Nigeria: For Sam Omatseye At 60

15 June 2021
opinion

It was also a Tuesday, exactly 28 years ago today, when the chairman of 'The Nation' editorial board, Mr Sam Omatseye, was to mark his 32nd birthday in Abuja. At that period, I was the Abuja Bureau Chief for 'African Concord', a fanciful title conferred on me by the trio of the magazine's publisher, Mr Deji Abiola, editor-in-chief, Mr Lewis Obi, and editor, Mr Soji Omotunde, even when I was just another bloody reporter in the vast media empire of the late Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola at the time. And it was precisely because of Abiola that Omatseye's birthday assumed some significance that day.

As the deputy political editor at National Concord, Omatseye had arrived Abuja from Lagos to monitor the release of the results of June 12, 1993, presidential elections conducted three days earlier. Since it was clear that our chairman and Social Democratic Party (SDP) presidential candidate, Abiola, was going to become the president-elect, the Abuja Concord office where Chief Olu Akerele held sway was already prepped for celebration.

However, in a curious twist of events, the Professor Humphrey Nwosu-led National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced that afternoon that, in deference to a contrived court order procured by the Association for Better Nigeria (ABN), it was going to suspend the announcement of the presidential results. That was what provoked Omatseye's piece in National Concord titled, 'They ruined my birthday.' I recall that episode because since then, I have never forgotten Omatseye's birthday which usually follows the 'June 12' anniversary.

Two years later in 1995, I joined Omtaseye and Tunji Bello in Sunday Concord as the Assistant Editor, effectively the number three man. My friend, Louis Odion, and I worked directly under Omatseye and from him we learnt a lot about writing. A voracious reader who can almost recite the entire Bible and quote from almost every serious literary work, Omatseye taught us that to write you must read. And he was never shy to challenge authority. I recall a day at Concord when the Managing Director, Dr Doyin Abiola, asked Omatseye: "Sam, why do you always write about personalities rather than issues?". The reply was instant: "Maybe because the personalities were the issues."

The writings of Omatseye, Fellow of the Nigerian Academy of Arts (FNLA), mirror that of Henry David Thoreau, 19th century American essayist, poet, and philosopher, who was once detained for refusal to pay tax to protest slavery. While in incarceration, Thoreau wrote his famous essay, 'Civil Disobedience'. But the highlight of his prison experience came with the visit of his friend and fellow writer/philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson. "Why, Henry, what are you doing in there?" Emerson asked his detained friend who replied: "Nay, Ralph, the question is, what are you doing out there?"

Every good writer is expected to be imbued with such qualities as clarity of thoughts, attention to detail, discipline, etc. But in a society like ours you must also be angry with the status quo and possess the courage to move the hands of those in authority, even at personal risk, while captivating the public with words that convey hope and meaning. Writing with conviction may be hard, but it is essential to making a difference and that is what sets journalists like Omatseye apart. I wish him happy birthday as he joins the sexagenarian club.

Olusegun Adeniyi, Chairman, THISDAY Editorial Board

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