Liad Tella: A mentor of many achievers By Abdulwarees Solanke
In Nigerian journalism since the mid-70s, he grew to become a household name as an incisive reporter, a highly perceptive analyst, an expert in foreign affairs and a brilliant political commentator.
His berths within the Nigerian newspaper industry include the Daily Times, The Punch, National Concord and ultimately The Monitor, rising from an ordinary reporter to a Group News Editor and finally a Managing Director and Editor in Chief.
This veteran journalist has made numerous journalists, mentoring them or facilitating their employment, placement or promotion to strategic positions in varied careers and disciplines.
Through him, many found their feet in life, making names, fame and homes, becoming successes from his guidance and tending.
I am a beneficiary of this large-hearted, highly cerebral and passionate but humble Nigerian, indeed a patriot, a nationalist.
Welcome to the world of Hadj Liad Tella, now in retirement in Iwo, his serene hometown where I once schooled as a teenager.
But it is not only in the media firmament that he thrived or peaked in life as his foray in public service, though appointive, extends to the boardroom as chairman, board member or commissioner in strategic public institutions.
In his public service career, he eminently represented his state, Osun and the nation at large in such entities as Odua Group, the investment conglomerate of the South West, the Osun State Pilgrims Welfare Board and the National Hajj Commission.
However, his attempt at elective office to represent his Iwo Constituency in the lower chamber of the national assembly, the Federal House of representative to continue public service floundered.
He was not dampened and was richly compensated in the academia, specifically at the University of Ilorin where he reached the zenith in the classroom, moulding young students into brilliant minds.
As a senior research fellow, an equivalent of an associate professor, in the institution’s Department of Mass Communication, he continued imparting knowledge and experience in the future leaders in the field of communication that he spent most of his life until attaining the age of 70 few months ago.
Widely travelled Liad Tella prides himself as a prince of Oyo and he has always traced his ancestry to the ancient political headquarters of Yorubaland.
Recognized for his Islamic activism, he was a close aide of the late Bashorun MKO Abiola, the publisher of Concord newspapers who he often represented at many Islamic functions while alive. Tella has however lived most of his productive years in Lagos, Ibadan, Oshogbo, Abuja and Ilorin.
On retirement from Unilorin however, he took a decision of returning to his roots in Iwo, to continue providing public service and leadership in his community while greying gracefully in retirement.
My first encounter with Hadj Liad Tella was during my undergraduate days as a journalism student at the University of Lagos in the mid-80s.
My fatherly brother in law, late Imam Salahudeen Ariyayo Abdulazeez had asked me to deliver a message to him in his office at National Concord, Ewutuntun Mafoluku, overlooking the Murtala Muhammed International Airport. He was then the Group News Editor of Concord publications, an office that made him one of the cream of Concord.
On discovering that I was a student of mass communication after a brief introduction, it was like he was already offering me a job once I completed my studies. Truly when I finished my studies and while waiting for NYSC mobilization, he indeed suggested I serve in Lagos. But I was posted to Sokoto.
I resisted any suggestion that I change my posting to Lagos so I could serve in National Concord and guarantee an automatic employment. In March 1989, I went for service and completed a year later.
Returning home in March ending 1990, a note from Alhaji Ariyayo to Tella in Concord earned me an automatic seat in the newsroom. Some six months of trial, a normal employment process in a newspaper system convince the management of my employability.
My letter of employment was followed with a transfer letter to Yola as the Gongola State correspondent where I proved my mettle as a total journalist firing from all angles with lead news stories, detailed feature articles, insightful political analyses and maintaining a column, Gege Ara, in the Yoruba vernacular newspaper, Isokan under the Concord stable.
In the waiting period of our employment that our names were yet to enter the staff list to qualify for salary, Tella was dipping his hands his pocket or issuing cheques to draw from his personal account. He was a mainstay. Towards my wedding a year after I returned from Yola, he played a very significant role towards its success.
While Concord was tottering and eventually proscribed in the Abacha years, he was a pillar of support. Before the paper’s eventual crash, Tella had resigned from the paper to pursue career in Media Consultancy Services under his registered company, Telltab Communications which he indeed involved a number of us.
When National Concord eventually crashed and the search for job began for us, I was one of those who made Tella’s list of pioneers of the revamped newspaper under Tella who was one of the instruments for the resuscitation of the Ibadan-based Monitor Newspaper and eventually its Managing Director and editor in chief.
With the guidance of Tella, the career of many of the rested Concord newspaper gained fresh breathe at The Monitor where I was employed as editorial board member, with additional responsibility as Deputy Editor, the Monitor on Sunday. There I gained more mastery as a leader writer
In January 2003, I left him in Ibadan to pursue career in broadcasting with an employment offer from Late Ladi Lawal at Daar Communications but was still in regular touch with Tella and featuring him on a number of programmes at AIT.
On Friday 30th August, a day to the 25th birthday of my first daughter, Aishah, providence took me to Iwo for an assessment visit to Baptist High School Adeke, where I completed my GCE Advanced Level in 1985.
Adeke is the same school Tella did his HSC and I used the opportunity to visit him, spending hours during which we shared thoughts on politics, public management, governance and leadership in Nigeria.
He took me down the memory lane of where things began to go wrong for Nigeria from the immediate post independent era to the moment. He elucidated on the role of the military in forcing a unitary system of government in Nigeria and how the presidential system of government was adopted to attenuate the bogus unitary structure.
As our historical and analytical excursion progressed, we were soon joined by one of his close relatives, an Okanlawon and another protégé, Adam Adedimeji. It became a re-enactment of his days in the newspapers that discussions were very robust, interesting, lively and passionate.
He spoke at length on how the public service was destroyed under the military and the role civil servants in perpetuating corruption in the nation’s polity. He talked about the deviousness of politics at the grassroots, which makes it impossible for the best to emerge from many states as worthy, qualified and experienced representatives of the people.
We spoke about the collapsing value system in the country in the promotion of foreign pop culture with the instrumentality of the public mass media that are supposed to engineer cultural transmission and social mobilization. He talked of his concern for the future generation with the quality of public education.
We shared thoughts about family and marriage and how to live happily and he counselled on the need for one to be closer to Allah and remember Him always as remembrance of Allah offers the greatest or best succour in trying moments,
As the sun was dimming, I checked my Nokia 2.1 Android phone to know how far we had spent the afternoon because I had to return to Ibadan to pass the night with my nephews and nieces, the Ariyayo Azeez at Akobo. I discovered that I’d close to four hours for a visit I thought would not last beyond one hour. I announced my intention to leave and he ordered for a sizzling hot lunch of amala and ewedu with smoked cat fish soaked in sensational stew for me.
Done with the delicious meal, I offered profuse appreciation for the homely reception he accorded to him. As I made to bid him bye with a promise to be more regular, he gently held my hands to offer soothing prayers for me. Those were the fatherly prayers to a son in whom he is well pleased for not disappointing him in journalism, his chosen career and as a Muslim media practitioner who dedicated his being to the cause of Allah.
Tella’s list of protégés in al facets of life is a long one. In the past four decades, he has been building or siring countless children who are today holding their own in journalism, public service, and Islamic studies, private and corporate sectors. He himself cannot name or number them all.
If a census of Tella boys is conducted today, he will be marvelled and indeed humbled by the sheer number of men and women he has mentored or nurtured to prominence. He took all as his own children, sparing nothing to lift them in life including prayers. He was that generous and helpful to all with whom his path crossed.
Today as he sits back in retirement in his native town, Iwo, Hadj Liad Tella can sit back and enjoy the innumerable favours of Allah on him, the most significant of which is being the facilitator of many achievements and achievers in journalism and other careers. Fabbi Hayyi aala-i robbikumo tukadhiubaani (Which of the favours of Allah will you deny?)
On behalf of these, I say Jazakumllah to Hadj Liad Tella for his role in our rise when our paths crossed with his.
– Abdulwarees an acting Deputy Director, Strategic Planning and Corporate Development, Voice of Nigeria volunteers for the Muslim Public Affairs Centre MPAC Nigeria as Director, Media and Strategic Communications