Doctoral feather to Dele Alake’s cap, By Segun Ayobolu

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It was dusk in Lagos on one of those tense and tortuous days after the annulment of the June 12, 1993, presidential election decisively won by Chief M.K.O Abiola on the platform of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP). He was one of those persons from diverse fields of life under watch by the ubiquitous security agencies because of their perceived active roles in opposing the annulment and working hard underground to ensure the de-annulment of the polls result and the recognition of M.K.O’s emphatic victory and his inauguration as President of Nigeria in accord with his electoral mandate. As he drove out of the expansive premises of the Concord group of newspapers located at Concord Way, off Murtala Mohammed Airport, that late evening the then Editor of the Sunday Concord, Mr. Henry Dele Alake, had no inkling danger could be lurking even though he knew he was under surveillance and had only paid a furtive visit to his office.

Turning right he headed towards the domestic wing of the airport where at the junction he would make another right turn to proceed to his location in Ikeja. He was not paying much attention to a station wagon vehicle that had started following him once he drove out of the newspaper’s premises. However, he soon had a sense of intuitive foreboding when he looked into his rear view mirror a number of times and discovered that the same vehicle with a number of men in it appeared to be trailing him. After he had meandered dangerously through the Lagos heavy traffic with the vehicle still obviously in pursuit, he was finally able to shake them off at the Allen junction round about and made his way to safety.

That was only one of the occasions Dele Alake narrowly escaped falling into the iron claws of the military goons in that grim period of Nigeria’s history. His memoirs will surely contain even more gripping tales of his close shaves with the security agents of the military.
On another occasion, he was in custody of a speech prepared for Abiola by a renowned academic and iconic columnist and the document, which the dictatorship in power would certainly have considered subversive, was hidden under the foot mat beneath his seat. On Opeibi road, he ran into a military stop and search checkpoint and had to stop.

One of the officers asked him to pull to the side and proceeded to search his car booth without finding anything incriminating. However, as Alake sighed in relief and was about entering his car, the soldier said he wanted to have a look at what was inside the vehicle. In the process, he lifted the foot mat and lo and behold, there was the draft speech before his very eyes. Mr. Alake missed a heartbeat and he waited with bated breath not knowing what the officer’s reaction would be. To his amazement, the man dropped the speech back under the foot mat told him quietly that “You guys should be careful o” and waved him on telling his colleagues the car was clean.

On Saturday, January 21, this year all roads led to the Caleb University at Imota on the Ikorodu, Ibadan-Ijebu Ode road, Imota where, at its 12th Convocation/Founders Day Ceremonies, the institution conferred a honorary Doctoral degree in Mass Communication on Mr. Alake while another outstanding media practitioner, Mr. John Momoh, Chairman of the Channels Media Group, bagged a honorary Doctoral degree in Business and Entrepreneurship. These awards were obviously most deserving and were not dispensed lightly or frivolously. Caleb University, which has consistently ranked among the ten top private universities in Nigeria in just a little over a decade of its existence, obviously takes itself and its values very seriously. It gave careful thought to who deserved its awards and the two choices for this year undoubtedly enhance the credibility of the university.

It was surprising that in his citation on Alake, the university orator was completely silent on his active participation in the protracted struggle against military dictatorship that birthed the current democracy that has been sustained for over two decades now. That was an almost unpardonable lapse. He probably thought that risking one’s life in the trenches for democracy and being forced to go into exile in the process was extraneous to journalism or the mass communication profession. But the truth is that Alake’s pro-democracy activism cannot be credibly dissociated from his journalism. This is particularly so when we consider that many other practitioners in the profession actively colluded with the military in a bid to sustain the unjust annulment of Abiola’s election victory and keep the country under military thralldom, an enterprise from which they reaped bounteous financial gain to set up thriving media groups.

It must be remembered that journalists like Dr Nnamdi  Azikwe, Chief Obfemi Awolowo, Earnest Ikoli, SLA Akintola, Anthony Enahoro, Herbert Macaulay, Lateef Jakande and Mokwogwu Okoye among others fought the evil of British colonial imperialism with their fearless pens. Many of these patriots who moved on to other pursuits later in life started out as journalists who were actively in the trenches in the battle against colonial rule.

Mr. Alake belongs to that species of journalists who refused to sit on the fence in the face of oppression but exemplified Dr. Martin Luther King’s admonition that it is evil to adopt a posture of neutrality in a time of grave moral crisis. Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, also declared with thunderous pungency that ‘Justice is the first condition of humanity’ and that ‘The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny’. As the online resource, Wikipedia, put it, “Alake was terrorized and tormented by the oppressive junta of late General Sani Abacha for his candour and daring in pressing for disannulment of the 12 June election. Alake subsequently went into exile where he identified and joined forces with other patriotic elements like Senator Bola Tinubu, Lt. General Alani Akinrinade, Professor Wole Soyinka, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, Chief John Oyegun and other chieftains of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO). From there, Alake kept up the grim battle for the restoration of democracy. He made a return to Nigeria in 1995 when the Concord was reopened”.

 Of course, over the last four decades, Alake has traversed with excellence all spheres of the mass communication profession spanning the private and public sectors. Born on 6th October, 1956, he had his primary school education at Surulere Baptist Primary School, Surulere and obtained his West African School Leaving Certificate and Higher School Certificate at Christ School Ado Ekiti and Igbobi College, Yaba, Lagos, respectively. He obtained a BSc degree in Political Science from the University of Lagos in 1978 and his MSc degree in Mass Communication from the same institution in 1981. After his compulsory one year NYSC service which was at the Ogun State Broadcasting Corporation (OGSBC), he was employed by the Lagos State Broadcasting Corporation (LSBC) as Senior Sub-Editor and had risen to become a Senior Current Affairs Editor at the radio station by 1983.

He was part of the team that set up the Lagos Television (LTV) Channel 8 under the dynamic leadership of Alhaji Lateef Jakande then Lagos State governor. Late in 1985, he was head hunted as part of the team recruited to strengthen the ‘intellectual unit’ of the Concord Group marking his transition from the broadcast to the print media. He served as a columnist and member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board from 1985 till 1989. He became Editor of the Sunday Concord in 1989 while he was Editor of National Concord between 1995 and 1999. The newspapers in the Concord stable rose to become the highest circulating in the country within a short span.

 It is also noteworthy that he was an Adviser on Information to Chef MKO Abiola even as Editor of the Concord titles. In 1999, he was appointed first as Special Adviser on Information and head of the Information bureau in Lagos State and later became Commissioner for Information and Strategy when the Bureau was elevated to Ministerial status. When he assumed office, the Ministry was designated Ministry of Information, Culture and Sports. Alake however sought the approval of the governor for the Sports and Culture component of the Ministry’s responsibilities to be transferred to other agencies and the re-designation of the Ministry as Ministry of Information and Strategy. This was in his words “to make the Ministry more relevant and dynamic to confront the challenges of modern information management in an emergent democracy”.

It was the first Ministry of Information and Strategy in Nigeria. Just like he was with MKO, Alake soon became one of the closest aides and associates of Tinubu which says something about his character, integrity and steadfastness. As Commissioner for Information and Strategy in Lagos State for eight years, he distinguished himself in terms of performance far above any occupant of that office in the country at state or federal levels. Indeed, his astuteness was a key factor in helping the Tinubu administration to survive many of the crises it went through, most of them contrived by its adversaries to destabilize and derail the government.

Ever since he left office, Alake has run a successful private communication and strategy consultancy business with several clients in the private and public sectors. He has been responsible for laying a solid professional grounding for the take-off and sustained success of several media organizations such as Adaba FM, Akure, Television Continental, Lagos, Max FM, Abuja and Lagos, The Nation newspapers and Unique FM, Ilesha. This is a man who has straddled all spheres of Mass Communication practice making him eminently worthy of the award and as the Vice Chancellor of Caleb University, Professor Nosa Owens-Ibie, stressed at the conferment, the awardees are entitled to all the privileges attendant on the honor.

It was not surprising that in addressing the students after the conferment, Alake dwelt on the need for a high degree of character, integrity and scrupulous adherence to the canons of professionalism in all their undertakings. As Editor of Sunday Concord, Alake’s newspaper had one of the most vibrant Business Desks in the country and enjoyed the confidence and patronage of actors in diverse sectors of the economy. One of his star reporters who routinely turned in exclusive stories and incisive interviews apparently got information about a company which the latter did not want published.

He was however insistent that he could not drop the story unless they paid a substantial sum of money which his Editor had demanded. Unknown to him, the firm which had the reporter on tape, reached out discreetly to Alake and asked how much he required to drop the story. A livid Alake who was unaware of the whole issue retorted that he never engaged in blackmail and the practice was alien to the organizational culture of the newspaper. The reporter lost his job. A scrupulous adherence to the highest ethical standards has been Alake’s consistent refrain over the years in his ongoing epochal journalistic Odyssey.

Source: First published in The Nation Newspaper

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