Not too many journalists in the nation today are familiar with the history of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ). However on May 12, 2018, the Chairman of Lagos State NUJ, Dr Qasim Akinreti dug the archive by reaching out to the family of late Chief Olu Oyesanya, the man whose initiative led to the formation of the union in 1952 in Lagos. Managing Editor of TheLead Online, Ajibola Abayomi was there and he engaged the son of the late journalist, Adebayo Oyesanya in this nostalgia interaction … Excerpts…..
Many young journalists today may not be familiar with your dad’s name but incidentally, records showed that he founded the NUJ, how would you describe him?
He was a very honest person. He believed that honest is best watchword. I remember he always encouraged me and my sibling to always uphold the truth no matter what. As a person, he was gentle and very dedicated to his job and duties. As a father, he was wonderful, though I could not continue as journalist, however, my dad was someone to behold.
You were very close to him, what were his views as unionist?
The NUJ has grown. It has outgrown Oyesanya as an individual such that many people don’t even know who really the founder of the union was. However those who knew the real story of the union can tell the younger generation journalists the truth. It is true that a tree can never make a forest. My dad founded the NUJ by co-opting other people to make it happened. The NUJ has become an octopus of its own. No government can do away with the union or journalists. Any government that does that, do it at its own peril. I am not also sure that journalists or even the union know the extent of their powers because some of them are still being pushed around. You don’t hear often of soldiers beating up lawyers or doctors, but it do happen to media practitioners in Nigeria on several occasions and nothing happens.
Were you privy to some of the convictions that propelled him to initiate a process that led to the formation of the union?
He was a victim of oppression during the British government during the colonial rule in Nigeria. On several occasions, he was arrested and detained ditto for other journalists for writing about Nigeria’s independence and reporting the truth. Lawyers had to defend him at the court at different times. When he had oppoutunity to travel to England, he saw the way the union was being respected. Under the umbrella of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), as professionals, journalists salaries were being increased. They were getting rapid promotions because of their professionalism and agitations. So he decided to replicate that back home in Nigeria. Again, as at that time there were too many people hawking around journalism in Nigeria, but through the formation of NUJ, those ones were screened out due to the union’s code of conducts. Immediately, he formed the union in Lagos, he traveled to America for further studies because he was working with an American agency. Later, he took up diplomat appointment overseas before returning home years later. Before my father died, there was a columnist that even wrote that one Onabanjo founded the NUJ and my father laughed.
We learnt you have unpublished thesis of the NUJ compiled by your dad, can you share a bit of that with us?
I am still compiling those details. As soon as I am done with them, I will avail the leadership of the Lagos State NUJ copies. For those who don’t know my father chose March 15 as the birthday for the NUJ because it was a day of reckoning against British oppression of journalists in Nigeria. It was Ides of March as documented in Roman’s history. Julius Caesar as written by William Shakespeare referred to that date as the day of reckoning being the day he was removed from office through a coup. On the Ides of March which was March 15, the rebels in that story got rid of Caesar because they believed he was an oppressor. So the March 15 symbolises the day the Nigerian journalists sent strong message to the colonial masters rejecting oppression.
Any regret for not following the footstep of your as journalist?
No regret, I am still going to complete my studies in journalism because I stopped half way. I still want to go back. I had wanted to join the army initially but my dad did not want that because I am the only son. I have come to realise that journalists are warriors for getting information and having the courage to publish it undilutedly. I won’t say I regret not taking to journalism because I did some courses at the Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ) and Times Institute of Journalism but I did not complete my programme. I will still go back to complete it.
How best would you want Chief Oyesanya to be remembered?
I will want a national monument to be named after him just like it was done for pwople in other professions. I don’t know why journalists can’t do such for one of their own. If you see any journalist that has ever been honoured by naming something after him or her, he or she must have been involved in politics. Just to mention a few, Alhaji Babatunde Ajose and Chief Bisi Onabanjo of blessed memories including another former Ogun State Governor, Chief Olusegun Osoba at one time or the other worked with my dad. When he was an editor at Daily Service, Ajose was a reporter with Daily Times in Enugu. Chief Onabanjo took over from my dad as Secretary of NUJ in 1956. Please confirm all that I have told you. I have noted that in journalism, seniority don’t count much. In law, we have something like Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). I mentioned those names because they were celebrated at one time or the other may be because some of them were involved in politics. I look at Lagos State NUJ Secretariat, it was named after late Ladi Lawal. Also in Abuja, one of the secretariats was named after one journalist as well but they forgot the man that founded the union in the country. Not only that, my father established the Nigerian Press Council. I am not sure that government gave him credit for that. Even if they don’t, what about members of his union who are journalists like him?