The cross columnists must carry, by Clem Oluwole
The cross columnists must carry,
by Clem Oluwole
Columning is a practice where a writer takes it upon himself or herself to maintain an appearance on the page of a newspaper or magazine to express their personal views on various issues. There are columnists that ‘pigeonhole’ themselves into specialised fields like sports, politics, economy, etc. Others are Jacks of all trades, master of all! Such Jacks, where they exist, though rare, are at home with issues they discuss and they will do justice to them.
A columnist has a day with his/her followers. He/she must maintain a particular space and position in the paper, especially on a weekly basis. He/she may be identified by his/her photograph. Some columnists write under pseudonyms.
What makes a column is consistency. It is a rule. You cease to be columning if you are here this week and off the next week. His /her followers look forward to reading them. Oftentimes, their followers go straight to the page where the columns are pigeonholed to keep faith with their idols. Followers should not be tasked with the ordeal of flipping through the pages of the paper to locate their favourite columns.
So important are columns that many papers have now devoted their back pages to columnists. A good columnist is a like agbero who hollers to passengers to board his vehicle.
When I began my journalism career, in the early 70s, one aspect that fascinated me most, apart from sports writing, was columning. I cut my teeth with the New Nigerian Newspapers Limited based in Kaduna. Although I was a general reporter, my bias for sports was understandable, having been into sports from my kidhood. Mr. Clement Isaiah was the Group Editor of the paper. By the way, Mr. Isaiah (now late) was the father of Sam Nda Isaiah, the founder of the LEADERSHIP Group of Newspapers. He soon became fond of me because I was feeding his desk with sports stories from time to time. The ratio of sports stories to general stories was five to two.
The News Editor at the time was Malam Ibrahim Madaki. He was always at loggerheads with Mr. Isaiah over the bond that existed between us as evidenced by the attention I was giving to the sports desk. Mr. Isaiah worsened matters when he told Malam Madaki that he never had problems with my stories. The only headache he had was that he had to provide adequate space for my stories because of the way I usually wove them together… take out one paragraph and the rhythm would be broken!
I had just been mentored by Mr. Isaiah for 30 months when the management of The Nigeria Standard came banging on my door. I was based in Zaria where I singlehandedly reported the NUGA Games hosted by the Ahmadu Bello University. My coverage had seduced the promoters of the Jos-based paper hence they penciled me down to set up the sports desk. One evening, I got a phone call from my immediate boss in Zaria who was at the headquarters of the New Nigerian in Kaduna, informing me that I was needed in Jos.
I proceeded to Jos immediately and became a pioneer of the paper that gave the New Nigerian a run for its money. About two years later, Mr. Dan Agbese, came over to join the paper. We were together in the New Nigerian before he proceeded to the University of Lagos to pursue his degree programme. Agbese joined the paper as its Chief Sub-Editor. Although, I was recruited to set up the sports desk of the Standard, the management saddled me with other beats because it felt I could do more since the paper was operating on weekly basis.
When paper turned daily, Mr. Agbese began to put pressure on the management to divest me of other responsibilities so that I could face sports coverage alone and introduce a sports column like Mr. Clement Isaiah. Agbese had been following my trajectory and knew I was cut out for columning. The management eventually caved in and that was how I introduced a weekly column known as Saturday Commentary which became my first cross.
Three months after introducing the column, the Military Governor of the state, then Col. Mohammed Abdullahi, was so fascinated by my analytical prowess that he appointed me to the board of the state’s Sports Council. Everyone was marveled at the appointment. The media celebrated me being the first among the penmen to bad such appointment. Ironically, Jesus Christ carried His own cross to be crucified, but mine got me a board appointment! However, as time flew past, I realised that carrying the cross was not a stroll in the park.
Before I joined the league of columnists in the country, my favourite models were the likes of Allah Deh of the Daily Times run by Alhaji Alade Odunewu and Esleby of the Sunday Sketch run Samuel Labanji Bolaji who was also the General Manager of the Sketch Group. As young entrant, I was fascinated by the styles of the two writers. In fact, in ‘In Lighter Mood’, a satire introduced by Dan Agbese in the Standard, you could read Eselby.
Other great colunmists of old were Sad Sam of the Punch run by the veteran Sam Amuka Pemu, Esbee run by sports meister, Babatunde Oshuntolu, Bizlaw, also a sports column run by Bisi Lawrence.
They are both late. Sam Amuka, having pulled out the Punch to set up the Vanguard Newspapers, is no longer sad. He is a happy man now.
When Agbese exited the Standard in the early 80s, a huge hiatus was created and needed to be filled. After a month or so, I took it upon myself to add another cross to my burden, named The Man From PPC, carried every Sunday. Added to my normal schedules at various times, bearing two crosses on weekly basis became a hard labour. However, the huge crowd of disciples I cultivated which ran into thousands became my source of strength.
Columning comes with a lot of challenges. It is a cross nobody forces on the columnists. The cross of looking for topical issues to comment on, week in and week out. At times you could run out of topics and you have to squeeze words out of the stone. That you have run out of topics is not an excuse that would attract cheers from followers. You are under an obligation to show up on your page to serve them their dishes… palatable victuals!
There was this nasty experience I had sometime in 2015. I had just finished a piece for my column a few hours to the production deadline. To minimise the afflictions caused by WRS, I decided to fine-tune the write-up which was on the late M.K.O. Abiola before passing It to the page planner. Then the unexpected happened. The file disappeared from my laptop. At first, I thought it was one of those disappearing acts performed by the system. I surfed through it to recover the file. Before I knew it, beads of perspiration began to suffuse my face and the reality of a lost file began to dawn on me gradually.
“What kind of a cross is this?” I bellowed aloud. I also enlisted the intervention of our ICT officer but the file could not be traced. Then I began to run from Jerusalem to Jericho, from Mecca to Medina and from pillar to post, as it were, all in an attempt to put together the piece which would be impossible to recapture in its original form.
Well, I can see that you have been scratching your head sweating to decode WRS. Even if you scratch your head bald, you cannot get it right. WRS is a shortcut for Writers’ Regrets Syndrome. It is my coinage, and it manifests when you feel you should have used some particular words, phrases, etc., after the materials have been published. No writer is immune to the syndrome. And it has no cure. It is also a mini cross all writers must bear. In fact, no matter how thorough or experienced a writer thinks he is, the syndrome will search him out!
This piece was first published on September 4, 2021.
I decided to reproduce it because the 1,300-word piece meant for this space today, entitled “Pastorprenuering Nigerian church system” mysteriously vanished from my laptop, while saving the document after final reading, leaving only the opening paragraph! There was nothing I did not do to recover the subsequent paragraphs but all my efforts came to zilch as it happened in 2015. As you are reading this piece, I am still seething with rage, bearing the cross.
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