MY CONCORD YEARS: Fighting Internal Politics and Battles: Excerpt from my just released memoir BORN INTO JOURNALISM – Memoir of a newspaper reporter.
By Kayode Soyinka
“As I continued my work as a journalist, I was also exposed to the business aspect of journalism. This meant dealing and working closely with people who were very high up in management. I am fortunate to have learnt from their fountain of knowledge and experience so early in life. Working at Concord gave a big boost to my editorial capabilities. I can say that it was there that I got my journalism management tutelage from.
I was privileged to work closely as a special assistant, confidante and trusted lieutenant of the billionaire publisher and international businessman Chief Abiola for over three years, establishing and running the London Bureau of the newspaper conglomerate. Chief Abiola entrusted me with the administration and the huge funds of the newspaper company in London running into hundreds of thousands of pounds sterling. I was effectively the chief’s pointsman in London. His wives knew me or knew of me. I frequently received several uninvited guests, too – either at my home or at the office. These were mostly ladies who were acquaintances of the wealthy chief, who either suspected or had received a hint that he might be visiting London and thought it would be easier for them to see him there through me. It was not an easy task for me to ward off some of these women.
There were instances when in their desperation to see Chief Abiola, some of them calculated really well and eventually got to see him with me at the office no matter how much I tried to shield and protect him from them. Because he was not expecting them, they mostly ended up spoiling his mood. He would have to immediately leave the office and instruct me to either meet him at home at night or at the Heathrow Airport – if he was travelling back to Nigeria that night. Even though the stalking by some of these uninvited female guests always annoyed and unsettled him and spoiled his mood, they still mostly left with fat cheque gifts from him. The case of a particular lady from Nigeria comes to mind. She was an accountant by profession. Chief Abiola firmly instructed me not to allow her to enter our London office again. It was after she had annoyed him by deliberately monitoring his movement and trailing him all over Europe to our London office. The chief was forced to leave the office that afternoon, barely thirty minutes after he came in. He carried his briefcase and dashed out of the office; terribly annoyed, he asked me to meet him at Heathrow Airport later that night. When the chief left the office, the lady then came into my office, sat in front of me and showed me a cheque for £10,000 the chief had just written and handed over to her.
It was a lot of money in the early ’80s, and it is even now! With tears rolling down her cheeks, she told me it was not the chief’s money she wanted but that she was in love with the multimillionaire publisher and international businessman! Apparently, £5,000 was for her to buy the Mercedes Benz 200 car she had wanted the chief to buy for her. She explained to me that the chief gave her the extra £5,000 to buy another one of the same car, which he wanted to present to the traditional ruler of his area in Abeokuta. I joked with the lady that if she did not need the money she could drop me the cheque! Later that night when I met Chief Abiola at Heathrow Airport, he was in a different mood entirely; happy, accosted by Nigeria Airways staff who were always happy to see him fly with them, ready to return back home. He had changed from the suit he wore in the afternoon and was now in a blue jacket and trouser jeans. Looking very relaxed, he greeted me: “Hello Kayode.”
And then he asked, “What about that lady? Did she take the cheque I gave her?” I replied, “Yes, Sir.” He burst into laughter and said: “You see, they always say they love me, they love me – it is my money!” I couldn’t help but laugh too. That was up close and personal. The other side of Chief Abiola – the quintessential M. K. O. – when he was in a good mood. He was a very fascinating character indeed that I was privileged to work with so closely.”