Oloye Lekan Talabi
In 1978, while a Colonel of the Nigerian Army, gentleman officer, Paul Tarfa, was posted to the old Oyo State as the Military Administrator. He took over from the then Col. David Medaiyese Jemibewon (now a retired Major-General),who was the Military Governor of Western State, until its split, in 1976, to Oyo, Ogun and Ondo states.
Col. Tarfa, before his posting to Oyo State, had acquired the unenviable nickname of “Colonel Koboko”, in Lagos, given to him by motorists, particularly the lawless class of traffic violators – largely commercial bus (molue) drivers and their ‘cousins’, some private vehicles owners/drivers, derisively called, “I go drive myself”.
By the time Tarfa was posted to Oyo State, my dear state of origin and her capital city, Ibadan, my beloved hometown, I was a student at the famous College of Journalism, Fleet Street, London, United Kingdom.
On returning home in 1978, I not only heard of the ‘upbeat’ reputation of the Oyo State Military Administrator, Col. Paul Tarfa, I, as a reporter, first with the Sketch Publishing Company Limited, Ibadan and later with the Nigerian Television Authority Ibadan, the offshoot of Africa’s first television station, the Western Nigeria Television (WNTV, Ibadan 1959) had heard firsthand information from Tarfa’s direct victims or those close to them. He was said to be unsparing with the “Koboko” (horsewhip) on erring motorists and any other lawless roadusers, be they motorcylists, bicycle riders or pedestrians.
The fear of Tarfa was said to be the beginning of road wisdom.
I had covered assignments for the Sketch newspapers and the NTA, Ibadan, involving the Oyo State military administrator and the state officials, but never had a personal interaction with any of them.
I never knew that my special report on the record-breaking Opa Water Dam of the then University of Ile-Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University, in present Osun State of Nigeria), would draw me the ire, as it were, of Tarfa. This is the story.
I had embarked on the special assignment on Unife’s Opa Dam, considered a special assignment because the university had constructed a private dam within its campus that could supply treated/potable water for its use, and that of the surrounding community. Thus taking its staff and students out of the burden of a poor/insufficient public water supply.
I visited the school with my crew, interviewed the Vice-Chancellor, the engineers who performed the feat, some students, community elders before capping these with a royal interview with His Imperial Majesty, the Ooni of Ife, the late Oba Adesoji Aderemi.
My job done within a reasonable time, we headed for the station in Ibadan, where I would do a live presentation on the 7.30pm “Views and Reports”.
On approaching the entrance gate of Unife, we saw a blaring convoy ahead of us from the opposite lane. I told our driver to slow down, alerting my cameraman to prepare his camera ready for action, as we would follow the convoy, since discovered to be that of the state military administrator, Col.Tarfa, if it turned into the university campus.
True to my expectation/prediction, Tarfa’s convoy turned into the campus. Pronto, our driver made a U-turn, and we followed the convoy into the hall where the military administrator was going to declare an international workshop open.
Although the assignment was not on my schedule, I used my initiative to cover the opening speech of Tarfa, packed our gadgets and departed the venue, as I had a live presentation to make in Ibadan.
It was the old shaggy, winding Ibadan-Ife Road, notorious for fatal motor accidents. Thank God, we made Television House, Agodi, Ibadan, in the nick of time.
My colleague, Folu Ogundimu, the editor on duty, now a professor teaching journalism in the United States of America, was fuming as I rushed into the studio to make my live presentation! It was the nearest thing to a job failure.
After a well-presented report of the Unife Water Dam project, I bounced home a happy reporter who, apart from meeting his deadline, also had a bonus report in the can, as it is technically called, for use the following day.
Never did I imagine that I would be sent for by the military administrator the next morning for an undeserved drill!
We, as was the editorial norm, were reviewing the previous day assignments and preparing for the day’s schedule, when, suddenly, the Editorial Department door was kicked open. Two military policemen, followed by the Press Secretary to the Military Administrator, Mr M.A Babalola, now late, and one other official burst in.
All of us froze; at the sight of guns, and when the Senior Editor (Reportorial) Femi Idowu, found his voice to ask for their mission, Mr Babalola, pointing at me, said, “That’s him, ‘Lekan Alabi.”
Pronto, the two military policemen rushed at me, guns cocked, ordered me to follow them out. By then, all my colleagues had recovered from their shock and encircled me, warning the soldiers to back off and daring them to shoot us all.
The resultant commotion had attracted our colleagues in the newsroom and adjoining offices, who went to report to the General Manager, Mr (now Dr)Yemi Farounbi and the Manager, News and Current Affairs, Fabio Lanipekun.
They both invited our unexpected visitors to Dr Farounbi’s office, as my dishevelled colleagues kept asking me the reason for the invasion. As I had no clue, I kept telling them that it was a surprise to me, as it was to them.
Fabio, our ever-cool boss, came for me, and took me into his office. He told me to calm down and asked me if I had had issue(s) with the military administrator or any state government official. I replied in the negative.
He left me in his office to join the General Manager who was waiting with the invading team in his office.
Despite the invading team’s insistence that I be produced to follow them to their boss, Col.Tarfa, who was waiting for me in Government House, Agodi, the GM and the MNCA declined to produce me.
After some hours, the GM and the MNCA returned from the Government House. They summoned us, Editorial Department staff, to the station’s boardroom, and recounted their encounter with the military administrator and some state government officials at the Government House.
The GM, Farounbi, said on getting before the fuming military administrator, he asked who between him and the MNCA, was “the foolish ‘Lekan Alabi, who had the audacity to order the NTA Ibadan newscrew out of the Unife hall yesterday” before he, His Excellency, the Military Administrator, exited the venue?
The GM said the government officials present, particularly the Press Secretary, Babalola, shouted him down, when he (Mr Farounbi) introduced himself as ‘Lekan Alabi to Col.Tarfa.
He said the military administrator got angrier that the wanted reporter he saw the previous day at Unife was not as heavily-bearded like him. And, he would not grant them audience until I was brought before him.
When the GM asked for my offence, he said the Press Secretary replied that I abandoned the M.A. at the venue and afterall failed to feature the Unife workshop news in the station’s evening news.
The MNCA was said to have then asked the Press Secretary if he sent an official invitation of the Unife assignment to the station or any of its staff. Babalola admitted his mistake. It was then the GM told Col.Tarfa that I had covered the Unife workshop assignment on my professional initiative. They promised the M.A, a “judicious use of the news tonight”. Everybody was said to have smiled, after the GM’s promise to use the M.A.’s material that evening was made.
I was thus ‘saved’ from the wrath of “Colonel Koboko”.
Wonders will never end. Five years after the Col.Tarfa episode, exactly in February 1984, I took over from Babalola, as the Press Secretary to the then Military Governor of the old Oyo State (present Oyo and Osun states), Lieutenant-Colonel Oladayo Popoola, now a retired Major-General.
Last Wednesday, May 15, I saw General Paul Tarfa (retd.) on the Nigerian Television Authority Network News, talking about his new federal agency board chair appointment. I silently congratulated him and made this wish of my readiness to meet with him NOW.
But Dr Yemi Farounbi, a former Nigeria Ambassador to the Philippines, must be present!