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Wale Adebanwi on Mama H.I.D (56)

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REGARDING the columnist’s claim that the Awolowos were “hobnobbing” with the “wrong” politicians, Babatope and others pointed that H.I.D attended the opening of Awolowo Museum by the Lagos State Governor Raji Fashola “even at the risk of her health”. “Where then is Mama H.I.D’s villainy in these matters”, they asked. They added that “No one can point directly to any time or occasion when Mama H.I.D Awolowo had, since her husband’s death, canvassed on behalf of any politician or political party for votes from Nigerians”.

For many days, many people berated Omatseye, and also the proprietor of Nation, Senator Bola Tinubu, while demanding an apology from the former for what was “considered…. An insult to the Yoruba race and an attempt to desecrate the cherished heritage of the Yoruba people”.

In a letter to H.I.D dated June 9, 2011, Bola Tinubu noted the “insinuations being spread in some quarters that I was behind” Omatseye’s piece. He denied this, adding that he read Nation without any prior knowledge of what was printed in the paper just as H.I.D read Tribune. He concluded by stating that “I wish to assure Mama that I cannot disparage the Awo family without disparaging the legacy that all of us proudly embrace and are trying to sustain”.

In his letter, Tinubu referred to Tribune which he claimed had attacked him many times in the past. In the paper’s response, the Tribune management stated that it was as if Tinubu “endorses Omatseye’s article as a reaction to such stories”.

The  controversy eventually passed, but not without a consensus that, though H.I.D was not above criticism, no one could disparage her without attracting severe condemnation…….

The role that tribune played in making the public in Yorubaland to recognize that Omatseye’s attack on H.I.D was beyond the pale cannot be understated. Some of the paper’s writers responded in kind. Indeed, since its founding in 1949, Tribune had never shied away from battle. The paper had slugged it out with various adversaries in the circumstances, such that in the 1960s, during the crisis in the Western Region, Akintola felt sufficiently chastened by the paper that he gave it an onomatopoeic sobriquet, “Tetebu’yan” (“swift to disparage”). The paper’s language has hardly ever been staid, taking a no-holds-barred approach to any battle, particularly ideological ones. Although the paper is no longer moored to any particular political persuasion since Awolowo’s death and H.I.D’s announcement of her non-partisanship, Tribune has not been able to successfully outlive the expectations of successive generation of readers who still expect it to be on a permanent war-footing with those guilty of violations of the egalitarian ethos of the founders of the paper. But the paper had had to respond in sometimes challenging ways to the politics of the post-Awo era and the post-Structural Adjustment Programme economy which virtually wiped out the middle class while consuming many newspapers.

In the years when Awolowo was in detention and later in prison, the Tribune could have collapsed but for the support of the readership, the commitment of its staff and the resilience of H.I.D who provided financial assistance to the paper when she could. What she gave to the paper most importantly was moral support in the darkest days.

“Mama ……sees the Tribune as a symbol of Papa’s vision and philosophical perspective for Nigeria”, says Allan Ola Olabode, who was once a consultant to Tribune in the re-invention of the newspaper in 1999, many years after losing  the job of Awo’s private secretary to Odia Ofeimun. “A solidly ideological newspaper, promoting justice, democracy and the greatest professional platform…. A voice of the voiceless”.

Within the Awolowo family, Tribune has been the most important of all the family’s assets because of its role in the public life of the patriarch of the family. Therefore, matters concerning the newspaper are usually treated with the greatest attention. For instance, before he died, with Awolowo’s support, the Board of Directors removed Wole Awolowo from his position as publisher of the paper and also from the board. Awolowo and the majority of the board had sided with the paper’s powerful editor-in-chief, Felix Adenaike, against the proprietor’s son in the crisis that engulfed the company early 1980s. This caused some tension in the family but H.I.D accepted her husband’s verdict while gently persuading him to rethink his position. All efforts to make Awo change his mind until his death failed. Adenaike revealed one of such efforts in which, on H.I.D’s prompting, he approached Awo and told him that his son had learnt his lessons after his removal and deserved to be reinstated, but Awo was not convinced that “Unbreakable” had been “broken” by the experience.

Even when some were unhappy with H.I.D’s decision to return Wole Awolowo to Tribune as publisher after Awo died, she tried to satisfy the only two men in the second half of her life. She satisfied his deeply dissatisfied only surviving son by reinstating him, yet satisfied her husband’s fear by ensuring that, as the executive chairman, she maintained control of the place while allowing her son the nominal management of the company. Wole was publisher, but H.I.D ensured that nothing happened under her watch that could damage the company irreparably. The managers reported to her directly or the board through her and not to the publisher. She loved her son but didn’t let his weaknesses stand in the way of the sustenance of the heritage.The last two as well as current managing directors of ANN Plc for instance, briefed her weekly in Ikenne about the state of the company. The briefing sessions were not attended by the publisher who lived in the same premises. Also H.I.D personally signed all the cheques and approved every major initiative herself even in her twilights.

Folu Olamiti, one of those closest to H.I.D among the people who had worked in Tribune in the last four decades, said H.I.D’s “spirit guides Tribune”. Olamiti, who was for many years the Editor of Sunday Tribune and later Executive Director of the company, argues that, unlike other newspapers that have collapsed, Tribune could not have collapsed as long as H.I.D was alive. “I can tell you that the spirit of Mama is very strong on Tribune. Nothing can make Tribune to go under while Mama is alive. That is why I have been praying for Mama to continue to live on. But every one of us will answer the call. However, I believe Tribune is still enjoying the spirit of Mama, because she is so much in love with the newspaper. I cannot even describe how deep her love is for the newspaper”.




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