By Richard Akinnola
Since our paths crossed in the late 80s, Tunji Bello has been the same – in and out of government – urbane, simple, friendly and accessible. Unlike many others who crossed over to the government and became changed people, acting against what they espoused when on this other side, Tunji has remained faithful to his ideals.
Tunji and l served in the “New Trend” movement of the Lagos state Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), when NUJ was still NUJ.
We were both elected into the exco of the Lagos council of the NUJ on December 16, 1989. He was elected the Treasurer, while l was elected the First Vice Chairman, under the leadership of “Baba nla” Ladi Lawal (of blessed memory), as the Chairman.
As the council treasurer, Tunji exhibited integrity, transparency and honesty. Both of us later served on the Ethics committee of the council, in which l was the Chairman and his contribution was invaluable.
To further underscore his ethical predilection, later as the political Editor of Concord, Tunji exhibited an unusual integrity while serving on that sensitive beat. It was a beat where many journalists exhibited unethical practices for pecuniary considerations, from politicians, who put some reporters on their payroll. But I’m aware that Tunji refused to get involved in such mercantilist journalism. He was ethical, professional and fair to all sides.
A progressive to the core, along with his close friend, Dele Alake, he was particularly instrumental to my entry into the Concord family when Concord re-opened after being shut by the Abacha junta. He constantly put me under pressure and “blackmail“ to get me on board the Concord flight, where he served as the Editor of Sunday Concord. His office was like an open parliament, with the likes of Louis Odion, Sam Omatseye, Olusegun Adeniyi and Muyiwa Daniel (of blessed memory).
In the Concord as the Legal Affairs/Judicial Editor, l maintained three columns – LEGAL AFFAIRS, HUMAN RIGHTS (both at National Concord), COMMERCIAL LAW (at Midweek Concord). Not to be left out, Tunji lured me to maintain a fourth weekly column -CELEBRATED CASES – in the Sunday Concord and made sure l got paid for my column.
In the course of maintaining the column, l once focused on the Advanced Fee Fraud case involving controversial politician, Chief Godwin Daboh, who was convicted in the 70s. In the said column, l stated that Daboh was the first to be convicted for “419” in Nigeria.
A livid Daboh stormed the Concord, threatening fire and brimstone, claiming that he had been pardoned by President Ibrahim Babangida, shortly before he stepped aside as president. I stood my ground and called off his bluff, daring him to go to court. It is instructive to say that Tunji, as Editor of Sunday Concord, stood by me. Some others would have buckled under Daboh’s threat and thrown me under the bus and asked me to sort out myself but not Tunji. Be believed in what l wrote and stood by me and told off Daboh.
His foray into public service in Lagos state has not changed Tunji’s simplicity and openness. In a clime where many public servants see themselves as tin gods, who become arrogant and inaccessible, Tunji is one public servant who has not allowed public service to change his character. He has been his simple, friendly and accessible person. This can be attested to by many of his former colleagues in the media.
As he clocks 60 today, l pray that God would continue to shower him with good health, favour and many more years. Happy birthday my guy and welcome to the Diamond club.