Babatunde Jose, One Of Nigeria’s Most Significant Media Figures.

For nearly 15 years he ran the Daily Times Group, from the period of independence to the moment, in 1975-76, when the military government took over and eased him out. The irony was that only three years before, Jose had presided over what was called “indigenisation”, the acquisition of a foreign-owned company by Nigerian shareholders.

The newspaper had been acquired in 1948 by Cecil King, the boss of the Mirror Group in London, as the linchpin of his West African media empire. Jose had been King’s star protege, and the two remained in close touch until the latter’s death in the 1980s.

Jose was born in Lagos. His father was a trader whose family was originally from Ondo State, and he was educated at Yaba Methodist school and St Saviour’s College before joining the Daily Times as a trainee at the age of 16. Although he moved to other papers, he returned to the Daily Times after the Mirror Group takeover, and rose through the ranks, becoming editor in 1957 and a board member in 1958.

To be a journalist in Nigeria in the nationalist fervour of the 1950s was exciting and he learned his trade well. With the coming of independence and Africanisation, he was appointed the company’s first African managing director in 1962, becoming chairman as well in 1968.

The Mirror Group brought tabloid newspapers, with modern production techniques, to African publishing and in Nigeria it worked wonderfully. The group expanded with new publications as well as printing and packaging, and the Daily Times/Sunday Times became Nigeria’s best-selling newspapers by far. By 1975 circulation was 275,000 for the daily and 400,000 for the Sunday, a record only surpassed by MKO Abiola’s Daily Concord in the early 1990s.

Although Jose was non-partisan, he was politically aware, and he believed firmly in newspapers. Although not a university man himself, he was keen on educated journalists and went out of his way to set up a training school and to employ graduates. A generation of Nigerian journalists still talk of him with respect. In his later years his white beard reinforced his elder statesman image.

His fall came after the change of regime in 1975, but it was also due to the very enterprise he had created, almost too powerful to remain outside the orbit of the state. When General Yakubu Gowon was replaced by General Murtala Mohammed, who embarked on a national clean-up, Jose’s own opponents within and without the Daily Times, who unfairly accused him of trying to take it over himself, found an audience.

The story of the forced sale of 60% of the shares and Jose’s eventual departure in March 1976 is recounted in detail in his autobiography Walking a Tight Rope (1987). Although the telling is restrained, his feelings occasionally show through. The Daily Times had been his life, and he watched over its experience as a government-owned newspaper with alarm. When I met him, he would always talk of it with passion and sadness, as the paper declined.

He was already a prominent member of the Nigeria media establishment before 1976 and went on to a full life as a businessman and media guru, holding such positions as chairman of the Nigerian Television Authority, but it is for his Daily Times experience he will be remembered. His influence has been profound, and his memory in the world of the Nigerian media, often turbulent and difficult, but always vibrant, will surely endure. A devout Muslim, he is survived by his wife and children.

Source: Kaye Whiteman for Guardian UK

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