It was 10 years in June, since my first byline appeared in Encomium Weekly. My first byline anywhere, really. It was one of the most difficult periods of my life. Let me explain:
My mother died in April, just as I was rounding up work on my final year project at University of Ibadan. I fell ill shortly afterwards, and was hospitalized for weeks. I was too ill to attend my mom’s burial.
The illness was apparently so bad, because of an earlier misdiagnosis, that hospitals rejected me. But that’s story for another day. I left University stranded. Confused. But having worked in media and entertainment for at least eight years before then, I had a clear idea what I wanted to do: write for a daily or weekly publication where I can hone my skills, learn how to run a news organization, and build contacts.
There were of course no blogs at the time; only a few popular radio stations. There was no MTV Base or Soundcity or Trace. There were only a handful of soft sell magazines, and Encomium was king. It was here, that many first heard my name; that many first read my stories. It was in Encomium that I started writing a music column; that I started airing my opinion with Soliloquy. I covered weddings and concerts, interviewed many celebrities (including Jay Z!), and wrote many exclusives. By the end of 2005, I had become a familiar name within entertainment circles.
Those who knew me from childhood will know what this means: all I dreamed of, from my days in Awori College, was to work in media and entertainment. Fresh out of college in 1995, I wrote letters to everyone who’s somebody in the industry, asking for an opportunity to apprentice /intern. Not a single response.
‘I hear you write and report very well. That’s a rare combination. You’ll go very far if you’re serious’, Kunle Bakare said to me one morning as our paths crossed at the office entrance.
You’re rarely ever alone with KB, especially if you’re a young timid reporter who can’t even secure enough ‘alone’ time with the editor (at the time, Azuh Arinze, who’s one of the finest editors I ever worked with). But KB worked from the newsroom – meaning he spent quality time with reporters, attended most meetings, organized his own meetings and workshops, and exposed us all to his day-to-day.
It was those meetings and workshops I hated the most. Kunle Bakare loves meetings! And looking back now, Encomium was, for many of us, a school. Those meetings and workshops were the classes and Sikiru Olakunle Bakare was the teacher.
Very flawed man, I admit. And it’s obvious he has worked through the years to become even a better man than he was. But there are few men who have contributed more to celebrity journalism in Africa than KB. There are few, who have contributed more to my career than KB and Encomium. The man and his magazine provided the ladder I climbed to THISDAY and The Punch. And just in case you’re wondering, my time as a reporter and columnist prepared me to own and run my own media business while the public image and attention I got helped secure the early clients when I set up my own PR business.
I personally do not celebrate birthdays. But I respect milestones. So when someone who has taught and mentored almost every celebrity journalist walking the streets of Nigeria turns 50, you expect he’ll throw a lavish dinner, launch his autobiography, maybe even do a public lecture.
When I called KB yesterday to ask what’s up, he goes into a lecture on how Nigerians exaggerate celebrations; how we look for every opportunity to throw a party; how 50 is such a serious age that one should spend such anniversary reflecting and planning for the other half of one’s life.
Happy Birthday, sir. And thanks for the opportunity.