Ladbone … The Grind of Gratitude

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Mike Asuquo 

I have a little “bone” to “grind” … with Ladbone! And my axe is bonafide!

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I should know that the eyes of mischief are already popping … with ears awaiting the sound of the cannons … about the deconstruction of a legend, if not a myth – in the firmament of Nigeria’s journalism!

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Let me hold on to the suspense – for a few seconds longer! I’m no thriller manufacturer   but a thankful wayfarer who remembers an open-ended act that he kept as a secret for so long – but finally decided to unburden his heart with a little note of gratitude!

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About 7.30 pm on a riotous evening of February 1986 inside the newsroom at the basement of Rutam House in Isolo, Lagos, I was roused from my deep concentration on the Features Desk by the imperious presence of Mr Lade Bonuola, then Head of the Editorial Team of The Guardian.

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I jumped up with a start, blurting out the “Good evening sir with a martial promptness! The newsroom at that time of the day still smacked of unmasked martial airs and pomp – very characteristic of The Guardian in those heady days!

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I was just a “bloody” youth corper, just out of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and still trying to live a dream of berthing at The Guardian with all its famed luminaries that were already re-drawing the map of journalism practice in Nigeria – and beyond.

“Are you Mike Asuquo?” Ladbone asked in his characteristic brisk and magisterial tone which rhymed with the way he walked. The man talked, wrote and walked briskly – his style was brisk business – an ideas man who leaned more towards the practical and great results!

“Yes sir”, I answered, standing ramrod as if I was before the regimental sergeant major! But Ladbone was far bigger than our bulky but funny military superintendent at Yaba Tech (College of Technology) where we had passed out and posted out for life in the crucible. Ladbone was far a bigger, famous personality, whose reputation has been lodged in the firmament with his didactic column in the Daily Times Group.

“Are you a staff?” he asked. 

“No sir! I’m a youth corper!” came my reply.

“Then I’m giving you a full-time job” Ladbone countered with an air of finality.

“Sorry sir, I cannot take the job”, I quickly responded. 

Without betraying a whim of surprise, Ladbone then followed up as a veteran media interrogator: “Why?”

“Sorry sir, I’m a youth corper and I will be contravening the NYSC rules by taking up the appointment before the end of my service year!”

I guess Ladbone was getting interested in this young, fresh graduate as he asked: “When will you take up the job?”

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“Sir, I think we shall be passing out in July or August 18 (1986) … I will like to start by mid-month of our passing out!”

“Consider it done! Your employment shall start on that day” as he steered out of sight with that trademark briskness! 

Mr Lade Bonuola kept his word – without any further reference to the matter by either of us.

When the Nigerian Television  Authority crew captured my “I have a job” snippet on the network news during the passing out parade at the Ikeja Police College ground and the ensuing explosion of joy by those who cared enough  for me across the country, I could only count on the words and integrity of the slightly-built and the audacious spirit of that peculiar man of letters – Ladbone – who out of the blues had handed me a promissory note of employment at The Guardian – about five clear months before the end of my youth service programme!

To what did I owe this grand recognition?

I had come to The Guardian via detour. I was posted to Econotrack, a business magazine published by Tony Nnachetta. The magazine was in coma by the time I got to its Surulere office but Mr Nnachetta was gracious enough to steer me to The Guardian through Sonala Olumhese on the Editorial Board of the paper. I was handed over to the Features Desk then headed by Tommy Odemwingie!

Ambition merged with a dream – every ambitious fresh mass communication graduate’s dream to be part of a career greatness – yet unfolding. Among the breed of the corpers on call were Okagbue Aduba, Alex Nduka, Tony Onyima, Emma Onuoha, Alex Erons, Nosa Osemwengie and a host of others.

By the time my first piece “So This is Lagos” was published in The Guardian and when Mr Bonuola gave hint of my first employment letter, I had become a Guardian “indigene” – in letter and in spirit! One had become a sacrificial lamb of sorts – jetting in and out of Lagos in pursuit of assignments for the Features Desk and notching up bylines and incremental reckon from the few who knew one personally. The hazard was welded into the job with dear ones at homes getting jittery over the undefined work schedules for a corper! One only knew of when he went to work but could not fathom how the day would end! The newsroom was a world of its own – where veterans and raw recruits were made to believe that minding other people’s business was indeed their foremost businesses while discounting the costs! I had logged a respectable record before Ladbone came with his welcoming career entrapment! It was a monumental boost to my self-confidence and realisation that after all Big Brother was watching me – with his keener senses!

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My employment letter at The Guardian confirms my humble recall of that hurried exchange on that February evening in 1986 at Rutam House and how I had to make a secret of my good fortune for fear of whipping up a welter of reactions from my other co-corpers at The Guardian during those exciting years!

Ladbone, in offering me a job, offered no explanations and I needed none because the Guardian was a theatre of dreams – for both accomplished veterans and wide-eyed college recruits – and Ladbone had set his eyes on spreading his net for talents irrespective of colour, tribe or religion! What counted for those days were simply stout hearts, big dreams, great exclusives, distinguished copies and martial race to earn a byline or simply share in the groove of making the team of Nigeria’s, nay Africa’s, greatest newspaper!

I recall another encounter with Ladbone. This time both of us had dusted the The Guardian and moved on to other concerns – I was now with UAC of Nigeria PLC while Ladbone had berthed at the Comet newspaper at Ijora ostensibly to re-create The Guardian dream or its semblance. The UAC team had included Miss Duro Onabolu, the Group Public Relations Adviser (now of blessed memory) and my humble self! Ladbone, in his usual exuberance and candour, was profuse in his remarks about me so much that by the time we returned to the corporate headquarters, Miss Onabolu started feeling as if I was planning to return to the media world!

After over 40 years, I still wonder if Ladbone would remember these acts of kindness towards one of his media wards.

I have been longing for an opportunity to share Ladbone’s sense of humanity, how he touched – and torched – the chord of one’s heart beyond the wall – and world – of the wide, wild profession!

Today, a grateful heart recalls with a token of gratitude!

Now, you can see why the “bone’ I have to grind with our dear Ladbone requires no axe … but a little recall of gratitude – after so many event-laden years! 

*Asuquo’s birthday tribute to Pa Lade Bonuola at 75.

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