Thursday, June 8, 2017 7:47 am
By Samuel O. Adeyemi
“I know some who are constantly drunk on books as other men are drunk on whiskey.”
— H.L. Mencken
Deep sadness. That was what I felt as I thumbed through my laptop’s keypad to write this tribute to Pa Oguntuase, a man we fondly called ‘Baba’. The news of his passing hit me like a shockwave, so much so that it has taken me almost three weeks to find the right words to compose this tribute.
For two profitable years, I sat under the tutelage of Pa Oguntuase, learning about the Media industry and the weapon to succeed therein: words.
Pa Oguntuase was not only a quintessential teacher of the English language, he also gave his life to journalism. His passion to see the English language properly deployed by Nigerian journalists and editors earned him a special place in the hearts of many members of the fourth estate of the realm. He started writing his award-winning column since May 1984 in the defunct National Concord and later The SunNewspaper. As you may have guessed, the column was a delight to read.
My career in the media industry has been greatly enriched by the friendship, mentorship and guidance I enjoyed from Baba.
My first encounter with Baba Oguntuase was through the pages of the National Concord. As a worker in National Concord, my Aunt would bring every edition of the newspaper home. And, I would devour all the stories from the tabloid. A day without a copy of the National Concord was not complete.
Of much greater interest to me in the paper was Pa Oguntuase’s weekly column called Mind Your Language. When the National Concord hit stormy waters, his column was transferred to The Sun.
As good luck would have it, my Aunt got employed in The Sun. So, getting complimentary copies of the newspapers was guaranteed. So was reading the weekly column of my dear Baba!
You can then imagine how much it meant to me to have the opportunity of meeting Baba in flesh and blood when I got admitted to The College of Journalism (COJ).
Upon my admission into COJ, my first mission was to run through the list of lecturers. I did that by ‘stealing away’ into one of the classrooms to view the timetable and names of lecturers placed beside the board.
When I saw his name on the timetable, my heart leapt for joy. Then came the day for the first lecture with him and I wasn’t disappointed with his delivery. Baba facilitated the course, Newsman English 101.
Every class with Baba was highly enlivened. There was no dull moment with him. He would challenge us to write opinion articles which can be published in national dailies.
Baba was a Bibliophile to the core. He encouraged us to read voraciously. According to him, there is no way to master the language other than reading wide.
“The Media is Shrinking, You Have to Be Dynamic!”
“The media is shrinking, you have to be dynamic!” That was the advice from Baba during my first one-on-one discussion with him, shortly after the first class with him at COJ.
With that statement, Baba demonstrated that he had foreseen the future 0f the Nigerian media, and he prepared me to embrace the change that will engulf the industry before it became apparent to so many people.
That advice has proved handy in the course of my career in the media industry.
Baba is so selfless. His advice, love, knowledge and networks are always available, even when unsolicited. I remember shortly after graduation, Baba gave me a note to a leading editor in the country. Whenever we speak on the phone, he would always puncture our discussion with words of advice.
Controversy with the Tribune editor
At the college of journalism, I cultivated the habit of escaping into the library after lectures to read or browse through almost all the major and ‘minor’ newspapers and news magazine published in Nigeria.
After graduation, this habit stuck with me as I continued reading an average of 30 newspapers in a day (In the last one year though, I have however put a stop to this habit in order to ‘detox’ a little.)
So, on Tuesday, May 31, 2005, I sauntered into the library to read the dailies. As I opened a copy of Tribune, towards the editorial page, lo and behold, there sat an attack against my dear Baba’s column of Thursday, May 26, 2005, in The Sun.
The editorial page editor of the Nigerian Tribune at the time (let’s refer to him as John Doe for the sake of privacy), had gone on the offensive calling Baba all sorts of derogatory names. What was Baba’s sin? He dared to query the usage of some phrases in the Tribune’s Editorials.
“Mr. Oguntuase has done quite enough damage to the language. He should be in the classroom himself to be taught the basic rules of grammar”, John Doe railed against Baba’s column.
Doe affirmed that Baba is a “self-styled linguist activist” who is “dragging the profession in the mud.”
Trust my dear Baba. He didn’t allow the insults to pass. Before Baba responded to the attack, he brought a copy of the paper to class and we did an extensive error analysis on the article. It was fun to behold as Baba, one after the other, pointed out so many errors in the article.
Then came Baba’s hot response on Tuesday, July 12, 2005 in The Sun. The lead paragraph gave a hint of what to come:
“Let us get serious. When a large percentage of our university graduates cannot write a literate article, we are rightly scandalized… I died a little inside after reading that (Doe) is the Editorial Page Editor of Nigerian Tribune, meaning that he edits the opinion articles and letters to the Editor published in the newspaper.’’
“A simple error analysis of his (John Doe’s) piece will make ardent grammarians cry or laugh.”
Responding to Doe’s attack that he was a ‘hired hack writer’, Baba took Doe down memory lane: “I have been writing this column since May 1984.” Baba stated that he had received accolades from eminent personalities like Prof. Soyinka and Prof. Olatunde Dare. He stated that he was one of the five Nigerians that won prizes in the rested African Guardian in 1993, under the editorship of the editor of editor Mr Debo Adesina.
Baba rounded off the response by writing: “That (Doe) holds this strategic position on the Tribune is a national disaster, a calamity to the journalism profession. Now that he has identified himself, let us tell (Doe) that linguistic aggression wins no point at all and neither do palpable white lies.”
Baba was indeed great in his lifetime. His works will forever live in our hearts. As suggested by one of Baba’s students, I would like to round off this tribute by calling on his friends, students, fans and protégés to build a library in his honor.
After all, he is a bibliophile. The odds are great that he will look down from heaven and smile at the honour.
• Adeyemi, a journalist and media entrepreneur, is based in Lagos