She is known for breaking the glass ceiling to become the first Nigerian woman editor of a national newspaper in Nigeria. As pioneer editor of National Concord daily in 1980, Dr Doyinsola Abiola (nee Aboaba) grabbed the headlines. It was a prominent newspaper, and she had been headhunted for the prestigious position, which underlined the credibility of her appointment.
She made the news again when, in 1986, she became managing director/editor-in-chief of the Concord Group of Newspapers, the first Nigerian woman to reach such heights in the country’s media sector. In the same year, she was selected for the Eisenhower Fellowship in the US, the first Nigerian woman to participate in the international programme for “innovative leaders.”
Abiola, who turned 80 on February 1, was well equipped for success in journalism. After getting a degree in English and Drama from the University of Ibadan in 1969, she joined the Daily Sketch and worked as a reporter and columnist. She left the newspaper the following year for postgraduate studies in journalism, in America.
She returned to Nigeria with a master’s degree, and the Daily Times, a leading newspaper in the country at the time, wanted to employ her as woman editor. She dramatically rejected the job offer because she saw it as downplaying her capability. This incident showed her sense of self-worth. The newspaper later employed her as features writer, validating her earlier stance, and she proved her worth by rising to the position of group features editor.
In the mid-1970s, she again travelled to the US for further studies and returned to the country with a doctorate in Communications and Political Science, which she got from New York University in 1979. She returned to the Daily Times and was a member of the paper’s editorial board.
When the Concord opportunity came, she was ready for career advancement by virtue of her education and practice. She made a mark as editor; and under her leadership as managing director/editor-in-chief, the group grew into a journalism heavyweight that published 14 newspapers and magazines at its peak.
Her Concord years spanned three decades, including trying times following the Babangida military government’s annulment of the historic June 12, 1993 presidential election won by her husband and Concord publisher, Chief M.K.O. Abiola.
She demonstrated impressive courage in the face of military dictatorship as the Abacha regime moved against Chief Abiola’s businesses, including the Concord Group of Newspapers. ”In 1995 soldiers were put on our premises and they destroyed the presses. The newspaper was proscribed for 18 months,” she recounted in an interview published in 2001. She displayed her fighter side in the pro-democracy struggle, and fought on the side of truth and justice.
The journalism doyenne served as chair of the awards nominating panel when the Nigeria Media Merit Award (NMMA) was established in 1992. She has also been chairperson of CNN African Journalist of the Year Awards.
Two honours highlight her significance. She was the first woman to receive the Wole Soyinka Lifetime Award for journalistic excellence, recognising her work, which “continues to be an inspiration to the present crop of journalists, and will continue to be an inspiration for the future crop of journalists.”
She was the second woman recipient of the Diamond Awards for Media Excellence (DAME) Lifetime Achievement Award “, in 2015, for her lifelong devotion to advancing the frontiers of knowledge and strengthening the media as a pillar of democracy.”
President Muhammadu Buhari, in a statement, noted her “life of many firsts, influencing and inspiring many, and mentoring leaders in the industry.”
Her role as chairperson, National Commission for Women Affairs, and her membership of the steering committee of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) showed her relevance beyond journalism.
After her active years as a journalist and administrator, she remains a role model, not only to women in the country’s male-dominated media sector, but in Nigerian journalism generally, for her sense of professionalism and contribution towards a better society. Congratulations to the doyenne.
The Nation Newspaper, Ltd.