By Sodiq Alabi
When he speaks about Iwo, Mr Rasheed Olawale speaks with a gentle passion that is suggestive of serious thoughtfulness and undeniable love. He makes his points not by shouting or through unnecessary emphasis but by presenting facts and arguments in the most convincing manner.
Before setting out to meet him for this interview I was aware of his impressive journey as a print journalist, what I wasn’t prepared for was his oratorical skills befitting of sages. But I should have known better though, what was I expecting from a true Omo Oju Oja, who, while he apparently had shed the haughtiness associated with ‘market area children’, has been able to retain their unparalleled mastery of words?
Mr Olawale was born on February 2, 1965, and grew up in Olode’s compound, Iwo, right in the heart of Oja Ale, hence the tag Omo Oju Oja children from his compound were called. His father, Bilawu Akanji Olode a strong man of Action Group in those turbulent days in Nigeria, was a believer in his party’s education dream and he sent the young Olawale to District Council School, Laito, Iwo. The school had been founded in the 1950s during the free education revolution engendered by Chief Obafemi Awolowo AG administration and it was where Olawale got his first formal education and then his first baptism by fire when he failed in 1977 and abandoned school as a result of this failure.
As someone who grew up on the farm, helping his family in various ventures, Olawale couldn’t sit at home licking his wound but he immediately got a job as a manager of a hotel in Olode’s Compound. It was his first management-level employment but it didn’t last long. A friend of his father who was a school headmaster took Olawale with him to his school, DC School Araromi where he concluded his primary education in 1979 with excellent results. He was lucky though as it was the year Chief Bola Ige introduced free secondary education in the old Oyo state making Olawale one of its first beneficiaries.
Olawale’s eyes glisten as he narrates how growing up in the heart of a market was the perfect toughening process for him. He enjoyed the vibrant social life the boisterous area provided and he talks about it with fascinating nostalgia. But he is also aware that he was more lucky than many others for having the opportunity to further his education. His admission to United Methodist High School marked the beginning of his journey into the literary world. His writing and debating skills were recognised, sharpened and rewarded with the position of secretary general of the school’s debating society in his senior year.
He says of his introduction to the intellectual world: ‘’We had a Ghanaian teacher who took us English from 1983 to 1985. The teacher gave me a small radio and introduced me to BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) and my interest in public affairs began’’.
In his final year, he was made the labour prefect and went on to earn the only credit in English language in the whole school in the 1985 school certificate examination.
Armed with the prerequisite five credits for university admission, he sat for the 1986 University Matriculation Examination which he also passed. Even though he was interested in studying law he did not pursue the course due to his misconception about lawyers. He was given admission to study English, a befitting reward for his efforts and the perfect match for the brilliant young writer. UNILORIN proved an excellent ground for the blossoming of the nascent flower from Iwo.
Established just eleven years earlier in 1975, the university was fast becoming a centre for intellectual development. Right from his year one, he joined Modern Press Club, the most powerful press group on campus. He was in the club with heavyweights writers like Bamidele Salam until a leadership crisis forced him and others out to form their own club, FISU Media. Olawale was the editor-in-chief of the group in parts 3 and 4.
Besides his campus journalism which was all professional and non-partisan, he also contributed his quota at the departmental level serving as vice president of the English Students Association and general secretary of the Linguistics Students Association for two years. He served as general editor of several student journals and was ‘very active in many things intellectually oriented’. All these activities shot him into prominence on campus but were unable to stop him from graduating with a second-class upper in 1990.
First degree done and dusted, the young graduate proceeded on national service to Abuja where he served with the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA). During the period, he was instrumental to the establishment of a corps members cooperative society and he served as its pioneer administrative secretary. He also designed and co-anchored a corper radio show on Radio Nigeria. The one year NYSC was spent in a myriad of activities and Olawale suddenly found himself without a job at the end of the eventful one year.
Like many other young graduates, he spent several weeks in Abuja looking for job. Despite his brilliant credentials, getting employed in an economically sapped Nigeria as the country was in 1991 proved to be a mission impossible. Instead of wasting his time in Abuja, he opted to proceed for his master’s in public administration course he had applied for during his NYSC. He was quite lucky to have been admitted as fresh graduates were seldom admitted to the strictly professional master’s programme. He ascribed his decision to go for public administration to his ambition to eventually go into politics as politics remains one of his few abiding ambitions from childhood. Remember, this is the son of a strong politician who was involved in politics from the first republic right to the fourth republic.
A farsighted man, the masters proved academically easy for Olawale who had immersed himself in reading public administration literature at the University of Abuja during his NYSC year. But the expensive programme was hard financially for him as he had no sponsor and was not earning any income. If not for the timely intervention of a classmate, a magistrate, who helped get him a job in the Oyo State teaching service, he might have failed to actualise his dream. He concluded his masters and faced his teaching job squarely. This he did until March 1994 when he resigned to serve as the private secretary to Chief Abiola Ogundokun, a national delegate at the National Constitutional Conference in Abuja, an assignment that thrust him into the heart of national politics and gave him tremendous access.
He left the position in January 1995 to join Third Eye newspapers. Even though he was by then a master’s degree holder his lack of post-school reporting experience meant he was given a proof-reader position, the lowest level in print media hierarchy. But armed with extensive political knowledge he soon proved himself and earned a fast-track promotion to senior political reporter. He was also quick to distinguish himself in his new role and caught the eyes of editors of Tribune who headhunted him and made him senior political editor of the prestigious newspaper. No doubt, Olawale had by then become a name to reckon with in his chosen field.
Ever resourceful and hardworking, he would travel to report momentous events with or without the financial backing of his employers. It was on such trips in May 1999 that he fell sick at the venue of President Olusegun Obasanjo inauguration. He was rushed back to Iwo where he remained for several months recuperating. On his recovery, Tribune moved him to Abuja where he continued as its senior political reporter.
In March 2001, he was promoted to assistant editor and remained in this position until 2004 except for a brief period in 2003 when he went on a leave of absence to serve as the Media Officer to the Board Chairman of the Federal Capital Development Authority, Senator Olu Alabi.
In January 2004, and perhaps as a New Year gift, he was appointed the Abuja bureau deputy chief. In 2005, he was made the Abuja Bureau Chief. In late 2005, he was appointed group political editor of the paper alongside his position as Bureau Chief. He remained the political editor until July 2007.
Pursuing a successful career has not hindered Chief Olawale from having an equally successful private life. He is married to Tolulope Olawale-Oniororo and the union has been blessed with children.
Unlike some who see family as hindrance to having a good career, he sees himself as a lucky man for having his family around to support him and boost his morale. A devout, sufi Muslim who belongs to the Tijanniyah sect, his time is mostly divided into three; professional, political and religious sides. He was installed as the Giwa Adinni of the Qadriyyah Society for Iwoland in 2000.
In July 2007, he again proceeded on what would turn out to be a prolonged leave of absence to serve as the Special Assistant to Minister of Youth Development. He was with the minister until he left office in May 2011. As special assistant, he ‘initiated major policy proposals, prepared memos refining existing policies, interfaced with the youth and public on behalf of the minister, handled media and public relations and coordinated ministerial relationship with bureaucrats, other ministries, state governments and the Presidency.’
When he returned to Tribune in September 2011, he was made the regional editor, Northern region and two years later. In March 2014, he was appointed as the special assistant to the minister of state for power and was there until May 2015.
During this period he also set up Sahel Standard Newspaper and his journey from being a lanky Omo Oju Oja to the zenith of media practice and business reached a new height. He wants the paper to emerge as the best newspaper guided by ethics supported with truth. Already, Iwo has, through him, produced a new publisher of a national newspaper in the 21st century.
And talking about Iwo and the 21st century, Olawale is not impressed with the place of Iwo in the current republic. He believes Iwo has retrogressed when it comes to political power and relevance. Having been in involved in politics for three decades, he is undoubtedly qualified to comment on politics of his beloved Iwo and he has a lot to say:
‘My father ,Bilawu Manager Olode, was an Action Group man and they started AG together in Iwoland ,through all the pre- second republic politics ,UPN, SDP till the era of defunct Alliance for Democracy. He died after returning from a ward meeting of AD. Personally too, I was involved in the defunct PSP, SDP, Imeri Group, UNCP, all through to AD and PDP. I know quite a bit of the history of the period as somebody from a political family and as a participant. Iwo was never this relegated.
He however did not put the blame on any sector. I think we are all to blame, he said.
“Let me say I respect and commend our contemporary leaders across the political parties .They are doing their best but sadly it is not yet uhuru”, he said
He reasoned that new generation of leaders in Iwo has a sacred duties to extend opportunities to the younger ones around them. He noted that failure to do that contributed to the rise of a generation of disillusioned youth, some of whom are now expressing themselves through violence and other anti-social behaviors. While he commended some of our leaders for helping the youth to grow, he called for a renewed commitment to the development of Iwoland. ‘’Many are not playing politics of development but politics of position, politics of what-can-I-get?’’
For things to change, he believes the young generation should go into politics alongside their professional callings. To him, it is possible to combine politicking with one’s professional career.
He mentioned Iwo Development Coalition as a shining example of the youthful intervention that must be supported. He commends the coalition’s idea of organizing a summit on Iwoland and he is optimistic the summit is capable of helping to chart a new course for Iwoland.
But the question would naturally arise, what is Olawale’s next move in Public life? He however refused to speculate on the future, saying God is the determinant. Your guess is as good as mine.
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