By Job Osazuwa
July 23 and 24 are unforgettable days. They were days of celebration and thanksgiving for a media guru, headline-casting wizard and the pioneer Managing Director of the Sun Publishing Limited, Mr. Mike Awoyinfa.
Last Saturday, his family members, colleagues from the pen profession, friends and associates cutting across ethnic, religious and political divides assembled at Twinwaters Entertainment Centre in Lekki area of Lagos, to pour accolades on the celebrated journalist, who clocked 70 on July 23.
But more shocking for the celebrant was how his entire family members, friends and colleagues were able to organise such an event without him getting a wind of it. On that note, the apparently dazed Awoyinfa described his wife, Olubukola, as a coup plotter, and the guests roared in laughter.
The venue chosen for the event and the setting by the organisers revealed class, taste and sophisticated creativity. The hall looks aesthetically into the Atlantic Ocean. The waves and splashes of the water were so amazing that it competed with the guests’ attention. It was a nature to behold. The arrangement of the hall and the artistic spacing left it with a spectacular flavour. Chairs with white covers were set around tables of ten with ash overlays.
As guests trickled into the halls in twos and threes, the disc jockey – Adigun and the Spice, was consistent in dishing out contemporary and yesteryears songs as the blasting sound from the speakers reverberated across the hall. The atmosphere was infectious as many people posed for quick photographs and short videos.
Attending the party, which began at exactly 3pm, was strictly by invitation. Guests were welcomed by about six ushers. In red decent dress, their smiles and greetings were sonorous and laced with respect – a sort of satisfaction of angelic grace.
Many of the guests looked elegant in native attire. With a variety of colours, ranging from white, platinum, silver to grey, women displayed their paragon of beauty in their dinner dresses and the men were not left out. But white colour dresses took the day.
Virtually everyone that spoke about the celebrant testified that he has carved a niche for himself in the noble profession. He was described as a professor in headline casting and an ardent lover of human interest stories.
Immediately he stepped out of the lift and saw the aisle leading into the hall, he sensed that something unusual might be happening. In a matter of seconds, the ‘coup plotters’ and other guests screamed ‘happy birthday’, which left the celebrant absolute speechless and open-mouthed.
Ushered into the hall with singing and dancing, Awoyinfa intermittently beamed with smile. As he saw more and more people, including the entourage from The Sun Newspaper, all he could say at that moment was ‘you’, ‘you’ nodding and some other time shaking his head.
He was quickly hurried out by his family members and to resurface in a few minutes already decked in blue native attire (agbada) and a blend of navy blue cap with black shoes to match. His joy obviously knew no bounds as he moved from one seat to another to interact with many of the dignitaries.
Some of the dignitaries in attendance were the former governor of Ogun State, Mr. Segun Osoba, former managing directors of The Sun Publishing Limited, Chief Tony Oyinma and Mr. Eric Osagie, who is now the managing director of ThisNigeria Media Company, one of the founding fathers of the Tell Magazine, Mr. Dare Babarinsa, Chairman of Channels TV, Mr. John Momoh, publisher of Ovation Magazine, Mr. Dele Momodu, an entrepreneur per excellence, Mr. Goodie Ibru, commission for Environment and Water Resources, Lagos, Mr. Tunji Bello, former managing director, The Sun, Ghana, Mr. Shola Oshunkeye, Mr. Ehi Braimah and Wale Sokunbi.
Leading The Sun’s entourage was the editor, Daily, Mr. Iheanacho Nwosu joined by editor, Saturday, Mr. Tope Adeboboye, editor, Special Investigations, Mr. Chidi Obineche, general manager, Operations, Mr. Damola Olajumoke, human resources manager, Mrs. Jessica Oje-Humphrey, senior manager, Internal Audit, Mr. Johnson Ogwunike and business development manager, Mrs. Nkiru Obeki.
Welcoming guests to the programme, Ibru said: “I got to know Awoyinfa closely over a year ago when I was looking for who is to write a good biography for me. I needed someone who could write my story and the Ibru’s family. And everybody I spoke to said the best man to do the job was Awoyinfa.
“Today is a day of celebration and not for long speeches. On behalf of the celebrant and his wife, I welcome everyone to this occasion. Seventy years is quite a landmark. Enjoy yourself.”
Speaking with Daily Sun, his eldest son, Babajide Awoyinfa, said: “It has been a wonderful journey growing up under my dad. He is a very simple man. He doesn’t believe in flogging or spanking his children, but he has ways of instilling discipline in us and calling us to order. He employed unorthodox way of training his children.
“We see him all night transcribing and writing, exclusive, creative stories, columns and the rest. We learnt hard work and resilience from him. He is our number one influence. He guides all of us on the right direction in life.
“He is a very flexible father. He is a dad you don’t need to wake up in the morning and prostrate to greet. You could shake his hands as say “hi dad”, and he would be cool with it. However, it doesn’t mean that he didn’t teach us to respect the elders. He just needed us to be free with him and the family is better for it today.
“We really surprised him today. I am glad because he is very excited about it. I wish him greater success in life, particularly in good health as I look forward to celebrating his 100th birthday and more till God calls him. I love you daddy.”
Osoba, who was also a journalist before he joined politics, said: “I am happy that I’m here because there is no way we talk about journalism in Nigeria without mentioning Awoyinfa. I was reading his interview in the papers today (Saturday) and he said if he had to come back to this world, he would still be a journalist. He is one of our own, who believes so much in the profession.
“It is a pity that Digba Igwe is not here but his spirit is here through his wife. I thank God that the legacy both of them wanted to build is still being achieved. I pray that you live more years in good health. I thank his children and all other persons involved in organisng this beautiful surprise party. I also thank his wife because I don’t know how she is able to cope with him and the boys; may God bless you.”
Oyima, who succeeded Awoyinfa as the MD of The Sun, described him as a blessed man, saying that God has given him well-groomed children who are doing well in their endeavours. He said Awoyinfa’s legacy lives on.
“Awoyinfa has proven that partnership in business still works in Nigeria. Over the years, a lot of friends have come together to do businesses but they failed. If his business partner, Igwe, was alive, he would have been in the best position to tell us how they both succeeded in business.
“We also need to celebrate Awoyinfa’s wife because any woman that can cope with a typical journalist for the number of years she has is an extraordinary woman. This is because of the peculiar nature of our job.”
Also pouring accolades on Awoyinfa, who is also biography writer and an author, Babarinsa said: “He just left UNILAG in 1978 and that was when we came in. And our teacher, Dr. Olatunji Dare, was always talking about how brilliant Awoyinfa was. Those were the days of promise and we thank God that Awoyinfa has fulfilled those promises.
“I thank God for your life because He has done so much for you. I pray that the blessings will continue from one generation to another, congratulations.”
On his part, Bello went down memory lane on how he was tutored by Awoyinfa in the profession while at National Concord.
“Those days, when Awoyinfa is reading your story and the moment he said ‘na wao’, just know the story is not fit for publication. We all knew him as a man who loved human interest stories and the paper sold very well because of that his perspective.
“When the Weekend Concord was created and Awoyinfa was made the editor, many of us could not work with him because we were more political than human angle stories. But the weekend paper did well because anything he touches becomes in journalism becomes gold.
“If we were in a country that truly appreciates talents, Awoyinfa would have collected many national awards in journalism. I celebrate you my boss and grandfather of journalism.”
Osagie, who anchored the testimonies session, said Awoyinfa is his father in journalism. He said he is a very discipline man who detests laziness. He described him as a spontaneous man and unusual editor who got his stories from unusual places.
He quickly recalled how the celebrant would drive him in his Peugeot car then in Egbeda area of Lagos where they would visit a joint which he called the real ‘people’s parliament’ to have a drink. In the course of drinking and brainstorming, he said beautiful story ideas came up that ended up leading other stories in the paper.
“He is a very humble Nigerian and wonderful editor. I wish you the very best and good health throughout the rest of your years on earth,” Osagie said.
Responding on behalf of the managing director and editor-in-chief of The Sun Newspaper, Mr. Onuoha Ukeh, the organisation’s internal audit manager, said: “MD who is not around but watching this programme live prompted me to also testify about the celebrant.
“Awoyinfa is a great boss with unique ways of achieving his goals while carrying everybody along. I remember then how he would be flipping through the papers during management meetings as if he wasn’t listening but when he said a word that usually made the difference.
“In him, we saw a great leader, friend and thoroughbred professional. His friendship with the late deputy managing director of The Sun, Igwe, is worthy of emulation. Indeed, there can be friendship that can flourish beyond boundaries.
“We are exceedingly grateful at The Sun anytime we remember Awoyinfa for his contribution to the establishment and growth of the company. The Lord will keep you for better years.”
Responding, the elated Awoyinwa said: “I was shocked when I entered this hall because my children gave me the impression that we were going to have a get-together of about six family members but only to come here and see this kind of miracle. How did you do it? I am still trembling; this is a miracle. I don’t know what has made me to deserve this with all the accolades poured on me.
“I am happy today being surrounded by all the people I would love to see in heaven in this gorgeous environment looking at the sea. I am so excited that I could not even eat the food they gave me today.
“I thank you my children for what you have done and everybody who has participated and contributed for making this a success.
“I never knew my wife could be a coup plotter. We were sleeping in the same room and something like this was going to happen and I never go a wind of it. Well, she is the only woman who could have tolerated me all these years. I know she so much loves me.”
He advised journalists to be voracious readers, entrepreneurial, creative and ambitious and described the profession as noble one with huge opportunities to make a mark.
There were sufficient assorted food and drinks for everyone that attended the event. After that, the family members were joined by the guests on the dance floor.
The following day, Awoyinfa’s celebration train moved to the Redeemed Christian Church God (RCCG), Cornerstone Parish, My Father’s House, Okota, Lagos.
That day, heaven kissed the earth as praise and worship songs were dished out in large quantity. Awoyinfa and his family, friends and associates gave a good account of themselves as they sang and danced to the glory of God for what He had done in the life of the celebrant.