce disciplinary mechanism in the APC constitution” and attested “to Osoba’s undying passion for Nigeria.” Even when he was sick, as Tinubu said, Osoba’s main concern was the struggle for Nigeria and the APC.
Former Head of State, Maj.-Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar saw Osoba through the prism of a highly detribalised Nigerian, who by dint of cultured mind, managed and maintained highly sophisticated relationship across ethnic and professional divides. He cited robust relationship he had enjoyed with Osoba, being a bridge builder, in the last five decades, when Abdulsalam was at the initial stage of his military profession.
He said: “I enjoyed smooth relationship with Osoba. We regarded ourselves as brothers. This must be a lesson for all of us. While he is a Christian, I am a Muslim. While he is from the Southwest, I am from the North-central. While Osoba is a General in his profession, I am a General in the army. While he was the Governor of Ogun State, I was Head of State.
“Despite our differences, we have some things in common. We both have interest of Nigeria at heart. We both want the best for Nigeria. We both want Nigeria to remain a blessing to Africa. We both want Nigeria to move higher, worldwide. We both want Nigerians to believe in Nigeria.”
Like Abdulsalam, Babangida wrote that Osoba was “embedded with various talents for solving hard situations. He was one of the few Nigerians, who are ‘not concerned about the tribe one belongs to before writing credible information. He has a knack for unravelling the unknown. He was more like a bridge between the people and us.”
Apparently, from being a successful journalist to a state governor, different accounts have no doubt shown that Osoba, an Egba son per excellence and an ardent nationalist, who made his name in journalism, has lived true to the prophecies that heralded his birth; directed his path at different stages and no doubt will order the next phase of his life far beyond his 81st birthday.