Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Feasting the best of the bunch

TOLU Ogunlesi and Adeyemi Ayodeji, 2009 CNN/Multichoice African Journalists award winners, had for many years crossed each other’s path without either one acknowledging the presence of the other until fate brought them together again on their night of glory at the Southern Sun Hotel in Durban, South Africa.
Not until they met at the pre-award activities that marked the CNN/Multichoice award ceremony and they exchanged knowing glances, did it dawn on them how close they had come into each other’s world. While Tolu was admitted into the University of Ibadan to study Pharmacy, Ayodeji made his stride in the department of Economics, with both graduating from the premier institution in 2004. For five years, they strayed apart but each consistently pursued his passion – writing. Ayodeji found a safe haven with the Tell Magazine and in three years rose to become a business correspondent. Tolu made his glide entry into a private sector organisation but never lost touch with his first love. He was working with Visafone when he wrote the award-winning story as a contributing editor of Glide Magazine. During the week, they were brought together on stage again as the new toast of Nigerian journalism when they were hosted to a private lunch with family members, friends and media executives by Coca-Cola, sponsor of the Business and Economy category of the CNN award to celebrate their achievements. Ayodeji won the Sports award with his story, Game of Gold, which narrates how some Nigerians have been exploiting the English Premier League to better their economic lot. His winning ace, according to the judges was the refreshing dimension that he brought to sports reporting; and the depth of his investigation, which dwelt on facts and actualities. Ogunlesi, who was specially celebrated for the power of his language and prose, won the Arts and Culture award for his story What The Truck? A narrative on Lagos eclectic living culture and the psychological comportment of Lagosians through the prisms of the graffiti on the city notorious means of transportation, the Molue alias ‘Funky Train’. AT the lunch reception held at the Jade Chinese Restaurant in Ikeja, both continental prizewinners recounted the thrill of their moment of fame. Ayodeji said, “I submitted four business stories and was surprised to know I was nominated for the sports category. I was so nervous, they said a lot of things I was sure I didn’t hear before they said and the winner is … I didn’t hear the first name but the surname sounded like mine, so I stood up and ran to the stage. I was overjoyed, I have just been in journalism for three years and I thank God I have won the most prestigious award on the continent.” For Tolu, nervousness didn’t get the hold of him until the eve of the award presentation when all the 25 finalists were going through the rehearsals for the awards. “We were taken to the venue at the International Conference Centre and were taken through how we would come up stage and receive the award, but at the end of the rehearsal, we were told that by tomorrow, not everyone of us would climb on the stage; that was when anxiety gripped me. We had stayed together for one week but at that stage the fright caught everybody with the fact that only 16 out of 25 finalists who win an award. “Ayodeji was lucky the sports category was the third that was called. In my case, I was on the edge of restlessness until they got to last category. Because it was the last category, I was the only person who knew before the award that I was a winner. And how did I know? By the time they got to the Arts and Culture category, there was no award left and only one name that hadn’t been called, which was my name. Without waiting to be announced, I jumped out of my seat to the aisle. It is a great honour for me to have been a finalist because I see it as a once in a lifetime opportunity, about 1000 journalist entered for this award and submitted close to 1,500 stories and 26 finalists were chosen.” Public Affairs Director for Coca Cola Nigeria, Mrs. Irene Ubah, said the idea of the maiden lunch for Nigerian journalists was to recognise the great honour Tolu and Ayodeji brought to the country by winning the award referred to as the Oscars of African journalism. “Here are Nigerians who are winning awards on an international level and immediately after that, everybody just falls back into their little space and carry on as if nothing has happened, which is why we are celebrating these illustrious Nigerians that have brought such great honour to this country. Nigerians have won the overall prize of the CNN Journalist of the Year a record of three times in 1995, 2003 and 2006 in addition to winning 20 category awards since inception.

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