Not many Newspaper readers in the sixties and seventies or even later knew his real name. Those who thought they knew his name mistook his pen name for his real name. And this is in spite of the fact he had served as a Commissioner of Information in Lagos State and a Public Complaints Commissioner. Such public offices gave him high visibility but they did not compare favourably with the level of visibility, prestige and adoration that the Allah De column gave to this gentleman whose real name was Alade Odunewu. Mr Odunewu died July 25 at the age of 85 amidst encomiums by admirers of his Allah De column which he executed for many years with great sagacity and satirical aplomb.
His Allah De column was a riveting read which all lovers of simple, humorous, witty columns appreciated. Many have compared him to the famous Cassandra in the Daily Mirror of London. If he wrote as eloquently as Cassandra we may wish to finger his school, the Regent Polytechnic in London, as the culprit. Mr Odunewu loved to poke decent fun at the flip flops, follies and foibles of our politicians, military and civilian. He skewered them politely but pointedly, poignantly while at the same time providing laughter and hunger for more laughter. As he delivered savage jabs and biting strokes of humour at Nigeria’s problems you would laugh until you cried. The anthology of his columns which was published as a book with the title, Winner Takes All, is an eloquent introduction to the world of his work as a certified satirist. It was his satirical sagacity that prompted Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, a great wordsmith himself, to crown him the “dean of satirical writing”. And he wore the crown elegantly until he died.
Mr Odunewu’s columns seemed to drown everything else about him. Many people do not know that he had been Editor of the Sunday Times, Editor of the Daily Times, Ombudsman for the Daily Times Group, Managing Editor of the Nigerian Tribune, Chairman of the Nigerian Press Council, Chairman of the Nigerian Media Merit Awards (NMMA) for many years. Those who knew thought these positions were mere items in parenthesis while his columns remained the main event, the defining feature of the man. That is so because his column derived its strength, its staying power, its gumption, not just from his wit and humour but principally from his deep sense of fairness. His journalism was burnished in the furnace of fairness. He upheld religiously the fairness doctrine in journalism and in life. And that is because of who he was: a gentleman, polite, warm, friendly, humble, meek and mild, a man who would not hurt a fly – except in his columns. If you didn’t know him in person you would know him through his column. What you found in his column was what you found in his person. The column was the man and the man was the column.
In his duties as Chairman of the Nigerian Press Council he was the epitome of fairness. Some years ago when I was Editor in Chief of Newswatch two bank managing directors had reported Newswatch to the Press Council over stories we published about them. They had tried, using various methods, mostly dirty, to block the publication of the stories. We refused. They went to the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) and using their trade mark dirty tactics “convinced” the NUJ to invite me for trial over the story. We knew that the NUJ which is a trade union lacks the mandate and the professional competence to try an editor. As we saw it, the tail was trying to wag the dog. Of course, we ignored the invitation. A few days later the Press Council invited me on the issue and I happily appeared with copious documentation with which I defended our story. The Press Council issued a statement giving us the all-clear and praising our high level of professionalism and ethical behaviour after days of meticulous verification of our claims. That was vintage Odunewu. I believe he also brought the same level of fair-mindedness to the work of NMMA for the period he was the chairman of its board. That is why there were not too many controversies and disputations about the awards even when some of the decisions did not go down well with the editors.
As columnist Odunewu used innuendo, euphemism and hyperbole in addition to his trademark humour. His fans will truly miss these attributes. But I am sure Odunewu will sleep well in his grave knowing that he has left behind some worthy inheritors of the Satire Estate in the shape of Dan Agbese and Olatunji Dare. These two men, above all others have, through the assiduous cultivation of satirisation as an art form, kept the genre alive and well through their columns in the media. So farewell, the dean.