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Deprecated: Function create_function() is deprecated in /home/tellng/public_html/wp-content/themes/dw-focus_1.0.6_theme/inc/widgets/dw-focus-latest-comments.php on line 100 The Life and Times of Folu Olamiti - TELL Magazine
“There is no way you will talk about him without reference to his deep love for God, his immeasurable humility, simplicity and meekness.” – Biodun Ladokun
On November 30, 2023, he would be 72 years. Family, friends and well-wishers would congregate at the ancient city of Ibadan to reminisce about his eventful life and the lessons thereof. Lawrence Mofoluwaso Olatmiti, fondly called Folu Olamiti, is a genius with many parts. His creativity flowered through journalism, encompassing many aspects of life in service to God and humanity.
Sporting a near-permanent smile, his Cherubic face disarms friends, skeptics and foes. Service is the centre of his gravity. It manifests in various modes, at different levels and in numerous climes. A committed Christian of the Anglican hue, his stewardship spans a trapezium of Catholic affections, expressing his love for humanity. Do not hazard a bet on when to see Olamiti in a foul mood; you will most likely loose!
When he was born in the morning of November 30, 1951, in the pastoral town of Idanre, present Ondo State, reputed for its alluring hills and lush vegetation, the elements may have been in a very buoyant mood. The heavens were so happily aligned, and that harmony keeps him company all the days of his life. Perhaps that is why he cannot stop smiling.
Or was it the heritage and lessons of a fruitful parentage? Pa Daniel Akinseye Olamiti, his father, and Julian Olawemimo, his mother, were not only devout members of the Anglican Communion, Pa Olamiti worked full time in the Lord’s vineyard. He worked and retired as a catechist. As his father was transferred from station to station, the young Folu absorbed ethnographic data and understanding of human nature and needs that would come in handy in his private and professional lives.
The third among six children, he picked up early marketing skills from hawking pap, bean cakes (Akara), chin-chin, and other snacks produced by his mother across the Ondo Province of then Western Nigeria as Pa Olamiti did his job as a catechist.
The itinerant life of moving from one station to another impacted on the young Olamiti’s education and prepared him for an itinerant career in journalism. He started his primary school at St. Mary’s Church School, Agbala Maria in 1957, and spanned four other towns in the old Ondo Province, completing primary school at St. Paul’s Church, Odode in Idanre.
He attended Olofin Grammar School, Idanre, where he came out in flying colours and obtained his Higher School Certificate at Ilesa Grammar School. He got admission to a university in Canada, and University of Nigeria, Nsukka, but could not take up any for lack of funds. As much as Pa Olamiti desired university education for his son, his catechist’s salary could not foot the bills and no scholarship came his way.
Armed with his HSC, the young Folu moved to Ibadan, capital of the Western Region, in search of a job. He became a personal assistant (P.A) to his uncle, Chief Akin Deko, a politician, and then chairman of the Western Nigeria Development Corporation. He did not have job satisfaction as a P.A so he resigned and became a teacher at Molusi College, Ijebu-Ode. Providence steered him into journalism. The rest is the history we are beholding today.
The life of Folu Olamiti is summarized in his book, A Peep into the Past – an oeuvre, published 2022. This body of work, which takes its title from a satire on Oscar Wilde by Beerbohm, published in 1923, 28 years before Olamiti was born, is an aggregation of his finest works as a journalist, administrator, media consultant and a devout Christian. He reconstructs his odyssey through service, his articles, travels, engagements and relationships.
Divided into 11 sections, the articles tell the story of his life from the earliest times, through the present, and equally peep into the future as they explore the past in a mythical ouroboros. On the Hustings with Papa Awo captures his coverage of Awo’s campaign trail across Nigeria in 1979. The Press is the story of his career as a journalist, while The ICPC Years explores his time as media consultant to the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, which spanned over a decade. The Anglican Church delves into his passion for spirituality, a continuation of his nurture as a son of a catechist; while For Idanreland is an evocative and inspirational celebration of his homeland, the lush vegetation, ancient hills and the dream of modernity. In Paying Homage, he honours both the living and the dead as they mark important milestones of age, achievement and transition. In Restructuring Nigeria, he does a constructive critique of the nation’s turbulent co-existence and suggests true federalism as a way out for all the parties. Travelogue is a diary of his globetrotting on the international beat, the lessons and the heartache of the Nigeria dystopia in comparison. Foreign Commentaries follow international politics, geopolitics, strategic alignments, the cold war and the predicament and helplessness of the third world. In Miscellany, he explores an ala carte of 15 opinions on various national issues from “The Wonder of Anenih’s Geriatric Centre for the Elderly at UCH, Ibadan” to “How to be a Nigerian.”
The final section is Tributes by Mentees. For this jovial, amiable, inspirational and humble humanist, it would need a bigger volume to accommodate the gratitude of the beneficiaries of his goodness and guidance. Lasisi Olagunju, editor of Nigeria Tribune, in 2018, said Olamiti “had a very personal relationship with persons who worked with him.” So, they fondly called him “Buoda Folu.” He revealed that “Oga Olamiti” as a few conservative ones insisted on addressing him, had a door to his office “but it was never locked against anyone who needed his intervention on anything.” He described him as “a consummate newsman, a leader and motivator; a boss, friend, brother and teacher.”
Mrs. Biodun Ladokun, a former Woman Editor of Tribune titles, described him as “a man of transparency and integrity.” She was apprehensive on her first day at work at the Tribune House, but Olamiti’s warmth lifted her spirit; “With a big smile on his face, he welcomed me to the newsroom. I then knew and felt we would be friends.” She said “he faced many challenges, but he did not allow the battles to meet him standing still.” She reaffirmed his manifest spirituality, “There is no way you will talk about him without reference to his deep love for God, his immeasurable humility, simplicity and meekness.”
He has qualities of a successful diplomat. Ladokun said “he was persistent, strong and resilient. I respect him for his gentle manners and the way he delicately spoke about others.”
Dapo Olaosebikan, author, journalist and publisher of The Yoruba Universe Magazine, described him as “a born leader and humanist. An awesome blessing to journalism, a builder of mind and men, a tireless mentor to many of us in the media profession.”
Venerable O.O. Olagunloye, says Olamiti is “ a hardworking faithful child of God and cherishes faith in God Almighty. A prolific writer, media guru and successful administrator of no mean achievement… a very resourceful and uncompromising personality when it comes to standing for the truth always.”
Mrs. Bolanle Onagbesan, described him as “a selfless, unassuming, easy-going and God-fearing Christian who is always ready to help others out of trouble. I have witnessed him feed loads of young people around him.”
Femi Idowu, a former NTA News Bureau Chief, says he is “a thoroughbred professional…and has always had the posture of someone innately determined to succeed – and that to me, is about the power of the inner man. He is resilient and aggressive without carrying it on his face.”
Andrew A. Aroloye sums him up thus: “He is a lover of man, a conscientious worker, a man who plans well ahead and within a focused vision towards a mission. A wonderful family man who cares for the welfare of others just like he does for his own immediate family.”
Put together, Olamiti’s adult life, for the sake of analysis, can be regrouped into five main subheads according to his works and affections as follows: The Media, Awo Years, ICPC Years, The Anglican Church, Travels and Love for Idanreland, his hometown.
The Tribune Years
He joined the African Newspapers Nigeria PLC, publishers of The Nigerian Tribune, owned by Obafemi Awolowo, as a reporter on January 29, 1972, on an entry salary of 17.50 pounds and grew through the ranks to become the editor, executive director, (Operations) and executive director (Publications). His sojourn in the newspaper house was an epic that lasted 30 eventful years.
He showed his quality, energy, tenacity and creativity by rising rapidly from the rank of a reporter to that of the executive editor (Publications), the equivalent of editor-in-chief. He worked, studied and showed himself approved. He came through the tutelage of meticulous Mr. Bakare, the then editor of Tribune, and the famous Alhaji Lateef Jakande, editor-in-chief and managing director, who later became the governor of Lagos State. His professional training took him to the Nigeria Institute of Journalism, NIJ, Lagos, where he obtained a diploma in journalism. He followed up with Advanced Diploma in Journalism in Cardiff, Wales, United Kingdom, under the sponsorship of the Thomson Foundation, after which he went to the Institute of Journalism in the then Western Germany to reinforce his professionalism.
As a reporter, he was a hard-nosed field man. As an editor, his headlines were catchy. This made him the guest of security agencies on many occasions for his stories and those of his reporters. Though he broke no law, writing or publishing the truth was a threat to governments and was classified as security threat by some security agencies. In 1973, his story on burglary in Dugbe, Ibadan, annoyed the Police Commissioner, who ordered his arrest and detention for two days. Under President Shehu Shagari, he was detained on a factual story on how the executive was bribing the legislature to get by. Under the Buhari/Idiagbon military junta, he was a regular guest of the then Nigeria Security Organisation, NSO. An open letter to the head of state, General Muhammadu Buhari, written by a National Youth Service Corps member, which he published as editor of Sunday Tribune, was dubbed a security threat by the NSO, present-day Department of State Services, DSS. This time, they dumped him in their cell for seven months. He only regained his freedom after the overthrow of the government.
The Awo Years
His career as a journalist took a pilgrim’s dimension when in 1979, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, his publisher and presidential candidate of the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, requested for him to be assigned to cover his campaigns across Nigeria. This made him the Sage’s political reporter till his transition. This assignment exposed Olamiti not only to the political complexity of Nigeria, but to the mythical dimensions of the Sage’s philosophical repertoire.
Of particular memory is Awo’s campaign in Gongola in 1983. After over two months on the campaign trail, Olamiti confessed that what he saw was “an eye opener.” He got emotionally involved and enthused, “This year’s election is for the masses. The dirty tricks employed by the NPN in 1979 (if employed this year) will definitely boomerang.” This exuberance recalls Olamiti’s first assignment as a rookie reporter for Nigeria Tribune in Ibadan in 1972 given to him by Alhaji Jakande, his managing director. He covered a workers protest at University College Hospital, Ibadan, and got involved to the extent that the camera caught him holding one of the “Cole Must Go” posters! That fetched him his first lesson in reporting from Jakande.
Covering Pa Awo was different. Olamiti was embedded in the stories and wrote from the heart. The team covered 83 towns in Gongola. After the campaign tour of Gongola, Olamiti concluded his report thus: “That was the situation in Gongola State. The masses there are already yearning for a UPN government. Although NPN and NPP are making their presence felt by erecting their flags in all areas, the UPN is far ahead in terms spreading the party’s programmes to the grassroots.”
After the campaign tour of Bendel State on February 16, 1983, tagged “Operation Totality”, he reported, “So far, the Ogbemudia factor will have little or no impact on the polls, judging by the warm reception Papa’s rally enjoyed in all nooks and corners of the state. The Agbor crowd was unprecedented as the people jammed the major road that transverses the town to the rally centre. Those who could not find space climbed trees and roof tops to listen to Chief Awolowo’s message.”
On May 23, 1983, his story on Awo’s campaign in Maiduguri on April 17, declared: “Borno Goes UPN.” He reported “over 2,000 vehicles bringing in supporters…parked bumper to bumper as every available parking space had been taken” at the airport to receive Chief Awolowo. How he counted the vehicles in that analogue generation of 1983, Olamiti did not include in his report. It clearly shows his belief in, and passion for, the UPN candidate as the best candidate for the presidency. This affected his objectivity as a professional. In all his reports, we did not see anyone pointing out any shortcomings of the Awo campaign. Fortunately, his editors did not have a word with him, like they did when he joined workers’ protest at UCH, Ibadan, as a reporter.
In Calabar, Cross River State, Olamiti reported Awo’s revolutionary appeal at the legendary African Club; “What the UPN wants for the country now is a revolutionary social change aimed at improving the quality of life for the common man.” He reported that “the tour was so electrifying that at each of the towns and villages he visited, he was always met by thousands of enthusiastic supporters. And most of the persistent shouts: “Shagari out, Awo in” and “All we are saying is UPN must win!”
This beat ended abruptly when Pa Awo suddenly died on May 9, 1987. He had innocently declared on waking up, “What a cool day!” However, “Unknown to me, the ‘cool weather’ was an ominous sign of an impending tragedy; one that would reverberate throughout the length and breadth of our great nation, Nigeria. It was the day Pa Obafemi Jeremiah Awolowo went the way of all flesh. Erin wo. The mighty Iroko fell on that day “, he lamented. He described Chief Awolowo as “loving and deeply interested in our private affairs, especially our families. Very few employers have that virtue.”
Two years after Awo’s death on May 9, 1989, Olamiti had access to his famed study for 15 long minutes. What was he looking for? Was it the journalist in him looking for an exclusive, or a seeker of the higher mysteries that Awo was reputed for?
He describes his experience at the study thus: “I felt the overbearing presence of the Sage. Everything in the room was intact. His black executive chair with his ebony table; a writing pad and a ball pen neatly put in place, gave me a feeling that though Papa is gone in body, his spirit is still very much around. The silence in the room overwhelmed me, and my mind was blank for a few seconds. Then in measured steps, I walked round the room to give myself that confidence that I was not being watched.”
He noted the order, peace and harmony in the study. Of interest to him were the 14 shelves of books, each ministering to a different node of the Sage. There were books on Law, politics, religion and mysticism. A look at the 14 books confirms that Awo was truly a mystic, which accounts for his Spartan life and preoccupation with service to humanity. Most of the books were on mysticism, which is defined as a direct relationship with God. His choice of books shows the depth of his spirituality, a quality that trickled to most Awoists.
One of Awo’s famous quotations reproduced by Olamiti still remains very valid today and should be printed in the subconscious of Nigerian youths. It says, “The trouble with our youths is that they sleep too much, play too much and indulge too much in idle chatter and gossip.” Awo recommends “at least eight hours on serious work, creative leisure and development. Eight hours are enough for feeding, relaxation and sleep.”
His coverage of the Awo family cannot be complete without his wife, who lived to be nearly 101 years. Olamiti reports that she is ‘stickler to time and appointments.” She had to be for the Sage to marry her, or he converted her because spirituality underscores order and purity. She scolded Olamiti once she caught him with long nails.
She had seven basic rules of conduct that formed the core of her maternal duties. All started with “Thou shall not….” And it includes something special for girls: “Thou shall not wear make up until you marry”!
“Mama was always blunt. She hated hypocrisy. She loved the company of anyone who would tell her the truth,” he affirms.
The ICPC Years
Olamiti spent about 12 fruitful years in ICPC creating and sustaining good image and relationships with the media and the general public for the anti-corruption agency. His ever-present smile became a productive public relations tool. No matter how hardnosed a reporter is, he/she will loosen up when you go to ICPC and encounter Olamiti. Justice Ayoola made a fantastic choice of a media consultant. He was so effective that Ayoola’s successor, Ekpo Nta, retained him for another four years.
He deployed his writing to the service of ICPC. He explored the psychology of corruption in “Who cheats?” He concluded: “Most of us.” He argues that “cheating is an integral form of corruption.” In another article, “Corruption: Why ICPC Is Making a Difference,” he says that the Commission is doing things differently, quietly and successfully because it does “painstaking investigations.” When the agency charges a suspect to court, the chances are excellent that there will be a conviction.
He reveals that the second corruption prevention strategy by the Commission is active collaboration and partnership with relevant stakeholders. Gradually, they built up what Olamiti describes as “formidable Coalition against corruption” across various sectors of the society. Some of these platforms are: Integrity First Initiative, a collaboration with the business community; National Anti-corruption Coalition, a partnership with civil society organizations. Local Government Integrity Initiative is a bold attempt to institutionalize anti-corruption fight in the vulnerable third tier of government. The Religious Leaders Forum is fighting corruption, surprisingly, in the churches and mosques. The National Assembly Forum is being used to prosecute the integrity campaign in the lions’ den of the National Assembly. There is also the ambitious National Anti-Corruption Volunteer Corps, (NAVC) which monitors the public and private sectors in the 774 local governments across the country. In the ministries, Departments and Agencies, (MDAs) ICPC has the Anti-Corruption and Transparency Monitoring Units (ACTUs) to monitor compliance with regulations, and report violations timely.
During his time in ICPC, Olamiti waxed lyrical about these programmes and got so much involved in their propagation, especially the Students Anti-Corruption Clubs in secondary schools, and Students Anti-Corruption Vanguards (SAVs) in tertiary institutions.
According to Olamiti, “As these systemic and structural measures put in place by ICPC increasingly find expression in the minds and practices of the citizenry, the decline of corruption and its eventual rejection by the Nigerian society is just a matter of time.”
The Anglican Church
Olamiti may be officially retired, but he is even busier now. Apart from operating, arguably, the busiest online news portal in Nigeria with up to 1, 000 posts daily, he runs the press activities of the Anglican Church, Nigerian Communion, which include: online news, radio and television, called the Advent Cable Network Nigeria Television (ACNNTV), which he is presently the chairman.
He traverses all the geo-political zones of the country with the hierarchy of the church, attending to the flock, and capturing all the activities for members with his crew. What his father did as a catechist, rendering service in the old Ondo Province, Olamiti is doing across Nigeria through evangelical journalism.
He may finally drop his pen in this beat. He tells everyone that he is getting old but he may well end up the Larry King of Nigerian Journalism. His hyper-activities as an online publisher belie his 72 years. It is doubtful if he sleeps up to five hours at night. Technology has revolutionized his practice. He now has the world in his palms and has raised his game productively. What he could not achieve as an editor in an analogue generation, he is doing with creative dimensions. We are hoping to celebrate his centenary still in active service! That’s the Great Folu for you!