I Won't Forget The Day Chief Bode George Hugged Me At Obasanjo Library - Akinola, Photojournalist - THE DAILY CRUCIBLE



Tuesday, May 11, 2021

I Won't Forget The Day Chief Bode George Hugged Me At Obasanjo Library - Akinola, Photojournalist

...Says Photojournalists Face Greater Risk Than Reporters

Mr Akinola Yaqub  Omowunmi is the Vanguard newspapers photojournalist in Ogun State. He has put in decades of practice and is still passionate about his job. The Daily Crucible spoted him at the premises of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) Secretariat, Iweiroyin, Abeokuta with his tool, Camera fitted to his hand. He shared some of his experiences with the medium's News Editor, Godwin Akomah.

I can see you are still waxing stronger as a photo journalist toggling your tool. 


What is the secret ?

I will say passion. I trained as a photographer in Ibadan. Later, I joined The Nigerian Army. When I finished my training as a soldier at Mokola, I pulled out later. I started work at the Sketch Publising Company in1975 as a freelancer based in Ilaro. I covered all the areas of Egbado now called Yewa. That time, there was no real or efficient means of communication, I had to travel from Ilaro to Ibadan to submit my work. Mr. Idris was my  photo editor then. From 1975 to 1980, I worked with Sketch and was based in Yewa. I covered Obasonjo when he came to Yewa on official visit in 1976. Uptil today, people in Yewa know me as Sketch man. Whenever they see me in their area or elsewhere, they  will be shouting Sketch man, Sketch man. When I pulled out from Sketch in 1980, I joined The Tribune. I was given an appointment letter in April, 1982. By November, 1982, they confirmed my appointment as a full fledge staff of Tribune. I covered Ogun West; East and Central. There is nowhere in Ijebu axis of Ogun East that I did not reach. Whenever there was an assignment, they will call me to go and cover it. Our editor in chief then, Mr. Femi Adenaike, he was and still is a good man that can be reckoned with. Whenever there was an assignment, he will say, 'photographer, where is your reporter?  Okay go cover the event in so and so place and put your caption, give the film to my driver and go back to Abeokuta for other assignments. Make sure that you collect your transport fare. Write it and send to me.' So, I continued with Tribune and covered some outstation jobs. If it was another paper, they would compensate me very well. I recall that there was a boundary dispute between Ayilara and Ibun Arijan, there are border communities between Ondo State and Ogun State where they were killing each other, Tribune asked us to go cover the crisis,  my reporter and I. My reporter then is now a lawyer, his name is Wale Efunuga. We covered every important event. The time I worked with Tribune, there was no important event in Ogun State that I did not cover.

Who were the prominent Nigerians you covered in the past?

When Ibrahim Babangida visited Ogun state in 1988, I covered the event, that time, there was problem in the country when he visited Ogun state. He came lay the foundation for a structure near the Awujale Palace extension where they are holding Ojude Oba. That was 11th November, 1988. Raji Rasaki was in the state then, he was later transfered to Lagos and Lawal was brought to Ogun state as the military governor to replace him. There was no any government personality that came to Abeokuta that I did not cover when I was in Tribune... then. I was earning just a hundred and twenty(N120:00k). But, I made sure I played my role. If I go to Tribune today, and introduce myself, even if I wanted a job there, I will get it without applying. I continued working until 1999 when the company wanted to celebrate their 50th anniversary, and just when some of were expecting long service awards, they said that they were doing re-organization, they sacked all of us, including myself when we were qualified for the long service awards. They gave me letter that my job was no longer required. I accepted it with joy and continued with my life.

How did you join the Monitor and later the Sketch publications afterwards ?

There was a man I worked with in Sketch Newspaper. His name is Biodun Fagboturo, the group news editor at the time. When I was at Ilaro, I worked with him, I always submitted my photographs to him for use in the newspaper. When Tribune re-organized the newspaper, he requested to see the list of the people Tribune asked to go. When he saw my name, he recognised that I worked with him when he was the news editor in Sketch. So, he directed that I should be given appointment at Ijebu Ode to cover the Ojude Oba. The message was brought to me that the managing editor of Monitor asked me to cover an event at Ijebu Ode and bring it to Ibadan. I covered the event and took it to The Monitor office in Ibadan. When Sesan Ola saw me, he recognized me and while he was talking  to me after seeing the photographs, he was satisfied and asked the accountant to give me money to go back to Abeokuta. The third day, I just saw an appointment letter, offering me more than what Tribune paid me. I continued with them. There was a problem at the Monitor. The owner said that profit was not being made. The management reduced the staff strength as they were reorganizing. They asked me to wait. For almost a year, they were paying me while I was waiting. The man who came from Ilorin to do this re-organisation was brought from the Concord Newspaper, and he brought some of his staff from Concord. They asked me to work as a freelance photographer but I declined.

Uptil date, you are still active?

Yes. I am presently working with Vanguard Newspaper. I joined Vanguard since 2003. If you ask my Photo Editor, he will confirm that I, mr. Akiola is their man any time, any day. I like to do my work conscientiously, I have never declined to go anywhere I am asked to go for assignment. When I was with Tribune, they used to report me to my Editor that after covering an event they would be looking for me but only to find out that I had done my job and left immediately without letting them know. So they were conscious of the fact that whenever  I finish my job I would just leave. I don't wait or ask for any gratification, unless the people on their own, deem it necessary to do something for me afterwards.

When you look back, what would you consider as the thing that keeps you going as a photojournalist?

It is just the interest in the job. It is not money as there is no money as such in the job.These days, most newspapers owe their reporters, including photographers up to three months or more. Whenever I cover events, I do not ask for money but if they appreciate what I have done, I take it. Chief Bode George, wherever I see him today if I ask him to give me a million naira, he won't hesitate to give me. When he visited the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library in Abeokuta, you know he is in PDP, when he saw me, he called me and huged me and gave me N20,000:00k and gave instruction that whatever was done for the journalists that came there that day, it should also be extended to me as well as that 20k was a personal gift.

How do you see the brand of journalism being practiced today, compared with your familiar past years?

Today's journalism is chop I chop. In those days, they respect each other. I remember in those days, in Tribune, whenever somebody brings "release" to the office, the editor will refer the person back to the reporter covering that area or station so that if a mistake occurs, they will know who to hold responsible for such mistake. Nowadays, if releases gets to any media head office, without the knowledge of the reporter covering the area or station where the release emanated, it gets published. They don't care so long as they are gratified,  and that is bad. It shows that they do not trust and respect their field officers.

What is your advice to young journalists?

These days the norms in journalism, as far as respect is concerned has waned. In those days, the News Editor, who is the engine room of the newspaper is accorded special respect because the success or failure of the newspaper rest on him. Journalists of these days only look out for what to grab to the extent they do ask for gratifications, and this is not right. In those days, when  journalists covered assignment, whatever they wanted to appreciate journalists comes later but people want their rewards or thank you now. Also, the news editor who determines what goes into the paper is  encouraged by those on the field so that they can do their job happily.

Today, the Internet and social media have changed the face of journalism as against the old order. How are these innovations changing the face of photojournalism?

When I was in Tribune, Akintude bought us a Fax machine. It is through that machine that we could send messages faster, or "Alpha Bravo" which was verbal signal. And to do that, you must get to the office where the Fax machine  was installed before you could use it. But today, from anywhere, you can send your story and pictures to the office and faster too, all thanks to Internet.

What were the hazards you encountered in line of duty as a photo journalist?

In those days, if you covered a hazard proned assignment, you would be compensated. It was the assignment and discovery of Prime Minister's body, Tafa Balewa's body that brought Olusegun Osoba to the limelight and also brought rewards to him but Photo journalists are more exposed to hazards than the reporters. Photo journalists must get closer to the target before taking shots unlike the reporters who can keep safe distance, observe and still execute his assignment. I have been on the lucky side as I have not had any direct urgly incidents in the course of my job. I am a core Muslim and Allah has been helping me. At times, I use to go to hazardous assignments in company of the police; DSS, or NSO as it was called then, they know me. Some of them have even retired now. I use to escape the dangers or risks associated with the job because I am a core Muslim and I believe is the working of Allah's mercy.  Also, people always help me to escape before the problem or danger strikes.

Let's talk about your family?

I have five children from my two wives. My last child just graduate from a private University and is getting prepared to go for his youth service.  All my children are graduates. One studied Nursing, the other one Urban and Regional Planning. They are doing very well. Few months  ago, they surprisingly marked my 71st birthday without prior notice. I did not know that they were preparing for it. They came together with their children, brought an agbada dress which they bought for me, asked me to arrange for a photographer and that was it. They printed vests bearing my name and also posted the celebration pictures on Facebook.

NUJ, your constituency, did the body celebrate your 71st birthday?

I didn't tell them because my children didn't give me any prior notice, it was a sudden arrangement. .Biodun one of my children put it on NUJ platform, and they all started calling me and sending birthday wishes.

It is interesting to observe that  at 71, you are still very strong  and handling your camera with a youth -like agility?

Yes, I don't move on the fast lane of life. When you are on the slow lane you don't experience the problems and challenges associated with fast lane of life.

Looking back, would you say it has been rewarding being a photo journalist?

I thank God. All my children are graduates, and very supportive, what else can I ask for? 
On 2004, governor Gbenga  Daniel gave out two slots to journalists to travel to Saudi Arabia, for the Hajj, and I got a slot because am a journalist, so, I was very happy. I did not expect to get that opportunity through that angle of being a journalist. In this job,  I have won many awards too. For examples, during the tenure of Comrade Eddy Aina as the NUJ chairman in Ogun State, I won  the best photojournalist Award 1988, Again in 1989, I won the best photographer of the year. In 1994, I won WAPCO National Table Tennis Championship best photo coverage.

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