But for the COVID-19 lockdown, there would have been a big do on Saturday, April 4 when top society journalist and publisher, Isiaka Mayowa Abiodun Akinpelu clocked 60.
Popularly called Lord Mayor, there’s no disputing the fact that he occupies a prominent place in the history of Nigeria’s society journalism. Following the pioneers (Muyiwa Adetiba, Akeem Ikandu, Azuka Jebose and others), he alongside Femi Akintunde Johnson and Kunle Bakare, redefined the genre, adding class and style.
He is a unique man. This history graduate of the University of Lagos who started his professional career in the Nigerian Prisons Service (now Nigerian Correctional Service) before a giant leap into journalism. But how did a Warder become a celebrated society journalist?. The story is sweetest in his mouth.
“When I finished school and served, I wanted to be a Federal Information Officer, but I was made the Federal Social Welfare Officer. I was posted to Federal Maximum-Security Prison, Kirikiri, Lagos. As fate would have it, my posting coincided with the time two journalists, Nduka Irabor and Tunde Thompson, were jailed during the Buhari/Idiagbon regime. Fela was also there in prison. As a lover of journalists, I was happy to have two prominent journalists right there in prison. So, every day I would go to the workshop where they worked, and we became friends. At a point, the prison authority told me that as an officer, I was not supposed to be fraternising with prisoners, but I ignored them. That led to my transfer to the medium-security prison.
“Later, an opportunity came that eventually made me a journalist. After the (Maman) Vatsa coup, though I had been moved to the medium-security prison, Nduka who was released earlier got to me. He told me that since I was interested in writing, I should do a story about the last days of the coup plotters, what they ate, who they spoke with, and how they were killed. I was pleased to take it on. I started snooping around the prison, and I was speaking with my colleagues and prisoners. I eventually wrote a story for The Guardian. Nduka Irabor was happy. He told me that I wrote very well and asked me to start writing for The Guardian on a freelance basis. I could not use my real name at the time, so I used Mayor Akinpelu, which I am known with till today. People in prison did not know that it was I. One day, Nduka asked me to join Guardian Express. I quickly resigned and joined the paper.”
But the restless soul that he is, Lord Mayor later moved to ‘Prime People’ and ‘Vintage People’ before he, FAJ and KB started ‘Fame’. While the years at ‘Prime’ and ‘Vintage People’ could be called his ‘study’ period, he came fully into his elements at ‘Fame’. A man about town, he rubbed shoulders with the high and mighty, and got scoops time and again.
Though it eventually died after the founding troika left, ‘Fame’ was the flagship of soft-sell journals in its heydays. It was big. It was loud and Nigerians that matter aspired to feature in it. Conversely, those with skeletons in their cupboards did their best to avoid being spotlighted. ‘Fame’ was also a good training ground for young journalists. This writer earned his first paycheck in journalism as an undergraduate writing a column for the publication in 1999/2000 under the Editorship of Afolabi Odeyemi.
In September 1999, Lord Mayor started his publication, ‘Global Excellence’ magazine. Twenty-one years down the line, it remains a must-not-miss for lovers of celebrity journalism. It has survived, notwithstanding Nigeria’s economy that has killed similar publications.
Aside from being a thoroughbred, the man with an elegant sartorial taste has also mentored several young reporters. One of them, Kunle Rasheed writes, “I rode on his back and became famous with the popular sobriquet ‘Omo Mayor’. The name Mayor opened many doors for me; it was the key I needed to navigate through the society when the stairs of journalism were hard to climb.”
A lover of the good life, Mayor had a stint in the public service as Special Adviser, Media to ex-Senate President, Adolphus Wabara. “It’s a tough job. It’s for those who are starting, not for established journalists. Except you are lucky; your principal believes in what you do and respects journalists, most Special Advisers Media are just errand boys,” he told Okey Bakassi in an interview.
Following that stint, the grandfather and confidant of famous musicians including K1 and Sir Shina Peters has focused on growing his magazine and mentoring young reporters. He is also on a roll as a public affairs analyst, making appearances on TVC’s Journalists’ Hangout to give incisive analyses of issues and events.
Though COVID-19 has denied the Lord Mayor the big shindig that he rightly deserves at the moment, we rest assured that it will happen when the pestilence is defeated.
Baba Bose, B’a ‘Gboro, Lord Mayor of Society Journalism, long may you live.