This week, we have another journalist, author, and blogger, who is also a mentor. He is our own Mike Awoyinfa, who turned 60 recently. I can only present excerpts of the long interview for now.
As I said off-line, your 60th birthday anniversary must have shown you that you are bigger than you thought.
I never knew that I have impacted so much on the society. I feel so fulfilled that this landmark birthday has opened up a floodgate of tributes from my colleagues in the media and the readers who all appreciate the little contribution that I have made. I don’t think I am that big. Bigness and greatness belong to God. I am just an ordinary reporter doing what he loves best, which is writing, reporting, interviewing, editing, casting headlines and conceptualizing newspapers from ground zero to hero level. But I am happy that I have been able to build people who all look up to me today as their mentor—as the man who taught them journalism. I really feel fulfilled in this regard.
You are said to be a humble man in all the tributes paid you. What is the place of humility in journalism?
I truly feel humbled to be called a humble man. Humility for me is something that grew from my upbringing as well as from being a reporter. I believe a good reporter should not be haughty. To get a good story, you must stoop to conquer. You must come from your high horse to interview everybody from the high and mighty to the lowly. To be a great journalist, you have to start from the level of humility. It takes humility to carry a tape recorder about in old age, interviewing people young enough to be your children. My heroes are humble people. Even Jesus Christ had to ride a donkey instead of a horse. That is a lesson in humility. It pays to be humble. Humility doesn’t detract from greatness. Great men like Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jnr. and Nelson Mandela were humble men. They are all my heroes. I am lucky to have met Nelson Mandela once and I saw a great man clothed in humility.
It has also become obvious that many journalists have passed through you. That must make you feel like a Daddy in journalism.
Yeah, I am not just a daddy in journalism, already I am a grandfather in journalism. I feel like a grandfather, having groomed my professionals sons and disciples who in turn have risen to the position of editorship and have also groomed people, thereby passing on the torch of journalism grooming. For me, the Entertainment Express which I publish today after leaving Sun is the baby of my old age but with great future potential because it is a paper that is gradually building the customer of the future, a paper aimed at the younger generation, a niche newspaper. I believe more and more newspapers would be niche-oriented because that for me is the way to go.
What would you consider as your best achievement in journalism?
I will always look back to the Weekend Concord as the height of my journalism achievement--creativity-wise. That was Mike Awoyinfa at his creative best. I was the editor of a paper I started from the scratch, a paper that carried my stamp and my DNA. I was a leader of a group of young men and women who were bent on creating a new brand of journalism where news is looked from the angle of the ordinary man and from the human angle perspective. We did crazy, unusual stuff which sold. But above everything, what I consider my greatest achievement is the people I groomed who are today paying homage to me. It is better to build people than to build houses. That is my philosophy
Is there any rivalry between journalism and being an author?
No, the two are part and parcel of the same thing. They are intrinsically linked. Journalism prepares you to be an author. For us, for me and my friend Dimgba Igwe, biographical writings and memoirs are extensions of journalism, but at a higher dimension. Every skill we have acquired as reporters helps to make us better authors and publishers of books. We not just write but package and design our books, skills all learnt from newspaper designs and publishing. Journalism trains you to ask good question, to report, to write, to design and to package. It’s a total package. Everything about writing boils down to reporting news. As an author, if your book doesn’t generate news, then you have not done your homework, then it won’t go far. News is anything new, anything that has not been heard before. A book must be capable of surprising and exciting the reader. That is what we are trained to do as journalists. The only rivalry I see is in the sense that being an author challenges you to raise your game and write above the sometimes pedestrianism and carelessness of journalism. Being an author requires deep perspective, deep reflection and sobriety in putting thoughts on paper. If journalism is like driving a car, authorship is akin to flying a plane. You get so much literary orgasm up there in the sky, writing books.
How many books have you written? And what is on the way?
With the exception of the biography of Chief Ebenezer Obey which I single-handedly wrote many years ago, I have always written books together with my writing partner, Dimgba Igwe. We have co-written The Art of Feature, 50 Nigeria’s Corporate Strategists, Nigeria’s Marketing Memoirs, Segun Osoba, The Newspaper Years and the biography of Mike Adenuga, Africa’s Business Guru which would be launched next year to mark his 60th birthday. In the pipeline is a book titled World Editors. It is a definitive book on journalism involving conversations with newspaper editors around the world. Interviewed in the book are editors from influential newspapers like New York Times, Los Angeles Times, New York Daily News, Chicago Tribune, Herald Tribune, The Times of London, Financial Times, Denver Post and newspapers from India, from Kenya, from South Africa, from Nigeria and everywhere.
Any novels yet?
Not yet. I am still working on it. The novel will come one day. It surely will. But right now, I am a writer of facts and not fiction. And facts are sometimes stranger than fiction. Particularly, here in Nigeria, one of the world’s capitals of greed, fraud and corruption.
Generally, how do you write?
I just think and think then start to write. I am the talking type when it comes to writing. When I hit the laptop, I am always talking to myself like a lunatic. I write for the ears. I must hear what I write. And when you write for the ears, you just have to be simple. I like to write to be understood. There is beauty in simplicity. I aim for that. I write like an artist. Like a poet. Like a musician. For me, writing is an art. Then, I read a lot. Reading other good writers inspires. It puts you in the mood to write. It makes you want to compete.
I had you in mind when I published last week’s piece. You would notice I used your photograph. Now tell us how you get your inspiration. Does it come to you or you go chasing it?
As a journalist, I cannot wait too long for inspiration to come or not to come. I just write. All I need is the lead. Once I get my lead, I get cracking. Inspiration comes from just sitting by your laptop and striking it. Inspiration comes from thinking about your readers, their expectation and not wanting to disappoint them. My readers inspire me a lot. I see myself like a comedian, like an Ali Baba. I want to entertain my readers. I want to excite them. So, I need to work hard to be able to achieve that.
Any writing habit you have developed over the years?
I keep a notebook when I am driving. Great ideas strike you when you are on the wheels, inside the go-slow. Immediately they come, I jot them down. I do my writing while driving. It is a bad habit. I won’t recommend this to anybody because it is dangerous. You could get killed. Sometimes, I park by the roadside to write a lead or jot down a phrase or an idea which I can then develop later. Then, I do my thinking in the morning while jogging. I once wrote a column about a goat running after me while jogging. It is my favourite column. I can never forget that weird experience of a goat chasing me that early morning. At a point it frightened me. For me, that was news. A writer should report his own news. And we do make news from time to time in our circumstances.
You are likely to be one of the few Nigerians who can live on writing.
Yes, writing for us, is a means of survival. We aim at writing books that the market cannot ignore. Our first bestseller was 50 Nigeria’s Corporate Strategists—a book that features the management principles, business experiences and lessons learnt by top CEOs in Nigeria. It was an original book, the first of its kind and it sold for a premium of N10,000 yet people bought it because it offered them value. We set out to write books that have commercial appeal. Right now, Nigerians are waiting for the Mike Adenuga biography which contains a lot of things that people didn’t know about this enigma.
Share with us your writing history.
It started from a childhood habit of reading. I was a voracious reader and it showed in the way I wrote at school where I won prizes on essay writing. Of course, I read literature and it prepared me for writing. Initially, I thought I was going to be a poet. I still write poetry. But then journalism came my way and I became a reporter. Ever since, I have been a reporter all my life. I write from the perspective of a reporter who happens to be a poet.
You are very deliberate and sometimes repetitive, saying things in different words. You write poems too?
Yes, it is a matter of style. Style is the reflection of who you are as a writer and whom you have been reading. As I said earlier, I like to approach writing from the point of view of an artist. An artist is sometimes repetitive. If you listen to the lyrics of Fela, he is deliberately repetitive. It is a deliberate strategy to drive home your point and let it sink in the reader’s consciousness.
You also sound romantic. Has Madam confirmed that?
A poet (and a lyricist) has to be romantic. I cannot speak for Madam. Only she can tell you whether I am romantic. But in my writings, I celebrate the beauty of womanhood. We should thank God for creating women. They inspire us as men, though sometimes they irritate. Yes, I have celebrated my wife even in my columns. I think I am romantic, even at home. But writing is my first love. It comes before any woman.