This month he attained the golden age, precisely on May 9. A purpose-driven journalist that he is, Mr. Lekan Otufodunrin decided to use that day to further impact aspiring and budding journalists, who converged on the Nigerian Institute of Journalism hall, Ogba, in Lagos, for a 50th Birthday Lecture focusing on ‘Re-inventing Journalism: The Case for Conscious Media Career Development in Nigeria’.
Before I met him two years ago, I had known him by reputation through my involvement in Campus Life, a weekly pullout in The Nation Newspaper. In 2010, I stumbled on a book written by him, and I bought it. The book ‘Purpose-Driven Journalism’, which gives insight on how to fulfill purpose in journalism, struck a chord in me.
Thanks to Uncle Richard Akinnola, I got to meet Mr. Lekan in 2012, when I needed to resolve what was for me a vexed issue as urgently as possible. Mr. Richard had sent me a text message containing two people’s phone numbers, recommending that I speak with them. That evening I called Mr. Lekan and explained the matter to him. He gave me useful feedback, and asked that I come to see him in his office later. Since then, he has been a mentor to me.
Although it took me unawares that he was organising a lecture to celebrate his 50th birthday as I only learnt of it that day, I made effort to attend the programme. Before I got to the venue, he had given his lecture, but I met presentations by other guest speakers.
“If you bring a sense of purpose to bear on what you do, people will respect you for what you are,” he said in a chat I had with him at the end of the event.
Asked why he organised the event, he said “I want to make a point that media career is important, and this is what I want to do more. I don’t want to look back years later and say ‘I am ashamed of journalism’. I want to be proud of it, but the only thing I can do is to make my own contribution.
“Journalism has been a substantial part of my life. I am writing a book called ‘Journalism of My Life’. I am going to publish it very soon. It showcases what God has sent me to do right from when I was in higher secondary school. As the library prefect in my higher secondary school, I edited a newsletter.”
Currently the managing editor, online, The Nation, Mr. Lekan graduated in 1985 and worked in The Punch from 1987 to 1999. “I started journalism as a state correspondent. For four years, I was in Abeokuta, Ogun State, and those were days when there were no gadgets; when you go cover an event and you would dictate every word to Lagos.
“I am glad that God wants me to be a journalist and I have been a journalist. We have initiatives such as Journalists for Christ and media trainings. I pray that God will spare my life so that I can still be of help. If I got help in the past, why should I not help?”
He sure has a word of advice for budding journalists: “My advice to them is to take the job very seriously. If God wants you to be a journalist, don’t grumble about it. Give it your best because you are writing your testimonial every day. Somebody said there is nothing you do that never gets rewarded. If today you work in an organisation and they are not paying you well, you are going to move somewhere else where they are going to pay you very well. I know people who people called and said ‘you must work for us, how much do you want?’”
Asked if he would still do journalism if he had the opportunity to come to this world again, he enthused: “Yes, I will gladly do journalism. What journalism enables you to do many other professions do not give you. We influence a lot of people. You write an article somebody reads it and his or her life is changed.”
After the chat with him, I went to town to speak with some of the participants at the event.
Mr. Jide Orintunsin, a journalist based in Niger State, who I later discovered had Mr. Lekan as his best man during his wedding, said: “Lekan Otufodunrin is a man of many parts depending on how you get to know him. To me, he is a brother and a friend and a confidant. I came all the way from Minna today to celebrate God in his life. Lekan is one man who is ready to discomfort himself in other to add value to you. He is ready to go extra mile to see that your life is better. Lekan is a man who is ready to spend his last kobo to improve you. He was my best man 22 years ago and he has been a factor in stabilising my home. I remember when I was transferred to the North; Lekan was the one taking care of my family here in Lagos. One thing I know is that he is going places, he is going to be a global personality that will be read all over the world. He is yet to start, and I know that God will take him higher in Jesus name.”
“Uncle Lekan is someone that I can describe as one of the last men standing in Nigerian journalism as far as ethics, commitment and uprightness are concerned,” said Ms. Betty Abah, executive director, CEE-HOPE Nigeria.
“He is one of the few men that people can stand up and say that this journalist has not compromised. We call him the editor of editors. He is someone who is also a good representative of Christ. He is the president of Journalists for Christ. For many of us he is our model; he really challenges us. There are many people he has directly touched. He mentors a whole generation of students. If we emulate his life, Nigeria will be a better place. I wish him 50 more years on earth,” she said.
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By ‘Femi Asu
“It is a curious thing, the death of a loved one. We all know that our time in this world is limited, and that eventually all of us will end up underneath some sheet, never to wake up. And yet it is always a surprise when it happens to someone we know. It is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark, and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down, through the air, and there is a sickly moment of dark surprise as you try and readjust the way you thought of things.” ― Lemony Snicket
That indeed captures my mood that black night when the bad news of her sudden death hit me like a bomb blast. No sooner had I logged into Facebook around 11:00 on Monday night than my eyes caught a post by Vincent Nzemeke, a member of our pen family, Campuslife. It read thus: “RIP Ngozi Agbo, God be with you till we meet again!” I just could not believe my eyes. It immediately sent shivers down my spines; goose pimples began to suffuse my body; tears were welling up in my eyes; my heart was thumping with trepidation. I needed someone to tell me I read the wrong thing. I queried loudly: “No, Aunty Ngozi…It’s not possible!” I was still chanting in dismay when my phone rang. It was Opeyemi Dibua, another member of the Campuslife family. I said to my brother whose attention my chanting had attracted: “It is finished. So it is true? Ope wants to tell me about it.” I picked the call; the story was no different: Aunty Ngozi is dead!
She needs little or no introduction. Indeed, she was an amazing amazon: tall and strong. She bestrode the journalism firmament like a colossus, armed with a “tall” dream (as tall as the biblical Tower of Babel) and a strong determination. Her dream was to salvage the future of the Nigerian youths; to raise role models in a depraved society through the instrumentality of the media. So, she launched into her dream, believing passionately in its reality and efficacy. And then she hit the ground running.
Over the years, her brainchild has immensely impacted positively on the lives of many young people. Mrs. Ngozi Nwozor-Agbo, the initiator, and editor before her death, of the famed “Campuslife” in The Nation newspaper, was truly a trail blazer; patently a pacesetter, and really a record breaker! I call her a journalistic Amazon. She was a mentor, a teacher, a source of inspiration, a friend, a change-agent, an enabler of dreams…
Just like yesterday, she started Campuslife, proudly sponsored by Coca-Cola Nigeria plc and Nigerian Bottling Company (NBC) Plc. Today, on many campuses, Campuslife, nay The Nation, has become a household name. Many students have now cultivated the wholesome habit of reading a newspaper, courtesy of Campuslife. Campuslife is now many a student’s delight as they look forward to every Thursday to read the news from various campuses. To put it mildly, her initiative is a giant leap for mankind, if I am to borrow the words of the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong.
Until I started reading The Nation in 2008, I did not know her from Adam. I happened to meet her for the first time in March 2009 at a seminar held in Lagos at Hallifield schools, Maryland , organized by Mrs. Rosemary Onyebigwa, CEO of Selective Insightz Limited. She was one of the facilitators and I enjoyed her speech titled “Attitude: the Success Determinant”. I was glad to meet with the woman who had been publishing my articles. She was very accomodating and self-effacing.
Aunty Ngozi literally boosted my desire to continue writing for Campuslife. She often told me, “Femi, you write well, but I have issues with the pictures you send.” I had to improvise since I did not own a camera then. I remember particularly the feature story I did about the failed promise of the Yar’Adua-led government to generate 6000 megawatts in 2009, she had to tell me to resend the pictures.
I deemed it necessary to do this piece basically because her brainchild, Campuslife, has tremendously helped me in broadening my journalistic horizons.
She will eternally be etched in my memory because she made positive indelible impact on me. I cannot forget in hurry her editing of parts of my yet-to-be-published manuscript; her contribution will no doubt be acknowledged.
Since its inception, Campuslife has provided a platform for students in higher institutions to make their voice heard; it has given many, like me, an avenue to sharpen their writing skills. Campuslife is, unarguably, the first of its kind in the history of the Nigerian press as far as campus journalism or student reporting is concerned. Students are given a rare opportunity to practice journalism, as it were, irrespective of their disciplines.
Aunty Ngozi was able to make Campuslife what it is today, not because she was the editor, but because she was able to get along with young people. She related and interacted with us as a mentor. Her weekly column “Pushing Out” spoke volumes about her passion towards the betterment of the future of the Nigerian youths. She did a wonderful job co-ordinating Campuslife with over 100 correspondents across the nation.
All said and done, she was a journalistic amazon. She was a woman who distinguished herself, pursuing the noble cause of impacting the Nigerian youth positively.
O death, how dare you snatched our Amazon?! The matriach of our pen family you took away. But death you failed! It’s a lost battle for you. Can a cobweb entrap an elephant? Never. Though Aunty Ngozi is no more here, but her influence will forever remain with us. As Samuel Butler said; “To die completely is to be forgotten; he who dies and is not forgotten lives forever.” We cannot forget her in a hurry; she lives in our hearts because she made inroads into our lives; her impact were immeasurable. Adieu, Aunty Ngozi!
This is indeed a sad reminder for all of us that we are not here to stay forever. Like it or lump it, one day we will be evicted from this reality show called Life. Our deeds during this great show, and not the fact that we are evicted, will determine our eternal bliss or eternal blues!
Let me leave you with the immortal words of Stephen Grellet:
“You shall pass through this world but once. If, therefore, there is any good thing you can do or any kindness that you can show any human being, please do it now; do not defer it or neglect it, for you shall not pass this way again.” (Adapted)