IN its glorious days, the Daily Times paraded some of the brightest and the best in the media. Daily Times was more than a newspaper. It was an octopoidal organisation, with tentacles in various businesses. But the paper, which first hit the newsstands in June 1926, gave it its household name. In the newspaper world, the Daily Times stood out. It eclipsed every other paper, which in their right, were no pushovers. The Daily Times so dominated the market that it became the generic name for newspapers in the country. Every paper was Daily Times in the eyes of readers.
In no time, it became a commercial success, delving into other businesses to rake in money. The conglomerate became a runaway success under Babatunde Jose, the doyen of modern Nigeria journalism, who died in 2008. Jose’s other investments brought in money for the organisation, making it the first Nigerian newspaper to be listed on the stock exchange. As Jose set up companies here and there under the Daily Times flagship, so did he invest in people. He looked for quality workers and brought them on board.
To him, only the best was fit for the Daily Times and he went all out for them, no matter the cost. He was stern to a fault and he ruled his empire, which was the Daily Times, with an iron hand. History tells us that all administrators are like that. They are ruthless and do not suffer fools gladly. All they want is result. They are not interested in stories about the efforts made. The Daily Times tradition of excellence was handed down from generation to generation. Long after the Jose years, some of his protégés were saddled with the responsibility of running the organisation at one time or the other. One of them was Professor Dayo Alao, who died on Saturday, at the age of 72.
As a journalist, he was simply known as Dayo Alao, even when he became General Manager, Times Publication Division (TPD), the powerhouse of Daily Times of Nigeria (DTN) Plc. As GM, he was the overseer of all the publications in the Daily Times stable, and these were many, even when the company had fallen into hard times. By the time Alao became GM, TPD, the Daily Times Group was no longer as strong as it was in the Jose days. In the past, the subsidiaries stood on their own and could easily come to the aid of the newspaper, if need be. By the late 1990s, things were no longer rosy for many of them. They needed support to remain afloat and they turned to the TPD-controlled paper, which was also struggling for survival.
The fortunes of the Daily Times had plummeted in the wake of the June 12, 1993 presidential election. It was a bad fall for a paper that had ruled the industry for decades. By 1996/7, the Daily Times was a shadow of itself. Those of us who were insiders, knew what the paper was going through. By then, it had stopped publishing some of its titles in order to cut cost. As GM, TPD, it was Alao’s lot to ensure that the Daily Times legacy was kept alive. Being a Timesman to the core, he threw himself at the job. He worked round the clock to ensure that the Daily Times and its other surviving titles came out without fail. He was a hands on boss, who denied himself the perks of office, for the sake of the paper and its workers.
His motto was: not under my watch will it be said that Daily Times did not come out for one day or that salary was not paid. Alao met a tradition at the Daily Times and he was determined to keep that tradition of excellence and enterprise as GM. He made sacrifices for the paper to regain its glory. As an ‘indigene’, that is those who joined the Daily Times in the late sixties and early seventies, Alao knew that he could only secure his place in the pantheon of the greats if he turned around the fortunes of Daily Times. For someone like him who had seen it all in the organisation, his propelling force was making the conglomerate great again. It was not an easy task.
Alao started as a reporter. He later edited Times International, the weekly magazine in the stable. Alao was GM, Times Books Limited, for a brief period, before he became GM, TPD. As TPD boss, he ruled the roost at Agidingbi, Ikeja, Lagos. Daily Times was only so in name when he became GM, TPD. He toiled to turn the paper into a brand again. He knew that he had a major task at hand and he gave it his all. All he wanted was for Daily Times to regain its pride of place. He resumed early and closed late everyday, driving a old, rickety official car, which he inherited. He refused to buy himself a new official car or stay in official quarters. Alao went on advert drive with the advert department to ensure the return of the good, old days.
It was unheard of that Daily Times would go begging for adverts. But it happened. A paper where people used to queue, pleading that their adverts be taken! Alao was a boss like no other. He mixed freely with workers, many of who filled his car every evening after the close of work for a ride home. After leaving the Daily Times, Alao went into the academia, starting off at Babcock University, Ilishan, Ogun State, where he got his professorship. He left there for Adeleke University, Ede, Osun State, where he served for four years as vice chancellor. He conquered the worlds of journalism and academic, leaving his footprints in the sand of time.
Alao died when he should be enjoying his life in retirement. My boss and former Sunday Times Editor Tunde Ipinmisho told me about Alao’s death on Saturday morning. Ipinmisho said he spoke with the deceased a few weeks ago. Alao told Ipinmisho that he returned to Ilorin, the Kwara State capital, on retirement, two days before the call. Alao returned home to enjoy the bliss of retirement, but God decided to call him to the eternal home. My heart goes out to his widow and children. May he find rest in the Lord’s bosom.