How I ran into stranded coup plotters at Obalende
By Taiwo Abiodun
Mr. Gboyega Amobonye is a story teller. His name is story. His life is story. Colleagues said his bag was always full of stories. His journey into Journalism is an interesting story .He recounts how he ran into coup plotters while hunting for story at Obalende. Taiwo Abiodun spoke to the diminutive and witty journalist for hours.
Displayed in his living room in Lagos, are photographs of himself with the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the late Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero, Senator (Col rtd) Garba Wushihi of the Second Republic, Alhaji Lateef Jakande as the UPN gubernatorial candidate of Lagos State in 1978, and some others among who is who in the Nigeria political space.
I DEVELOPED INTEREST FROM PRIMARY SCHOOL
Amobonye said he has been an inquisitive person from youth, he said 1 don’t know whether by intuition or so, but it started right from my primary school days. When people of high profile would come to the palace of Olowo of Owo, the late Sir Oba Olateru Olagbegi II, I used to see these people (Journalists) following big dignitaries and would admire them. At Owo High School, Owo, Ondo state, a friend who is an engineer today asked me to go for Journalism, considering the quality of my essay and other media- related activities. I went to the Nigeria Institute of Journalism (NIJ) then at Apongbon, Lagos by divine intervention because all I wanted was an admission into an institution of higher learning, But to the glory of God, I found the career very fulfilling.
MEANING OF AMOBONYE
The name, Amobonye, is strange and not common in Yoruba land. Asked to tell the meaning of his name, the veteran reporter, gave a heavy sigh, shook his head and said it is a long story. He said”1 will keep on saying it that Yoruba names are rich and with deeper meanings”, he started ”Amobonye means a survivor from Obon (poison,), Obon is a poison made from cooking the back of Obon tree ito agbo (herbs)and given to a witchcraft suspect to drink to prove his or her innocence. If he or she is guilty of what she was accused of he/she would be confessing his/her sins like a tormented witch and will eventually die.
”In the olden days in my town, Owo if the suspect given survived it, he would be named Amobonye or Obonyemi if a female. My great-great grandmother and wife of Orishadipe, son of Akilelu, son of Oshere was given obon to drink when she was six months pregnant on the suspicion that she was preventing other wives from having male children. She survived it. So when the child (my grandfather) was born he was named Amobonye. As an educated man in employment in various parts of the country, that was the name we grew up to know our father with apart from his Christian names: Joseph and David, he was always addressed as JD Amobonye or simply JD by his peers. Not until long after did we know his other name as Oloye Oyeleye. My half siblings changed to Oyeleye while I felt I have gone too far with Amobonye to change it. More over if any of my roots may go home at later years and introduced himself as son of Oyeleye, he would obviously be told, not here”.
I KNEW DELE GIWA
The mere mention of the name ‘Dele Giwa’ made Amobonye to develop goose pimples. He gave a graphic picture of one of Nigeria’s finest, modern Journalists who was killed by a parcel bomb on October 19, 1986. Dele Giwa. Amobonye looked around, shook his head and in low tone said “he was the face of a new generation journalists, fresh from the United States of America. He was an aristocrat, charismatic and full of life. His best friend was the reporter who could cope with his pace”, he paused and in tears continued “though I did not work under him directly while he was the Sunday Concord Editor, he once came to look for me in National Concord to acknowledge my exclusive stories. He was light skinned, a man of average built with his trademark a well-trimmed and nourished mustache, he was a powerful dresser, always in long sleeves shirt and tie, sometimes in suits too. I think his column was Parallax Snaps which made the Sunday Concord a must read. He was an adept professional and a fisher of good journalists,” as he was talking, he was wiping his face with handkerchief.
Amobonye cannot forget his mentors and loved Editors like Haruna Mohammed and Yakubu Mohammed both were Associate Editors respectively in the New Nigerian. He said “Yakubu Mohammed succeeded Haruna who had left for Kaduna as Editor of the New Nigerian. Yakubu was later to leave for the National Concord as Editor .If there is any goal I reached in my career, I gave the two of them credit because in New Nigerian they gave me a lot of motivation and confidence. I joined the New Nigerian Newspaper fresh from NIJ in 1978. I had spent three months in Radio Lagos under Biodun Adeniyi, the Controller of news. The New Nigerian Newspaper had the best condition of service under the late Mallam Turi Mohammed as the MD. Within two years, I got a car and a three bedroom furnished flat. I resigned from NNN in August 1982 following a transfer to Ondo state as State Editor which I turned down. I joined Concord that August, Here I was lucky too as I met Yakubu Mohammed as the Editor, Other editors that influenced me include Duro Onabule, Nsikak Essein, Liad Tella and a particular News Editor, Dayo Onibile. Dele Giwa, Ray Ekpu and later Sina Adedipe were in the Sunday Concord”.
HOW OBASANJO TORE MY NOTE BOOK
For Amobonye, he will never forget his contact with the former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 1979 on the day of the presidential election, he recalled ”Obasanjo was going round, he wore Ankara, that was during the era of low profile. From opposite of the Lagos City Hall where some of us Journalists were relaxing. We sighted his convoy driving into the City Hall. We virtually flew to the place and joined him as he was alighting from the driver’s seat because he drove himself. I was right in the front as he was going round and answering questions from dejected voters who were complaining “Baba Ako ri oruko wa o” (Baba we didn’t see our names) to which he replied” O tan ni yen o” (then that is all). He just pulled the collar of my shirt and spoke in Yoruba, “je nwo nkan to nko,” (let me see what you are writing). As he saw his name and my little scribble, he tore my note book and said again in Yoruba ”Owo kii f’owo I’orun, ma d’imi lowo, mi o ni die lowo (One business does not disturb another) but I said, ”Your Excellency, you are already disturbing me.” He did not reply me. He later returned to his faded blue coloured car and drove off. But Alex Nwokedi (now a traditional ruler) visited the newsroom the following day, a Sunday and told my news editor the late Fola Ashiru over a chat that ‘your boy wanted to interview the Head of State yesterday’.
STORIES THAT MADE ME POPULAR
Asked to mention some of his memorable stories, the man looked at the ceiling as if looking for an answer, scratched his head and laughed. Many, so many but let me give you this one that might have given my Editor in the NNN, Mallam Haruna and President Shehu Shagari’s government a night mare. I remember a particular story that made me to admire Haruna. You see sometimes in 1982, the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) had imported party emblems which were then contraband, the goods were impounded by the Customs Service. A source hinted me that the contraband had been released to NPN, being the party of the government in power. I approached Sylvanus Apeleshi then Custom’s PRO, at Tinubu for confirmation He declined. I went to Ikoyi to approach the Comptroller General of Customs, he too said the matter was above him. He referred me to the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Finance, the late Alhaji Shehu Musa who confirmed the story. The next morning it screamed on the front page: NPN SMUGGLED GOODS RELEASED. Before I got to the newsroom, I guessed the authorities might have vented their spleen on Haruna. Haruna asked why I should write the story because Shehu Musa said he spoke to me in confidence. I brought out my notebook that I was writing as he was speaking and he never said ”off the record.” That was the end of the matter,” the veteran said.
Amobonye continued with his stories that made him popular, he said “the current Tulip Hotel was the original quarters of the Members of the National Assembly in 1979. Following complaints that the place was not ideal for them, they were relocated to the 1004 quarters on Victoria Island. While the former quarters were abandoned for over a year. One day my long nose just took me to the place to see what had become of it. Fortunately, I met the MD of the then Durbar Hotel who had arrived from Kaduna that morning. He told me the quarter has become Durbar Hotel. The following day it was the front page lead of the New Nigerian: “NATIONAL ASSEMBLY QUARTERS NOW DURBAR HOTEL.”
Not yet done, as the man added another story ”Another story was when I was covering the Lagos State House of Assembly, Ikeja in 1980; there was a resolution that the state Governor Alhaji Lateef Jakande should urgently prevent a looming catastrophe in the state due to a leaking gas ship at the Lagos territorial waters. While other colleagues left for their newsrooms, I went to Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Marina where the MD told me that the ship had been sunk. The exclusive lead of The New Nigerian the next day was DANGER: GAS SHIP SUNK, my colleagues at the State House of Assembly must have reported what happened at the state assembly but later reprimanded me as they were angry with me that I scooped them. Well that is the name of the game”.
LEFT NNN FOR CONCORD
Asked why he left NNN when he was doing well there , hut the fairly skinned Amobonye defended himself I was given a letter of transfer to Ondo State in 1982, by another Associate Editor, Clem Baye, so I had no choice than to resign when I turned down the transfer, that’s how I found myself in National Concord where fortunately I met Yakubu Mohammed again together with Duro Onabule who were too glad to employ me. One of my most cherished collections was the letter of commendation within three months of my employment that was given to me with a cash prize of 100 naira (equivalent to 10,000 naira today.” (He showed me the letter) the letter dated 2nd December, 1982 read, with all humility my input within the four months as recognized by the management together with efforts of others must have made Concord a must read newspaper as against a comment by Alhaji Lateef Jakande , then governor of Lagos state that ”Concord is not a breakfast newspaper”.
MY ENCOUNTER WITH COUP PLOTTERS
Asked to tell another bizarre story of his sojourn in journalism , but the man who at first declined, kept his suspense for some minutes but could only mutter ” Ah! ah!! I thank God . It was on the day of the IBB Coup of 1985 that overthrew the government of General Muhammadu Buhari,whenever I remember I give glory to God for saving me because my wife had warned me that I was leaving home too early that day . Just as I heard the Martial music by 5am, I got ready and by 6.30 am I was on my way to Seme border to monitor how the coup might be affecting the economic activities there. By the time I got to Lagos Trade Fair I made a “U”turn to Lagos having been convinced that nothing much could be happening at Seme apart from closure of border. The next thing was to go to Obalende neighbours of Doddan Barracks to interview them and their experience that night. The road was free as I was virtually the only one on the road. By 8.30 am, I was at Obalende and just as I was leaving the roundabout at the bus stop, I saw some combart ready soldiers, five of them with guns, they barked an order from the other side of the road that I should stop. I obeyed but before I knew what was happening, they rushed into my car and ordered me to take them to Ikeja cantonment. I had no option. They might have seen the press sticker on my wind screen. Obalende people were just peeping, wondering perhaps of what would happen to me. Along the way I summed up courage to ask them about what happened in the night. One of them wanted to shout me down but another one said they should help since I’m also helping them provided I would not write anything down. I could not have done so anyway since I was driving. I was told how a General, (name withheld) visited them at 12 midnight and said to them “Boys, you must not fail”. I was told how Buhari was arrested at l.am while praying and how his ADC, Major Jokolo (now the Emir of Muri) was stripped naked”.
HOW COUP PLOTTERS SCALED THE FENCE
Amobonye continued with the coup story ”the road was free with a few cars on the road and drivers were staring at me as I was driving on top speed and excitedly recording in my head what I was being told. We entered the cantonment via the GRA straight to the back of the cantonment. I watched them as they scaled the high wall and jumped down before I drove off triumphantly. By 10.30am I was in the news room. I met the news editor who jumped up on hearing my story and alerted the Editor in Chief who looked at me with awe as she was reading the copy. The next day the National Concord stood out clearly as the only paper that reported all that happened in the night of the long knives.”
JOURNEY INTO THE LION’S JAW
What if the coup had failed?, this reporter asked and he responded ”Perhaps, I could have been charged for accessory if caught with those soldiers. Who would have known the whole story?” he responded. ”Did you see any of those soldiers again?” this reporter asked , while Amobonye declared while shivering “I could not have seen them beyond that day since I met them by chance and we never exchanged names or addresses but I was glad that the News watch made reference to that story later”, he said looking with surprise and shaking his head!
HOW I BECAME A “GOVERNOR”
Many of his associates call Amobonye “Governor”, when asked whether he was once a Governor of a state, he gave a loud laugh and said he was never a Governor of any state. He narrated why he is being called the Governor, he said ”It is an appellation given to me by a colleague at the National Assembly in Lagos, in 1982 close to the gubernatorial election in Ondo State. A photo Journalist had taken my corporate picture and pasted it on the notice board and with a caption: “GOVERNOR OF ONDO STATE ’83 OR GOVERNOR OF THE PRESS?.” Colleagues on seeing it, in unison shouted ‘Go…ver…nor’ and the name stuck on me till this day. If you call me ”governor” I will answer but I would not call myself that. I know it is from my media colleagues. Ever since, my colleagues have been calling me Governor.”
Asked further whether it is true that he always have stories in his pocket whenever the newsroom is in shortage of stories, the man laughed, he said ” I am like a hunter who is always ready in the forest. A good journalist must develop a story bank and therefore never be in shortage of stories”.
MY MEETING WITH AWO and ZIK
Amobonye can boast of meeting some Nigerian political juggernauts like Awo, Zik, Jalo Waziri, First Republic Speaker of the House of Representatives among others during his sojourn in journalism. On Awo, he said ” I met the late Awo in his lifetime, first on the day of his 70th birthday in Ikenne, Ogun State.
As Awo appeared before Ebenezer Obey who was on the band stand, Obey broke into a song “Awo debi o ti nde, imole de o okuku parada… as if Awo would dance, he simply smiled and walked away. I also met him again with the late Emir of Kano at the meeting of National Leaders of Thought called by General Ibrahim Babangida at the Institute of International Affairs, Victoria Island, Lagos shortly after he had overthrown the then Military Head of State General Muhammadu Buhari in 1984. I interviewed him and the Emir of Kano.
“Some times in 1983, a contact in the NPP hinted me that Zik and Jim Nwobodo, Anambra State Governor would be meeting at the Anambra Guest House Victoria Island the next day at 10am. The meeting had started before I got there. I laid ambush for them and as I saw the two emerging from the meeting, I went straight to them. Perplexed Jim Nwobodo exclaimed repeatedly, “Who told you we are here…” As Zik stopped to listen to me , Jim walked away. At a point Jim could no longer endure waiting and shouted at Zik ”Chief let’s go” But Zik replied “Wait a moment,” I’m talking to my colleague”. That has remained my highest point in journalism. – for Zik to have addressed me as his colleague.”
I INTERVIEWED THE THREE COCAINE PUSHERS
Amobonye said he does not feel shy of his height. ”Yes, I may not be a man of huge stature but remember that the hood does not make the monk. There is this TVC lady Wendy Agbo that I always admire, though short but, very pushful and passionate. You see, when it comes to looking for stories. I remembered when Bernard Ogedengbe, Ojuolape and Bartholomew Owoh were tied to the stake at the Kirikiri Prison ground and about to be shot by marksmen. I was the first Journalist to move to them to interview them, a female colleague even fainted at the boom of the first shot. Many journalists were afraid to go to them but I dared the soldiers. That is where passion comes in so my stature does not count.
MY OPINION ON MEDIA
Asked to give his opinion on the state of the Nigeria media, Amobonye said first let me say “it is a very good profession, and cannot be pushed aside. That is why it is the only profession called the Fourth Estate of the Realm. The past and the present type of journalism cannot be compared because the atmospheres are different-one was analogue, the other is digital but during our time (analogue) we were more committed, resourceful and persevering despite the disadvantage of being analogue professionals. Even our colleagues are not taking full advantage of the digital age. While we go for exclusives and investigative journalism many of us today go for predictable news. You see, sales was high then and in actual fact in those days newspapers were not many and the competition was keen”.
I HAVE NO REGRET
While some journalists complain or regretted going into journalism, Amobonye says he has none, “I have no regret as I enjoyed every bit of the career God has planned for me except that I’m missing not being active. I would love to run a magazine of mine even if monthly. That required relocating to Abuja and having someone who can confidently be trusted on that with a good hand all can still be well with print journalism and therefore invest in it. My first son is a journalist until recently in NTA while my second is doing well as an intern in a digital radio organisation though she read theater arts from the University of Ibadan.
Today I am now a media consultant. As he said this, he brought out a photo album and said ”I will write about all these one day”.
…. I gave coup plotters ride
….How Obasanjo tore my notebook
….My meeting with Zik, Awo
….The three cocaine pushers