WHETHER it’s a book on “Segun Osoba, The Newspaper Years” or a book on “Mike Adenuga, The Business Guru,” one person we first turned to as a sounding board is our friend and big brother Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi, an erudite scholar and newspaperman who turned 70 on April 13, this year.
By “we” you know who I am referring to: my friend and “twin brother” the late Dimgba Igwe, 58, killed by a hit-and-run driver in 2014. He should have been alive to pay his own tribute to Ogunbiyi but his body like the old song John Brown’s Body “lies a-moldering in the grave…and his soul goes marching on…”
To be 70 is to cross the finishing line in the long, marathon race of life. But it doesn’t mean you are finished, even though many have fallen along the way. For Ogunbiyi, the race is just beginning. He doesn’t strike you as a man who has been running for 70 years. He doesn’t look 70. He is not even panting. He hasn’t suffered much wear and tear. He looks so fresh, as if he is ready to do another 70 more years. He is one man who seems to have discovered the mythical elixir that makes the drinker remain young.
Each time we have a project, we test-run it on Ogunbiyi because we trust and respect his sound judgement. We like him a lot and he likes us too. In a way, he is a role model, doing the same thing we are doing: writing biographies and publishing books. We ask him what he goes through writing biographies and he tells us what we know: writing is not a walk in the park. You have to be passionate, persistent, patient and painstaking. You have to stay all night writing. It is laborious and frustrating but fulfilling. It’s like pregnancy. When you give birth to a book, it’s like giving birth to a new baby.
A product of Yoruba and Igbo parentage, Ogunbiyi likes the fact that two friends, an Igbo and a Yoruba can stay together and work as a team for so long, trusting and loving each other. When you interview him, you find a man so knowledgeable and good at telling stories. He inspires and imbues you with the confidence that you are on the right path. And when the project is through, he sacrifices his time to edit and offer suggestions that improve the book. That has been our experience so far with this wonderful man who left the ivory tower many years ago to try his luck in the adventure of journalism.
I first met Dr. Ogunbiyi at the then University of Ife where my editor Dele Giwa had sent me to report a story on Prof. Wole Soyinka and the university’s theatre group. I ended up interviewing Soyinka and asking him how he would feel if he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Not long after, my prophecy came true and he won it.
All through my days as editor of the Weekend Concord, I was watching and reporting Ogunbiyi’s every move, every milestone and every stumble. I remember the death-like solemnity of losing his job as the managing director of the Daily Times and the Weekend Concord coming up with a front-page headline: ‘I’M NOT DEAD! I ONLY LOST A JOB’
In the ebb and flow of life, Ogunbiyi had succeeded in reinventing himself like the proverbial cat with nine lives. He has proved that the true test of a champion is not how many times you get knocked down but how many times you get up. In our book on Segun Osoba, The Newspaper Years, Ogunbiyi paid tributes to Osoba as the man who built the foundation for him to succeed in Daily Times: “What people said I did there, the modest achievements I made at the Daily Times when I took over, I think I owe a lot to him. Had he not handed over to me a good company, I wouldn’t have built on the foundation he left there to move on at the pace we did.”
And in the forthcoming book, Mike Adenuga, The Business Guru slated for September 6, 2017, the fourth anniversary of Dimgba Igwe’s death, Ogunbiyi in Chapter 9 similarly pays homage to today’s birthday boy Mike Adenuga, a man whose biography he says is “long overdue.” He adds: “Any country that has a man like Mike Adenuga must be particularly proud of him. He has done so much for this country. His investments alone are enormous. No Indian government would allow one of its key entrepreneurs to go through the rubbish that Mike Adenuga went through. They would protect him to the very end. But ours is a country where if you do well, it becomes a problem. I think Mike is a pride, not just for his generation but for our times and to our country. He has invested so much here. He could have taken his business out of Nigeria and go somewhere else, but I think he loves his country. Mike deserves to be celebrated. Anytime, anywhere.”
He goes on to trace the history of his friendship with Adenuga (whom he met through the late Dele Giwa) from their days in the U.S. when Adenuga was a taxi driver who “used to wear a big afro then, almost hippie-like.”
“Life as a black cab driver in New York was risky. You got killed. It was a risky business. But they needed to survive. So they did it. And they made good money. They were gypsies. They were not the regular cab drivers.”
As a businessman, Ogunbiyi sees Adenuga as “very astute. He is a businessman who is clever, who knows what he wants. Mike is also persistent. When he wants something, he persists. I am not like that. I don’t persevere enough when it comes to looking for opportunities. But Mike persists. When I was at the Daily Times, we wanted to build the Daily Times Towers—the official residence, with all the designs. A 28-highrise. We had done the survey and the board had approved the plan. We wanted money. And Mike’s Devcom Bank was to raise the loan. At that time, Devcom was a new bank and the bank needed a lot of patronage. Mike pestered my life so much to get that thing. Unfortunately, since I was fired as MD of Daily Times, that project died. It would have been a major project for them at that early stage. But what was for me a lesson is that Mike persisted, he came to see me and pestered me until we gave it to them. I imagine that’s how he conducts his business, if he wants anything. If he didn’t persist on telecoms licence, he would never have had it. He persisted. That’s one quality about him which I admire a lot. He knows what he wants, he sticks to it, he goes after it, he keeps knocking until he gets it. That’s why he is called The Bull.”
On that note, let me join in wishing both Dr. Ogunbiyi and my friend The Bull a happy birthday and more years on earth in good health and in peace!