This is not a detailed profile of a Nigerian journalist and scholar. It is a tribute to Professor Femi Sonaike, whose reporting activities in the Daily Times newsroom on Kakawa Street in Lagos in the 1960s and 1970s established him as a well-rounded journalist during his active years in Nigeria’s oldest newspaper.
His death from cancer in the United States of America in 2006 shocked all his professional colleagues, friends and relations as well as the Nigerian media.
We grew up together as entrants to journalism in the newsroom of the Daily Times. We had a few editors at the head of the prestigious Daily Times.
Kakawa Street was then a replica of Fleet Street in London, which was once under the control of print media tycoon, Rupert Murdoch, whose newspaper empire comprising The Times of London, Sunday Times, News of the World and other titles reigned supreme in the UK. .
At the same time, the Daily Times, under the able control of newspaper legend Alhaji (Dr.) Ismail Babatunde Jose, owned more than a dozen publications and a vast business empire.
Thinking back to our years of living in the Daily Times, the newsroom was staffed by great journalists, including Olusegun Osoba aka “Sir James”, Jibade Adams, Jibade Thomas “Paul Pry”, Adio Saka, Femi Sonaike, Dayo Duyile, Bunmi Thomas, Bunmi Iyeru, Victor Dorgu and many more.
We were all good at reporting, but two of us were exceptional: Segun Osoba and Femi Sonaike. They were in a class of their own as star reporters.
The difference was that Osoba had a vast and long list of news sources, which he depended on for articles and top scoops. They were his news feed while Femi Sonaike had a flair for interviews and on-the-spot reporting. His personal quest for success as a journalist brought him fame, when his reporting made national headlines.
I remember one of his great reports which was recorded somewhere in Surulere Street, Lagos. It was a cold-blooded murder. The victim was killed while planting plantain and banana nurseries in his garden early in the morning, but as no one was nearby, the assailant had done his best and escaped, but he did not hadn’t had the chance.
When Sonaike arrived at the murder scene to gather information for publication, he came across an ID card, which he said was one of the items found at the murder scene and a cutlass suspected of having was used in the attack. His report to the back page of the Daily Times contributed to the police investigation which led to the arrest of the suspect, who was eventually, after his trial, sentenced to death at the Lagos Assizes.
Sonaike covered the trial of the defendants from start to finish and reported the judgment. In this particular case, Soniake exhibited the traits of an investigative journalist.
He has achieved many such reporting feats. Attitudinally, Femi Sonaike was a true gentleman of the press. He was always a good listener and was not quick to respond to any discussion.
Later, he left the newsroom for academia and earned a Ph.D. diploma. Between 1967 and 1988, when he undertook studies, he went to Ogun State Polytechnic to help develop the educational institution and successfully completed his tenure in the polytechnic, then is went to Asia and America on sabbatical, but at the end of this overseas trip, Sonaike returned to the Daily Time once again as a political editor.
I think it was when Osoba was managing director of the Daily Times and Sonaike probably went back there at Osoba’s invitation.
Predictably, his comeback was as good as, if not better than, his first stint on Kakawa Street—- Leaving the newsroom and returning to journalism, then returning to academics as his last occupation.
Even in the classroom, Professor Sonaike had a unique way of imparting knowledge for deeper understanding by students. A classic example was during the 2004/2005 academic session of the Lagos State University (LASU) School of Communication, then quartered at Adegunwa House in Ojuelegba, Surulere, Lagos.
For the master class, Sonaike took care of the lesson labeled ‘Digital Media’ and he came to school with his small generator in case there was no public electricity supply so that an alternative power supply can be provided to students to undertake the practical aspect of the course.
Indeed, Sonaike demonstrated his loyalty to both journalism and academics and paid his dues. Perhaps this explains his recent honor at Joseph Ayo Babalola University, Ikeji-Arakeji, Osun State. Rising like a rock painted in eye-pleasing colors between the law school buildings and the office block of JABU’s Ikeji-Arakeji main campus, is the magnificent building bearing bold capital lettering: Prof. Femi Sonaike Journalism Building.
The building was recently donated by his brother, Professor Kola Olufunso Sonaike (Jnr), Vice Chancellor of Joseph Ayo Babalola University, who sadly passed away on Monday, March 21, 2022.
It was a tragedy as the university campus was plunged into deep mourning following the sudden death of Sonaike (Jnr), whom the university community of Ikeji, judged as one of the best vice-chancellors who came to work at the university. institution (JABU).
He was very sane and very development-oriented in his administration. That his soul rests in peace.
As we mourn the passing of Sonaike (jnr), in the weeks ahead his many virtues will continue to be extolled by the University Senate, academic and non-academic staff, and the entire Apostolic Church of the Christ (CAC), the owner of the University.
The work he did at the university during his two years as Vice-Chancellor speaks volumes in his favor as an outstanding administrator. One of his contributions to academic development at JABU is the subject of this article. Professor Sonaike (Jnr) should have lived to see this article published but he never did. I had told her when we last met that I was writing about my memories of my friend, Professor Femi Sonaike, and our past experiences in the Daily Times. He would have liked to read my memories of his older brother.
Although Femi Sonaike has competing interests in his academic and journalistic careers, he has used his doctoral training and journalism/mass communication skills to produce dozens of young entrants into the print and broadcast media profession.
Those he educated at Ogun State Polytechnic and his university in America are already holding high positions in their chosen fields.
Thinking back to our days in the Daily Times, Femi was one of the accomplished journalists, consistently producing in-depth and well-researched reporting. He was a complete journalist who had mastered the profession before turning to academics. The hallmarks of Femi Sonaike’s work in the newsroom of the Daily Times, both as a reporter and later as the paper’s political editor, were his enviable journalistic skills, his dedication to truth through painstaking research and its fairness to all concerned.
During our spare time, he talked about his dream of entering universities and also of climbing the teaching ladder. We joked a lot about his ambitions but he was determined to pursue his plans and execute them resolutely. It was he, among other friends, who begged me to follow his path and go to college after I might be done with the press room. Later, I bought his idea and did my PhD program, which I did for many years. In this sense, Femi Sonaike had become a role model.
In my opinion and judging from my experiences and association with him during our days at the Daily Times and when he came out of Nigeria, living in America, Femi Sonaike was a journalist of the highest caliber. His writings were educational, frank and impartial, while his pen strove to find solutions that would help the development of society.
In our time, in the eclectic newsroom of Kakawa Street, Daily Times reporters were respected for their professionalism and candor.
As for Femi Sonaike, he was a person who was never afraid to voice his opinions, no matter how controversial, as long as he felt he was right. He will forever be missed by the Nigerian media landscape.
For all these attributes of a good journalist, his flair for academics, and his other stellar contributions to journalism and academics, he will be remembered for posterity.
It should therefore be noted that the grand edifice built in his honor by his late brother, Professor Sonaike, will forever stand in his honor on the JABU campus, such as Idanre Hill in Ondo State.
The building erected in Sonaike’s honor houses mass communication studios for radio, television and PRAD productions. The university plans to use the magnificent building as a training center for students and others interested in the journalism profession.
Farewell Prof. Femi Sonaike…! Farewell Prof. Kola Olufunso Sonaike!!