I happened to be present sometime ago when he walked into a gathering of his media colleagues and the shouts of ‘Capacity!’, ‘Capacity!!’ rent the air. What a queer sobriquet, I said to myself. I could not help wondering what informed that. When I probed deeper, what came out is a rather funny story.
Once upon a time, a group of senior journalists left their Lagos base on a facility tour of another state. Each time the group ate together in the restaurant, it was observed that Louis Odion often took extra portion. To those who had raised eyebrows, he jovially defended that he really needed all the nourishments since ‘I function at full installed capacity’.
To that, everyone present in the dining hall burst into a delirious laughter. So, began the legend of ‘Capacity’.
Indeed, no one was in doubt. Those who climbed the newsroom ladder with Louis would attest to his boundless energy for work. From the additional insight I gathered, I dare say that same nickname also speaks to an uncommon trajectory of destiny.
Born on March 25, 1973 in Ikare-Akoko, Ondo State , his story is perhaps a gripping illustration of the old saying that hard work pays and that talent ultimately finds a way. For a guy who had a meteoric rise from the bottom of the newsroom as reporter to the apex as editor and later the commanding height of the news-papering as Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief, how many would believe he actually started as a trainee secretary. He began his working career with Concord Press as a Confidential Secretary in 1992.
But seven years later, through sheer industry, self-education, focus and – some may add – mother luck, he had risen phenomenally to becoming the deputy editor of the famous Sunday Concord once edited by journalism legend, Dele Giwa.
Once given a space in 1992 as a freelancer, he literally took the Concord Group by storm with his prolific writings.
Before then, he had distinguished himself as a fearless campus journalist at Federal Polytechnic, Ado-Ekiti, where he had the privilege of being the editor-in-chief of Satellite Communication, the leading press club at the Poly, even though his course of study was Secretarial Administration.
So outstanding was he in the campus journalism that a rival media organisation called SCREENTOWER could not but bestow on him its own ‘Best Writer of the Year Award – 1991′. Just as the most popular campus showbiz club called The Star Entertainers also crowned him ‘Writer of the Year’ in 1991.
By 1992, the Management of Concord Press had set university degree as minimum entry qualification for journalists. But recognising Louis’ exceptional abilities, Concord Management bent its own rule to admit the then OND holder into its stable in 1993 as reporter.
Realising that talent was not enough, Louis resolved to improve himself academically while working full-time and would add to his resume a Bachelor of Arts and a Master’s Degree in International Law and Diplomacy in the years ahead.
Bustling with youthful energy, he combined full-time work with full-time study at UNILAG. He had an understanding editor in Mr. Tunji Bello who mentored him. In June 1999, barely a month after he graduated from UNILAG with 2.1, he was promoted Deputy Editor of Sunday Concord . He bagged the Master’s Degree from the same UNILAG in 2005.
In year 2000, he joined THISDAY and at various times was Deputy Editor of THISDAY on Saturday, THISDAY ON SUNDAY and finally the daily paper in 2001. When THISDAY commenced simultaneous printing in Lagos and Abuja in April 2002, he was the pioneer Abuja Editor.
Ever thirsting for new challenges, in November 2002, he again left THISDAY for a start-up newspaper, The Sun, as the Editor of Sunday Sun. In no time, The Sun had made a big impact on Nigeria ‘s media landscape. Thanks to its unique human-interest stories, Sunday Sun, which Louis nurtured from the scratch as Editor in March 2003, was adjudged the widest-selling newspaper in Nigeria by the time he resigned in 2008.
But don’t be fooled by his quick smiles. Behind that soft look is a fiery temper. As many who worked under him in the newsroom would readily attest, Louis equally has ‘capacity’ to wield the big stick against laziness as well as indulge hardworking reporters.
Louis is not only a resourceful features writer but also a respected columnist. His weekly column goes by the name – The Bottomline. Very engaging, he writes with the rigour of a thorough-bred professional, flower of a poet and the insight of an insider. No wonder he was adjudged the ‘Columnist of the Year’ by the prestigious Nigerian Media Merit Award (NMMA) in 2007. That same year, CityPeople Magazine named him ‘Media Person of the Year’. To confirm his class in column-writing in the Nigerian media, he again won the coveted NMMA ‘Columnist of the Year’ in 2009.
Overall, his evocative writing style has continued to provide a rich trove for study and research in academic circles. An example is one English student of Abia State University, Miss Onuoha Amarachi, who submitted a thesis entitled ‘The Language of the Columnist in the Nigerian Print Media: A Study of Mike Awoyinfa and Louis Odion’ in partial fulfilment of the requirement for a Bachelor degree in 2005.
In a tribute, this is what a UK-based Nigerian journalist, Mr. Johnson Ekeh, had to say of Louis: ‘Odion is arguably the best newspaper columnist I’ve seen in my entire 12 years of practice as a journalist. He compares admirably with Carlson Lizman of the New York Times, Petre Bronetli of the Sydney Citywatch and Magnus Capaniolli of Japanese Newspaper, Tokyo Today. But I give him the edge over these three on two scores. He has defined the… suffocating atmosphere of the Nigerian environment, which includes brazen persecution and lack of motivation… Secondly, he handles this issue with warmth that is rare to find. He says it as if he is involved.’
After The Sun, Louis teamed up with like minds to float National LIFE Newspaper in July 2008 and was its Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief till July 2011 when he was invited by Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State to serve his native state as Commissioner for Information. Bringing his vast media contacts and Midas Touch to bear, he creatively helped to bring a fresh perspective to telling the success story of Adams Oshiomhole, to the annoyance of some powerful interests. In the line of duty, he narrowly escaped assassination in Benin City in the early hours of April 29, 2012.
Political enemies of the Oshiomhole administration may not have liked his face, but one thing was sure: he was an effective communications man and shrewd information manager. Little wonder, Oshiomhole last month re-appointed him his Information Commissioner.
As ‘Capacity’ enters the age of wisdom, here is wishing him many more fruitful years in the service of this country and mankind at large.