It is not all the time that achievers are celebrated in their lifetime. There is a Yoruba adage that emphasises that ‘mortals are worthless in lifetime; statues are always erected of the dead.’ The universality of the belief that human beings often discountenance the accomplishments of others could well be the reason icons strive to make landmark achievements that cannot be easily forgotten in time.
In other words, whilst it is true that statues are only made of the dead, there are exceptions to that rule because there are great men who are celebrated in their lifetime and whose accomplishments stand firm and taller than the statues that are erected of them.
The history of journalism in Nigeria – especially print journalism – started in Abeokuta in the mid 19th century. But the story of the personality cult that will put an impression to the character and shape that the journalism profession will acquire in the Southwest of Nigeria did not start until a century later towards the end of the 1970s.
That the tripartite of the late Peter Ajayi, Olusegun Osoba and Felix Adenaike wrote the canon book of print journalism in Southwest Nigeria is not in doubt. Each of them at the same time in history headed respective media institutions namely: Nigerian Tribune, Daily Times, Daily Sketch and Nigerian Herald. By a streak of friendship and sheer pursuit of ethical best practices, these three friends designed the genetic code of what was then known as the Ibadan powerhouse of the Nigerian media.Their personalities, the friendship and bonding that they struck and their imprint on the sand of time remain known till this day as The Three Musketeers.
Let me emphasize in earnest that although I cut my professional teeth as a journalist in Ibadan, my career didn’t start until several decades after the three musketeers had retired from the newsroom. I am privileged to know a little about their professional lives on account of the fact that my dad, Agboola Sanni – also a journalist and author of the book under review – is a mutual friend to all three of them. Growing up, our home in those days was a newsroom of a sort and afforded me the privilege of knowing in person, the personalities in different news rooms in the country and the issues surrounding the media industry in general.
On this account therefore, I enjoy a robust relationship with Mr. Adenaike and Mr. Ajayi of blessed memory. I know them both to be exceptional gentlemen and also to hold stern opinions on matters of principle. I can infer that the third leg of The Three Musketeers – Osoba – must share these qualities with his other two friends.
The story of their friendship and the impact they created in the Nigerian media is worth reading and that is what The Three Musketeers is all about.
A book of 192-pages with 20 chapters, the author did a lucid illustration of the events that shaped the early lives of each of the three friends, how they grew up from separate homes but developed into adulthood with a common value for good conduct and dedication to hard work.
Chapter two of the book chronicles how the friendship of The Three Musketeers began. Using the power of first person interview, the author was able to succinctly connect the trajectory that brought these three friends together and what impressions each individual had of the other at the first time of meeting.
Chapter three of the book explains the secret to the trade of journalism. The chapter is particularly instructive for contemporary journalists because it illustrates some of the critical challenges a reporter faces on the field. It also provides the antidotes to those challenges and what makes The Three Musketeers exceptional because of the approach they employed to overcome those challenges.
In Chapter four, the book explains the milieu under which the three musketeers functioned as professional journalists. It explains the orthodoxy of the progressive genre of politics in Southwest Nigeria. Making copious references to extant literature and newspaper publications, the chapter dwells mainly on the triumphs and travails of Chief Obafemi Awolowo as the leader of the defunct Action Group.
Chapter five is a continuation of the preceding chapter. It narrates the undercurrent of progressives’ politics with a lens on the partisan characters that shaped the politics of that era. This chapter and the ninth chapter render some accounts on how contemporary politicking takes a cue from the past.
Chapter six narrates the odyssey of the three musketeers as professional journalists. While Peter Ajayi grew up with so much zest as an advocate of progressive politics, Segun Osoba and Felix Adenaike were discovered and nurtured with the Midas touch of the late Babatunde Jose of the old Daily Times fame. The chapter gives an account of the exploits of Adenaike as Editor-in-Chief and Managing Director of the Nigerian Tribune and how the duo of Osoba and Ajayi transformed Daily Sketch and Nigerian Herald from provincial newspapers to papers of national coverage in editorial content and circulation.
Chapter seven harps on the implications of the likely dilemma that may arise when political and media power fall in the same hand. The import of this chapter should also be of particular interest to contemporary media managers and politicians. The author provides answers to how political power and media power should inter-relate with examples from how Chief Obafemi Awolowo, as leader of the UPN in the Second Republic, was able to manage political power and his control over two most influential newspapers of that time namely: Nigerian Tribune and Daily Sketch.
Chapter eight and ten discuss the sad decline in the quality of governance in Nigeria and the debate about how participatory our nation’s democracy is. The chapter provides quality insight for not just journalists; it also calls the attention of policy makers to the inadequacies in the political system with suggestions on how to correct those inadequacies.
In chapter eleven and thirteen, the author makes a submission about how the three musketeers championed the pursuit of justice in their editorial judgments. There is several recalls of instances when the newspapers they represented ignored the temptation to give uneven reportage on political stories that affected the political parties of their patrons.
Chapter twelve borders on the role the three musketeers played as member of the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN), while the remaining chapters focus on how some of their peers see them, their respective post-news room engagements and related topics.
It is noteworthy to mention that the foreword is written by another eminent journalist, Muhammed Haruna, who gives his opinion about what the three musketeers represent in the Nigerian media industry. Mr. Haruna also gives a glamorous appraisal of the author as possessing the befitting pen to write the story of The Three Musketeers.