By Muyiwa Adetiba
I now have an autographed copy of Shobanjo’s biography (I won’t disclose the endearing words it contained). It was brought to my place by the man himself on Monday afternoon. I didn’t know when or how, but I knew I would get it soon because he had promised.
He has always kept his promises to me in all the years I have known him. And I have known him for a long time. So it is that barely four days after its formal launch, I have a signed copy of ‘The Will To Win’, the authorised version of Biodun Shobanjo’s life and attainment. I have coursed through the book, smiling in places that were familiar to me or where the narration jugged my memory. It is a competently written book; as balanced as you are likely to get for an authorised biography. It is also a fairly well -researched book that lays bare the persona of Mr Shobanjo.
In doing so, we get an insight – forgive the pun – into the demons that drove him to fight, to win and to never give up. Part of it has to do with his growing up, his losing his father at a very young age, the educational and social denials this entailed, and the weight of leadership and responsibility that was thrust on him at an early age. Dele Giwa, the slain journalist and bosom friend of Shobanjo once said in an interview: ‘I have tasted poverty before and I don’t ever want to be poor again’. The two friends must have shared the same play book. Incidentally, both are alike in many ways – affable, sociable and yet determined to be extremely successful at what they did. Judging from the time-line of some of the people contacted, the book obviously took quite a while to finish. But that didn’t take anything away. Instead, it added breadth.
I also listened, via zoom, to the review written by Ray Ekpu, Dele Giwa’s business partner and soul mate. It was an excellent review, full of wit and depth. But then, Ray is an excellent writer. One of a dying breed given the death of two excellent writers in Bisi Lawrence and Gbolabo Ogunsanwo last month. But I really don’t need the book or the review to write on Biodun Shobanjo, a man I have known virtually all my professional life. The occasion merely provides an opportunity.
He would remember me as a regular fixture at 1 Calabar Street at the time Insight Communication was born. Sesan Ogunro, my closest friend at the time, was one of the six co-founders. It was a small, close knit team and I easily became friendly with the others. I watched Shobanjo’s leadership style at close quarters.
How he moved from office to office solving problems on his feet. How he joked and ate with his team some of whom tended to call him ‘egbs’ a shortened form of ‘egbon’. How they switched from pleasure to business at the snap of a finger. Yet, for all the camaraderie, everybody knew he was in charge. This was where the seed that grew into the giant oak tree of Troyka Holding was planted. A tree on which several creative people perched before sailing the seas to find their own niche.
What he probably won’t remember is that our paths crossed years before that. Unlike Shobanjo who has every reason to put pen to paper, it is unlikely that I will write my memoir. So snippets of my life will have to be gleaned from write-ups like this. Mr Shobanjo will remember a youth magazine in the early 70s called ‘Teen and Twenty’. It was around the time he left broadcasting for advertising. It was published by Mrs David, a woman who had a twin – a boy and a girl – and a vision to do a magazine for young people. The boy was in his ‘A levels’ at Kings College at the time while the girl was doing the same at Queens College. They both headed the editorial board which included classmates from the two schools. ‘Teen and Twenty’ became an instant hit among top secondary schools in Lagos. As fate would have it, I became its Associate Editor and first full time editorial staff a couple of years down the road. My job was to see to the viability of the magazine. The editorial part wasn’t much of a problem, but the commercial part was. I was after all, a naïve, shy and introverted young man who had to meet young, confident, well dressed advertising executives. People like Biodun Shobanjo. In knocking on doors, I avoided people who looked too stern or too aloof.
But Shobanjo was friendly. He had this half smile on his face that was welcoming. He was my brother’s friend from their broadcasting days and that helped. I related to him. I also related to Kehinde Adeosun and Segun Ogunbunmi. The three of them were among those who helped to ease me into the advertising circle. I gradually gained confidence and the contacts I made then helped me over a decade later when I set up Prime People Magazine since many of them – especially the younger ones – had set up their own shops.
Some commentators in the book said he could be too blunt. I saw a bit of that in our professional relationship. He would not hesitate to tell you if your print quality was bad or an ad was badly carried. And if your magazine was not in a particular media schedule,or if his agency had no money to give you, he would tell you straight. Often with reasons. This allowed you to plan unlike some others who would raise false hopes. Beyond this, he treated me like a favourite ‘aburo’ during our many encounters. Some of them were on the social circuit.
Then one day he came to our office in Prime People with a growl – he sometimes came but not always to see me. This time, he headed straight for my office. One of us had written an article about his taste for state-of-the-art cars. ‘Look, I work hard for my money and will not welcome any disparaging comment’ he bellowed. We apologised. He mellowed. And he never mentioned it again. Finally, I will always appreciate his empathy and sympathy during my trying time at Prime People. Especially knowing his relationship with one or two of the directors.
At 75, Shobanjo is on top of a hill. He has a bird’s eye view of the many lives he has touched. The book didn’t capture a tenth of them. After all, there are certain corners that even the written word can’t reach. Like his coming himself to drop a book for me for instance. He could have summoned me and I would have gone to him.