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Politics

Far too long down

He was always clean-shaven. But not that day.

He was always aglow. But not that day. 

Forlorn is the best word to describe him: that day.

Yet, his wittiness had not waned: that day, he cracked us up all through, while he characteristically kept a straight face. In his signature baritone. Loud and clear and unmistakably Taiwo Allimisque.

It was 18 September 2019, and four of us – Nkanu Egbe, Anike-ade Funke Treasure,  Pelu Awofeso and I – were returning to Lagos after The Journalism Clinic’s 1st Media Leaders’ Summit held at the Ogere Resort Centre, Ogun State. At my behest, we paid the revered journalist and public servant a flying visit at his home in nearby Sagamu, where he had retired to, after serving as director-general of the Voice of Nigeria. 

He did not need to tell us that he had been down from illness.  It was writ large on his face and gaunt frame.

…and, sadly, he is still down. 

Deep down, this must be excruciating for someone known to be ever on the go. 

I am not sure I had ever seen Taiwo Allimi without a To-Do list and a pen which he used to check off the items, often many, as soon as they were done. When it came to socials, he knew how to breeze in and out, ensuring being sighted by the host and disappearing quietly. 

I was barely out of secondary school when in 1977, as co-producer with Bayo Adewusi, of Lagos Report –  the week-night investigative television news programme he created, soon after he joined the Nigerian Television Authority Channel 10 (NTA-10) Lagos as a foreign-trained youth corps member –  was a rave. “Lagos Report stepped on many toes and (the Nigerian) government (led by then Gen Olusegun Obasanjo) was uncomfortable,” he states in his book, Without Time, Memoirs of a Journalist in Public Service. “The production took the greater part of 17 hours daily –  Monday-Friday. We spent Saturdays and Sundays to prepare a general framework for the coming week and the preceeding week.” 

That was the Taiwo Allimi in my memory bank. 

The one who, as the Coordinator-TV of the Lagos State Broadcasting Corporation, at its founding in 1980, and working with some old and fresh creative talents in television broadcasting, including Jimi Odumosu, Shakirat Bakare, Tex Ogunbodede, Sina Elegbede, Dele Alake (yes, the same one), Segun Babatope, Kemi Banjo, Yomi Awokere, Nwanna Iwuajoku, Steve Omuero, Yomi Ezeakor, Ganiyu Kasunmu, Remi Babalola, Yinka Olaleye, Babajide Fatogun, Funso Akinlaja, Dada Sobola, Funke Ogunsipe, Deun Adedoyin, Funmi Onabolu, Ayo Osofowora, Tunde Okeowo, Doyin Jaiyesimi and Kate Omitodin, ran rings around the more-resourced NTA. 

They really showed NTA pepper, permit the street speak, please, in terms of content and scheduling. 

Imagine, for instance, scheduling a lengthy interview with an Obafemi Awolowo or Emeka Ojukwu at exactly 9pm which is NTA Network News hour. I cannot forget Taiwo Allimi’s interview with Ojukwu, when the latter in response to a question if he had any regrets about the Nigerian civil war, or something of the sort, said, “I don’t have eyes at the back….” 

Imagine LTV starting a weekend marathon – which is how Lagos Weekend Television (LWT) was born – and NTA following suit with NTA Weekend Marathon Television. The latter lasted for only six weekends or so.

How Lagos Television covered the 1983 presidential election, when there was no internet or mobile telephones,  is the stuff of a miracle worker.

Allimi recounts in Without Time:  “We had nine vehicles deployed, among others, to Ibadan, Benin, Epe and Fedeco Headquarters at Onikan, Lagos.

“We had news coverage teams in Sokoto, Ilorin, Lagos and had an exchange of election news materials with OGTV, Kano TV, Jos PTV, Enugu ATV, Benin BTV, Ibadan BCOS-TV, Ondo TV and Borno TV. (These were the stations owned by the “progressive states”).  

“The collaboration with other television stations worked out very well – especially with Kano CTV, OGTV, Anambra TV, Ondo TV, BCOS-TV, Bendel-TV. On the first day of voting, the presidential election, we excelled. We beat NTA Network and all TV stations in showing the President, Alhaji Shehu Shagari voting in Sokoto.

“Our man in Sokoto (Eddy Akinwunmi) had recorded the President Alhaji Shehu Shagari arriving at the polling station. The President had a chat with electoral officers, cast his vote, and answered our reporter’s question, all one one tape. He took it out, gave it to the courier man who had hired a waiting car, to take him to the airport for delivery to the airline crew.                            

“Another tape from Kano-TV, on voting in Kano and Kaduna was waiting with another courier man, at the Kaduna Airport.          

“This was also handed over to the airline crew member who already had the Sokoto tape.

“In Lagos, our motorcyclist was waiting at the Ikeja Local Airport, and on collecting the two tapes from the airline steward, dashed to the election coverage headquarters. “It was previewed, roughly edited and ready to go on air.

“I was given the signal and a note from Jimi (Odumosu) that simply said, ‘The Presidnet is in.’ I knew we had a scoop.

At noon, I introduced the report and the tape rolled. It showed voting in Sokoto, Kano and Kaduna.

Vote 83 election headquarters was all ecstasy. We received two phone calls, among others, from Dele Giwa and the Lagos State NPN Headquarters, with the same question, ‘How did LTV 8 do it?’  ‘Planning,’ Prince Jide Akinbiyi responded.”

Taiwo Allimi is, perhaps, the only Nigerian who has served four successive military governors in one State (Ogun) as Information Commissioner. It was during one of those periods that our paths crossed and we have remained personally and professionally close, carrying out so many creative tasks together.

So, you can imagine my grief that day when we visited him in Sagamu, even as he made light of everything. He even asked Anike-ade to help him search for a companion. Alhaja Rashidat, his wife, had died many years ago. 

More sorrowful is that Taiwo Allimi has had to depend on the benevolence of people to survive.

As he turns 79 today, 17 December 2023, my hope and prayer is that there is a turnaround in his state, for he has been down for far too long.

You want to reach out to him? Why not? His number +2348038538073.

Obe is Founder/Director, The Journalism Clinic. 

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