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TOS BENSON: THE MEMORY LIVES ON by Philip Ideh

The second anniversary of the death of the First Republic Minister of Information and Broadcasting, the late Chief Theophilus Owolabi Shobowale BENSON, “TOS BENSON”, comes up on Saturday, February 13, 2010. On that day, Nigerians also remember our illustrious late Head of State,

Murtala Mohammed.

 TOS


     

Unfortunately, I never met Murtala Mohammed as I was serving at the Nigerian Embassy in Rome, Italy, when he was Head of State but we shared the same birth place, the wonderful and eternal City of Kano.

      

As the First Minister of Information and Broadcasting at the dawn of Independence, I had the privilege of being employed in the Ministry when TOS Benson came there. After leaving St. John’s College, Kaduna, now Rimi College, I wanted to go into the Journalism Profession and tried getting into the News Room of Radio Nigeria in Lagos but there was no vacancy and the head of administration suggested that I should perhaps try to get into the Organisation, as a Presenter; as the result of losing my mother in my childhood, I developed such a stutter because of my tragic loss! I reckoned I could not be a good Presenter of Radio Programmes on account of this handicap. The next organisation I wanted to get into was the daily Times of Nigeria which was a very popular newspaper at Sabon Gari, Kano, where I grew up in the 1950s. I discovered that the Journalists on that paper worked for very long hours and I did not consider such a prospect desirable at that stage as I was fired with the ambition of further my studies privately and I may not be able to juggle both working long hours for a living and reading at my level of development. I did not apply to the Daily Times for a job.

          With a little help from friends, I got into the Ministry of Information! The hours were more acceptable as Federal Government Offices worked from 8AM to 2PM, Monday to Friday but what about the wages? But didn’t they say you cannot eat your cake and have it or was it the case that beggars cannot be choosers? I wanted to work as a Journalist, but once more, there was no vacancy in the press Section where Journalists worked! I got into the Ministry, nevertheless and decided to wait until there was an opening to which I could apply!

            

My chance came up on January 1, 1961 when I was reassigned to the press section of the ministry on the Second floor of the Six Storey Building on Broad Street, Lagos, next door, almost, to the infamous Broad Street Prison! Looking down to the Prison and its inmates sent an uncanny chill into one’s spine and it reminded one that there was a need to be on the right side of the Law!

            Having got into the Press Section, I began to cut my journalism teeth; I believe the late Moses Awoyinfa was the Head of the Press Section at the time and there were Very Senior Officers like the late Deputy Director, Mobolaji Odunewu,, the late Increase Coker, the late Aig Imokhuede,, the late PEN Malafa, Lawrence Scott Emuakpor, the Ministry’s Prince Charming Officer, and the late Kunle Akinsemoyin who was a Lawyer!

           

 There was Victor  Osakue, Christian Amu’  the late Ampim Blankson, the late Preye Okosi, Ambassador Isaac  Sagay,  Aunt Hilda Ogunbanjo, the late Okoh-Esene, Fazil Opeagbe and Kolawole Shomade.

 

Irein Wangboje, (now Professor) was Head of the Graphic Arts Section they all made very deep impression on me and the atmosphere was most congenial! All ethnic sections of the great country were represented because we had one Mallam Dungus who was in the Directorate echelon, too! When the late Moses Awoyinfa was appointed Press Secretary to the late Prime Minister, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, the late Victor Osakue took over as Head of the Press Section. You could not dream to work for a better “Line Manager”, than Victor!  He took a very keen interest in making young officers write good and acceptable stories which formed the bases of our Press Releases. These were distributed to the Press, Radio and Television every afternoon from about 4PM onwards, the notorious Lagos traffic, permitting!

          It was a joy to see that the media carried certain stories in our Press Releases without editing them! That was long before I learnt about the “Inverted Pyramid” approach to writing stories when I got to Journalism School in London.

           The late Chief TOS Benson had been described as “jovial and detribalised”! This was my experience when I was sent to cover an assignment in his Office in 1962. At the time, there were no Press Secretaries attached to Ministers. My brief was that a very important dignitary was visiting the Minister and I should cover their meeting or talk.

          

    By the time I got to the Minister’s Office, his Visitor had left. I mustered all the courage I could summon and asked him if I could be given a gist of their discussion! He looked at me with that genial and paternal smile and using his trade mark nasal tone, he said: “my son, go and write something or are you not a Journalist”? I did not know what that was supposed to mean. I said:”Yes, Minister” and left his Office. It was as if my world had collapsed round me as I did not know what to think at the time; but I gathered my wits around me and went back to the Press Office  narrated what had transpired in the Minister’s Office to my immediate colleague, the late  Kola Shomade.

             Shomade was preparing to gain admission to the University of Lagos (Unilag), to read Law and had a bit of intuition. He suggested we should go to the Minister’s personal Assistant, (P.A.), and go through his Diary, to see who had called on the Minister. Having gathered this information, I wrote my story and it got into the Day’s Press Releases which were distributed to the Radio and Television Stations and Newspaper Houses, that Evening. I had thus written my first contrived news story in my Journalism Career! It meant that I would not be fired or sent away as I grappled with the challenges of the profession of my choice!

        

     The late Chief Benson dressed in very elegant robes and relished his ministerial portfolio immensely! Television in the country was in its nascent stage and he appeared on the TV Screen much more than his ministerial colleagues and he relished the exposure which he got from the Tube. Sometime in 1963, I was called upon, to cover the Minister’s Official trip to the Republic of Liberia! Liberia was the home country of the Minister’s new bride, Opral Mason Benson, the Iya Oge of Lagos (Fashion Queen).

          


     Accompanying the late minister to Liberia gave me the opportunity to acquire my first International Passport which was like winning a lottery in those days! It also gave me an opportunity to see how members of Nigerian missions carried out diplomatic duties in foreign countries. Our Liberian hosts simply spoiled us with lavish parties and entertainment. The Honourable minister made quite an impression on his hosts and as I tried to let the whole situation sink, I could not underestimate the rewards of “a Contrived News Story”.

             On this occasion, my thoughts go to the Minister’s widow, Chief Opral Benson and the other members of the Minister’s family. I pray also that the Good Lord in His Infinite Mercy would grant him eternal rest. Long may his memory live in our hearts!

 

 

Email: pipcmideh@yahoo.co.uk

    

         

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