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Saturday, 03 November 2012 00:00
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‘Given another opportunity, I’ll still work with HID Awolowo’

Akinwumi Dickson, the publisher of Brand Campaign magazine, is one of the few lucky people who had the rare opportunity of working closely with the matriarch of the Awolowo family, Chief (Mrs.) Hannah Dideolu Awolowo.

For three years, he was the personal secretary to the wife of the respected politician and Yoruba leader, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo. In this interview with BABATUNDE SULAIMAN, he shares the pains and gains of working with HID Awolowo, among other interesting issues. Excerpts:

How did you meet Chief (Mrs.) HID Awolowo?
After my national youth service, I got a job as personal assistant/ personal secretary to Mama HID Awolowo in Ikenne in1990.

My preference was for sports journalism, so I went to Tribune to try my hands in sports journalism. I was told to come back possibly to work as a sports writer.  But later, I passed the job interview in Tribune. I happened to be seconded to Ikenne Remo to work as Mama’s private secretary. I was just 23 years when I got the job.

What was it like working with HID Awolowo?
It was not very easy in the sense that one was working with a very old woman. So, one had to be disciplined because she is a disciplinarian. For a 23-year- old person to have worked with a 77-year- old woman closely for almost 23 hours of the day, for three years, it required some level of discipline. I mean you have to make sure you are not truant; you have to be resourceful; you have to be intelligent and you have to be focused for you to work with her.

The job was a busy one because we were receiving visitors, including politicians and journalists, from all over the place every day. Some would come to request for scholarships or for some assistance.

So, to work with Mama, I had to manage her from morning till evening because I was the personal secretary. I had to manage all her schedules, both official and unofficial. We were always travelling, attending to families, people in the community, politicians and Kings. But I learnt some good things.

It required a lot of energy and mental alertness for me to have coped because I was a very young and adventurous person; it was good for me because I met a lot of people.

So, what are the gains and pains of working with Mama?
One of the gains is that it made me to know a lot of personalities and I was able to learn a lot. In the process, I learnt good character from them. I met ex- president Ibrahim Babangida; the Ooni of Ife, Okunade Sijuwade; the Alaafin of Oyo and the acclaimed winner of the June 12 election, the late Bashorun MKO Abiola. I also met a lot of editors and politicians.

The pain is that I didn’t have enough time for myself as a bachelor. I couldn’t travel anyhow because I loved working with her, taking care of her diary and schedules. There was not enough time for me to merry-go round or enjoy what bachelors were enjoying.  Those pains later turned out to be gains for me because I remained a highly focused young man who is purposeful and disciplined. The pains are gains for me because if I had not had the experience, it would have affected me later in life.

Did you ever feel like calling it quits any time?
Yes, after the second year, I felt like quitting the job. I was writing stories for Tribune then; so, when people visited, I would write stories and send to Tribune. But I still had flair for journalism, but I didn’t have enough opportunities and time.  So, at a point, I felt like quitting the job when I decided to go to the Nigerian Institute of Journalism, NIJ. So, that was an opportunity for me to practise journalism fully, which I really liked. Besides, I love Lagos, but I was in Ikenne for three years. I was practising it, but as a freelancer. I wanted to work as a sports writer.

How did she react when you wanted to leave?
She was not happy because she had seen a passionate young man who was disciplined, a young man who could grow up to be somebody closer to the family. So, she didn’t like it at all. They even offered me an opportunity to work in Tribune, but I love Lagos. She didn’t like it because I was used to her and I was enjoying the place. She felt I should stay longer. She was nice to all her staff.

But I was an adventurous young man, who has a passion for journalism. Don’t forget, I wrote a biography on the late Archdeacon Alayande; it was one of the things I was working on. I had to polish my writing skills. If I could go to journalism school in Ibadan or Ikenne-remo, I would have stayed back , but journalism school would not allow me stay in Ikenne. She didn’t like it; she wasn’t happy, but I had to go on to study for my post-graduate in journalism.

Could you recall an unforgettable experience with Mama?
 The experience I had with Mama that I will never forget is a good one. Anytime you made a mistake or you annoyed her and you apologized, she would forgive you. But the other side is that Mama would tell me that she had worked with people of higher intelligence; so, she would want me to be more intelligent than the people she had worked with.

If you were told to come back, would you still work with her?
Yes, I will still work with her because I’m a more mature person now and I like the serene environment of Ikenne-Remo.

As a publisher, what are the challenges confronting you?
The challenges are funding; there is no sufficient fund.  The intellectual capacity of those who are coming into the job is another challenge. Most graduates now are not knowledgeable enough; they are not passionate and they are not competent enough to understand the business. Also, in the area of marketing and distribution, funding and personnel are the challenges confronting me.

How close were you to the family?
I was very close to all the children, and they were very nice.

How would you describe life in the Awolowo’s house?
It is not all about politics; there is also philanthropy. Mama was a religious person and was not politically-minded like a typical politician. She was more of a religious person than politician. While I was there, Mama did not belong to any political party; she welcomed everybody.

Would you someday join politics?
I don’t intend for now, but I was in politics before. I don’t have plans for politics now, though my friends who are progressives are inviting me to join politics.

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