Jahman Anikulapo, My Mentor, Is 60

By ‘Fisayo Soyombo

One day in June 2005, Mr. Jahman Anikulapo, the then Editor of The Guardian on Sunday, invited me to his office. He had been interviewed on a ‘personality programme’ on the radio. He wanted me to transcribe it. He handed me the tape.

I was only a few weeks old at Rutam House, as TheGuardian’s office is more famously known, so this interview was my first real insight into the mind of the man who had just become my first mainstream journalism editor.

In all honesty, 18 years later, I do not remember any of the interviewer’s questions. Apart from one: “How do you want to be remembered at the end of your life?”

His response was stirring. “Why should anyone even bother remembering me?” he wondered. “At the end of my life, just allow me to rest in peace.”


Over the next years of working for him — by the way, many on the Sunday desk at the time saw themselves more as working for him than for TheGuardian — I would discover how his answer to the interview question defined his work life. ‘Jahman’, as he is fondly called, worked his socks off as editor without caring a hoot for reward, recognition or gratification. He was in journalism for the work — not the fame, money, power, influence or accolades.

Well, he is not resting in peace. Today, he turns 60.

Fortunately, while he told the interviewer how he wanted (not) to be remembered when gone, he was never made to answer whether to be remembered or not, or how to, while still alive. And there are quite many things to remember about him? Is it Jahman the tireless worker or Jahman the relentless motivator? Is it Jahman the benevolent leader or Jahman the strict, yet kind, boss? Or is it Jahman the ‘screamer’, as he so often and candidly describes himself?

How can I not remember a man who knew me from nowhere, only seeing me for the first time in the newsroom, yet opened his arms to me, invested his time in my copies, and deployed his expertise into building me? How can I forget a man who, if he was going home and found me working overnight, handed me the keys to his office and told me to grab a drink from his fridge or sink myself in his couch if I ever took a break? How can I not remember Jahman, the journalism teacher who not only edited your scripts but invited you to his office to personally explain your errors to you? How can I forget the Jahman who, knowing Saturdays were the Sunday desk’s most tense days, took some pressure off us by personally funding the provision of drinks and snacks for the newsroom every Saturday — the Jahman who could be screaming “this small man with the big tie, what kind of story is this?” at you one minute but was cracking jokes with you the very next?

How can I forget the Jahman who not only preached journalism ethics but taught you in much clearer terms with his life — the Jahman who didn’t take bribes, who didn’t hobnob with politicians at the expense of editorial independence; the Jahman who didn’t ‘kill’ or ‘plant’ stories; the Jahman who ran his newsroom by the highest ethical standards? How can I forget the Jahman who taught me reporting, with ideation, with tips, with reprimand, with constant reminders that a journalist’s real workplace is the field and not the office? How can I forget the Jahman who wore his journalism passion on his sleeves and infected every willing hand around him with it; the Jahman whose acceptance of people was not influenced by social status, and therefore built strong relationships with nearly everyone, including the cleaners, drivers, gatekeepers and typesetters?

Most importantly, I could never forget, even if I wanted to, the Jahman who often screamed to me on the phone “Soyombo, where is my story?” or “Soyombo, you left office before the end of production. Make sure you come to work tomorrow with your boxing gloves.”

You pushed me, you trusted me, you encouraged me, you stuffed some fire in my belly, you motivated me, you embodied the journalist I wanted to become. I’ll never forget you or everything you did for me. Not in this life, not in the hereafter.

Happy, happy 60th birthday, sir!

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