Wanna be like Mike! By Ose Oyamendan

There’s a cool Michael Jordan, Nike commercial that I love. The hook is, “Wanna be like Mike”. But, the song doesn’t remind me of Michael Jordan.

The Mike I wanna be like is Mike Awoyinfa. Mike writes like the poets from the old days. His words are flowery and so visual you can see them. You can chew his words like a great meal.

He is shy but give him a good story and watch the shyness melt into exuberance.

I first met him during Valentine week twenty years ago. After a turbulent start, I’ve had the most loving relationship with him. Mike is the man who put me on a career bike and steered me on. Without Mike, I’m not the Ose Oyamendan I am today.

I had a funny experience once in film school. We all had our talents and we all wanted to be great film directors. But, no one loved to write like I did. My screenwriting professor took me aside one day and asked why writing was relatively easy for me.

I told him I graduated from a journalism school called the “school of Mike”. Back in those days, Mike had a column in the Sun newspapers. I shared some online versions with my professor who is an Oscar award winner. As one of my Warri friends would say, “the professor bow”.

Last week, Oga Mike turned 60 and somehow he doesn’t look sixty. The man still has the taste and style that someone two decades younger like me is struggling to copy.

This week, I’ve been singing, “Wanna be like Mike” because when I’m sixty I still wanna be like Oga Mike.

Funny thing is my path almost never crossed Mike’s.

As a Mass Communication student at the University of Lagos, we were required to complete an internship. The serious kids started theirs over the summer. I went to Ibadan and camped in my mother’s kitchen. When I returned, all the prime internships were taken.

The late Dr. Delu Ogunade rescued Muideen Akorede, Bayo Abiodun and I. He sent us to Mike. We thought it was a cakewalk because we felt that we had the intellectual style suited to the Guardian and Newswatch of those days.

We were after all marking time before we write for the New York Times and Times of London. We were going to do Weekend Concord a favor. Mike welcomes us and duly informed us that he didn’t think we could write because the Mass Communication kids from UNILAG had become lazy and expect things to be handed to them.

But, he was willing to give us a fair shake. So, he asked us to conduct a vox pop on what Valentine’s Day meant to people. I felt it was a slap on the face.

I didn’t go to UNILAG; spend three years studying Mass Communication all because I wanted to do a vox pop. We decided we were going to do the mother of all vox pops. When we turned the report in, Mike said it wasn’t good enough.

How bad can a vox pop be? This Mike is mean, we grumbled.

Mike used the piece grudgingly because it was Valentine’s weekend. But, Mike is a man who gives everyone a chance. He gave me another assignment.

There was a church in Yaba where prostitutes camp outside at night. He asked me to bring a story from that world.

I camped with the prostitutes for three nights. It was a thrill. I’d always wanted to know about prostitutes, the world’s oldest professionals. I submitted my story and fled to UNILAG.

When I walked into the office on our production day, Mike waved me into his office with a wondrous expression that baffled me.

Then, he said he was sorry my story was going to be a back page story. He wanted it to be the cover story but something current was knocking it off. I was soaring in the clouds. I thought I was writing a page 3 story at best.

Now, I was on the back pages. I immediately thought of how many girls I could impress with that. Turns out, UNILAG babes were more impressed by suya and fast cars. On that day, I became like Mike’s third son.

He pushed me hard, taught me the ropes, forced Concord to make changes in how they remunerated Interns because, according to him, I was writing half his newspaper some weekends, pushed for me to serve at Concord and started me five steps ahead of a beginner when I was eventually ready to be hired.

Mike is not Mike without his twin, Dimgba Igwe. Those two are like a parenting duo. I’ve never met two men more different but still alike. And, I’ve never met two people who complement each other like they do. If all marriages are like their brotherhood, there would not be another divorce on God’s earth.

Today, I’m sitting in my hotel room in Nigeria thinking of what Mike and the army of the graduates from his school of journalism would have done in this month of political madness.

Probably publish the best newspaper edition ever. I can see a front page headline now. “Shocker! First Ladies At War!” And, on either side of the front page would be Turai and the marauding Permanent Secretary. Happy 60th Oga Mike!


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