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Media Football Madness By Onwuchekwa Jemie.

Below is a reprint of an article by Onwuchekwa Jemie.

[The Guardian, Sunday 22 March 1987]

Holy of holies!  May the everlasting spirit of the Nigeria Guild of Editors (defunct) protect us!  What in the Nine Hundred and Ninety-nine Most Beautiful Names of God is going on?

A veritable plague has descended upon the Lagos news media.  Lagos journalists have gone bananas over . . .
football!  For the last two months or so these news-takers have turned themselves into news-makers, quite in violation of the letter, not to talk of the spirit, of their Code of Ethics and the stern strictures of their NUJ charter.  Every Saturday and Sunday morning, at the ungodly hour of 8 o’clock, these scrawny scrawlers, printer’s devils, radio rappers and teleguiders are to be seen swarming all over Unilag‘s Sports City huffing and puffing, trampling the peaceful grass, chasing a large white ball.

Even their women have abandoned all decorum and plunged into this shameful exhibition.  Some prance up and down the sidelines shouting themselves hoarse cheering their side; others (get this!) even jump in the pitch and fight for the ball with the men!  Have you ever seen such a thing in your life?  Meanwhile the famous Unilag go-slow, which the pallisades erected to narrow the approaches did nothing to improve, gets even slower as motorists stop and stare at this clown show.

These Media Meddlers have simply taken over Unilag’s Sports City. Guardian Angels are posted all around the stadium, and the only way any bonafide denizen of this campus can get within ten yards of the playing field before noon on any weekend is to assert, in as loud a voice as he can muster, that he is a reporter on some newspaper just about to be founded! This is the only password the Guardian Angels feel obliged to respect.

Now, if you really want to know, it’s all the fault (yes, I’ll put the blame right where it belongs!) of Sonala Olumhense of Ogunlana Drive and Nduka Irabor of Rutam House. Yes, Sonala got the ball rolling last October, with the happy idea that he could settle a private dispute with a public duel on the football pitch. I said to him: “My friend, if you publish ThisWeek, will you publish next week?  That is the question.” And he shot back:  “Each and every week!” So cocky!

You see, Sonala had this one and only Santana car bought at the price of three pre-SFEM ones, and he didn’t know what to do with it – I mean, how to split it between two hungry departments of his establishment without dismembering it. So he decided to have it out on the football pitch and let the losing side win. Now, that’s what I call going one worse (not better) on the judgment of Solomon, turning a national disaster into a domestic joke, if you see what I mean.

Anyway, they called in the famous photo trickster Sunmi Smart-Cole to referee the match, and Sunmi, who was reported in his own LagosLife as “more partial than FEDECO,” cunningly gave the game away to – the better side!
Now, don’t ask me who got the car.  I don’t care.  I’m only concerned about the grave consequences for the Nigerian media, nay, the entire nation, of this absolutely unprecedented act, this ill-considered, irresponsible, reprehensible, and, shall we say . . . I don’t want to make promises I can’t keep!

As if ThisWeek’s escapade wasn’t bad enough, Nduka Irabor, who has all the while been eavesdropping on Sunmi’s tie-line telephone, decided to push this novel idea one step further.  He decided to carry his Save-a-Soul Campaign for eye-cancer patient Louis Obiakor to (you know it!) the football pitch! A conspiracy, by Shango! And before you knew it, in the twinkling of an NTA camera eye, the whole mass media was aflutter with football fever!

A united media team emerged, prodded by the invisible hands of the two arch-conspirators, Nduka Irabor and Sonala Olumhense. They sought out sparring partners and found, first, the Olodi Bombers, a respectable motley of job seekers, Danfo drivers and petty traders, who promptly bombed them 4-1. Then a Referees XI, quite out of practice except with their whistles, whom they walloped 4-1  Then came D-Day, January 31, 1987, a day that history will never forget, the Charity Match of the Year, the climax of Nduka Irabor’s Save-a-Soul Campaign, when, in the National Stadium in Surulere, Lagos, and before the 30 million viewers of Network News nationwide, Media XI and Nigerian Coaches XI faced each other in a magnificently hilarious confrontation of quixotic proportions, and Media XI went down kicking all the way to a hero’s defeat, 1-2.

Now, what happened next?  Worthy Ancestors, sustain me in this crooked narrative!  An avalanche had formed, was moving, was quite unstoppable.  Punch challenged Guardian to put its boots where its big mouth is. But before the matter could be decided, the NUJ had come up with the “Oba Akran Cup” for the media house football competitions. I have it on bad authority that at the recent “Communications Policy” shindig at Badagry, organised by the Institute of Journalism gang led by restless Tony Nnaemeka whose mind is always three miles ahead and out of step, George Izobo, the boss of us all, whispered in the ear of the king of that ancient city, and out dropped the Oba Akran Cup!

So far, seven matches have been won and lost in two successive weekends.  Each media house team is grimly determined – they go out to practise at 6 a.m., if you can believe that. In fact the quarter-finals began yesterday with Vanguard facing Punch and Daily Times tackling Guardian (“we’ll show them we’re not in the same league,” vaunted one booster whose media house shall be nameless).  If you hurry you can still catch, this very Sunday morning, Concord fighting it out with FRCN, and Newswatch and New Nigerian teaching each other a thing or two.

Rumour has it that up in Kaduna, Mohammed Haruna and Innocent Oparadike are putting together a “formidable team,” pet-named the Kaduna Kangaroos, to settle scores, once and for all, with the arrogant Lagos Media Mafia. It’s only rumour, but, typically, the Lagos media boys are already treating it as fact. They’ve redoubled their practice time. “Let them come,” said one burly fellow. “We’ll eat them alive!”

Meanwhile (as they say in the trade), Nduka categorically denies a conspiracy between him and Sonala to foist this physical fitness fit upon their normally sober and staid colleagues. With all undue immodesty, he prefers to share the blame with “a wider circle of friends” who had long been considering the possibilities of media football. As for Sonala, he could not be reached for comment.

Such, at any rate, dear reader, is as inauthentic a history as I’m able to cook up concerning this quite, quite dismal affair.  Now, quote me if you dare!

•    Professor Jemie, a scholar, poet, journalist, and teacher, was the pioneer Editorial Page Editor/Chairman, Editorial Board of The Guardian (Nigeria)


The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters


Sonala Olumhense: The Man And His Craft By Sabella Ogbobode Abidde.


Sonala Olumhense

Guest Columnist

Just before 5:00am on Sunday April 28, 2013, I came off bed to read one of Nigeria’s greatest minds tell us that “If you are a regular reader of this column, you might like to know that this is the final time I will be writing it in this form. I have been here for a while, beginning with a contribution to this page 30 years ago in the maiden issue of The Guardian on Sunday.”

What?! Mr. Sonala Olumhense is giving up his column, or giving up writing? I wasn’t too sure. In less than 48-hours, I sent him a private mail. He responded. We exchanged a few missives after thereafter.

In September 2005, when I wanted an essay of mine published on the pages of The Guardian, I sought him out. The essay was published. A few years after that, he took time off of his busy schedule to meet with me and treat me to lunch at a restaurant in Manhattan, New York. He didn’t know it, but I was nervous for the first three minutes or so. After all, he is Sonala Olumhense – a man whose three decades of lucidity and coherence has had a great impact on our country, especially on the reading public and on governance.

There is something about excellent journalism and fine writing that makes me happy, hopeful, and joyful. Even though I spent ages 7-21 within close proximity of member of the Nigerian Armed Forces, none of its branches fascinated me enough.  And while some of my childhood friends wanted to be Cyprian Ekwensi, Amos Tutuola, JP Clark, Gabriel Okara, Chinua Achebe, or the fellow who wrote “The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born,” (Ayi Kwei Armah), I wanted to be a Babatunde Jose or a Dele Giwa — or any of the firebrands who poked and jabbed the military.

As far as I was concerned, journalists, as with other members of the intelligentsia, were the people who made society better. I knew then, as I know now, that journalists – especially the well-trained, the inquisitive, the principled, and the activist-types – are, to a very large extend, more useful and serves a better purpose than very many politicians. The Fourth Estate, as Edmund Burke calls them, are indispensable to good governance, to the democratic process, and to the overall wellbeing of a civilized society.

Without journalists and the intellectual class, society may stagnate, or even regress. It needs men of conscience. It needs men and women of courage and who are forthright in their thinking and in whatever advice or suggestions they may proffer. Great journalists fight for the common man and for the common good. They fight for the people. They stand for and with the truth. Hence, every society needs men like Sonala Olumhense.

Mr. Olumhense is an author and a writer. He is also a journalist. But he is not your run of the mill type of journalist. He is also not the brown-envelope type, either. He is a very fine journalist. He is one of the very best that has ever come out of Nigeria.

As a man of the written-word, he has a style that is not very common: he is never angry, grouchy, or pretentious. And he is neither condescending nor arrogant. He is smooth and deep and always educative. He is what those in the know call “the genuine article.” He is an original!  Whatever Sonala is writing about – people, places, events or ideas – he brings with him clarity and profundity. He explains things in ways and manner that is simple, yet engaging. And there has never been a complex subject he cannot make simple and easy to understand.

We know of journalists who deliberately make themselves the focus of the news. Not him. Some three decades into his professional life, he rarely brings attention to himself. It is never about him; but about the ideas and phenomena he chooses to examine. If you’ve never read him, you should. If you don’t know him, then, you probably don’t know many decent human beings.

Mr. Olumhense holds a Bachelor of Science degree in political science (University of Ibadan, 1978). He was a MSC-Mass Communication student at the University of Lagos. He completed the program but the demands of life made it impossible for him to submit a dissertation. Since 2003, he has been a researcher at the Permanent Mission of Indonesia to the United Nations, New York.

What follows is a brief Q/A between us:

Why did you go into journalism, and was it your first choice in terms of profession. In your formative years, who were your heroes/heroines and why?

I discovered journalism when I was in elementary school.  I knew, immediately and indubitably, that it was what I wanted to do. It was not my first choice; it was the only one.  My early professional hero was Peter Enahoro, who was 22 when he became editor at the Daily Times.  I loved the wonder of his wit; the width of his wisdom; and the confidence of his conviction.

Looking back, in what ways has journalism changed – assuming it has changed for good and or for bad?

I think it has changed for the worse.  On account of the technologies available today, journalism is a much easier trade in which to excel, and to make a profit.  At my first job at The Sunday Punch in 1979, for instance, we did not even have a phone.  The most significant concern for me is that Nigerian journalism now sometimes sounds like a bulletin of the Ministry of Information.  Stories are not about what is being done or not done—or who is responsible for them—but quotations of government officials and smirking spokesmen. There are few, if any, investigations; where there is one, there is no follow-up.  Journalism is not institutionally hunting down the big stories.  In the tradition in which I was raised, government officials feared journalists; today, journalists fear government officials.  Ask yourself why.

What was so great about The Guardian; and are there basis for comparison between “then and now”?

The Guardian was extremely ambitious.  The idea was not merely to be a good newspaper; Nigeria already had those.  We were motivated by the highest professional standards of the mainstream media, aiming to report thoroughly, authoritatively and fearlessly.  If a reporter did not ask all the questions going into his copy, he knew he would be asked those questions—perhaps loudly—in the newsroom, a reputation-crusher he could not afford.  Beyond him, news editors and rewrite people would rigorously cross-check facts, background, and parallel stories.

Today, most Nigerian newspapers merely pretend to be reporting society, careful to avoid all the big stories that invariably lead back, or forward, to the privileged and the powerful.  Sometimes, this has to do with the ownership structure of our media houses, but its effect is that Nigeria is grossly under-reported.

There are more than a dozen public intellectuals and commentators who, on a daily basis, criticize and bemoan what Nigeria has become.  Are they correct in their assessment of the country?

This question suggests that these people have a uniform view of our conundrum.  I am not sure that is true, but I am sure when they lament the decay of our society, they are correct.  We are a fallen people, and we have fallen far more scandalously than most people care to admit.  It is important to bemoan this tragedy as a historical record, so as to document its nature in a permanent way.

Many journalists have gone on to accept political appointment. Have you ever sought or been offered political appointment – or ever been offered appointment as Press Secretary or Spokesperson at the state or national level.

I have never sought a political appointment but have indeed been made an offer I could not accept.  While in principle I will always be available to serve my country, I am neither a bounty hunter nor can I serve people for whom I have no respect or take a job in order to help rob the people.  I have great faults, but I am neither a charlatan nor an interloper; I do not know how to praise in public people I loathe in private.

Why do you live and work – and continue to live and work in the United States — as opposed to Nigeria or the West African sub-region?

Time and circumstance, my friend.  Once you are displaced in Nigeria, whether by travel, the Ikeja cantonment explosions, violence in your area, or flooding, you can become permanently displaced.  I live abroad principally because of my family, but I would be delighted to work in Nigeria, and I am working towards that direction.

Your most recent essay seems to indicate that you are leaving The Guardian (which has been your primary home for the last three decades).  Are you, and why?

Yes and No.  I am working on something a little different from what I have done in the past, but there is no reason I cannot still publish in The Guardian if there is agreement by both sides.

My hope is that Mr. Olumhense continues to be associated with the journalism profession. And I also think that whatever the areas of contention are with The Guardian, they can and should be resolved.  As perhaps the busiest, the largest and most enterprising media market in Africa, Nigeria cannot afford to lose minds and talents such as his.
Montgomery, Alabama


Graphic Design Students: Design Olumhense Logo, Win $500.

By SaharaReporters, New York

Harpostrophe Limited, a division of the TaijoWonukabe Group, has announced a competition for Nigeria Graphics Arts students to visualize and design a logo for Sonala Olumhense’s forthcoming new column.

The column will be called SOS (Sonala Olumhense Syndicated), and is being offered to interested newspapers in Nigeria.

In a statement, Harpostrophe, which is representing Olumhense, announced it will pay three hundred dollars to the winner of the contest, and two hundred to the runner-up. Entries for the competition will close on May 22, and the winner announced on May 30, 2013.

Olumhense last month ended his long-running “As I Was Saying” column in The Guardian.  A foundation member of the newspaper and a former Editorial Page Editor, he had written for the newspaper for most of the last 30 years.

“Believing these times call for a new way, he will shortly debut a new syndicated column, SOS (Sonala Olumhense Syndicated),” Harpostrophe said.
Brilliant students interested in participating in the design competition are to email their entries to:

Further information is available by email from Taiwo Obe, Group Executive Director of Harpostrophe Limited, at, or by phone at 0802 313 0829.

Just Look At The Time! … Thirty Years After … Just Look At Nigeria Today! By Bayo Oluwasanmi.

By Bayo Oluwasanmi

Just look at the time! … thirty years after … just look at Nigeria today!


Sonala Olumhense’s last column for The Guardian appeared in SaharaReporters on April 28. Arguably, Olumhense is the only star columnist left after the exodus of his colleagues at the Guardian. The entire Guardian franchise rests on his shoulders.

My first contact with Olumhense was on the pages of Punch. That was more than thirty years ago.  His articles traveled a range of great variety of social problems that continue to haunt our great country till today.

I became a disciple of his column because of his lucidity, style, insight, and content. Though occasionally vilified by his critics – mainly by the politicians he wrote extensively about – he refused to recant his open views.

A typical Olumhense’s column addresses three flavors of the foolish: simpletons, fools, and mockers. Simpletons the naïve, fools the morally numb and mindless, and mockers the aggressively defiant and cynical.

Again, typical of Olumhense, he’ll quickly remind his readers that all the three are all alike in one way: they pay no attention to wisdom and suffer the consequences.

His writings represent a timeless treasure from aggrieved mind to his subjects – the government and the governed.

In clinically distilled nuggets of venom, Olumhense would warn us against absolute power, corruption, and other vices that have become the signature emblem of the tyrannical operators of the Nigerian brand of democracy.

His pen is no respecter of any person. He touches on many personalities from different walks of life: the rich and the poor, false witnesses and friends, the lazy and the diligent, the deceitful and the dependable.

His column is a treasure chest of insight that you’ll want to read more than once.

If a carpenter can take a block of wood and turn it into a beautiful piece of furniture, we say that person is a gifted craftsman.

If a conductor can shape the myriad skills of an entire orchestra to produce the sounds of symphony, we say that person is a musical genius.

Olumhense is a multi-gifted mind, a man gifted with ability to make politicians laugh – at themselves. His imagination and determination were fueled by personal unhappiness about the way Nigeria is, and with the zeal of a social reformer he thought he would be able to change things.

He has a boundless confidence in the power of his pen and never for once spared the group of desensitized and gloating mob called politicians.

A wordsmith of extraordinary order, his delicately chiseled elegant prose deals with the maxims of life: folly and wisdom, pride and humility, vengeance and justice, laziness and initiative, poverty and wealth, enemies and friends, lust and love, anger and anxiety, masters and servants.

Olumhense has a reverential respect and a personal burden for the poor and the powerless. He pays careful attention to the moral and ethical principles that govern the social contract between the government and the governed.

Many times his character is smeared and his motive questioned by incorrigible propagandists and shameless political jobbers. Nevertheless, he maintained a fearless stand at all times.

One might say that there are three Sonala Olumhenses: (1) the experimental investigator, (2) the social critic, and (3) the Voltairian satirist. Many times Olumhense keep these three selves in unison.

But more often than not, he allowed the satirist to tune his strings in a triumphant chord of protest against the follies and absurdities of the ruling gangsters. His warnings and advice were ignored by some and burned by others.

He is an inspired thinker who used a swift and sharp wit to express and expose the evil passions of the ruling class. The reader can literally hear his strident tone in his writings.

Olumhense’s last piece for the Guardian “Just Look At The Time!” was a synthesis of the genesis of the struggle between good and evil in Nigerian politics.

His writings bring his readers face to face with all that is wrong in Nigeria. His motive is transforming the lives of our people and even the fabric of our society.

Olumhense’s writings capture the emotions and heartbeat of Nigerians. And his expository writing is a catechism of his repeated passionate attempts to call the native oppressors back to civilization they abandoned long time ago.

His exit column narrates his full rage of his emotions, experiences, and his disappointment – the heartaches, the laments, the hopes, and the fears of our people – throughout the 30 years he wrote for the Guardian – just look at the time! … thirty years after … just look at Nigeria!

The article reads like the screenplay from a disaster movie: locust swarms, drought, famine, raging brush fire, invading armies, astronomical catastrophes.

The piece succinctly deals with big questions, big answers: (1) what exists? (2) how did we get there? (3) did it have a beginning? (4) who was/were responsible? The answers have been graciously supplied by Olumhense.

His article paints a vivid picture of him putting our tears in a bottle and keeping track of them in a narrative. Just look at the time! … thirty years after … just look at Nigeria today!

Stoic sensitivity is nothing to be proud of. A man or woman with a large heart for people can’t help but get emotionally involved. Olumhense’s big heart for Nigeria is ripped apart by frustration and disappointment in the article. He cries over Nigeria.

His article describes the funeral of a nation. It is a tear-stained portrait of once-proud Nigeria now reduced to a pile of rubble by the invading marauders. Just look at the time! … thirty years later… just look at Nigeria today!

In his 22-paragraph dirge for Nigeria, Olumhense strips Nigeria naked. In the midst of this terrible holocaust, Olumhense cries out:

“Take a look at such unfolding international scandals as Halliburton and at the drama productions as the elections these men presented or prevented…”

In the face of death and destruction, with life seeming to come apart at the seams, Olumhense explains the tragedy:

“Nonetheless, 30 years ago, we had fairly decent and safe roads, along with two kinds of highway robbers: the regular kind, and the police.”

Just look at the time! … thirty years later … just look at Nigeria today!

“In 1983, you knew what hope was. The NPN had assaulted our national aspirations and desires, but your life and your prospects lay largely in your own hands. If you worked at night, or wished to travel, you had no mortal fear of setting out.  If you worked hard, and did not fear Nigeria, you had no reason to fear you would not succeed in Nigeria.”

Sometimes through symbolic object lessons, sometimes through old plain in-your-face diatribe, Olumhense confronts the shoeless idiot and his co-travelers with the deadly consequences of their action and/or inaction.

“But we then perfected our kleptocracy, which is the combination of military bravado in milking Nigeria, and civilian pretense for the same objective. The result is increasing underdevelopment of Nigeria, in colours of shame and perpetual embarrassment.”

Just look at the time! … thirty years after … just look at Nigeria today!

These are dark days for Nigerians. When health is frail, when financial prospects are bleak, when families and friends are far away, when jobs are uncertain, when tomorrow look no brighter than today, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the darkness.

Olumhense’s smelting furnace of despair about violence, insecurity, corruption, and inept leadership is always dramatized in his writings:

“… you woke up and you are in a country where wealth is counted but not character, a country where mediocrity is rewarded with National Honours and lucrative contracts.”

“Fifty years ago, at independence, we had hope. Now, we have this triumphant kleptocracy so successful and transcendent that the national ruler can dismiss questions about his integrity with the infernal words, “I don’t give a damn!”

Compare the headlines of today’s news with the thread of Olumhense’s essays in the past 30 years; the similarity between the two is clear: that we are still stuck in the same mess. The nation has been wasted by unchecked corruption.

Just look at the time! … thirty years after…just look at Nigeria today!

Once a fruitful vine, Nigeria now lies spiritually barren and fruitless. Like the pounding of a hammer, Olumhense’s indictment of the prodigal sons and daughters is hard hitting and damming.

“Thirty years later, we are a nation in fear. Our youth have no jobs, and many are learning to employ themselves as robbers and kidnappers and thugs and militants. In place of hope and inspiration, one ruler after another inflicts on them despair and cynicism.”

“Thirty years later, we fear whether we will survive. We fear whether we will survive as one. Whether we will survive to tell the tale. Whether we will even have water to drink or electricity by which to see our children smile, or safety from “unknown” gunmen, known militants, and indiscriminating agencies.”

Just look at the time… thirty years later… just look at Nigeria today!

In his characteristic candor, he harshly condemns the flaws and failures of a government that is in every aspect and respect is anti-poor.

“Thirty years after I first wrote here, it is almost impossible to provide younger Nigerians with any inspiration they can grow and compete with the best of other nations.”

“That is why 30 years after I first wrote on this page, and hundreds of billions of Nigeria’s oil dollars later, just a few Nigerians have unimaginable wealth that is paralleled only by the astonishing poverty of most of our people.”

Once upon a time, times were good in Nigeria. The nation basked in peace, prosperity, strength, and security. Then came the vagabonds and the prodigals.

They imposed on us the rotten core of immorality, corruption, poverty, injustice, fear, insecurity, false optimism, and shallow piety. They have grown soft and lax in luxurious living.

The locusts have come. Everything has been eaten up by the swarm.

Think through the thoughts that flow from Olumhense’s pen. Great truths in tiny capsules. What great truths we have been taught by Olumhense!

In a well ordered society, Olumhense will not just fade into the madding crowd, but rewarded with a professorial chair in journalism to teach the next generation of writers and muckrakers. But, this is Nigeria…

Olumhense deserves honor, not because he foresees the coming events, but because he sees the meaning within the current event. His heart is torn within him, and his compassion overflows for Nigeria. We wishing him well.

Just look at the time! … thirty years after… just look at Nigeria today!

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters

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