How was your growing up like?
I knew I was going to be a journalist as early as 1962 when I was 10 years old. My colleagues would gather round me, wanting to hear stories about exotic and strange places like Pakistan, Britain, Alaska and Iceland. I was an avid reader and read so many books; I was a constant feature at the only public library in Ogbomoso. My life was cut out for me very early and I pursued it vigorously.
In 1972 when I was 20 years old, I had an interview with a former Nigerian football captain, Sam Opone. He came to Ibadan then, he was getting to the twilight of his career. He came to the 2nd Division Nigerian Army in Ibadan to lead their football team and that was when I had the opportunity to interview him. After I cobbled the story together, a gentleman, Jide Orimogunje, who was the Sports Editor of the Daily Sketch, was so surprised that a young man of my age could write with such graceful eloquence. That was the word he used and that kindled my self-confidence.
Were you already working as a journalist then?
No, I wasn’t. However, when I was in my last year in secondary school, I wrote essays and pasted them on the board for pupils to admire.
Which school was that?
I attended Ogbomoso High School. One day, our English language teacher, Mrs. Dahunsi, of blessed memory, took a look at one of my essays and wrote on it, ‘superfluous’. That was the first time I came across that word and I checked it up in the dictionary. Under the circumstance, it wasn’t complimentary but I took it in my stride and I moved forward. That was how I got into journalism and I later chose broadcast journalism as my forte.
Did you work for Daily Sketch?
No, I was just a freelancer from outside. I joined NTA Ibadan in 1977 and after that I was sent to the BBC College and while there, I won the star prize in News Scripting and Television Documentary. There is this popular park in London called the Hyde Park. I did a report on the stream there and named it ‘The Serpentine’ because it is curvy like a snake. That report fetched me the prize.
I had no doubt in my mind that if I was going to write a book that has to do with myself, it would not be a book about where I come from but about my ability and experience as a journalist. That is why the book I just authored, ‘Dotun Oyelade Reporting,’ is so unique because I cited verifiable personal experiences since 1972 when I first wrote the story on Sam Opone and all the experiences I had during my illustrious career in the book.
Daily Sketch was very interesting then; the newspaper was what they called the broadsheet. In the book, I concentrated mainly on my enterprise as a broadcast journalist. I came across so many personalities like General Olusegun Obasanjo; General Yakubu Gowon; Odimegwu Ojukwu, my good friend, and others. I was one of the first journalists to reach Lagos and get to the scene in Dele Giwa’s living room on the day (he was killed by a parcel bomb) in spite of the fact that I was working with the Television Service of Oyo State. When I got there with my cameraman, I saw vividly what happened. I saw fresh blood already clotting, I saw the mangled typewriter, mangled furniture and human flesh and my cameraman recorded it. For a week after the incident, I was reporting blow-by-blow account of how he died, why possibly he was killed, his family members and so on.
Also, when Papa (Obafemi) Awolowo died, some of the things that people never knew, which no newspaper has ever scooped, are in my book because I was in his bathroom.
I met so many personalities and even Lawrence Anini ( notorious armed robber) became my friend during his trial. The police had to warn me to stop hobnobbing with him. Anini was always calling me ‘Baba Ibadan’.
Was Anini sober during his trial?
He was not sober at all. There was a time he refused to let anybody take his photograph and he vowed that if he ever got out of detention, he would kill a particular reporter. But he never got out; he was executed with others. I was the only one he allowed to cover him generously. The other guy also, Monday Osunbor, allowed me. At that time, many newspapers would quote what we reported at TSOS and used them as their headline. That was what was happening and that shows how good TSOS was.
How did you feel the first time you read the news?
I was a broadcast reporter, I never read the news. I would have been a disaster if I tried that. I know my area of strength and I focused on it. In the book, I described my early days at NTA Ibadan. I started there in August 1977. The late Chief Bola Ige established TSOS to counter the NTA, a federal establishment that was one-sided politically. The station was established around March 1982 and it flourished.
Will you say journalism has been rewarding to you?
I don’t have to think twice before answering capital yes. Without journalism, there is nothing in this world that I could have done that would have been very interesting to me. It has been very rewarding to me. Spiritually, physically and economically, it has been rewarding to me. I have served under three governors in Oyo State. I served Uncle Lam Adesina; I was not only his private secretary and private adviser, I also wrote all his public statements and addresses throughout his four-year office term. I also wrote his acceptance speech in May 1999. I served the late Otunba Adebayo Alao-Akala, who was my schoolmate in primary and secondary schools way back in Ogbomoso.
Were you and Alao-Akala classmates?
He was a year my senior in primary school before he went to Ghana but we became classmates in secondary school. We attended Osupa Baptist Day School. So, when he became the governor, I served him as Special Adviser on Public Communications, which is journalism-related. With Engr. Seyi Makinde now, I was his first nominee to lead his media campaign. That was in January 2018 and I worked in that office until he won the election the following year. He appointed me as the Chairman of the Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State. He believed I would be very useful to his administration and to the people of Oyo State in this area. Uncle Lam Adesina thought so too. As his private secretary, he made me to double as the executive officer of the same BCOS. They recognised me as a broadcast manager.
How would you describe Alao-Akala since you were his classmate at some point?
He was one of the most extroverted persons I have met in my life. He had a lot of people around him and he was a very generous person; he loved life and he enjoyed life. He was successful as a governor mainly because of his love to see people happy. In certain regards, we are direct opposite of each other. While I am a little bit reticent, he was the very opposite. A very nice man.
You said he was nice and generous and he loved to see people happy. What will you say was responsible for his electoral defeat in 2011?
If you read my book, I stated reasons why I would not dabble into politics now. I will do that at the fullness of time. I believe that regurgitating my professional experience will be far more useful to the younger ones than anything else. At 70, I want to be a mentor, a professional mentor, a family mentor and I believe strongly in the sanctity of marriage. I am not going to talk about those governors I served now. The time is not ripe for that because I am still in government.
What do you think about the way social media has disrupted the old way of journalism practice?
It’s awesome; it’s enormous and it could be used for ‘black’, just as it could be used for ‘white’. When deployed positively, it can assist journalism in a very effective way. It is so efficient in getting views of the people out there. Although some people use it for nefarious activities, I am an advocate of its existence and establishment and it can only help in the end, just as it is helping now. However, the dark areas have to be addressed.
How do you suggest those areas be addressed?
By providing stiff penalties for those who spread deliberate falsehood to justify their interests; stiff penalties must be applied to anyone who violates the laws there. It is the bane of a great country like Nigeria; things are upside down because people are not made to answer for their actions. I hate citing the so-called developed societies because we know their inadequacies too. But if we start from a simple thing like punishing anybody who throws out a pet bottle or paper on the road or while driving, there will be a great change. If they are put in jail or fined, such things will stop; and if those involved in lesser offences are not spared, those involved in criminal activities will know that there is no place to hide.
Cast you mind back to 1984/85 when Muhammadu Buhari and Tunde Idiagbon came to power with all their garbage, they showed us an idea of toughness and people were apprehended and punished for little offences. This made people to sit up and you could see Nigerians in queues at bus stops and there was orderliness during their short stay in power. That is not to say they were angels, they were not. I have always told people that General Buhari does not possess a quarter of the attributes that people falsely and conveniently attributed to him. No, he doesn’t.
Why do you say that?
I was one of the few journalists, who, in January 1984, immediately after they came to power, asked him questions at what they called a ‘World Press Conference’ at the Dodan Barracks in Lagos. That was a week after they sacked the administration of President Shehu Shagari from power. Shagari’s government was sacked via a coup on December 31, 1983. We had the privilege of asking him the first set of questions. I remember Tunde Thompson was there, Chris Okolie, Nduka Irabor and some other journalists were there. I asked him: ‘Now that you have taken over from a democratically elected civil administration, do you feel any sense of remorse?’ General Buhari could not utter a word. It was Tunde Idiagbon, who was by his side, that brushed aside my question. That day, I began to wonder if Buhari was as smart as he was said to be. Here we are today; I don’t want to dabble in politics, I want to continue my life as an author and a biographer. I have written 10 books and one of my recent books is a book on Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh, one of the past Chiefs of Defence Staff. I was playing golf and a call came in and the caller introduced himself to me and we started talking. I told him that I would complete his biography in one year and I did. He loved it, his family members and others love it,
What do you do now?
I do contract publishing and I am not doing badly. That is aside my job as the Chairman of BCOS. The media has been blamed for the growing immoralities and crimes like Internet fraud and ritual killings.
What is your take on this?
The media has nothing to do with these and should not take the blame for those criminal activities. The media is just performing its roles. Ritual killing is a grandchild of government neglect of its duties. Anytime a government neglects its core duties, the peasants and the commoners are the ones that will be directly hit first. Yahoo Yahoo is a reflection of the abject poverty and utter frustration in which the youth have found themselves. As I talk to you today, many youths are unemployed and many are unemployable. Many of them are now engaging in criminal activities as a result of this. When General Obasanjo said Nigeria was sitting on a keg of gun powder with the huge unemployment among the youth, he was not saying anything new but was just saying the obvious. As they say in law, it is trite. We are in the midst of this problem now.
Some university graduates now are unemployable, even many lawyers can’t speak good English because their teachers are flawed in the area of brilliance due to what they were exposed to. Also, many lecturers are not as good as what we had about 40 or 50 years ago. They fall far short of educational and academic depth expected of university lecturers. We are in trouble and whosever takes over from this administration can only try his best; and there are certain areas that must change first. Security situation, in which we find ourselves as a nation, is one that must change. Insecurity now is an unnecessary distraction for an already impoverished nation.
The NTA is Nigeria’s first TV station. Why has not been able to rank among the very best in the world?
There is none of these broadcast stations that can rank among the best because of fundamental constraints. In this part of the world, anything that is owned by government will be bogged down by bureaucracy and with that, it cannot work. It will be bureaucratic in editorial content and bureaucratic in procurement of facilities that will jazz up the system. So, there is no way such will rank among the best in the world. I was in the US in 1985 when the CNN started. The owner of the station was the butt of jokes of everybody. Nobody believed that his ambitious idea and focus were possible but look at it today now, it is one of the most reliable sources of information around the world, if not the best. See what happened in Nigeria also, Channels, AIT are ahead, they are bound to shoot ahead of government-owned stations because they have the wherewithal to move forward without encumbrances that are the bane of government-owned institutions.