Lanre Idowu: Romantic reconstruction of childhood memories


There is a common saying that life begins at 40, but for the renowned writer and journalist, Lanre Idowu, it has been 40 years of impacting society positively through his journalistic and creative expressions. Though the quality education he received might have laid the solid foundation for him, his love for books (paper) made it all possible.

He told The Guardian, “I have always seen myself as a communicator who has chosen the craft of writing to express himself. But in the last 30 years or so, I have come to focus on the media as an industry; I have been a reporter, a staff writer, I have written poetry and columns. It’s been a fulfilling, rewarding and interesting, though it also comes with its own headache.”

To celebrate this milestone, Idowu has written three books that are set for public presentation on Thursday, February 13 at the MUSON Centre in Lagos. They are: Songs Of Childhood; Uneven Steps and Media In My Mind.

Idowu said Songs Of Childhood is a romantic reconstruction of what he went through as a child; the things he saw, heard and happened at home.

He was just about 10 years then, but has expressed his childhood in 27 poems, featured in the book, where three are on the civil war. “I was not at the war front but I felt and discussed it,” he said.

Media On My Mind is a collection of his thesis, columns and presentations done at forums centered on the media. It covers the period of 2009 to 2017; a very important era in the political history of Nigeria. “This book would help the media, researchers and scholars to understand issues and how they played out in the media within that period.

Uneven Steps is a history document on the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE). It is a pioneering work on the NGE, “and I received support from the guild on this. This book gives more information on why and how the NGE was created. For instance, does the current NGE understand the antecedents of the guild? Who is an editor? NGE was supposed to be an elite club of the decision makers in the media, and not for everybody as it has become today,” he said.

While x-raying the 20 years of uninterrupted democracy in Nigeria, and the state and media relationship, he noted that there had been high and low points in the media.

“Recall how the speaker was called out as having questionable credentials, it was through the efforts of the media. The media also exposed the senate president. The media on some occasions have been very vigilant and lived up to the responsibility.

“There have been other cases where practitioners were molested. Though sometimes the media allow political affiliations to becloud its judgment, there is nobody without political interest, but what stands us out as professionals is our ability to balance or reflect the different sides to stories.

“We need to make investigative reporting a national culture; it is not every investigation that requires money, it is a mind thing; the ability of the journalists to probe beyond the details to get the fuller picture. The mobile phone has helped in cutting down the number of trips these days. Training is key, personal development is important in this era. If you choose to be a writer, you must understand fully the craft of writing to influence society. You should be able to demonstrate your competence to convince people about what you do.”

Idowu, who is a trustee of Diamond Awards for Media Excellence (DAME), also shed light on how tough it had been to sustain the awards scheme in the last 28 years.

According to him, “When we started, a lot of people did not think we could pull this through, especially when you are bringing the two major media products such as Media Review and DAME. Media Review was a subscription based then. We have printed it for almost 30 years, and now we are thinking of converting it to online publication since we can no longer sustain the print version.”

Speaking on the pleasure he derives from rewarding excellence with DAME, he revealed, “it is always delightful to see people appreciate being recognised for something positive. When I see the reaction of the winners and the nominees, I always say to myself that there is something in human nature that relishes recognition.”

Sustaining DAME for 28 editions, he said, has been extremely tough. “The last one for instance, we were not even sure whether we were going to hold it because funding nosedived. There are five major partners in DAME; the organisers, sponsors, media, judges and the society. The society has to believe in what the media is doing to key into it. Sometimes, we are able to get the sponsors. It’s been difficult keeping it credible and going, I must say.”

Recall that at a time, there were only the DAME and the Nigeria Media Merit Awards (NMMA). But today, there are scores in the industry. Reacting to whether this points to advancement or commercialisation of awards, the writer said they could never be enough awards for the media in Nigeria, adding, “what is important is, what whoever is giving the awards sets out to do and how they go about it. It is possible to have classes of awards to just address the environment, but the yardsticks and the procedures employed; how well, credible and transparent the process is for me should be the defining criteria. There may be many media awards but there will be only one DAME, and we are not bragging.”

Idowu, obviously fulfilled for the impact he has had on the media and society at large, said though it’s been a tough journey, where they have had to rest some categories and add some, “there are still new grounds to be covered. As the practice itself is taking a new dimension in areas we need to pay close attention to. We hope that we can improve the funding module.

“There are many people who have moved up to higher grounds after winning DAME. I do not know of anybody whose career path nosedived after winning. We are hoping to have credible partners who understand the importance of the media, to encourage them to be agents of development, be vigilant and give the right attention to important issues and not to promote irrelevant things,” he said.

While comparing journalism practice of yesterday and today, he said the business had not changed but that if it was changing, it was changing on a different level.

According to him, “It has not changed based on the fact that we are still involved in reporting. As long as our journalism is about the human conditions that are already changing, so how then do we deliver and receive our journalism. During our days, newspaper publications were very credible.”

He rebuffed the idea that Nigerians don’t read, but that “Access is another challenge, as well as technological revolution. All these challenges are telling us that we need to improve our skills so as to deliver enriched contents. I see a lot of specialisation along the line, where news is customised for the reader. The game is changing and we need to change with it, master it and push up our own agenda,” he said.

When reminded that free access to media information offered by the social media and how online journalism has limited copy sales for the print media, which appears to be going into extinction, the poet smiled and said, “I don’t think it would die because there are some people who just love the smell of books, I inclusive. But there is no doubt that technological revolution has affected the print media. Challenge is for us to be more creative and make the stories as appealing as possible to the reader.”

On the issue of security where journalism is still fraught with risks, Agba Jalingo and a few cases in mind, Idowu said it had never been easy, as people have been killed in the cause of their duties as journalists.

He pointed that, “People will prefer us to be their ‘lapdogs’ rather than ‘watchdogs’; they will prefer us to be in their pockets and that is why they try all sorts to lure us. These challenges remain but we need the association bodies to be more active, they need to call attention to it and be loud in a credible way.”

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