In Praise of a Good Read

14 Apr 2012

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By Dele Momodu

Fellow Nigerians, please permit me to move away from politics today and deal with other issues of great importance. I have been deeply troubled about the quality of our education. In our time, sorry if I sound so old, life was certainly much better. Education came as a complete package. We were not restricted to our course of study. Though I studied Yoruba as a single honour, I was still able to take courses in philosophy, Literature-in-English, Music, Religious Studies, etc. It was unthinkable for an arts student not to have read some works of Literature. Our versatility came from voracious reading.

If I’m a writer today, it was made possible by the fact that I read so many books as if reading was going out of vogue. It is almost impossible to be a good writer if you’ve not read great books. In those beautiful old days, it was a thing of pride to show off the books you’ve read. But things have changed today to how many Prada shoes and Louis Vuitton bags you own. I’m aware that some female students would almost do anything to buy Brazilian attachments. Some of our male students have gone beyond the genius of Yahoo to create their own Yahoo-Yahoo. It would seem the world is coming to an end and all the things that used to matter are no longer of any relevance.

It has become difficult to produce many writers at the level of Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka. Only a few writers in this generation have managed to climb the world stage. But I’m not writing about literature today. My focus is on the decline in the quality of journalistic writing in Nigeria. Like everything else, there are serious problems with getting good reporters and writers. My former boss at African Concord magazine, Mr Lewis Obi, had a theory that remains profound, that it is easier to get a good reporter but more difficult to get a great writer. Mr Obi preferred to hire a good writer because it would be easier to make him a good reporter sooner than later. Many great reports have been ruined because of lack of literary skills.

These days, the rat race in our country has affected almost everything. Priorities have changed and it is: Seek Yee first the kingdom of money and everything else shall be added unto Thee. Not many people are willing to undertake intellectual pursuits, or embark on any long journey. And the reason is simple. You can hardly survive on your career in a country where every man runs his own government. Most journalists must add this and that to make ends meet. This is the reason we must salute the efforts of two of my senior colleagues, Mike Awoyinfa and Dimgba Igwe, who have remained totally committed to living on writing. I know how tough it is in our industry.

I met the duo in 1988 at Concord Newspapers owned by Chief Moshood Abiola. Awoyinfa was Features Editor at National Concord while Dimgba Igwe was Assistant Editor in Sunday Concord. They were later recruited by Managing Director Dr Doyinsola Hamidat Abiola to start Weekend Concord as Editor and Deputy Editor respectively, in February 1989. I was also moved from African Concord to join them as Staff Writer. The Weekend Concord hit the streets in March 1989 and became an instant bomb. I had the privilege of writing the maiden cover. This was how Mike Awoyinfa became my biggest fan and mentor. Anytime I sent in my stories, Awoyinfa went into frenzy. He said he derived the ultimate orgasm from reading well-written stories. Within two months, Awoyinfa gave me a double promotion and moved me straight to Literary Editor. Six months later, in November 1989, I became News Editor, which made me the third person in Weekend Concord. It is difficult to find a boss as simple, humble and caring as Mike Awoyinfa.

The friendship of Awoyinfa and Igwe is a testimony in the possibility of enduring partnership. They have stuck together like Siamese twins for the past 23 years. They were co-founders of The Sun newspapers and they were jointly removed by investor, Dr Orji Uzor Kalu, same day. But what God has joined together no man could tear asunder. The duo has remained committed to their art and trade of writing and nothing seems capable of deviating them from that path. The same way they revolutionised human interest journalism is how they are now causing ripples in book-writing.

Awoyinfa and Igwe jointly have to their credit, The Art of Feature Writing, 50 NIGERIA’S CORPORATE STRATEGISTS: Top CEOs Share Their Experiences in Managing Companies in Nigeria, and NIGERIA’S MARKETING MEMOIRS: 50 Case Studies. They took their writing business a notch higher with the recent release of Segun Osoba: The Newspaper Years, the launch of which drew a crowd of who’s who in Nigeria and confirmed Chief Segun Osoba as the King of Reporters in our country.

If I thought Awoyinfa and Igwe had surpassed themselves in Osoba’s book, please wait until you see their new work on Africa’s business titan, titled Mike Adenuga: Africa’s Business Guru, a 682-page biography. I was privileged to get an advance copy of the ambitious work during a visit of my former boss Awoyinfa to my home in Lagos last week. Apart from the fact that I was one of those interviewed for the book, I was stunned by their graphic details of the life of one of the most complex Africans alive. The life of Dr Mike Adenuga is a must read and a definite study for all budding and established entrepreneurs. I have never been so gripped by a biographical narrative. With the kind permission of the authors, I present to you an exclusive glimpse of what is poised to be an all-time bestseller whenever it is released eventually.

The story of Adenuga is a fairy-tale that reflects the life of a truly enigmatic character. The racy book starts with a powerful quote from the Guru himself, Adenuga: “Essentially, running a business is similar to leading a military operation or orchestrating a political campaign, or performing as a great athlete. The fundamental principles are the same. The overriding objective is to out-manoeuvre the opposing forces; to outsmart the other party; to outperform competition; to outwit the other guy-to achieve. This may sound harsh. But that’s the way it is.”

It is the most revealing expose ever about a man who has remained elusive reclusive to friends and foes. It is an eloquent testimony to the triumph of human spirit over tough challenges. Anyone who thinks Adenuga had an easy ride to influence, wealth and fame would have a rethink after reading this extraordinary book. Here was a man who was shot and nearly killed by assailants in December 1982 but miraculously survived and rose to become a man described by President John Agyekum Kufuor as Africa’s number one Businessman. According to the authors:

“Yes, Mike Adenuga is more of a spirit. A spirit who is hardly seen in public, who hardly grants media interviews, who jealously and zealously guards his privacy, who shuns publicity of any type and who even in the past, paid PR and media consultants full-time to ensure that stories about him and his pictures didn’t appear in the media at all… For Mike Adenuga, elusiveness is the word. He is the “Invisible Man” of fiction turned real. A man who’s always playing hard to get. Now you see him, now you don’t. The fact is you don’t even see him at all…”

Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka describes Adenuga as a magician: “I can’t remember when last I saw him or spoke to him. Adenuga has a vanishing habit. He would just disappear.” Soyinka once had an appointment to meet with Adenuga in London but never set eyes on him and the literary giant had to leave in frustration. But they have since made up after the now famous and effective Adenuga apologies.

Alhaji Aliko Dangote, one of Africa’s business icons, describes Adenuga in a most dramatic fashion in the book: “I haven’t seen Mike for a very long time. I don’t have his number. I don’t know where to reach him. Even if you put a gun on my head and you ask me to lead you to Mike, I will never be able to. He is just nowhere to be found. Mike is a mystery to me.” Yet the two stupendously wealthy men live on the same lane in Victoria Island, Lagos.

Adenuga has a standing rule which no one can bend. He reaches you only when he needs to and not vice versa. And when that need arises everything would be done to reach you wherever you may be. In his office, no one receives letters or invitation cards without prior notice no matter where from. Courier companies have found it impossible to deliver many parcels to his office.

The book seeks to unravel the mystery behind this unprecedented paranoia: “So, what’s responsible for this elusiveness, this sense of over-protectiveness, this extra sensitivity towards personal security on the part of Adenuga? The answer lies in his near-death experience, his close-shave encounter with death. As long as he lives, Adenuga would be haunted by the nightmare of that awful night of terror when strange men from out of nowhere stormed his house in the dead of the night fully armed, on a mission to rob and possibly assassinate him.”

Adenuga’s glorious genealogy is elaborately traced and it is no surprise that one man from such background would one day become one of Africa’s most famous personalities. Though the family hailed from Ijebu-Igbo in Ogun State, Adenuga was more of an Ibadan boy who was inspired by the feats achieved by Chief Obafemi Awolowo, one of which was the tallest building at the time called Cocoa House. Adenuga dreamt of building his own Cocoa House one day and this he has achieved with his Mike Adenuga Towers in Victoria Island, Lagos.

It is impossible to write about Adenuga and not mention his awesome generosity. According to Dr Seyi Robert, Adenuga’s generosity is legendary: “He’s one of the most generous people that I have ever met. He doesn’t give and make noise about it. He does his giving quietly. I remember one of our school friends who needed surgery in London. All the man did was to tell Adenuga and he sponsored the operation with about 25,000 pounds and nobody knew, but the person told me.”

Adenuga comes across as a quintessential family man who took personal care of his children and made them to work harder than poorer children. Till this day, he hates to over-indulge his children or give the impression they can make easy money without working for it. For him, there’s no alternative to hard-work. This is captured in the interview with Bella, the only of Adenuga’s children who agreed to talk. The children have been trained to tackle challenges that would intimidate many adults: “I don’t think my dad is unnecessarily putting so much pressure on me at a young age. My dad is building an empire for his children to run. If he doesn’t put us in the mix early on, then what’s the point?”

The most important aspect of this book for me is the much talked about Babangida/Adenuga business deals which for years have been subject of high-society gossip. Many had believed that Adenuga was fronting for the former President General Ibrahim Babangida. In this book, Babangida opens up on their relationship: “That relationship with Mike Adenuga is like my relationship with M.K.O Abiola since that started around 1970 or 73. My friendship with Mike Adenuga was more in the 1980s. Since then we never parted ways..

“We meet, we talk, like the good friends that we are. But I also have one policy that governs my relationship with friends that are very close to me. Whether it was M.K.O Abiola, whether it is Mike Adenuga, and probably five or so others, I don’t get involved in their businesses…”

Babangida showers his praises on Adenuga for being a loyal friend who never forgets favours in a country where it is normal for most friends to abandon you as soon as you quit power.

The beauty of this book is its objectivity. It spares no details. I’m not sure any future author would have more to reveal about the enchanting world of Africa’s most daring businessman, Dr Michael Adeniyi Agbolade Isola Adenuga? (C.O.N).

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