My friend Dare Babarinsa was the first to warn me. His warning was confirmed by Professor Emeritus Femi Osofisan who blurbed: “I must warn the prospective reader in advance: this is one of those books that, once you begin to read, you’ll not be able to put away till you reach the final full-stop.”
With my appetite whet, I combed everywhere for a copy of Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi’s spanking new memoir, The Road Never Forgets and couldn’t find a copy to buy. Then miraculously, he sent me an autographed copy of this literary masterpiece. As a biographer you know a good book when your eyes turn green with wishing you wrote the book. Dr. Ogunbiyi has raised the standard for memoir writing with this classic filled with so much news, honest and audacity to tell it all. Don’t let me waste all my bullets praising this book in one column. There is so much to write subsequently. Let me start off with this captivating tribute to Dr. Stanley Macebuh, a departed newspaper leader and a giant of our profession.
In the hands of the late Sunny Obazu Ojeagbase, aided, of course, by Sam John, Mitchel Obi, Chris Ogwu, among others, sports reporting became an art, one that evoked (or, perhaps, even surpassed) the legendary Cyril Kappo (Ceekay), who was sports editor at the Daily Times for close to thirty years.
But the rarest breed of all was Stanley Macebuh, whom, as I said earlier, I first met in 1966. When our paths crossed again in the 1970s, I was studying at the same time for a higher degree at New York University.
As I have written elsewhere, those years were an exciting time to live and study in the New York area as a Nigerian. Ambassador Leslie Harriman was at the United Nations as permanent representative, while Ambassador Deinde George manned the consulate-general’s office. Joe Okpaku’s Third Press, situated on 444 Central Park West in Manhattan, was booming with business and scores of Nigerians, who were later to play critical roles in Nigeria’s future, were living in and around the city at this time, among them, Chuba Okadigbo, Ibrahim Gambari, George Obiozor, Tunde Adeniran, Moyibi Amoda, Walter Ofonagoro, Dele Giwa, Ore Soluade, Kayode Ojutiku, and a host of others. We all seemed to work and study hard. But we also partied hard, dissolving our nights in the fumes of human self-indulgence. Stanley was a vibrant part of that experience. He had, by then, published his highly-acclaimed work on James Baldwin, James Baldwin: A Critical Study, which remains one of the most incisive analyses on Baldwin’s work in the English Language to date. He also had, by now, met his future wife, Maggie. And then they eventually got married on that wintry evening in December 1976, it was one big Nigerian party where I recall switching roles between the master of ceremonies, arranger, steward, and Mr. Fix It!
But it was my encounter with Stanley at the Guardian newspapers that redefined the fundamental nature of our relationship and fostered an immutable bond of friendship that endured to the end of his life. The atmosphere and experience created by Stanley’s leadership and vision at the Guardian shaped my entire media career. It was leadership that embodied, not just in the razor-sharp brilliance of his fertile mind, but also in his ability to get all of us, most of whom he had poached from varied backgrounds, to passionately key into the Guardian dream as if our lives depended on it.
Stanley was one of the most brilliant persons I ever met. His conduct of editorial board conferences was a delight to watch. His ability to succinctly summarise in a few minutes, several hours of intense brainstorming at editorial board conferences in ways that captured the essence of the arguments put forward was sheer brilliance. Usually, at the end of the deliberations, with a cigarette held between his fingers from his famous extended, thin cigarette filter, his eyes darting across the smoke-filled room, he would patiently assign editorial topics to members of the team with a reminder that the Guardian editorial comments were far too important to be toyed with because, in his own words, ‘when the Guardian says it, everyone, including the government, listens!’ That was how seriously we took ourselves at the Guardian under Stanley’s leadership.
His leadership qualities were reinforced by the fact that he was an engaging intellectual, in the most refined sense of the expression. His effortless command of the English language derived in part, I suspect, from his sound grounding in the classics. That background imbued him with brevity of style that was outstanding and refreshing. This influence of the classics manifested itself in his writings, not just in form but also in substance. Consider, for instance, his quintessentially brilliant and crisp piece of Bola Ige, entitled ‘Cicero at Agodi’, in which he resurrects Chief Ige’s old nickname as an undergraduate at the old University College, Ibadan, and draws implicit parallels between Chief Ige and the ancient Roman philosopher, lawyer, orator and political theorist, Marcus Tullius Cicero. But Stanley’s choice of the Cicero parallel may have been inspired by a less flattering consideration than was perceived by many when that piece first appeared. For instance, Cicero, whose career as a statesman was marked by inconsistencies, was also a sensitive and impressionable personality prone to overreaction in the face of crises. Stanley saw a similarity in the careers of both Chief Ige and Cicero and explored it in a way that made an oblique statement on Chief Ige’s own equally complex and challenging political career. In other words, the choice of Cicero in the context of that piece invoked a lot more about Chief Ige than could have been said in words. This technique encapsulates an essential aspect of Stanley’s style; at once erudite, cerebral, lucid, and profound.
In March 2010, the Nigerian media industry lost one of its best when he passed away. His impact was unassailable, his commitment to the media industry profound. Many, like me, owed a lot more to him than we could ever have repaid in an entire lifetime. In my case, for instance, had he not literally dragged me out of the university when he did, my life would have been different because my media career would never have happened. His place in the development of the Nigerian media industry will not be quickly forgotten. (Excerpts from The Road Never Forgets)