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Babatunde Jose: A Ringside Perspective 15 Years After

By Babatunde Jose, Jnr.

Fifteen years after the demise of Alhaji Isma’il Babatunde Jose, thousands of encomiums and praises have been poured on him, from various quarters and constituencies which his stratavarious life touched: From the world of journalism to newspaper management, manufacturers to board rooms of industrial conglomerates, and from the printing industry to religious undertakings.

However, for a change, it would be instructive to have the testimony of the man whom the great God used as an instrument in Jose’s life. A man whom Jose described as his guardian angel; Cecil Hamsworth King, former Chairman of the International Publishing Corporation, and owners of the Daily Times at the beginning of Jose’s career. And also hear from Alhaji Jose himself.

These two perspectives are taken from the Foreword and Preface of Jose’s book: Walking a Tight Rope; Power Play in the Daily Times, published by the Oxford University Press, Ibadan, 1987.

In the foreword to the book, late Cecil Hamsworth King wrote: “I have great pleasure in providing a Foreword to Dr Jose’s coming book of his career, in which I am proud to have played a part.

“Dr. Jose, whom I knew well, was a member of my staff during the years 1948 to 1968, after which I retired. I think that I met him in 1949 when he was a reporter on a salary of £8 per month. He had been on the staff of the COMET, the newspaper of Dr. Zik. This was the best source of journalistic training at that time as Dr. Zik was an excellent journalist – hampered by the lack of an adequate manager. After a short spell with the Comet, Dr Jose joined the staff of the Daily Times where he remained until his retirement as Chairman in 1976.

“The Daily Mirror bought the Daily Times in 1948 and I went to Nigeria and stayed with Sir Hugh Foot (Lord Caradon), the newly appointed Chief Secretary, as his guest, while he was waiting for his furniture to arrive by boat.

“The Daily Times was owned by the West African Newspapers Limited based in Liverpool and enjoyed a sale of 6,000 copies. I was looking at the paper with some distaste while Hugh Foot quoted to me an Arab proverb – “To its mother, even a baby beetle is beautiful.”

“The paper was a poor effort but for its future it had to be put on a solid basis. In fact, the policy of the paper was to be devoted to the cause of self-government for Nigeria. I was surprised that the British Colonial Government officials were apparently under the impression that self-government for Nigeria was not inevitable. My invitations to senior members of the British Colonial Service were at first cordial but later the policy of the paper was resented and their invitations to me were severely curtailed.

“The big event in my relationship with Dr Jose, this great man, was when I asked him to have lunch with me. He refused as he was fasting during the daytime owing to the Moslem feast of Ramadan. Later in the day I was much impressed by his religious attitude in a second interview and told him that if he was intending to devote his life to religion, I would send him to Mecca and also to the tomb of the Prophet; to the great Mosque in Jerusalem and to the famous Moslem University in Cairo. The visit set his life on a pattern of religion which he has maintained day by day ever since. That I should have helped him to found his life on his Faith – as he has – has been so important to his contribution to Nigeria and a development to which I am proud to have contributed.

“The success of Dr Jose is known throughout Nigeria, and it was by my decision that he was promoted to the editorship of the Daily Times and finally to the Chairmanship of the company — a very successful venture that made a profit of nearly £1,000,000 (N2,000,000) a year and gave employment to 1,000 Africans. At the end of my time in charge of the Daily Times there were only two Englishmen on the staff — one was their accountant, and another was their engineer — the editorial staff were all Africans.

“Clearly, such a career as that of Dr Jose was built on a real knowledge of the newspaper business. But the essential of his career is that his commercial success was based on a deep religious faith — not on words but on the actual performance of the precepts of the Prophet and on the injunctions given by Him. I am not a Moslem — my religious symbol is the Cross, and the symbol of the Moslem faith is the growing Crescent; but Dr Jose and I can both say “Whatever I have done with my life, my services on earth, my prayers and my death are in total submission to Allah. He is the final judge who will determine my place. My humble prayer is that he may be merciful to me despite my unintentional sins and grant me paradise.” (Cecil H. King,
Dublin, March 1986)

Alhaji Jose in the preface to his book also wrote about his encounter with fate:
“I have deliberately waited for ten years after my retirement from the Daily Times to publish my memoirs because I wanted to give myself sufficient time for reflections.

“I joined the Daily Times in April 1941, as a “small boy”, on five shillings (50 kobo) a month, with destination unknown. By the grace of Allah, I retired as a “big boy” in 1976 — as the Managing Director, one of the highest paid executive positions in the country.

“But of much greater fame were the founding fathers, the illustrious Sir Adeyemo Alakija, and his British and Nigerian friends, who laid the foundation for the present state of the company’s advancement and whatever changes might take place in the future.

“I am grateful to all those who inspired me, trained me, encouraged me, worked, or co-operated with or assisted me throughout the years I served the Daily Times of Nigeria. I am immeasurably grateful to Cecil Hamsworth King, who was an instrument in the hands of Allah, as my guardian angel.

“Let me make seven statements of beliefs and four acknowledgements:

  1. I believe that any life without religious faith is empty.
  2. I believe that leadership of a family, community or organization imposes on the leader great responsibility to lead an exemplary, disciplined life.
  3. I believe that a leader should not say or do in private what he cannot own up to in public. Nothing is secret.
  4. I believe that the price of progress can only be paid for in the currency of hard work. That is the motto of my life.
  5. I believe that the sum total of the purpose of publishing a newspaper is to influence people’s minds and that means the exercise of enormous power and responsibility.
  6. I believe in the freedom of the press within the limitation of just laws.
  7. I believe that you cannot produce a daily newspaper as if you are operating a plebiscitarian democracy.

“There are four persons who possess certain qualities that I admired in my early life, and I aimed to combine such qualities with my own beliefs and inherent qualities. All these have influenced me in walking on the tight rope of my profession over many years.

“The first was my late father, Hamza Brimoh Jose whose high religious, moral, and cultural values influenced my life.

“The second is Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, whose writings in the West African Pilot inspired me to choose journalism as a career and to resolve to become a great publisher like him. He also gave me the first opportunity on his newspaper — THE COMET.

“The third is Mr. Cecil King, former Chairman of the International Publishing Corporation in the United Kingdom who gave me the greatest opportunity: a great man, with great mind of great perception.

“The fourth is Percy Charles Roberts, former Chairman of the Mirror Group of Newspapers in UK, who was at various times General Manager and Managing Director of the Daily Times from 1952 to 1960 — who brought his military and journalistic training to bear in his work — in particular his flair for detailed planning and strategy before starting any operation and his almost inexhaustible capacity for work.

“Running a commercially successful and politically independent newspaper in a developing country, in a multi-ethnic society, with centrifugal forces always and almost permanently at work, means walking on a tight rope. I did not exercise my civic right to vote in any election throughout my employment on the Daily Times; lest it would be said that I voted for one party. The Daily Times was an independent newspaper and I said to myself I must be independent.

“I always told my editorial colleagues that it is not the function of journalists in developing countries to be hypercritical of the government all the time. A good boxer fights in order to fight again. He does not fight to be killed. We are not in the army and so we do not have to die for Nigeria.

“Rather, we must live for Nigeria. To be able to do so, the Daily Times as an institution must survive the men in any government at any time. Our attitude throughout has been militancy without hostility. This means that the Daily Times should strongly criticize irregularities in government policies without being an enemy of the government. At the same time, it should cheerfully praise and publicize commendable government activities. To be in permanent opposition would be at its peril; because if any government decided to close the paper down for as long as it is in power, all the champions of American style of Press freedom will not fight; and all the angels swearing we were right, would not save us. The journalists would get other jobs, possibly less remunerative, but the Daily Times would have died through foolhardiness that some less thoughtful men might call “courage.”

“In all these years, I was the leader of a group of brilliant young journalists, all of us walking on a tight rope. My policy was that I had the power to remove anything from the paper because I had a duty to protect the interests of the shareholders and the staff. But I had no power to insist on inserting any news or comment in the paper against the Editor’s wish, because Editors are responsible by law for the contents. This arrangement worked most satisfactorily.

“It is true that over the years, I personified the paper and the company. I offer no apologies for that. Only a person without a sense of mission would lead a national institution like the Daily Times of Nigeria during such an historical period without his shadow being clearly visible on the walls. The fact, however, that the company and the newspapers continue to be successfully managed largely by men and women recruited and trained by me, is a measure of the corporate structure I left behind.

“What is more, it was the will of God that on March 23, 1984— eight years after my retirement I was requested by the Federal Military Government to advise on the re-organization of the Board and top management of the Daily Times of Nigeria and all my recommendations were accepted and implemented in May 1984.

“Thank God by whose grace alone I was able to walk on the tight rope for more than three decades and alighted safely without any injury to my person or reputation.

“For, to be the conscience of the Daily Times Group of newspapers for eighteen years was the closest thing to walking on a tight rope, outside the circus. One has to balance between the ivory and the iron towers, occasionally risking a little spin round one foot and yet remaining firmly balanced on the rope.” (Ismai’l Babatunde Jose, May 1986)

Family and friends will gather next Tuesday, 29th August, for the annual special prayers for the repose of the souls of departed members and that of Alhaji Jose.

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