Celebrating media veteran, Olumide Lawal, at 70, By Tunde Akanni

Haji Lawal has diligently paid his dues in rendering journalism and humanitarian services. It may well be said that beneficiaries of his good heart may deem this special 70th birthday anniversary to reciprocate and even replicate such.

Between Alhaji Abdul Lateef Olumide Lawal and the late first executive governor of Osun State, who later became a two-time senator, Isiaka Adetunji Adeleke, exists a most mysterious but pleasant tie. Adeleke died in 2017 but no year has passed without Lawal dispensing tributes with a fresher angle each year. Countless fellow compatriots from Ede appreciate Haji Lawal’s faithfulness to friendship. Alhaji Lawal’s undying commitment to the bond is probably the least the community would jointly volunteer on account of the rescuer intervention that Adeleke’s emergence as governor symbolised. His disposition to Adeleke only typifies his most outstanding quality – being appreciative of kind gestures, no matter how insignificant.

From Uncle Olumide to children, nephews, nieces and his treasured younger colleagues, every encounter is routinely laden with prayers and inimitable words of inspiration and encouragement. Not one that surrenders to fate where action is indispensable, he relentlessly scouts for opportunities for folks, as if he is the potential beneficiary, even as he is the last person describable as an opportunist. Who can believe that Haji Olumide doesn’t feel tempted to plunge into compromise to seek favours from Davido, the renowned musician publicly acknowledged as an indomitable spender, in spite of all he has done for Davido’s uncles, Isiaka, Ademola and Adeeyo? Uncle Olumide would not deride anyone either for not patronising him. Quite clearly his is a life dedicated to gratitude, by faith and personal conviction, I would argue.

Today, Uncle Olumide savours the quietude of his country home in Ede, as a journalist supposedly retired, but he still beams with vigour. He had relocated to Ede before Senator Adetunji Adeleke died in 2017 and so was the commanding officer of the Serubawon political campaigns, which yielded victory, even as he had to compete with digital natives on the side of the opponents. Serubawon’s death hardly impacted anyone as much as it did Uncle Olumide, who became extremely depressed. But that didn’t deter him from being protective of Serubawon’s interest, even after his demise. Promptly, he rose to rouse the campaign facilities for Ademola, Serubawon’s brother who offered to complete Serubawon’s term in the Senate. This he did so much to the extent that he became the trans-generational bridge for the success of Ademola, for whosse support he beckoned the young and the old. Although I, for instance, was Ademola’s classmate, it was at the instance of Uncle Olumide that Ademola earned my support.

Uncle’s philosophy consistently manifests the continuity of good legacy. A descendant of the great Lawal Family of Ailaka Compound, Ede, Uncle happened to be one of the leading science students in his class at the Seventh Day Adventist Grammar School, Ede, which was clearly the most expensive in the entire Osun Division in that era. But one of the teachers had managed to introduce political education of the Marxian leaning to the smart ones among the students, who would want to do their best to realise a better Nigeria.

One of the world leaders showcased as excelling with the ideology to the young Olumide was Fidel Castro. On account of the young man’s obvious outspokenness, he earned the label ‘Fidel Castro.’ The young Olumide was also outstandingly ever neat, and thus had the Fidel replaced with Finni (short form of Ajisefinni, meaning one whose most constant priority is neatness. Ajisefinni was the sobriquet for Ede’s arguably most renowned barber in the ’70s and ’80s). Consequently, the young Olumide had his nickname properly indegenised to Finni Castro and the name has stuck through ages. He is hailed Castro till date by his contemporaries.

Beyond ‘flying’ out of the school with the Castro label, he has had his mind moulded. Rather than purse a science inclined career, he chose journalism, the path of his uncle, late Chief Sola Lawal, a pioneer journalist of the Tribune, Nigeria’s oldest surviving newspapers. “Having been politically cultivated at Seventh Day Adventist, there was no stopping the fire in me. I saw a convincing model in Uncle Sola Lawal. My uncle was a highly principled professional, yet was socially and economically successful in the superlative rating. Thus began my career in broadcast journalism, specifically radio,” he recalled.

He continued in a recent conversation with me that: “I love writing frequently, another strong practice cultivated at Seventh Day Adventist. So, for me, advancing the cause I believe in has to be done through all possible windows. But that’s why I defied all odds and threatening risks to stand by Senator Ademola Adeleke when he needed to speak out through the media during his travails. I got all reputable media invited to Ede to come hear his side of the raging story. Fierce looking security operatives had flooded the entire state just to ensure Ademola didn’t have access to the world through the media. But what quality would a journalist appropriate to himself if not tenancity? I had to change venue some three times and finally I got Senator Ademola’s friends mobilised to speak for him and today the rest history to the glory of God.”

Beyond the Adelekes, Uncle Olumide has equally remained steadfast with Sir Eyo, as he fondly referred to late Dr Wale Adeeyo, publisher of the defunct Anchor newspapers. Is it not surprising that somebody who, beyond being a grounded man of letters, was a publisher of a national newspaper, didn’t attract published tributes worth citing from at least a few of his former employees? Beloved Castro is the last man standing!

All the good gestures from Haji olumide were merely expressions of aniyan to daa (sheer good wishes), rather than for pecuniary gains, as this new septuagenarian is reasonably endowed materially and visibly radiates contentment as much as discernible. Some five years ago, the wedding ceremony of one of his children, which he personally bankrolled, held at an “all amenities completed” hotel (to echo Fuji music founder, Ayinde Barrister) in the heart of Lagos. In addition to the monarch from Ede, Kabiyesi Muniru Adesola, Laminisa 1, the Timi of Ede, the guests’ list was a spectacle of who’s who from around Nigeria, even as the lowly were duly catered for in line with the spirit of Finni Castro.

A distinguished broadcast journalist of decades with Nigeria’s largest radio network, Haji Olumide’s professional trajectory was characterised by uncommon, high level engagements at different times: Spanning a whole decade, 1990-2000, he was Public Relations Consultant to the defunct Nigeria Sugar Company, Bacita. In 1993, on account of his erudition and dynamism, he doubled as the Chair of the Directorate of Information, Public Relations and Think-Tank constituted by Governor Adeleke of Osun State. Ahead of all these, the energetic professional had been tasked to cover the Hajj in 1984. That was the same year the sitting Chief of Staff to President Buhari, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, who I later learnt from my long time brotherly friend, Afolabi Gambari, happened to be a soulmate of Sir Eyo, performed the hajj.

As one of the outstanding and shining stars of Edeland, Alhaji Olumide Lawal, in a book edited by an Ede born, globally renowned historian, Professor Siyan Oyeweso, is described as a: “ …self-made man who passed through the crucible and fire, and came out untainted and unscathed, a product of hard work…spartan discipline and abundance of native intelligence.”

Haji Lawal has diligently paid his dues in rendering journalism and humanitarian services. It may well be said that beneficiaries of his good heart may deem this special 70th birthday anniversary to reciprocate and even replicate such.

Tunde Akanni is an associate professor of Journalism at the Lagos State University (LASU). Follow him on Twitter:@AkintundeAkanni

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