Celebrating my fiftieth birthday last Sunday, 19 June, was my recognition that it was a unique milestone.
I did not want to have a party but my wife, Funmilayo, made it all happen - in a special and memorable way.
I am not an occasion person. You may want to know that I did not go for any of my graduation, either at the University of Ibadan (UI) where I had a bachelor's degree in history or at the University of Lagos, where I bagged a master's in international law and diplomacy.
I am an unconventional person and I cannot explain why; maybe I was born like that.
I had not been celebrating my birthdays because I was an active Jehovah's witness.
Growing up, I was insular, because my mum, Clara Yetunde Iyanda, died in 1979, when I was about seven years old and it took some time for the family to find out what really happened. So, we were not talking about it any longer and we were waiting for her to come back. Later, individually, we had to bury her, at different times, in our minds. My younger brother was about four months old, and she had just resumed from her maternity leave as, I think, the head of the Catering Department in Vono.
I was my mum's first male child, after five girls. That was why I was named Okanlawon - a son born after several girls. My full name is Anthony Olumide Okanlawon Ajani Iyanda. The Anthony came because I was baptised in a Catholic church; my maternal grandmother was a Catholic. I am known as Mighty because most Olumides are nicknamed "OluMighty".
I started primary school when I was about five years old, at Onayade Primary School, Fadeyi. The family was living then at Bariga. After my mum's death, we returned to Apata in Somolu. Previously, we had lived at 8 Apata Street.
My father, Gabriel Olukunle Iyanda, became our father and mother after my mum's death. He was a fantastic dad. He was a quiet person. He remarried later and had three other girls. I had two other boys after me, from my mother. So, in all, we are eleven, enough to form a football team.
My dad also rediscovered his faith as a Jehovah's Witness after my mum's death, while I became less of a Witness when I got into UI and I became more probing about matters of faith. There were just some questions I could not find answers to. For me, you could not be a Christian and be doing things that were un-Christian. I am an all or nothing person. I do not know how to be politically correct about things. And, faith is about black or white. As a Jehovah's Witness, I studied more about religion. We had a book called "Mankind's Search for God" which, I think, had an unintended effect on me. Let me be clear: I did not have a problem with any religion but I knew what was not working for me. My dad did not like it, but he respected my choice, even when, because of my decision, some congregations refused to make my dad an elder, particularly so when my older sister, Funmi, also became a less active Jehovah's Witness….
Anyway, when I got married in 2003, I embraced Catholicism and I started going to the Catholic church with my wife, although I was not that active. I would say that although I am not a practitioner of African Traditional Religion (ATR) I have more sympathy for it now and I can connect with it better. One of the first things we lost as Africans was our faith: our colonial masters succeeded in conquering our minds. I think that one of the problems with ATR is that the custodians are not opening it well enough and we have been taught over the years to see it as fetish and evil.
My own is that we should just be good, and there is really no one who does not know the difference between good and bad.
Did I have any apprehension that I would not attain the age of fifty?
To me, I see everyday as a bonus. My mum died early. I also had some personal challenges along the way. There was a period I was dependent on alcohol with devastating physical and emotional consequences. Thankfully, I have been sober since 6 April 2015, and now help other alcoholics who desire to stop drinking.
While growing up, my mum bought me a guitar, and introduced me to the music of King Sunny Ade (KSA) early and at a point I had this grand idea of becoming another KSA when I grew up. But I never learnt to play the guitar or any other instrument.
I realised early enough that I was not going to be KSA.
But then, my mum wanted me to work in the health sector, because my dad was once a support staff at the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan. He also worked at the Military Hospital, Lagos. In fact, my mum called me "Doctor". But, I knew early enough that, even with a gun to my head, I was not going to pass mathematics.
People also thought I was going to be a lawyer for two reasons: I can handle a debate well and there was this character in the Village Headmaster TV drama called Iyanda but when Chief Eleyinmi started calling him "Baby Lawyer" and people in my secondary school - Imoye High School, Mile Two - were also calling me "Baby Lawyer" I no longer wanted to be a lawyer.
Then I started writing for the Press Club in the secondary school, where I was from 1983 to 1988; we still had Form 1 to Form Five then. I did well in English language, literature, history and economics.
Interestingly, I applied to read communication and language arts, which was the closest to mass communication at UI but I missed the cut off mark by four points I was so angry because, when I went to the department to check my results, I saw people from the so-called disadvantaged areas whose results did not come any close to mine who got admitted. But fortunately for me, I made history, which was my best subject in secondary school, my second choice, and at UI too. I was going home when I remembered that I had history as my second choice, so I went to the department, and I saw that I had an admission.
But I made a decision that I was going to leave the university a better journalist than many people in communication and language arts. I took all their compulsory and elective courses in 100 Level. In 100 Level, I joined Sultan Bello Hall Press which was then publishing a magazine called Echoes. If you ask anyone who was in UI between 1987 and 2000, they would tell you how powerful Echoes was. The magazine was feared. I became the editor of Echoes in my 200 Level. That was a feat. Not only that, I was editor for two sessions. Because I was a kingpin in Echoes, I was on the same floor at Sultan Bello throughout my undergraduate years. I was in the same room, A22, for three sessions. We named the room "Jam Temple" because we were always playing music. My two roommates were Layi Olatunji and Taoreed Adejumo. We are still friends. Layi was at my fiftieth birthday party while Taoreed is in the United States of America.
When I left UI, it was only natural that I was going to become a journalist. Indeed, almost everyone in UI knew me by name, even if they did not recognise my face because I liked to be incognito. I ran into a lot of troubles with secret cult boys mostly because they did not want us to write about them and Echoes was hitting hard. Some of my reporters had to join the cults because they were scared but I did not. I just wanted to be a damned good journalist and I was self-inspired, really.
In my journalism career, the closest person I could say I wanted to be like was Femi Akintunde-Johnson (FAJ). He was the reason that I later went to work at Saturday Punch newspaper as an entertainment writer. So, when I was an entertainment journalist, I did not just write about entertainers, but I wrote stories that entertained. That is why I did those "crazy" interviews that many people liked, because I wanted to entertain my readers while those I wrote about also enjoyed the stories. Mind you, I also did those kind of interviews with some politicians including Jimi Agbaje and Olorunnimbe Mamora.
I also was deeply into music. So, if I went to a concert, say, by Lagbaja, I would not report that sax was played but I would say someone played alto sax, another soprano sax and all that.
You see, before I left for university, and my dad was a low-income earner, I learnt to fend for myself. I saw poverty. I know what it means to be poor. So, when I left Imoye High School, a cousin who was working in Doyin Industries helped me get a job to do stock-taking of vehicles at Doyin Motors. I worked for two weeks here and got paid. When that was over, I went to work at Doyin Mat where they made rubber mats. I worked in the factory. My first day there, the supervisor told me to go, that he did not think that I could work there, because I was tiny. I told him that I needed the job because I wanted to give my dad a break. I did not want to go to university and still be asking him for money. In reality, I paid myself through university to an extent. My sister, Funmi, made my last two years in the university a whole lot easier because she was earning money and gave me some of it.
I ended up working in that factory for almost one and half years. I was on my feet for eight hours a day.
The first thing I bought with my salary was a two-deck cassette player. I went to university with the player and nearly hundred cassettes.
Do not forget that I could not play any instrument and I could not sing, so, as a failed musician, failed communication and language arts student, I decided to make up by doing those things in a roundabout way and doing it well.
I used to play a lot of Bob Marley songs. It was like his songs ministered to me.
My two most favourite musicians were Fela and Miles Davis. When I left university I had almost all of Fela's songs in cassettes. In Ibadan, I was going from one recording studio to another to get the songs. There was a particular song, "Equalisation between trouser and pant" which I had recorded for me in Abeokuta.
I read a lot about, among others, Count Basie, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Adeolu Akisanya, Victor Olaiya and, of course, Fela. I could identify all the major music instruments.
I was posted in 1997 to Jos, Plateau State, for my national youth service but even as I liked the scheme I did not think that the government was ready to take adequate care of the corps members. So, I got redeployed to Ogun State and worked in the Ministry of Works and Housing.
After I had worked at Doyin Mat which I talked about earlier I worked at the Federal Government Staff Housing Board, an agency under the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing at the Federal Secretariat Ikoyi, Lagos.
On completion of youth service, Funmi also introduced me to Mr Babafemi Ojudu at Tempo magazine, a sister publication of TheNews magazine. She was then writing a column for them. Mr Ojudu was impressed with my knowledge of politics, news and, especially, entertainment. I was employed to write entertainment for the magazine. I have said it several times, that the biggest scam I ever pulled in my life was getting Ojudu to employ me as an entertainment reporter for Tempo, because he thought he was giving me a job but I was really going to be having fun. I was there for a year and a couple of months. After Tempo came Saturday Punch.
I was going to the house of my girlfriend, now my wife, at Pleasure, along Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway, and I said I should stop by and see Funso Aina (now a senior external relations manager at MTN Nigeria) who was my line manager at Tempo and had joined Punch. When I saw him, he just took me to the then editor of Saturday Punch, Azubuike Ishiekwene, saying, 'you said you are looking for an entertainment writer; this is one of the best entertainment writers that I know.' I was given a test and within ten minutes I had a job. The then Features Editor, James Akpandem, was good with entertainment but I knew too much in entertainment than to wait for anyone to tell me the direction to go. At Tempo, I had written a story on Femi Kuti winning a KORA Music Award. That story was on the wall of Z-Mirage - which marketed the winning album, "Bang, bang, bang" - for almost three years. It was that good, if I may so myself. Entertainment is second nature to me. I left Saturday Punch in 2004 as a senior correspondent, as well as the Staff of the Year. The Sun newspaper which started as a Saturday newspaper was like a direct competition for Saturday Punch then. I was recalled from my leave to see what I could do to counter it. To an extent, I think I succeeded. That was when I started all those interviews. Back then, by ten O'clock, Saturday Punch would have sold out. Because I would go out to buy copies and I could not get them.
I also opened the newspaper's entertainment pages to more people. I realised that Nigerian newspapers reported more of the politics of entertainment and not the entertainers themselves. So, while I reported, say, the Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria (PMAN), I was also reporting about the lives and all of the entertainers and I widened the scope, from hip hop, to juju, to fuji, to apala….I cannot comment on what is happening today in that sector. Perhaps a lot of gossips by the blogs. Badly or well? Hmmm. There must be some good guys doing some fantastic work, but, maybe I have not paid enough notice. Definitely, however, a lot of copying of other people's original stories is rampant.
As good as Punch was, at some point I began to feel it was a bit stifling. I like to be free. I do not want a situation where I have bosses up there who are almost in a different realm. I did not like that a lot of the staff there were afraid of the system.
As soon as I became Staff of the Year, I said I was leaving. Almost everyone thought I was crazy. At Punch then when you resigned, you would be asked to go immediately and not allowed to serve out your one month notice. In my own case, I was not discharged immediately. I thought that would happen because I had a job waiting for me at The Saturday Independent.
So from Saturday Punch, I moved to Saturday, Independent and I was there for nine years, and it is the longest I have ever worked for any organisation. I rose to become the editor and that moved me into a supervisory role: I stopped being a field journalist. I was fulfilled because it showed me that I could also be a good administrator. I also think that I made more impact on the lives of people who worked with me. And, that, for me, is the best part of my career. Those I have been able to mentor. Those who call themselves "Mighty Angels". They showed up at my birthday ceremony. But, of course, Independent also had its own challenges: nowhere is perfect.
After Independent, I was at The Niche as an executive editor. I was there for a year. The Niche was good to me. When I left Independent in January 2014, many people thought I was unemployable largely because of my personal challenges. The Niche was a partnership of friends and colleagues but not a business partnership as some people had thought: I was a staff on a salary. I was not a shareholder.
After The Niche, I started Qed.ng. I had noticed, even while at Saturday Independent, that there were many readers who were no longer consuming their news in hard copies, rather they were shifting online. I also realised that one can do a lot of things digitally, from text to audio, video, infographics, all that. Back at Independent, I had the biggest social media presence, so much so that the management gave me a monetary prize.
So, when I left I knew the direction to go. I wanted not just to be a good, ethical journalist but also in charge of my destiny. I did not want to work in a place where I would not be sure of my salary.
QED started in 2014 as an experiment. But we reall took off in 2015, and even when we do political stories, we take them from the personality angle with human interest, except for big stories, and that is coming from my background.
I want us to do stories that pull at the string of your heart, and, of course, we named ourselves QED, because we want to publish stories that are authentic.
It is tough sometimes when you see people who should know better and who own bigger platforms publish stories that you know are not true or when they speculate because they want to drive traffic but we do not do that or "copy and paste". It is not in our DNA. It is also painful, I must say, that our stories get stolen a lot.
I can say that we are doing well with our website and on YouTube where we now have ninety-four thousand plus subscribers. I do not want to say we are where we are because of money but I do not want to have more money than sense. Given the resources that we have, we are not doing badly. We have been around for seven years and there is no month we do not pay our salary latest by the 27th, and we got to a point we paid the thirteenth-month salary. And we pay tax too.
I believe that most of the things that have happened to me in my life's journey were by "grace", to say it like a Christian, or by accident. I do not believe that God likes anybody more than the other. My mum did not plan to die when she did but I do not think that God liked her less. I repeat that, everyday, above ground, for me, is a bonus.
And, there are a lot of things I am grateful to my family - my dad, my sisters, my brothers…and my immediate family for.
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Taiwo Obe, FNGE
Commonwealth Professional Fellow
Founder/Director, The Journalism Clinic
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