Babatunde Jose: Doyen of Nigerian Journalism

Babatunde Jose: Doyen of Nigerian Journalism

Saturday, June 3, 2017 2:45 pm


Babatunde-Jose

By Seyi Omotunde

Call Mr Nigerian Journalism and Alhaji Ismail Babatunde Jose will unhesitatingly step forward to take a deserved bow. Many say he is the doyen, others call him the grandfather of journalism in Nigeria. Whichever grand epithet is used, as long as it is journalism-related, it eminently and appropriately fits Alhaji Jose.

Born in Lagos on 13 December 1925 to a father from Ikare-Akoko in Ondo State and a mother from Bida in Niger State, Jose’s records to service and achievements are daunting if not intimidating, As Mr Peter Enahoro, a frontline journalist once put it, “his success is all the more exceptional because this was a man whose academic laurels were won through hard grind at the university of life.”

Indeed, Jose was not a man of letters, yet he was highly lettered. His educational profile is scanty and does not match his enormous accomplishments. He attended Lagos Government School, Yaba Methodist School and Saviour’s High School all in Lagos and that was all. His achievements were by dint of hard work and self development. His is a worthy example of a self made man.

Journalism was Jose’s life and his life was journalism as well. The Daily Times group was a thriving enterprise when he became its Managing Director in 1962 but as he often said “I did not inherit a company flowing with milk and honey.” Yet he moulded the Daily Times into a sophisticated, multi-lateral corporate institution which attained peak performance under his leadership.

He joined the staff of the Daily Times as a Technical Trainee in 1941, at the tender age of sixteen. He rose through the ranks to become Reporter, News Editor, Regional Representative and Editor in 1957. He later became the Editorial Director and eventually Managing Director and Chairman/Chief Executive a position he held till 1976 when the Daily Times was take over by the military government of General Olusegun Obasanjo.

The Daily Times of yore was a professional mill for journalists. Many of the journalists who passed through the mill and by implication through the hands of Jose later became personalities to be reckoned with in the society. Today, the history of journalism practice in Nigeria would be incomplete without ample documentation and acknowledgement of the role of Jose and the Daily Times group.

Chief Olusegun Osoba, a notable but largely self-made journalist and [former] civilian governor of Ogun State summed it up succinctly: “When you desire the journalism that disseminates information based on the facts, the whole facts and nothing but the hard facts and figures, then you are talking about the Alhaji Jose’s brand of journalism. For he will neither sensationalize nor speculate and when in doubt he leaves out, for he believes that it is better not to print a story at all than to print a false or inaccurate story with the attendant refutals by those involved.”

Osoba’s testimony continues “Facts are sacred but comments are ‘free’. Jose obeys this to the letter. Therefore he is a journalistic fundamentalist. Whoever heard that Jose has been charged with publishing a false story or a sedition one or that he has been sued for libel?” Jose believes that journalism transcends merely informing, educating and entertaining. For him, accurate reporting is journalism’s great canon because it is the greatest judgment – unassailable and eternal.”

A brief roll call of some of Jose’s graduate journalists’ include Osoba, Felix Adenaike, David Attah, Tony Momoh, Effiong Essien, Clement Okosun, Martin Iruabuchi (late) Agebeke Ogunsanwo and Idowu Sobowale. They all hold important positions in the society today. Jose believes that journalism are born and not made. Even so he combined formal and informal training for his journalists. For this purpose, he established the Times Journalism Institute.

Jose loved scoops. In his active professional days, he distinguished himself as a scoop master and this enabled him to gain rapid promotion. He relished scoops not only because they appealed to his own journalistic palate, but because he believed that exclusive news serves as a promotional catalyst for the reporter and at the same time enlarges the purse of the media house through an increase in circulation which scoops yield. To encourage his reporters and make them work harder, he granted them generous bonuses which were sometimes bigger than their salaries for exclusive stories.

As an all-rounder, he was adept at copy editing, proofreading, photocropping, captioning and page layout. Imaginative headlines such as “Akintola Taku” and “If you Tarka Me, I will Darboh You” were his handiwork. They remain memorable till date. Though retired from active journalism, Jose still monitors every radio station on the dial to keep abreast of events globally. During the course of his journalistic duties he had visited almost all the great capital cities of the world.

Jose’s robust and fulfilling career in the Daily Times came to an end with the advent of the Murtala/Obasanjo regime in 1975. A reshuffle of Daily Times staff triggered a crisis that gave birth to the Joint Action Committee of Staff and Management of Daily Times of Nigeria Limited simply known as JAC. The pressure group which consisted of nine top officers including Jose’s deputy, Mr Henry Odukomaiya and notable editors like Areoye Oyebola, Gbolabo Ogunsanwo, Sola Odunfa and Ayo Adefolaju spearheaded an agitation for Jose’s removal. It was at this point that the federal military government moved in to acquire 60 per cent interest in the company. Beyond the JAC lobby. It was believed that the government action was more to check Jose’s domineering and powerful profile. Although he was retained as managing director after the takeover a new chairman Alahji Aliko Mohammed was imposed on the reconstituted board.

For Jose, it was time to go. Although he was exonerated by the panel set up to investigate JAC’s allegations of impropriety against him and the members of the JAC were sacked, he felt it was just enough that his name had been cleared. Even though, government agreed that it was misled into taking over the Daily Times group, the action was not reversed. Jose, who had lost the chairmanship position, clearly saw the handwriting on decline on the wall. His notice of resignation was dated 11 February 1976. He claimed that he had forgiven all his dismissed accusers, he however turned down all entreaties for the withdrawal of his letter.

In retrospect Mr Felix Adenaike submits that the Daily Times of Nigeria (DTN) and Alhaji Jose are like Siamese twins as the “DTN” was his first love.” According to Adenaike who worked with Jose, “he has maintained a keen and abiding interest in the affairs of the organization,’ though he left many years ago his image still looms large.

His departure from DTN meant a change of gear for him. Just as he became a great name in journalism, he has also proved to be an equally great corporate man – an industrial strategist whose keen passion has been the rapid industrial development of Nigeria. As a demonstration of the esteem in which his managerial abilities are held many companies have invited him to join their board.

Beyond journalism, Joe wears many distinguished caps. He is an administrator, an industrialist, a trainer and a religious leader. In a nutshell, he is the embodiment of a complete gentlemen, full of ideas that would make positive impact on humanity. In his varied endeavours, he has touched many lives in no small measure. Between 1960 and 1993, he served in no fewer than 29 individual public offices, national assignments are legion. Apart from his brilliant 33 year career in the Daily Times of Nigeria, he has the distinction of being the first Nigerian Chief Executive of a publicly – quoted company.

Among numerous national assignments, Jose served as chairman National Drought Relief Fund Committee (1973-76); Chairman, national Advisory Council of Opportunities Industrialization Centre (1975 – 79); Chairman National Commission on Right hand Traffic (1970-73) which organized the change from left to right hand drive in Nigeria and Chairman, Nigerian Pilgrims Board (1986-89). Other public appointments include membership of the Constituent Assembly which debated the 1979 Constitution that guided the Second Republic; Chairman Nigerian Building Society (now Federal Mortgage Finance (1973 -77); Member Advisory Council in Religious Affairs (1987) and Member Eminent Peoples Committee for the Review of the ECOWAS Treaty (1991-93).

At the professional mass communication level (his first love) Jose shone like a million stars. He was a member of the Federal Board of Film Censors (1965-68) and the Chairman Stamp Advisory Board (1967-70), Member, Board of Governors, Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (1965-66); Chairman Nigerian Television Authority (1977-80, 1984 – 86) and Chairman, Nigerian Media Merit Award Board of Trustees (till date).

As an industrialist, the list is equally lengthy. He was president, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (1987-89), President, Federation of West African Manufacturers (1989); Member of Council Lagos Chamber of Commerce (1974-76); Member management Committee, Institute of Direction (1984) and Member of Council, Nigerian Institute of Management (1978 – 81).

How many more are to be counted? As an Islamic religious leader, he was vice chairman, Nigerian Muslim Council (1967-80); chairman presidential committee on Re-organization of Hajj Operation (1982) and Member Presidential Committee on Organization of Islamic Conference (1986).

Jose is also a corporate man. He sat on the board of a number of top companies. He has been Director of Boots Company Limited (1983-87); Drilsser Nigeria Limited (1974-80), Hagemeyer Nigeria Plc (1974-92) and Onwuka Hitech Industries Limited (1989-91). Today he has scaled down his commitments to directorship of just 13 companies, six of which he is chairman. These include Monotype Nigeria Limited, Irede Properties and Investment Company Limited, Colodence Nigeria Plc, Landmark Foods Limited and Blackwood Hedge Nigeria Plc. He is a director of Fay Paper Products Limited, Habib Nigeria Bank Limited, Genesis Investments and A. Bank Anthony and Sons among others.

As an organization man, he works through established official institutions to effect change. With a good eye for details, he always mastered his briefs. When he was president of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) he worked towards developing the Association into a strong, cohesive, vigorous and effective business organization.

For his meritorious service in various spheres, he has been honored severally . In October 1965 he was made an officer of the Federal Republic (OFR) and in 1973 he was decorated with the Pope Pius Medal for promoting interdemoninational understanding. In 1978 the University of Benin conferred him an honorary Doctor of Letters (D.Litt). he also holds a number of chieftancy titles. He is the Bameso of Lagos and the Bobatolu and Seriki Musulimi of Ikare.

Jose is a deeply religious man, a Muslim who strictly adheres to the faith. He comes from a devout Moslem family and he is one of the nation’s prominent Islamic leaders. He has held top religious position at all levels of society. During the course of his career, however, he was never known to discriminate or associate with people only on religious consideration.

Dr Oladapo Fafowora, who walked with him as Director General of MAN pays befitting tribute to Jose “Dr Jose is disdainful of personal wealth, a reflection of his deep religious faith that has been the dominant influence on his life and public career. He never drew any allowance at all from MAN.” He goes further “Given his immense talents, great organizational ability, courage and determination Dr Jose would still have been a roaring success, whatever he turned his hands to. He is both complex and simple. He is driven relentlessly to excel in whatever he chooses to do. He is a man who cares deeply about his family, his friends; his business associates and about the future of the nation. He has a great compassion for the needy and the downtrodden.”

What more could you ask of a man?

• Originally entitled “Doyen of Nigerian Journalism”, Seyi Omotunde contributed this article to People in TheNEWS, 1900-2000, a special publication of this medium in year 2000

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