Segun Ayobolu’s diamond milestone and lessons in leadership

My first encounter with the compelling and versatile writer, Mr. Segun Ayobolu, was quite memorable. I have been his fan for quite some time. His writings, for me, are always enchanting, persuasive, analytical and educational.

As fate would have it, we were to later work together. He had been appointed by the then Governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, as Special Adviser/Permanent Secretary, Information and Strategy.

In that capacity, he also doubled as the editor-in-chief, ‘Alausa Alert’, a monthly newspaper of the Lagos State government produced by the Ministry.

Ayobolu loved working late into the night. He probably got the trait from his newspaper’s background. On that fateful day, around 9pm, I had my first real encounter with him. It was my first participation in the editorial conference in his office.

About five of us were in his expansive office. The dummies of the newspaper’s edition for that month littered his desk. We had gone through almost every page, arguing here and there on what should either be retained or removed.

Now, it was time to take a look at the cover page. With his bat like eyes, he systematically probed the copy in front of him, grimacing intermittently. He seemed not to be contented with the headline. After about two minutes of deafening silence, he asked if anyone had a better concept for the front-page.

I was the third person to speak. I offered my view. Suddenly, he became unusually animated. The conference ended. We left his office, while he told my immediate boss to wait a little bit for some private discussion.

The following morning, my boss called me into his office, saying how impressed the big boss was with my contributions the previous night. To underline this, my boss brought out an envelope, containing some money from his drawer.

He looked at me enthusiastically and said:

“This is for you. It is from the big boss. He was impressed with your contributions last night”

That was about fifteen years ago. Ever since, I had maintained a cordial relationship with Mr. Segun Ayobolu as a mentor, friend and brother. In a society where good people are hard to come by, I can confidently say that he is a good man.

A humanist to the core, he loves making people happy. His ears were ever opened to the yearnings of the people. Though he didn’t have much, he was willing to share the little he had. Unlike modern day’s counterfeits, he is a real comrade who does not believe in undue craze for wealth. He is quite content with what he has.

One thing that particularly strikes me about him is the depth of his intellect. Ayobolu’s intellectual prowess is quite remarkable. He is a deep thinker and a pragmatic philosopher in his own right. He combines unbelievable intellectual depth with amazing philosophical profundity. His bat-like eyes prod deeply at every written word in sight with the calculated precision of a predator going after its prey. This is, perhaps, responsible for the depth of his thoughts.

In my view, cerebrally minded people like Ayobolu should be at the university lecturing. We once had a discussion on this, which actually showed how brilliant he was while at school.

He earned his bachelors’ and masters’ degrees in political science at the University of Ibadan intermittently, between the ages of 21 and 24. He was so good that some of his lecturers actually wanted him to have his doctorate degree at the school, as a prelude to pursuing an academic career.

Ayobolu is an avid reader. His collection of books is phenomenal. He talks fascinatingly about the books he has read, sometimes offering to lend some of them out to me. I was quite young then, and also loved reading. Indeed, one of his legacies at the Ministry was the establishment of a well-stocked library. He loved the library as a mother does her child.

Ayobolu is also a hard worker. Sometimes, he worked so late in the office that one wonders if he really has time to rest. He was to pass the same bug to those working with him. He is also a motivator. He was always encouraging us to do more. He believed in our ability.

Sometimes, he would send some of his write-ups to me, asking for my input. The first time he did that I went to his office to find out if he meant to send it to someone else. No! He retorted. It was meant for me. He insisted. I couldn’t really fathom the logic behind this.

Later, he told me that he was merely trying to boost my learning aptitude. That is Ayobolu for you. He is a builder of men, always willing to leave a lasting legacy in people’s lives. Till date, he calls me whenever he sees my write-ups in the dailies, emphasizing how proud he is, while also encouraging me to do more.

From his model, I have learnt a great lesson about leadership. Leadership is about improving the lot of the people around you. It is about getting the best out of them. It is about making them better than you met them. It is about making an indelible impact in their lives. It is about understanding their pains and the struggles. It is about having a listening ear. It is not about putting people down. It is not about making them feel deficient.

No doubt, Ayobolu has had a fulfilling journalistic career. He was at a time political editor and Editorial Board Chairman in the Daily Times. He also edited the Sunday Times. He was once the Chief Press Secretary to Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu when he was the Governor of Lagos State (1999 and 2007).

A columnist, member of the editorial board of The Nation newspaper, “Editor-at-large”, The Nation newspaper, Ayobolu has been published in several journals and books, and has presented papers at several conferences.

On the occasion of his diamond celebration, here is wishing him more fruitful and rewarding years ahead. Congratulations, boss!

Ogunbiyi is Director, Features, Lagos State Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.

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