Mr. Labaran Maku began his career with Standard Newspaper in Kano but honed his skills under the tutelage of veteran journalist, Henry Odukomaiya, who was then the managing editor of Champion Newspaper. More than anything, commitment to duty and to details from his boss contributed to his rise in the pen profession. Funke Olaode reports
If you want to learn how to be a dependable and loyal ally, it is better to take a cue from the Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku. Maku was a guest of honour at the 80th birthday of veteran journalist and former managing director of Champion Newspaper, Prince Henry Odukomaiya. Though they both belong to different generations but the bond between thm was well pronounced at the ceremony. Maku was at the church service and stayed till the end of programme at Civil Centre on Victoria Island in Lagos.
Maku, a native of Nasarawa in Nassarawa State may have stepped up in his career having served as Commissioner, deputy governor and currently a Minister in the present administration. But he hasn’t forgotten his source that brought him to prominence. Maku and Odukomaiya’s paths crossed in the late 90s when he had a rare privilege of leaving Standard Newspaper and was hired by the then top shot in Champion Newspaper, Odukomaiya. The fire of journalism which dwelled in him was further ignited in Maku whose every step was being monitored by his superior.
“The very moment I stepped into Champion Newspaper, my career trajectory took a positive turn. Honestly, from that moment on my career changed. Anything I wrote was personally edited by him. I didn’t know him from anywhere he just developed this love for me even as managing director and editor-in-chief. Each time I had the copy of my write up I would see the red pen. He would correct virtually everything whether it was grammar, spelling and everything. I was amazed at his level of commitment to excellence. He ensured that nothing went into the paper that would lower the standard for the publication. He was also managing the business angle of the paper because he was editor-in-chief in charge of virtually administration.
“As a reporter, he nurtured me and the labour of that commitment propelled and put me on my toes to be the best because I knew that whatever I wrote would attract the attention of my MD and editor-in-chief. Mr. Odukomaiya was always ‘walking the talk’ by doing what is right, by showing good example. He was always the last to leave the office and would not go home until the paper went to bed. Again, he used to come to the office unusually early. For us reporters it amazed us that journalism is the most demanding profession.”
Calling Maku a radical writer in his days as a journalist is not an understatement. This was evident in some of his writings, which sometimes put him or his paper in trouble.
But he had confidence in his boss. “When Mr. Odukomaiya posted me to Kano I was still committed to writing. Apart from writing my normal stories, I was always sending analyses and some of the major developments in my area. In fact, I tried to write an opinion at that time. Initially, it would look as some of the opinions were not going to be published because some of them were too radical at that time and given the fact that we were in the military era. Each time I wrote and it didn’t come out I would write more. I didn’t get tired because I would keep sending until it became acceptable to him. Of course, my writing would always be moderated because Prince Odukomaiya would edit and correct. And each time he edits what you write it comes out better because he adds value to it and improves on your judgment. I was very impressed that I had a boss who believed in my ability.”
He was able to fulfill his duty as a manager and still found time to monitor the people working under him to be a mentor. He helped and encouraged them to develop. This again, I found very exceptional because these days people don’t have the time to really develop others. Today, people don’t have the time to look at what other people are doing under them and how they can help them to be better people. And I think one of the key issues in leadership is that those who work with you should get better with you with time. And if they fail to get better you have failed in your own professional leadership.” Commenting on his articles during the military era when he predicted that the June 12 election would be annulled, Maku said the happenings around him actually gave him a clue of what Nigeria should expect. “My elder brother, Chief Duro Onabule was in Abuja then with one of our most colourful Nigerian leaders, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida. We were young reporters. I did a write-up on the transition trend and my boss encouraged me. There were two political parties and I describe the transition trend as a two-boats trend with too many passengers that won’t be able to fit in into the trend, and yet, it must convene everyone to his/her destinations.”
This, he said, put them more and more into trouble because they would not leave the transition alone. “I noticed in 1989 when I disagreed with the transition programme and came to a conclusion that it would not work. I wrote about it while working in Standard Newspaper. And when I came to Lagos and joined Champion Newspaper, I noticed that the committee headed by the late Ikoku and others submitted an alternative transition proposal while the election was still coming on. I asked myself, if truly and really we are transiting and then there is an alternative transmission submitted, it gave me worry as to whether the leadership of that time was really prepared to allow the election to hold. I used to disagree with a lot of people in the polity. So I was able to write an article that I believed there was going to be problem but could not put my opinion where the problem would emanate from.
“It got to a point that the Sunday before the June 12 Presidential Elections, I did an article predicting that if the next week election is held it would be nullified. I wrote it and my boss let the article go. I began to look at Mr. Odukomaiya differently because I didn’t have the understanding of implication of this in journalism because I wasn’t in the position to know. One thing I found him is that he believed in truth and would not suppress it. In fact, he was ready to take risk for that truth to be published. Again, that for me is very critical that people must be able to stand and support what is very important in the society. I did the story because I put two and two together. That is all what political analyses is about and if you know your onions you will prophesy like prophet Isaiah.
Commending Odukomaiya as a boss who stands by the truth and abides by the truth, Maku said there was a time, the Chairman of Champion Newspaper; Chief Emmanuel Nwuanyanwu was a top shot in the opposition party, National Republican Convention (NRC) when he did the analyses that showed that Social Democratic Party (SDP) was going to win the elections. How are we going to present it in the paper was a problem. But the editor-in-chief allowed the story to be published. He only changed the headline. Today, when you pick up a paper you know the political party the publisher belongs to.
“As a Minister of Information, I had the privilege to visit some newspapers. I was interviewed and the paper even advertised it and I was looking forward to reading it the next day only for the publisher to stop it. There was another one I visited and I was interviewed but they were generous enough to tell me sorry they don’t publish political opinions here. Today, we are unable to distinguish between our own professional career, political opinion of owners and other influence in the polity. I have been worried about this and I discussed it with my professional colleagues.
If I get sick in Lagos today for whatever reason, I would just go to any hospital because I believe the doctor that is registered there will treat me irrespective of my political affiliation. I will not be afraid because in the profession of medicine, there seems to be adequate safeguard for the professionals to carry out his/her duty according to the laid-down rules. I think we should inculcate this in our professional calling as journalists because the purpose is to be an agent of change,” he concluded.