My dad, Joseph Ayoola (J. A.) Olaoye was from Oyo. My mum, Cecilia Modupe Olaoye, was a Lagosian of Dahomean stock. On my mother's side, everyone was Catholic. On my dad's side, almost ninety-eight per cent were Muslims while he was a Catholic.
So, both my parents were good Catholics, and I was baptised a Catholic at birth. My baptismal name, believe it or not, was Theophilus. But I am simply Wole Olaoye.
I served as an altar boy and I badly wanted to be a Catholic priest; it was my life ambition.
As a child growing up in Lagos where I was born, I was exposed to people such as late Catholic Archbishop of Lagos (from July 1965 to 13 March 1972) John Kwao Amuzu Aggey, who was a cousin to my grandmother.
Each time he came visiting, there was some aura about him. We would swarm around him saying, 'Bishop, come and bless us.' And he would reply, 'You these boys, maybe I will give you very tiny blessing.' He would be asked which is tiny blessing? He would murmur in nomine Patris saying 'that is when the Bishop is in a hurry.' Then he would add that, 'but if you are patient, I will give you in nomine Patris, et Filli, et Spiritus Sancti…' So, we would tell him that we would be patient as we did not want tiny blessing. He was such a great man. I admired him and wanted to be like him so badly.
I wanted to give it my best shot, so I attended the St Theresa's Minor Seminary at Oke Are and Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Major Seminary at Bodija, both in Ibadan.
The day I told my dad that I wanted to go to the seminary, he said: 'Really? Have you thought deeply about it?' I told him I had. He never said No. But, my mum was glad that we would have a priest in the family.
Eventually, I changed my mind in the major seminary, after finishing philosophy which took the first three years. We were going into theology, I did a bit of it and decided that, maybe, being a priest was not what I really wanted to do.
My exit was triggered by a conflict with someone in authority.
I left the major seminary in 1975.
My mum, who was my greatest cheerleader, had died two years earlier.
You know that you do not just walk out of the seminary, you have to talk to somebody. I went to talk with the then Archbishop of Lagos Anthony Olubunmi Okojie, because I was sponsored to the seminary by the Lagos Diocese; although Bishop Alaba Job of Ibadan was my friend and mentor. Okojie asked me if I had thought about it, I said I had, very well. He asked that I come back the next day. When I reported back to him, he asked me again, if I was still resolved to leave. Of course, yes. He then said, 'between yesterday and today, I have made some arrangements, I think we will send you to Rome, maybe there you can settle down and finish your theology.' I told him I would not go an exile because of anything, and I am leaving.
One of the things that put me in trouble with the authorities was my involvement in a radio programme, "Writers' Workshop", a recorded thirty-minute show. Some people went to whisper that I was not concentrating at the seminary. One day, the rector came and asked, 'whose voice is this?' I asked him how was I supposed to know by listening to the transistor radio which he brought? He said the voice sounded suspiciously like mine. I told him I could not help him. Even as we were allowed to express ourselves, they felt that the programme was too secular. I was also in the basketball team and we got to the finals of the Western State tournament and some people felt that was too secular also. I think it was just parochialism.
Anyway, I left the seminary.
I then went back to my first love: journalism.
My dad was editor of Aworerin, a Yoruba magazine published by the Western Nigeria's Ministry of Home Affairs and Information. In one of the features, "Ayo ati Akanbi", my father was the Ayo while Akanbi was my godfather. I would go and buy them beer and they would be gisting in our seating room in our house at Oke Ado, Ibadan. I did not know that was how the magazine was being produced. I would laugh at some times and they would drive me out of the room. He had some friends from the American Peace Corps - Mr Slopianka and Ms Shumate - who brought books by African American writers and poets. Ha, our house was full of books and when those my dad's friends visited, he would tell me to ask them questions on any of the books that I had read.
So, I had all those resources at my disposal and there was no doubt that I would be a journalist. Even if I had ended up as a priest.
I started writing for INDIGO magazine, founded by Chike Egbuna. He came from the United Kingdom and used to be with the BBC and was known as "Mr Soul". We were on Eric Moore Close in Surulere. Three doors away was Chris Okolie publishing Newbreed Magazine. I used to string for Newbreed along the way.
I went to FESTAC '77 as Features Editor of INDIGO.
At that time, too, I saw that some of the guys I always gave assignments to would, while we were having our beers, occasionally say 'while I was in the university…' and all I had was a diploma from the seminary.
That was how I decided to go to the university.
I had admissions to the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN), University of Ife (UNIFE) and University of Lagos (UNILAG). Ife did not have journalism or mass communication. UNILAG has mass communication but I was not inspired by their course content. Same with UNN. I was looking for something heavy which I found with Ife. I looked at the faculty and there were (Wole) Soyinka, Okot p'Bitek, Prof Taylor…hey…I said this is where I should be.
A friend, Fr. Tunde Erumevba, was teaching there. So, I called him and told him I was coming to read English at the university. He said elatedly that I should come over, that, indeed, it was the place I should be.
So, I went to accept the admission and register. I did that before resigning from DRUM Magazine, which, by then, I had moved to.
DRUM was started by a White South African, Jim Bailey. Its headquarters was in South Africa, and its office in Nigeria was at Ibadan Street, Ebute Metta, Lagos.
I had had an association with a lot of people there, such as Nelson Ottah, Matthew Faji and Nelson Bankole. Ottah later left to start Imagistics, a public relations company, also based in Ebute Metta. He was a master whom I had always admired. He was one of the better journalists I had seen in my entire life. He was the one that made DRUM DRUM. He also had a lot of respect for me, I do not know why I deserved it. He was played out of the establishment. The controversial situation also led to the indigenisation of the company.
I sold the idea of a column, "Bachelor Boy" to them, which they bought but also wanted more. "Bachelor Boy" published in DRUM's sister magazine, TRUST, caught fire and TRUST started rivalling DRUM, in sales. Both were human-interest magazines but TRUST was published mid-monthly while DRUM was monthly. I started as a stringer but later became full-time.
When I went to UNIFE, I was still writing my column. When I was contesting for the presidency of the Students Union, 1979/80, my opponent went round the female hostels with my "Bachelor Boy" column asking if they wanted to vote for a woman-hater? The bachelor boy was a go-go man, a misogynist who was always lashing women. Just even any of the titles could have made women to hate him. But, I still won. That was when I started wearing Gatsby hats and everyone joined. Many people did not know what to make of a serious-looking, bearded man, really, but they just knew they wanted me as president. Students contributed money to make t-shirts and all that. I did not spend a kobo. I think that they just wanted a leader. My style was different. For instance, my opponent would campaign with a convoy but I would trek from the buka with like two thousand students behind me. I was known for telling people the truth. And that was the principle throughout my tenure. We had eleven demonstrations, most of which were held in Lagos.
I had earlier contested for public relations officer and lost by one vote and that administration failed woefully. Thank God, I was not part of it.
After my national youth service, it was just natural that I return to DRUM, as assistant editor under 'Seinde Lawson as editor. Other notable editors, apart from its rich tradition of columnists were Dapo Fatogun who wrote one of the most incisive columns in that period which he signed with his surname spelt backwards, Don Nutogaf; Dayo Duyile and Samuel Oluremi Adetule. Apart from "Bachelor Boy" I also wrote "Echoes from Kokoro Street, a serious, political, satirical column for DRUM.
I was made editor of TRUST in 1983. Apart from DRUM and TRUST, we had Sadness & Joy, African Film and Boom, all of which had different editors.
The magazines were being printed by Academy Press, Ilupeju, Lagos, but the pages were made up in London. We would send the articles and photographs for page makeup and the films were sent back for printing.
It was here that my career took a different turn.
I started with Academy as a customer then became an employee of its publishing arm, West African Book Publishers (WABP), which also published ATOKA, a long-running Yoruba photoplay magazine and You & Your Baby. ATOKA was the Nollywood of its own era.
We started owing Academy Press, making them think that Drum Nigeria was unreliable and that, maybe, they should start their own magazine.
Even as DRUM was a great place to work - the staff got paid well; my entertainment allowance alone was more than a graduate's salary - there was a mismanagement problem.
Anyway, WABP started talking with me about joining them.
I was a bachelor and was ready to take any risk. As an editor, I could see the whole picture and I knew that it was a matter of time that the company would die. Reckless was the only way you could describe what was going at DRUM and they were not spending on things which were productive.
I did not want to remain in a sinking boat.
I left in 1984 to become editor of Monthly Life. On remuneration, WABP said that my salary at DRUM was more than that of their director and there was no way they could pay me more than him. I told them that they would pay eventually but we negotiated a salary that was eleven naira less than what the director was earning, which was way lower than what I was earning at DRUM. Anyhow, I saw it as a stable organisation, so that helped; there was seriousness all over the place. The aura of integrity of the company Chairman Alhaji Idris Alade Animashaun was an added factor.
Working there was a pleasant experience.
I retired from there in 1996. Hadj Alade Odunewu (Allah De) was our editorial consultant. That is yet another master of the craft, and he was also friends with Alhaji Idris. They do not make like that any longer. Allah De was an encourager; he knew how to encourage young people.
At some point I toyed with the idea of owning my own publication but it was that time in my life that I needed to make money to give myself rest of mind regarding my children's education, among other things.
Indeed we had gone a bit far in doing a photoplay magazine. We had gone on location to shoot pictures that would have lasted six issues.
I keep telling people to pray that the journalism bug does not bite them, because it is for life. You would go to a Press Club and see and an eighty-year-old journalist mingling with a twenty-year-old colleague. You cannot see an eighty-year-old civil servant doing same.
So even as I am doing other things to make money, I still maintain my column in Leadership Newspapers; partly too, out of deference for the late publisher, Sam Nda-Isaiah.
The journalist's brain is always working.
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Taiwo Obe, FNGE
Commonwealth Professional Fellow
Founder/Director, The Journalism Clinic
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