The late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, once described journalists as the float and jetsam of society when asked about his experience as a journalist with The Nigerian Worker long before his famous stay in 1944. in UK to study law.
Journalism all over the world is the easiest profession to enter. It is open to all professionals who have a good sense of oral or written expression. The idea of studying journalism at the University is relatively recent and it originated in the United States in the 1960s and then spread to all parts of the globe.
Tolu Ogunlesi had no plans to become a journalist initially, having obtained his first degree in pharmacy from the University of Ibadan. He later followed it with an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. His first job was at Accenture before he caught the highly addictive journalism bug and landed a job at the now defunct Next Newspapers as a pioneering editor.
It was at Next, who had a knack for investigative journalism, that his talent blossomed considerably, winning numerous awards for his life-changing stories, including the CNN African Journalist of the Year award. He then won the prestigious award for the second time when he was West Africa Editor-in-Chief of Africa Report magazine.
He took advantage of social media and built up a significant following on Twitter, where he freely expressed his views on politics, business and culture. He then wrote a widely followed column in Punch on Mondays. He has been a role model for many young journalists and a standard bearer for the best of Nigerian journalism.
After paying his dues in the profession he was approached by media campaign organization Buhari in 2015 to be part of the media team and I remember a scathing article he wrote in Economist magazine based in London, who was strongly critical of the administration of Goodluck Ebele Jonathan at the time. .
When he accepted the offer to be a digital media assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari in 2016, I knew he would come out with a bloody nose and follow the path of brilliant former journalists who couldn’t resist the attractiveness of the public service. One wonders why he accepted the date in the first place as if he couldn’t read and understand the signs. It took Buhari nearly six months to put together his cabinet, and the names were mostly made up of recycled political thugs. It was clear by the end of 2015 that Buhari had nothing to offer. Couldn’t he have politely rejected the offer?
In 2018, he reportedly said this in response to criticism from a section of Nigerians who criticized his meeting with the controversial British Super Model, Naomi Campbell.
“Naomi Campbell has met Nelson Mandela more than once. He gave her a hug, called her his “granddaughter of honor”. She is visiting Nigeria for a fashion festival and meeting President @MBuhari, and some of you are slandering her, “Tolu Ogunlesi said on Twitter on Friday, and further pointed out that:” YOU ARE CRAZY WITH NO ONE FOR YOU TO SAY IT.
The zenith of his complete retreat from reality came when he had a recent interview with CNN’s Larry Madowo. He was asked a simple question of whether he supports the ban on Twitter. He was stuttering like a Caucasian trying to learn Igbo and it was so bad that Madowo asked him to say yes or no, which he hesitated the most.
This sparked backlash from many of his now distant colleagues like Fisayo Soyombo, popular investigative journalist, Rufai Oseni of Arise News and even Reno Omokri who once served under Jonathan. Nigerians have seen the humiliation and humiliation of one of its brightest stars in journalism by a foreign news network not known to be too friendly with Africans.
The main challenge for journalists in Nigeria is to balance their public service work and meet their financial obligations. The hunger in their belly makes them see the profession as a simple stepping stone to a juicy political meeting or a job in a company. It is seen as a mere stopgap and many journalists have an inferiority complex that makes them crawl in front of policymakers rather than hold them to account or tell them the truth.
How to save this noble profession so that the best and the brightest are not poached by politicians who have nothing to offer? How can we prevent the best brains here from being reduced to non-entities because of “the infrastructure of the stomach?” How can we prevent future Tolu Ogunlesi from being spokespersons for anti-popular policies?
Media around the world are going through a difficult time due to the double incursion of the Internet and new media. The duopoly of Google and Facebook has captured a significant chunk of the advertising market, leaving the rest to be scavenged. There are massive layoffs and the conversion of some full-time staff to freelancers.
Despite the media challenges, there is still a demand for good journalism as the press will forever remain the kingdom’s fourth estate. Nigerian journalists should think beyond chasing faded brown envelopes and looking for declining ads to take advantage of the gargantuan global opportunities the internet offers. Nothing prevents a journalist who is an authority in a particular rhythm or who is popular from obtaining lucrative paid concerts abroad, particularly in the United States, which is the world’s largest market for speaking engagements. They could hire the services of an agent who will do all the supply and field work for them. Red Media Africa co-founder and CEO Adebola Williams already did a speaking tour to some Ivy League universities a few years ago. Nothing prevents our journalists from following suit. Amazon and Barnes and Noble democratized the publishing industry. Nothing prevents them from writing books on issues of global concern to a foreign audience who will pay for their works. Media owners can also donate a share of advertising revenue to journalists whose work attracts large audiences to their platforms to encourage them to perform at their best. Journalists should also be more enterprising and adventurous and can do what they did in 1984 with the quartet of Dele Giwa, Dan Agbese, Yakubu Mohammed and Ray Ekpu with the formation of News watch Magazine. There are many grants that can be obtained from international donor agencies to support their work. Many western news houses have gone under a pay wall, either the full model or the freemium model. The likes of The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Economist, The Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, etc. are the leaders of the peloton. Locally, Business Day and Stears Business have adopted it. Stears Business, a publication barely four years old, managed to attract a $ 600,000 investment that allowed them to go from spreading their information for free to putting it under a paid wall and damning advertisers. Journalists can learn this new model.
Someone has to be the media assistant to a public office holder, but hopefully there will be the courage to say no or walk away after saying yes so that we don’t have a running decimal place. of clones of the tragic Tolu Ogunlesi.
Tony Ademiluyi is the co-founder of The Vent Republic writes from Lagos; he can be reached on [email protected] and 08167677075.