A Tale Of The Last Dance And The Thousands Of Practice Steps That Came Before It: Reminiscing On My Years As A Campus Journalist

By: Theophilus Femi Alawonde

On Saturday, 23rd October, 2021, the Union of Campus Journalists, University of Ibadan held its Dinner, Luncheon and Awards Ceremony. When the clan – Indy Press – arrived, Abdulrahman said, “Theo, lead us in. This is your last dance as the Editor-in-Chief of Indy Press.” I did lead the clan in, but not without flashes of how my predecessors did it coming through my mind.

I knew I was going to become a campus journalist few weeks to my resumption at the University of Ibadan. The Courtroom attracted me, and so did articles on the Indy Press board. I had three choices – ATES Press led by Chika, NUESA Press led by Abiodun, and Indy Press led by Kanyinsola.

I chose Indy Press. I can remember how I missed my interview with Kanyinsola twice. And on the day of the interview, when asked what aspect of journalism I would venture into, I offered to write poems.

I did write some poems, and some literary articles on the haiku and the limerick too. However, those cannot be classified as journalism, so, I still wonder if I would have made it as a member of Indy Press, had I waited for a year before joining.

The Union inducts several hundreds of campus journalists every year. Therefore, the probability of becoming a campus journalist who has seen it all – who truly danced a memorable last dance – is low. How many of the several hundreds will become Editors-in-Chief? How many will win awards? How many will make impacts on campus? I was just the average UIte who chose his path – I have friends who chose politics, those who chose public speaking, those who chose a mixture of three to four extra-curricular activities. I chose journalism; fell in love with it, and avoided venturing into other things in order not to affect my commitment to journalism.

My first year as a campus journalist was characterized by quietness. I didn’t say much; it was difficult to blend into the Indy Press in-house manner. Partly because I had this pre-UI respect for the name and personality of then Editor-in-Chief, Kanyinsola. It was difficult to flow freely and throw jibes and banters like Chidera and Martins. Of course, I would later learn that, since it’s one of the things that qualify one as a full-blooded member of Indy Press. I held to one thing in 100 level: “submitting before the deadline.” For this, Kanyinsola, in leaving in 2017, said of me, “Theophilus will always deliver, no excuses.” I held on to that sentence and decided to make it a point of duty to always deliver. There were challenges, but I braved them. What is life without challenges, anyway?

The second year of my stay as a campus journalist was characterised by intentional learning and the application of lessons learnt. I had borrowed and read Chidera’s copy of the Road Before the First Estate, and it gave me a clear vision of what I wanted and how I should go about getting it. I cannot say I have met a more wholesome book in my life. Interactive and sectionalised in a way that different parts meet different needs of the budding campus journalist. There are stories bordering on issues a CJ might face, examples of the different types of articles a CJ might ever consider writing, and interviews of exceptional former CJs – something to motivate the budding CJ.

It was not about learning alone, it was also about applying the lessons, getting familiar with the Indy Press family, engaging during meetings, and becoming aware in order to know how best to become the voice of the people. 2018 was the defining point in my career as a campus journalist. It was also my most productive year. I wrote for every niche, save for health. The recognition came: The UCJ UI Best News Reporter award and the Independence Hall Pressman of the Year award.

I remember Yusuf Akinpelu telling Chidera and me that we have so much more to achieve, seeing as we were only in rounding off our 200 level when we both assumed the positions of Editor-in-Chief and Deputy Editor-in-Chief respectively. We were in front of the International School, Ibadan. What seemed distant then, did manifest, with us both going on to win awards.

I also remember Kanyinsola calling me the “future E-in-C” hours before the FOPA ’18. Prof. had just told him that we’d done the in-house hand over, with Chidera emerging as the Editor-in-Chief. I didn’t think of it that way, till Kanyinsola mentioned it. And who would have? Who would have thought that I would one day become the Editor-in-Chief at Indy Press? The distance between where I was as a staff member in 100 level and the role of the Editor-in-Chief was too much, no one would have thought of my emergence as a possibility. However, between those three years were a lot of practice steps.

No one joins Indy Press with the assurance of becoming the Editor-in-Chief someday, because every new member is poised and positioned to become the future Editor-in-Chief, only if they would connect the dots, make use of the resources at their disposal, and tap into the opportunities afforded them. My story is proof that it’s never about who one is or one’s competence; it’s more of what Indy Press makes of one.

Since 2018, I have made accountability-reporting, solution-focused journalism, and news reporting my niches. Satirical pieces, op-eds, features, photojournalism – have all been deployed in addressing issues that affect the students.

Brings to mind what Taylor, 2017 Secretary of State of Independence Hall, said at the exodus of the Kanyin, Kunle, Haleem, Alao Abiodun, and Femi Adesope clan. He had fears that campus journalism would no longer be what it was known for; that there would be a dearth. Some other people shared his fears. While campus journalism might not be the full replica of what it used to be, there is no denying the that campus journalists have made waves and done the job of informing, making people aware, and being the neutral societal watchdog.

When I assumed the position of the Indy Press Editor-in-Chief in 2020, I knew I had two huge tasks ahead. These tasks, I divided them into goals, and shared the goals with the members of the team. I was to be the last Editor-in-Chief who had received direct tutelage from Kanyinsola. And looking back at what he did, I knew it was my turn to train another set of campus journalists who would never be shy to go after stories and uphold the tenets of journalism. There was also the need to measure up to the standard and uphold the glory that my predecessors had brought to the organisation. On the other hand was a personal resolve to fully connect Indy Press to its alumni network and empower the organisation financially. It was not difficult to get members to key into the vision. We had plans, we formed in-house teams; the future was bright. Then, Covid-19 happened.

With the pandemic came a lot of blows. Months spent at home, and the loss of zeal in some members that I had hoped would be strong team players. There was also the reality of a virtual semester, scarce stories, amidst others. Journalists dwelt so much on the virtual semester, and no one can blame them. So, we chose to not dwell so much on the virtual semester. One thing that helped us plan and strategise was our weekly meeting. We never missed it throughout the session, and the team won my respect to have continually attended meetings on Google Meet every week, throughout the virtual semester. The zeal was that strong; it was always the same set of people.

The second semester came, and the team knew we could not but continue with what we had started. The average of 15 hours that was spent every week, writing and editing articles. The publication of these articles, and the joy that came with seeing people take to corrections, with seeing people not shying away from chasing stories and writing on the things that matter.

I had the opportunity to lead a team that is first, a family. Of course, there were the tense moments. Moments when you would almost hear the breath of everyone in the room. These moments were needed; we had our goals. There were the happy moments too – many of them. The banters, the jokes, the laughter, the strengthened bond and connection. Indy Press has always been, and will always be home. We make many decisions as students at the University of Ibadan, and one of the best   decisions I’ve made in these four plus years, one of the best decisions any student would ever make, is to join Indy Press Organisation.

I am a university student in every sense of the word, and at the heart of it all is my affiliation with Indy Press Organisation. It is the point of contact for all other dots anyone could ever connect about my stay on this campus – in my academics, the honour and recognitions, the awards, the family, the friends, the network.

How does a man say goodbye to his lover? There is no better way of saying goodbye than knowing that the people whom I have spent the past year guiding, the people over to whom I have handed the baton, are capable. Beyond being capable, they are prepared, and gingered to carry on the work. I could feel the zeal and the energy when I invited some members of the team for interviews. The zeal and energy were stronger the last time out. I could sense it, and it brought me fulfillment and consolation for this departure.

I remember Akorede’s status, which he signed off with, “wait for what’s coming”. I love the spirit, I am confident in the capabilities and zeal of these people; I’m happy to have worked with them, and I am happy because I believe they will do beyond what we did together. Now, isn’t that the prayer of every “parent”? I did with these ones beyond what my predecessors did with me and others. And I have high hopes that they would do with John, beyond what I did with them.

Yes, the last dance has been danced, or you could say I have watched these people have the last dance with me (people who were present at the dinner would know better). The baton has been passed on to John ‘Dare Okafor, and he will lead the team to greater heights.

John ‘Dare Okafor. I remember during my 200 level days. Someone approached me from the next room. He wanted to join Indy Press. But he was only notifying me. He wasn’t ready to join yet. I misinterpreted that to be hesitancy, but succeeding encounters and our three years together have given me insights – that is preparedness and well-thought-out decision-making. John never ventures into something until he is prepared all-round to venture into it and make it successful. I convinced him that he need not wait till 200 level to join the Press. That what would be would be. And since then, John has never wavered.

I remember when I was away in Badagry. John would call me – the details of which I wouldn’t be sharing. But those calls proved that someone was doing beyond others. He was the Managing Editor then. John has his suggestions – suggestions that would make you see things from another perspective.

These past few months, I’ve watched John give comments and rise up to the task when there is the need to. I have heard and see him do things as an Indy Press Editor-in-Chief would. I know my successor, and I am assured of his success in leading the charge.

Habeeb Akorede Abdul. He never shies away from making sound judgements and speaking when he should. An excellent analyst. Akorede will not sit in the shadows when there are issues to speak on. I have seen the flame; and I know it can only get better. He will be reinforcing the Features Desk as its editor.

Emmanuel Ilesanmi. Measured. Meticulous. Willing Managing Editor and the right-hand-man of the Editor-in-Chief.

Precious Timileyin Akinmoyeje. What an exponential shoot in a journalist’s growth. This young man picked his niche, and he has so fine-tuned and owned the niche. The thoroughness in Precious’ way of addressing issues, and mandate to always proffer solutions where needed – enviable, emulatable! Precious, manage that Politics Desk and train more Timileyins.

Abdulrahman Adedayo Adebayo. Rahman is a natural – born to become an Indy Press member. It’s been a semester and some weeks, yet, he has so owned everything Indy Press – from excellence, to the jokes and banters. He has stepped into one of the most important roles, coming with experience. I’ve watched him coordinate the News Desk; I am confident that he would work with his Desk to diligently and effectively perform the fundamental task of a journalist; news reporting.

Toluwalope Orire Ayeye. Tolu, like me, just wanted to write short stories. She saw the challenge, caught it, and has shown what she’s made of –  she withstood and excelled at the test of a true Amazon. Tolu, do not cease to write stories and make impacts. Congrats, our General Editor.

Kelvin Omachonu. Time and time again, you’ve made me enjoy reading sports articles. You have it in you, there’s no denying that. You are at a place where you feel most comfortable, and I expect you to lead the charge and change the narrative. Uphold the uniqueness of our Sports Desk.

Pelumi Adeniyi. I remember the Pelumi that I worked with in 2018. I know you can, only if you would. There are responsibilities on your shoulders; redefine entertainment journalism on UI campus.

To the team. Williams Owoeye – I hope you would take up that responsibility we briefly discussed. Priscilla Ayodele – continue to be the Amazon; explore and own new frontiers. Covenant Odedele – be fierce, be fiery, be challenged, keep at it, and deploy your skills to make impacts. Daniel Echoda – there’s no limit to what you can achieve; put in your best. Olamilekan Stephen Oke — grow; and keep delivering in time. James Arikpo – it’s innate; there’s no denying that. You can, only if you will. Moses Adeosun – never cease to deliver; do not let your commitment waver. Go for the stories that matter, write them; make impacts.

To every campus journalist and aspiring campus journalist, remember the words of Ranchodas Shamaldas Chancad: “follow excellence; success (the awards and recognition) will chase you.”

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