“A man will turn over half a library to make one book”
– Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) English critic and lexicographer.
Waiting for Aremo Segun Osoba’s book, BATTLELINES: My adventures in Journalism and Politics, has been akin to the experience of the two characters expecting the arrival of someone called Godot who never arrives. In his 1952 tragicomedy, Waiting for Godot, Irish writer, Samuel Beckett presents the helplessness and an accompanying barrenness of an endless wait for a Godot who doesn’t show up. Joined by three other funny actors, these tarrying figures get further mired in a futile wait for the person they do not know. The play closes, tragically and comically, without Godot being revealed in the two-act work.
Mercifully, lingering for the autobiography of Osoba, former editor of Daily Times of Nigeria, who went on to become the paper’s Group managing-director and the governor of Ogun State, hasn’t followed the trajectory of Godot. Yes, there was a long expectation. But, as it turned out the other day in Lagos, it wasn’t a wait for Godot. Osoba’s own Godot arrived at the presentation of his book ahead of his birthday.
He made the promise to deliver a definitive work on his life a couple of years ago when he spoke with a newspaper reporter. Osoba had been reminded of his great days as a reporter with Daily Times, with the hint that he was the industry’s most illustrious living journalist. Respected newspaper columnist Mohammed Haruna has also described Osoba as Nigeria’s ‘’most successful reporter since Independence’’. The former governor has modestly declined the honour, reminding us that we had in our midst older and more remarkable men: LateefJakande and Sam Amuka. He added: ‘’I am not the best reporter…There are greater journalists than I who still need to be celebrated.’’ Then he spoke of his next assignment: writing his opus.
We have been waiting since. When in 2011, Mike Awoyinfa and DimgbaIgwe came up with their book, SEGUN OSOBA: The newspaper years, we thought the Godot of the highly garlanded Osoba had landed at last. But our excitement was short-lived. The master’s imprimatur wasn’t in the book. The cover bore his name alright. His clean-shaved face, with a hesitating smile refusing to bare his teeth, filled the window cover. Inside also, Osoba was a perpetual presence. Almost every page had his name mentioned or alluded to in the pronoun.
His mentors and colleagues and friends and schoolmates—Babatunde Jose, Lateef Jakande, Sam Amuka, Peter Enahoro, Rasheed Gbadamosi, Titus Sokanluetc—were summoned to celebrate Osoba in the book. They recollected their relationship with Osoba and agreed that he deserved to be honoured as one of the greats of the profession of journalism.
Despite the presence of these other giants spreading across the 396-page book and their references to Osoba, there is a missing link. Osoba himself is nowhere ‘seen’ talking. He is a silent onlooker, as the venturesome duo of Awoyinfa and Igwe urge a medley of compatriots to take over the show.
So the book despite, its endearing virtues, has the grave drawback of not giving us the full-bodied Osoba. We saw Osoba the journalist as offered by impartial associates, as it were. But we didn’t hear from him. What spurred him to get to the peak he scaled? What were his emotional challenges? How did he overcome them? Certainly, there would be unseen factors influencing him from behind the scenes. Only Osoba would know these and be in a good position to reveal these.
More: SEGUN OSOBA: The newspaper years, had no brief to go beyond the man’s journalism days. In that case, we were to be led into a halfway house, never mind the galaxy of names drawing us in. The ideal is to get Osoba the reporter, Osoba the family man and husband of BeereDerinsola and Osoba the politician, all under one roof, under a completed building. The book’s masterclasss status doesn’t deliver it from the intellectual hunger for the final word from Osoba himself. The book created an interest to have the full-orbedOsoba. So the next stage was to satisfy that crave. Godot must not be allowed to play Beckett’s script.
With BATTLELINES: Adventures in Journalism and Politics, Osoba, turning 80 on July 15, is providing us massive memoir to chew for a proper assessment and understanding of the man. The 341-pagebook aptly captures the life and times of Osoba, an undertaking denied other works on him. Newspaper interviews and articles that have appeared seasonally on him have been sharply constrained because of limited space and a pervading ambience of conflicting interests. Only a book coming from him could address these summons.
The book itself warns readers that the author is leading them into old wars he has fought and won in his years as a journalist and politician. For, you can’t tantalize us with the notion of ‘battlelines’ and withdraw from plunging us into your exploits during the hostilities. You can’t write an autobiography announcing wars and as you flip through it all you see are accounts of tea parties. SegunOsoba battled personal and national wars, which were unavoidable if you were a public-interest newsman and servant-politician.
Osoba’s long-awaited bio-narrative is coming at the right time when we need to crack the crevices of history to grab nuggets of wisdom from outstanding statesmen and professionals. If we agree with the revered novelist, Chinua Achebe, that the leadership question must be dealt with in order to have a radically functioning society, we must get more statesmen to write books on their experiences, so we don’t fall into snares that have kept us from plumbing the depths of our limitless potential.
John Ruskin, English art critic and writer said: ‘’All books are divisible into two classes: the books of the hour, and the books of all time.’’I think SegunOsoba’s book, BATTLELINES: Adventures in Journalism and Politics, falls into the latter order. For, following Johnson’s counsel, Osoba must have turned over the libraries of the ages to write it.
Ojewale writes from Lagos