On October 1st, 1974, Nigerians were shocked when then military Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, in his independence anniversary broadcast to the country announced to his fellow country men and women that his promise to hand over power to a democratically elected government by 1976 was ‘no longer feasible’. The man who was destined to lead the country through the three-year gruesome blood -letting that saw former fellow citizens falling violently on each other and squandering no less than two million lives, mostly in Igbo land, the major theatre of war, had promised immediately after the war (even if not the peace) was won, to begin the process of returning the military back to the barracks and the re-civilianization of the political space.
Apparently hearkening to the deceptive voices of sycophants and political buccaneers, Gowon apparently became convinced of his own political invincibility and indispensability becoming reluctant to relinquish the delicious goblet of power. It was to become an all too familiar story in Nigeria’s recurrent political narrative over the years of failed military transitions aborted by hidden agendas – IBB’s aborted third republic of intricate trickeries and elaborate deceptions, Abacha’s undisguised life perpetuation project prosecuted with iron fist brutality till death’s own military coup claimed the dictator’s life and, of course, Obasanjo’s failed ‘third term agenda’ in this supposedly democratic dispensation.
Even then, Awolowo’s response to Gowon’s ominous declaration along with the strident condemnation of the military regime by trade unionists, human rights activists and lawyers, radical academics and students, were all quite tame in comparison to a young, dynamic, volcanic and utterly uncompromising journalist and columnist in the stable of the defunct Daily Times, which was then at the zenith of its professional and commercial glory under the leadership of the undisputed doyen of Nigerian journalism, Alhaji Babatunde Jose. The columnist was none other than the immortal Aba Saheed. He was one of the most influential voices in the Daily Times stable at a time when the newspapers had a circulation figure of over half a million copies daily. Aba Saheed was the pen name of Tola Adeniyi, today a respected Yoruba traditional title holder, businessman, scholar, creative writer, theatre enthusiast, poet and one of the ‘elder statesmen’ of Nigerian journalism.
Unfortunately, thousands of readers of the Daily Times were unable to read the piece. Those alas, were not the days of internet and the instant dissemination of news, information and ideas at the speed of light. The popular belief at the time and a view which I held for many years was that the military regime had deployed soldiers across the country to intercept Daily Times delivery vans as well as seize and burn thousands of copies of that day’s edition of the newspaper solely because of that Aba Saheed’s highly combustible piece.
However, in a recent interview in this newspaper on the launch of his new book, ‘In the Belly of Vultures’, a compendium of about 13,000 of his newspaper articles, Chief Tola Adeniyi confirmed that hundreds of thousands of copies of the Daily Times were once destroyed in the seventies as a result of one of his columns. Although he did not cite the column in question, I believe it is the one I am referring to here. The great Aba Saheed, however, explained that it was the Daily Times management that actually recalled the copies from circulation and ordered their destruction because the column was considered too explosive. Yet, the then young columnist was neither queried nor penalized! He remained one of the most appreciated, valued and celebrated writers of the newspaper.
For instance, when the Pakistani dictator, Zia Ul-Haq, was assassinated in 1988, I wrote in a column in the August 25th edition of the Daily Times that year: “The news of the demise of Pakistani strongman, Zia Ul-Haq, brought to my mind memories of an article published in the Daily Times by that master of sometimes too aggressive journalism, Tola Adeniyi, in the early seventies titled, ‘Death, I salute you’! The great Aba Saheed was celebrating, in that piece, the blessed mortality of man against the background of a society in which the powerful and privileged acted like immortals”.
Yours truly was a quiet observer at the NECA House, Central Business District, Alausa, Ikeja, on Thursday, March 1st, 2018, when Aba Saheed’s book, ‘In the Belly of Vultures’ was presented to the public before a quality audience of Nigeria’s journalistic, political, social, and business elite. It was good to see that the grand master of pugilistic, no holds barred opinion writing is alive, well and in good spirits.
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