What and how do you write about someone, with whom you could say you almost began together? How do you write about one with whom you shared roasted corn and a ball of akara? One with whom you discussed how you were to realise a ‘huge projects’- like raising money to buy your first colour TV set?
How also do you write about one, whose wedding visuals remain locked in your brain 20 years after and with whom you once pounded the streets of Ilorin, scouring for good copies? A dilemma that will not disappear persists: do you sulk in the closets or celebrate him?
And when it is about a journalist, who, through his pen, and the mouse lifted budding politicians to limelight, made the world comprehensible to
those who were never at the scene of an event nor had access to fraud-bearing content of documents and who, fought injustice and elite rot
in his own way, sulking in the closets is an expensive luxury. A historic duty beckons.
So when the ramrod Abdur-Rahman Abdur-Rauf, Politics Editor at the Blueprint (former Editor The Pilot, former Assistant Editor, the Punch) called, two Thursdays ago to break the sad news that Tunde Sanni, the correspondent with This Day newspaper in Ibadan was no more, I shot back: “Which Tunde Sanni?”
“Our Own Tunde Sanni” replied Abdur-Rahman.
Though not given to frivolities, I still doubted Abdur-Rahman’s account.
Hajia Rashidat Oladimeji had broken the bad news to him. It never sank that she spoke about the same Tunde Sanni. Yusuf Alli, former Editor of the Punch newspaper, now Managing Editor of the Nation newspaper, confirmed my worst fears. “He’s been sick for a while”, Yusuf Alli affirmed.
Together, we agonized over the fate of out petite but valiant, lion hearted friend, who though was brief in size, would punish you with his fast
pace, any time you did about a kilometre on foot, together. He left you in no doubt that your height and somewhat longer legs confer no edge.
Our paths crossed about 20 years ago when I corresponded for The NEWS magazine from Ilorin. Tunde Sanni was then the ‘big boy’ as the state correspondent of The Punch. Then, the country leaned on daring journals like The NEWS, Tempo, TELL, The Punch and other dailies to some extent, as well as-pro-democracy activists, radical scholars and lawyers in leading the assault against Babangida and Abacha’s creeping dictatorships.
Tunde Sanni was much sought after in Kwara’s political and elite circles.
Government officials could not predict him nor his stories, once he was locked in his office at Kwara’s Fleet Street, Murtala, Ilorin. Brief almost
on all counts, he made himself very tall, with his somewhat acerbic copies.
At press conferences, you will not miss the visage of one, somewhat as tall as Adams Oshiomhole, late Ken Saro Wiwa, hauling biting questions at
speakers. Even our own Femi Falana beats Tunde for size. It is not for nothing that many reckon that brief men pack punches in their brief frames.
Then, Egbon Tunde Oyekola held forte at the Tribune, Gbenga Olarinoye, now at Osogbo, was at the Vanguard, Abiodun Awani at the Daily Times, Yusuf Alli –who later had the distinction of editing the three titles of The Punch under a decade, hoisted the A. M News flag. Ife Olukoni- who
justified his Grade A rating as a newshound, was later to make a First Class at Law School – was at the Champion, Tunde Olofintila, who joined
Trade Bank afterwards, hoisted the flag of the flagship: The Guardian, Suleiman Gambari—who though was a prince but never flaunted it – was at New Nigerian. There was also Omotayo Ishola, who combined his Law practice with a job at the New Nigerian. Former Majority Leader in the Kwara House of Assembly Kayode AbdulWahab held forth at Thisday. Former Chief Press Secretary to former Governor of Kwara state, Maasud Adebimpe plied his trade with Hope newspaper, edited then by our big Egbon and mentor to many: Mr. Ademola Adetula.
Our own ‘Oju-Awo’, and for the Ilorin years, Tunde Sanni’s alter ego: Depo Oyedokun, two times member of the House of Representatives – representing Oluyole Federal Constituency at the Green Chambers – was Daily Sketch’s state correspondent.
Elder Wole Adedeji ensured National Concord was a respected voice in the state.
Between Alhaji Abdur-Raheem Adisa and Celsus Ohain, the News Agency of Nigeria, NAN became a voice you ignore at your peril. Tunde Akanbi aka ‘Gbogbo Nkan’ wore a special hat as a correspondent. Ace photographer: Kayode Dangurugu has no parallel.
Tunde Sanni’s ‘Kini Show e’ homeboy: FRCN’s Ayodele Aliyu was to join the Correspondent Chapel afterwards. Rasak Gidado, former Chief Press Secretary to late Governor Lawal, Kayode Lawal aka, ‘Tonkere’ Emma Okere, Federal Radio Corporation, FRCN, Enugu, and Azare Akucha, FRCN, Kaduna and Ade Bada of the Diet were all part of the clan. And although tall man, Nurudeen Abdur-Rahman, former Chief Press Secretary was not a correspondent, he, like Radio Kwara man: Ayo Akanbi, sports enthusiast, Bayour Issah and Abdullahi Olesin related like one.
Though a brief man, you could ignore Tunde at your peril. With an exclusive on a Monday morning, state correspondents ensured they compare notes with him before heading home.
While he plied his trade with Daily Independent, he came up with what ranked as a world class exclusive: of a priest with national and global
reach’s alleged adulterous liaison with an iconic television star.
The seamy liaison found its way to a high court, courtesy of an enraged husband who tossed a writ at the state judiciary and went on to a Kwara
High Court sitting in Offa – away from the prying eyes of the state capital’s newshounds. It was the judicial noblese and elites’ own way of shrouding such a seamy and embarrassing liaison.
Still, Tunde Sanni found out and did his duty.
In those days, the ubiquity of the GSM and cyber café, ranked like tales by the moonlight. Tunde Sanni’s Punch office, equipped with a forever
functioning fax machine, was a ‘Lord’ in a sense. Many of our colleagues, enjoyed the privilege of running their stories to Lagos, Kaduna and Ibadan by his machine. He was always willing, after his copy was safely in Kudeti anyway.
The man in Tunde Sanni shone, when Yusuf Alli took over from him – in Punch characteristic annual ritual of ferreting other hands in a Felasque ‘Just like that’ fashion. Tunde Sanni was not fazed. He plied his trade with dignity, said his Solat regularly and carried on as if nothing happened.
Once in while, Kayode AbdulWahab- the one we call Prof (Professor)—on account of his versatility and abiding love for books, will taunt Tunde
Sanni, calling him ‘Coordinator of Fingerlings’. Along with his bosom friend in their Ilorin days: Depo Oyedokun, both scoured the city. They
were in love with fish farming!
Apart from his copies,–through which he distinguished himself, not many politicians in the Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ fold, would ignore Tunde Sanni.
And so when Tunde Akanbi, aka ‘Gbogbo Nkan’, was locked in an epic duel with Smart Adeyemi – now a ranking Senator at the Red Chambers, Abuja – for the leadership of the state’s NUJ, Tunde Sanni was a footsoldier that the two contestants reckoned with.
Smart, a hard campaigner, even in those days defeated Akanbi with two votes. Some of us massed behind Tunde Akanbi. Others after Smart Adeyemi.
Smart’s candidate for NUJ Secretaryship, Femi Oyewole lost. But Smart won with two votes. Our own candidate: Tunde Akanbi lost. But our
secretaryship candidate: Yusuf Alli won.
African Independent Television, AIT’s, battled-hardened news soldier, Adebayo Bodunrin, was the NUJ electoral umpire from Abuja. And his
disqualification of Local Government Information Officers contributed in no small measure to Smart’s victory.
Smart did his term and discharged himself creditably, with a 12- bedroom Guest chalet–and very little money– as the hallmark of his term. Then, he began his ascent to the national leadership of the NUJ, first by trouncing some Abuja candidates for the Zone D, Vice-Chairmanship of the NUJ.
With Oju-Awo in tow, he scoured most states of the federation, before clinching the NUJ Presidency. And then to the Senate, Smart headed. The rest, as they say, is history.
Tunde Akanbi did his term too, winning at his second attempt. His second name *Sai* *ka yi** (you will make it /do it) * eventually came to pass.
Post Kwara NUJ election squabbles safely behind, we all carried on and related as if the bickering and bitter electoral campaign with Smart’s
popular campaign line: *Kadara Allahu Akan Kadiri* -(Whatever the Creator has said will be will be)– never held.
At one of his several sorties to Murtala, I once jibed Smart that he was hugging politics proper, with a huge future to boot. In his characteristics manner of obfuscating his moves, Smart shot back: ‘politics is not for me. I don’t think I can survive it’. Given what I observed of his campaign, his strategic acumen and resilience on a campaign train, I never believed him. And I told him as much.
About a year afterwards, when former Kwara House Majority Leader, Kayode AbdulWahab locked horns with Celsus Ohain for the Chairmanship of the NUJ Correspondents Chapel, Tunde Sanni’s vote was fingered as having played a pivotal role in deciding, who between Celsus Ohain and Kayode AbdulWahab carried the day. Then, we were not sure that Oju-Awo, Tunde Sanni and Rasak Gidado followed the script that our caucus had perfected.
And when you challenged him, Tunde Sanni reaffirmed his right to secret ballot and his sacred, democratic right to exercise his voting rights the
way he deemed fit.
An NUJ activist in his own right, Tunde Sanni ensured he never missed most NUJ National Conventions. The last time we saw was about eight years ago when he come for an NUJ convention in Abuja. To his eternal credit, Tunde kept in touch, even from his Ibadan base, via calls. He relished the old saying that old friends, like good wine, got better with age.
It is a testimony to the respect which his colleagues in Ibadan had for him that even, while away for the weekend in Ilorin, he could, over the phone, ensure that you enjoy the benefit of a generous coverage for an event. One of such was to honour the former Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS Executive Chairman (Ifueko Omoigui Okauru) at Kuti Hall, University of Ibadan.
Once, robbers, went on a rampage, at Oko, Oyo State, killing a teacher as they sliced through the town. Their quarry: customers at First Bank. With
some details and a few questions, a copy, drawing attention to insecurity in the land, made its way into Thisday and the national media. That was the quintessential newsman in Tunde Sanni.
When yours sincerely was asked to join The NEWS’ Bureau in Abuja in 1997, Tunde Sanni, ever desirous of playing in the First Eleven, like we always call the frontline dailies, relocated to Lokoja afterwards, when an opening at Thisday leapt.
He came to Ibadan from Lokoja.
At Ibadan, any politician or anybody desirous of comprehending the political compass of the state must read his typically detailed features.
He laid bare acres of complex and ostensibly incomprehensible power play–like he did when Oyo Governor Abiola Ajimobi dropped some of his
commissioners late last year. In a lengthening column of journalists, content solely, with scripting newstories, bereft of the context, colour and perspectives, which detailed features offer, Tunde Sanni copies are some refreshing oddities.
He remained glued to Ilorin, where he essayed to raise his family.
While he illumed the nation’s political currents and shed light on political intrigues, not many noted that some personal intrigues—this time of the physiological hue–was taking a toll on his valiant heart.
A devout muslim, forever concerned about the state of Islam in Nigeria and the globe, even, while he was weighed down by ill health, Tunde Sanni did not tire in asking you that you contribute your widow’s mite to one Islamic cause or the other. He would always admonish you that you channel your evangelising energies or exertions through organized platforms. To him, commitment to your profession should not conflict with your primary duty to your maker.
With magisterial regularity, he said his Solat. And he is forever content with whatever Almighty Allah has given him. He radiated an inscrutable
inner peace and a ‘never say die spirit’. And he will shock the hell out of you if you ever attempt to intrude his space or being.
He was at home with all manners of men. And when situations compel him to lose his cool, you would hardly notice. He is not a hell raiser. Except
that he might battle to speak at faster rate—with eyes blinking just like late Bashorun MKO Abiola will do at a debate!
May Almighty Allah guide all men of the pen, who cater to public good through our work against this unending orgy of untimely deaths. A few years ago, it was Abayomi Ogundeji. Years before, it was Said Mulero, our own Mulero, Kehinde Bello (ex-National Concord), Tunde Oladepo, Suleiman Mohammed, Peter Omale, Bankole Makinde, and several other pen hugging men and women. May the Creator have mercy on their souls all.
And give journalists and journalism, the grace to pull back and vote on how best to cater to the health and occupational hazards of our patriotic men. And women. May He grant your wife double Iyaa-Ibeji, the inner fortitude to bear the pains and the means to carry on. May he console all your brothers, sisters, friends and family members from Ijebu-Modi and on the face of the earth.
My very good friend, Tunde, ‘Atawewe’ Dhikrullah Sanni, may Almighty Allah forgive you all your sins and make Aljana Firidaus your abode.
Wahab Gbadamosi, is an Assistant Director, Communications and Liaison
Department, Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS.