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Popular Journo, Abiola Aloba @50: My Friend Comes of Age – Lanre Alfred

I was a starry-eyed advert executive at the Breeze, a defunct magazine owned by General Oladipupo Diya (rtd) in 2001 when my path crossed with Abiola Aloba’s. I recall with loving and longing fondness how we met inside Alade market, Ikeja, Lagos, while marketing my first book, Business Arcade (a business directory, just like the famous Yellow Pages). Smooth-talking and socially savvy, Alobsy, as I grew to call him, was also an advert executive at the Encomium. We saw a lot of each other before becoming friends. You cannot meet Alobsy and not get drawn to his trademark toothy smile and snow-white dentition.

My first impression of him was that, damn, this dude can dress! Over the years, that impression has been firmly reinforced and established. Even at 50, you can tell that he is at home with the de rigueur of fashion. Then, my book was new in the market, which made getting adverts and patronage very difficult while the Encomium was already a market leader. He won my heart when he convinced a client to advertise in my book without being formally acquainted with me, because, as he would later tell me, he had also been attracted to my well-ironed starched shirts and very strong perfume. A friendship that would survive the tempests, trials, tragedies, and triumphs of a lifetime sprouted from the underbelly of that jumbled market.

Being an advert canvasser entails being charismatic and persuasive; Alobsy effortlessly embodies those characteristics and more. Where I was quiet and self-effacing, my friend was gregarious and cosmopolitan, sprightly and silver-tongued, and could, to borrow the cliché, sell ice to an Eskimo. He speaks the English language with the mastery and drawl that would make you think he attended Harvard University whereas he graduated from the University of Ilorin. Alobsy makes friends easily. Then, he had friends in Alade market, just as he did in the swankiest fashion stores in Victoria Island, Ikoyi, and everywhere in between.

Since I made his acquaintance exact 21 years ago, our relationship has blossomed into a bond emblematic of the best form of filial devotion and affection. I would discover that beneath the glitz and glamour of being a famous journalist with all the accoutrements of fame and power at his beck and call, he is humane and humble. He is imbued with nonpareil intelligence, a clear-thinking, analytical mind, quick wit and sheer oratorical skills. Aloba is one of the very few people I know that can never be blindsided or fazed by any eventuality. His calmness and infinite optimism even in the face of life’s greatest odds are inspiring and worthy of the respect and aspiration of younger generations.

Interestingly, he became my diurnal and nocturnal collaborator and confidante. We leaned on each other for strength and support. Hand in hand, we slapped the streets of Lagos during the day and savoured without inhibitions all the trappings of the city’s nightlife, especially on the Island, which later became our orbit.

Aloba and I rocked this town! While many were asleep as nature dictates at midnight, life takes on a vibrant hue for others in different parts of the metropolis. For some, it is purely for business. For many others like us, however, darkness provides the necessary cover for unbridled fun. We were always out at ungodly hours; that time of the night when the hosts of heaven, having completed their daily protective cycle on humanity, reluctantly step aside for the hounds of hell whose turn it is to dictate the pace of grave immorality which occurs unhindered at that time.

Honestly, if the pace of life on the mainland is measured and predictable, it is intense and pliable on the Island. We discovered the hangouts for the rich and the very rich; the upwardly mobile and nouveaux riches. We were making the right contacts and connections so we had access to some of these places on a nightly basis.
Despite that our social lives were a tad unrestrained, we were focused and daring because we had similar outlooks on life. We dreamt big. Our friendship blossomed as I moved on to City People magazine in 2002 where I started writing the column; Life on the Island. He later became the editor of Encomium’s fashion and style magazine. It was a no-brainer, therefore, that he was the best man at my wedding, a gesture I gladly reciprocated during his as one of the groomsmen.

Friendship is a form of love with trust and loyalty as its foundation. Loyalty means a lot to me, and Alobsy has proved to be more than a loyal friend. If I got lost at sea, I know he will sail day and night to find me. Twenty years after we became friends, it doesn’t seem like we have aged. We still shriek at the sight of each other as we used to in those madcap days of youth. We still gist excitedly when time and chance permits. But we no longer rock the town at ungodly hours again, alas. Lol!

Yes, there is melody in his back-story. You take everything in and get caught in its speechless rapture. There is a sparkle in the narrative too. The native of Ijebu-Jesha, Osun State, emits a rare shine that imbues the day with light and hangs upon the cheek of night, like luminous beams of lighthouses. Like the proverbial shiny jewel in an Ethiop’s ear, Aloba emits an uncommon glitter too rich to be ignored and too dear to be squandered.

Indeed, an understanding of Aloba’s story is essential in knowing the forces that shaped his life and moulded him into the man he has become.

Indeed, in his back-story, you encounter the musical embracing of history and rhythm, race and rhyme, melody and passion in an actual stunning event of a life unfurling. Even in this age of ubiquitous hyperbole, it can safely be said that he is one of the most inspiring forces of nature in the media industry.
Unlike too many individuals stuck in the role of minor casts or fleeting characters in their own stories, Aloba leaps from the pages of history as a fully formed and rounded character, cementing his place as one of the most daring and phenomenal creative minds of our time.

Knowing Aloba is never as cathartic as experiencing his exuberance and dazzle up close. It is as delightful as the bloom and rewards of the most tasking yet, successful endeavour. His wit would be intimidating if not for his natural and infectious charm.

Indeed, Biola Aloba is indeed a great guy from a good home! Growing up, Aloba’s parents accorded him no such indulgence. Rather than foster his descent into decadence, they raised him on a bittersweet diet of tough love and inexorable care thus, his maturation into a solid dude. Unlike most of his peers who were born into affluence and raised in verdant luxury, he wasn’t raised like a passenger on what was intended to be a pleasure excursion. Thus, he had not the luxury of time to find fault as soon as the journey became a little weary.

The characteristics of the spoiled child did not tarnish him in childhood neither did it mar his psyche through adolescence and his strides in adulthood. Yet, childhood ensconced Aloba like a garment that carries nobly the name of the proverbial wild Highland clan of minors and adventurous boys. If his lineage could be classified among such noble scions of dreamers and adventurists, he would maybe be counted among the clan from those hills where rain is not so much an incident as an atmosphere. No be lie!

As a child, his imagination was constantly lit by the tempestuous flame of youth; his thoughts flowered imaginatively as he engaged in a constant struggle to reconcile the wild, playful haul of his hormones with the ancient wisdom persistently drummed into his head and his mind by his conservative parents.

Therefore, adventurous and wildly imaginative as he was, my friend and brother could not yield to the arbitrary lure of juvenile wiles nor pretend to live in a verdant pavilion of affluent spoils and consequence-free whims. Thanks to his parents, a great deal of his childhood was spent imbibing and appreciating the moral rectitude and military qualities of the Highlander and conservative Christian in one breath.

Notwithstanding the moral strictures by which he was raised, his childhood in Gbagada and Ogba, Lagos, was blissful and memorable. He was a truly loved child.

Honestly, his parents had no trust fund to bequeath to him. The only fortune he inherited from them was a good character. They were uncompromising moralists and conservatives. He learnt a lot from his parents. From his father, he learnt humility, sacrifice, tact, wisdom, hard work and patience. Whatever he learnt from his father was reinforced by his mother. They taught him to value every human life and relationship.

Whenever the discussion segues to his parents, Aloba, like most of his peers that were raised by parents belonging to the conservative era, fondly relieved memories of the good old days when he enjoyed the rare privilege of the timeless wisdom of the ages from them. Having lived full lives of their own, they had added to their repository of insight before passing it on to him and his siblings and, in effect, subsequent generations of Alobas.

He considers himself very fortunate to have grown up in the care of such loving and moral parents. And he says that it helped him situate the fount of his parents’ uncommon humanity and capacity for tough love. His parents were both strong and outgoing. They were an uncompromising pair who helped make a success of the family’s moral code.

Indeed, we have come a long way and I cannot but thank God that Alobsy has been an integral part of my variegated journey. Now, we are living some of those big dreams that we dreamt of in our small cocoons.

Ordinarily, for my dear friend, no celebration would have been too grand to organise in his honour as he turns 50. But for a recent personal tragedy (losing his beloved first daughter to cancer), we will not roll out the drums. Yes, were things normal, we would have shut down a whole city anywhere in the world to celebrate his 50th birthday.
We would settle for pockets of mini-celebrations by family, friends, and associates while basking in the blizzard of good wishes and felicitations that would buffet him.

He will, however, always be one of the most important people in my life. Alobsy, thank you for the beauty and blessing of your friendship.

May God comfort you, bless your home and prosper you even more. May all your aspirations come to fruition. And may the decades ahead be more fulfilling and fruitful.

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