Reminiscences: Hazards of Our Job

Femi Akintunde-Johnson

Arguably, every job has its peculiar attendant hazards that may or may not impair its success or effectiveness. In Nigerian entertainment journalism, of the 80s and 90s, there were man-made bottlenecks and such notorious impediments waylaying the reporters in their efforts to get at the ‘meat’ and bare bones of emergent stories – beyond platitudes served by promotions men of record companies or some professional spin doctors. 

 In these reminiscences, we shall dig back to some of the “iconic” incidents that struck lingering chords in one’s memories. Let’s start with the piece I once titled ‘Shina Peters’ Alarming Humility’: “Another noteworthy incident while I was in the Punch happened sometime in 1989. Jude Arijaje arrived at Punch as a proof reader in the same year. He was friendly and appeared to like the funcity lifestyle… so, we got along well. He was close to the children of the venerated jurist, Justice Akinola Aguda – Bola and Muyiwa. On a few occasions, I hung out with them…it was a rollicking fun time. From as early as 1989, Jude would regale me with their latest trysts at one fun spot or the other. The most prominent in his narratives was some sensational music and partying going on at the Stadium Hotel. “Aaagh… Ooounfo… Wale nfooo…”, and similar ditties, were a constant refrain when Jude was with me in the office. It seemed nonsensical to me… and when added to the fact that it was supposedly by Shina Peters, I reckoned it was one elaborate prank that the former guitar prodigy was concocting to hoodwink impressionable young minds. 

  One day, I resolved to go and see what was “flying” at the Stadium Hotel. It was not my usual hangouts as I considered it outdated, and therefore open to the roughnecks of the notorious neighborhoods of Shitta, Mushin, Ojuelegba, Idi-Oro, Iponri, Fadeyi, Shomolu – all those places could be deadly and unpredictable at nights. Stadium Hotel was owned by Highlife great, Dr. Victor Olaiya, and was close to the National Stadium, from where it derived its name. On that fateful day, we stormed the Stadium Hotel. Entry, I believe, was free so far you could get a table, and buy drinks. If well disposed, and your pockets were compliant, you could order peppersoup, or some other ‘barbecued’ snacks. 

  The music was electric and staccato in rhythm…pulsating and rapid in pace…sweat-inducing and infectious even when you insisted on not jumping on the dance floor. As a rule, I wouldn’t go dancing or partying when on duty, but it was pretty difficult to keep still, and unmoved when this fellow, and his young and boisterous group were pounding the night with suggestive and mostly slangy lyrics. And lo and behold, it was Shina Peters. I was mesmerised…to the grinning satisfaction of others who had listened to my croaking all weekend that their so-called music magician might be an exaggerated scam, or some overcooked ‘buffet’.

  When the band took a break around 4am, I supposed, I made an effort to get close to the band leader, and have a short interview. I was quite impressed. And I wanted to get a couple of quotes…in breaking what I believed would be a career-defining story. It was a mistake. I was roughly cut off from getting to him, and pushed off the performance area. Shina didn’t appear to notice what was going on. I don’t remember if my friends tried to challenge the affront. Usually, the name of The Punch, or a flash of my ID card was sufficient to gain access in most entertainment spots, since I operated incognito then. But not those Stadium Hotel bouncers, whom I suspect were drafted from the nearby weightlifting gym, and were itching to flex their muscles, and lift trouble-makers as bar-bells… to throw onto the hard streets of Surulere. They didn’t care who I was, or what I came for. Before they could get mad enough to fling me out, I ducked out of the hotel.

  I believe it was a Wednesday…and my production was on Thursday. On my desk, and in the flow of work, I crafted a fairly long story about the soon to explode sensational music being cooked out of the Stadium Hotel… how Shina Peters, like a Phoenix, was discarding his old skin, and emerging with new music, a new repertoire, and with his obvious audience being the young and upwardly mobile… blah, blah, blah. It was a highly positive and enthusiastic story. 

   Then, in my gossip column, I lambasted the poor mentality of the security personnel, the attempt to disgrace me while on duty, and generally abused the living daylights out of those muscle-brained chumps. I also flogged whoever employed them thoroughly.

  It was a quiet weekend. And life went on smoothly. On the first working day: guess who was at the Features department to say ‘who wrote that story?’ I was quite familiar with people who asked that question (with “nonsense boy” planted somewhere in the middle). I had angry artistes threatening to ‘deal’ with me, or set up shop to ‘yap’ me in the office, at events, or when visiting them – mostly for what I wrote either in the ‘gist column’, or in my usually blunt reviews of music.

  That day, Shina embarrassed me when he prostrated to beg me for the harassment I received a few days earlier at his show. I was stunned. Though he was not the superstar of the one or two years later, he was quite a handful of years older than I… almost three and a half years. The dandy looking fellow, garbed in fine, shiny apparels most artistes find inevitably compulsory to wear, did it once and again, even as I struggled, in consternation, to prevent him from embarrassing me any further. Why all that? I asked. 

  His response was simple, and understandable – which I had taken for granted. He said he had been in the media since he was eight or so years old, and had been burnt many times, even for things he hadn’t done…but that despite the treatment meted to me, as stated in the gossip strip, that I could still write what he felt was a magnificent story about his new music, and all the unbelievably nice things I predicted for him…he was overwhelmed with contrition, and had to come thank me for not being influenced by the unfortunate misunderstanding. 

  I just laughed – and assured him that whatever one suffered in the line of reporting a situation or subject, especially if not directly related to, or instigated by that source, should not, in any way, tint or colour the reporter’s treatment of the story. The reporter – and this also goes for anyone involved in independent and supposedly dispassionate observation of situations, scenarios or individuals… the reporting vessels should as much as humanly possible restrict himself or herself to the narrow margins of the particular assignments ahead of you. Avoid embellishments and ‘jara’ to sweeten or make ‘enjoyable’ the reading of what should be actual, real and ungarnished.

(To Continue)

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