By Sanya Oni
Thanks to Louis Odion – the man I prefer to call Gburugburu but who many call Mr. Capacity, a copy of the book – In Pursuit of the Public Purpose – a compilation of essays in tribute to Tunji Bello which he co-edited with Kayode Komolafe, was delivered to my office Monday last week. To begin with, if the word classy qualifies as a most fitting description of the print quality, a lot more could certainly be said of the galaxy of contributors drawn from the diverse spectrum of the nation’s public life all united in their attestation to the exemplary private and public life of the remarkable individual called Tunji Bello. Sincerely, only those who did not know Tunji could have expected anything less! Talk of being truly deserving – or even more – for a man who has touched and continues to touch, lives positively.
Talking of the book, although I had read snippets of the tributes in one or two newspapers, it was for me a refreshing odyssey of sorts as I poured through the pages of a book laid out in celebration of a brother and a true friend of whom I had the good fortune of meeting for the very first time some 35 years ago on the Features Desk of the National Concord then led by Ola Amupitan and his two deputies – Ayodeji Ajayi and Betty Irabor, which also had Wale Sokunbi, Tunji Bello and yours truly on board.
A book of nine sections, the chapters run through such themes as Character, Family, World View, Activism/Unionism, Friendship, Journalism, Public Service and Mentees. Expectedly, there is a section – Taste of Tunji Bello’s New Republic – a collection of few of his writings at Thisday newspapers.
Like the story of the blind men and an elephant, each of the contributors obviously did a good job of describing the subject based on their different experiences of the man and their perception of his impact both in their lives and in the cause of public service,
From Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu under whom he first served as commissioner in the environment, we read of his profile in diligence and loyalty; from my dear egbon, Segun Babatope, it was an account of his heroism particularly in those heady days of military brigandage. From Lanre Arogundade, Sanni Zoro, and from the irrepressible lawyer cum activist Richard Akinnola, the reader is offered a glimpse into his activism. And then of course the home front, from the pens of the wife, Professor Ibiyemi Olatunji-Bello and the children.
Sam Omatseye, this newspaper’s editorial board chairman would pen a chapter on friendship fittingly titled – Such a long trek together – as in tribute to that endurance trek called journalism and activism; media leader and icon, Dapo Olorunyomi would offer a candid reflection on life at 60 but on what he called ‘social connection’ as touching Tunji’s journalism, politics cum activism.
Of course, other industry leaders like Victor Ifijeh, this newspaper’s managing director and editor in chief would have a thing or two to say about his team work; the same with labour veteran and popular columnist Owei Lakemfa on how Tunji fought ‘fake news. For Eniola Bello, Thisday’s managing director, it is on the subject’s ‘simplicity’ while Gbenga Adefaye has something to say about the footprints of this great newspaperman. Between Femi Adesina’s account of how he, alongside Tunji Bello struggled to keep the Concord afloat and the inimitable Azu’s portrayal of the unlikely journalist, the analogy of the blind men and an elephant would appear to have come truly alive.
Those interested in Tunji’s foray into environmentalism would have a ready reference in the contribution of Babatunde Raji Fashola SAN, former Lagos State governor, by whom he was described as a ‘goal getter’; Dr Titilayo Anibaba who tells us why Tunji is called ‘Mr. Clean’ and then of course Joe Igbokwe with whom he’s currently tending the environment and water resources charge in the Centre of Excellence.
My best section of course is the one penned by his legion of mentees. From Olusegun Adeniyi’s My Editor, my brother, Simon Kolawole’s His grasp of issues Inspires me, Ose Oyamedan’s He see younger people as project, Abdul Warees Solanke’s He pushed me to think on my toes… to Louis Odion’s The man who clasped me in his wings…, Tunji’s profile as a leader, benefactor and inspiration to the generation behind him comes shining through. From his legendary generosity to his acclaimed selflessness, there is always a readiness to offer a helping hand to anyone that came his way and even more so to those privileged to come under his wings.
Let me by way of closing offer one testimony out of many as my personal tribute to Tunji but to exemplify his sacrifice and depth of friendship over the course of the years.
This happened in the late 80s. My younger, now a medical practitioner, had been admitted initially, to study Medicine at the University of Ilorin for the 6-year programme. Soon after, his Advanced Level result was released wherein he came out in flying colours. In line with the rules of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board at the time, he promptly applied for an upgrade to the 5-year Direct Entry programme – a request that was, according to him, flatly turned down by an official who told him he should consider himself lucky that he already has a place.
My brother came down to Concord to share this strange twist in the tale with me. Of course, I was angry, and I told Tunji about it. Not only would he have none of it, he offered to follow me to Ilorin to sort things out! Getting there, he sought out Dapo Olorunyomi whom he also dragged along. The matter was promptly resolved with the official not only apologising to the team but offering a somewhat plausible defence about the outburst being released under pressure!
That was vintage Tunji! Talk of a friend indeed; a friend not only ready to sacrifice but when necessary, fight phoney officialdom to ensure that justice is delivered no matter who was involved.
I close with a line of prayer from one of the contributors to Tunji: the best chapter of your life is yet to be written!