BY DELE MOMODU
Fellow Nigerians, let me posit on this page today that Nigeria is in dire new of learned teachers who can imbibe in our youths the spirit of entrepreneurship. The reason is simple. The biggest problem confronting our beloved country today is that of mass unemployment. And something very drastic has to be thought of and activated to avert a cataclysmic collapse of the entire system. The anger in the land is palpable and it does not discriminate.
I started the Ovation 20th anniversary series as a way of reaching out to our young friends and demonstrate how tough it is to build and grow any business or brand. I have had the privilege and opportunity of speaking to African youths globally and I have had to take many questions about starting and sustaining the Ovation brand.
The first question is about funding a new business. More often than not it is usually difficult to raise all the required money required to take off. We opted for a slow start since the supersonic version was not available to us. We were lucky to have dependable families and friends who chipped in their widow’s mites from time to time. We reached dead-ends a couple of times but God sent Angels down to us. Chief Oyekunle Alex-Duduyemi would always call out of the blues on such occasions not just to offer his support but to also sermonise on the profitability of hard work. He was fond of saying “ohun ti ko to si maa po to maa seku…” (what is not enough today will become too plenty in the fullness of time if you persist…). It was as if he was clairvoyant as he called several times at critical moments.
We had our young friend, Toye Ariyo, who was introduced to me by Nduka Obaigbena and our case was a matter of love at first time. He would call and tell me to go somewhere and pick up some support. Toye made it possible for us to cover our first major event in Ghana, the 40th birthday party of Mrs Edwina Baaba Banda, the gorgeous wife of shipping magnate and airline owner, Alhaji Asoma Banda. It was at that celebration that I first met President John Agyekum Kufuor, who had just been sworn in days earlier. That would open up many opportunities and our decision to expand our operations to Ghana and other West African countries.
There was a finance company headed by Ayo Kuteyi and we were offered helplines on many occasions that we ran into great difficulties. We had Tunji Fadairo who became our effective credit control manager and ensured that we stayed alive. What many do not know about media business is that it is too capital intensive. This is why most publications die as soon as they are born. The situation is much worse in Africa where most companies hate to spend on patronising local brands but rush to foreign media organisations. We were fortunate to come up with the idea of targeting more of events. The unmatchable quality of our magazine attracted readership as well as invitation to people, places and events of highest calibre.
Moving the magazine to different destinations was another big challenge. London became the centre of our printing and it is located right in the middle of Nigeria and New York. The bulk of our cargo was to Nigeria and the freight cost was astronomical as we were not ready to risk and compromise print quality. We were lucky to have a good friend in Kayode Odukoya the Managing Director of Bellview Airline who entered into a barter deal with us and flew in our magazine and staff between Lagos and Amsterdam. This meant that we had to truck the magazine from London to Amsterdam and this often caused major headache for us and the airline. Kayode Odukoya is a genius who was just ahead of his time. If he enjoyed great support from his home government he would have had the more lucrative direct flight to London very early and many Nigerians would have benefited immensely. We had two experienced agents, Tony Osibodu and Lekan Owodunni who helped to calm down the principalities at our airports. That is a story for another day. Our international distributors including Julie Ugbowankwo, W. H. Smith, John Menzies, Fola Tinubu, Nike Faleti, Veronica Mills Lamptey and Rachel Obilor helped to spread our wings massively.
Many have asked how we gained access to the high and mighty and my answer is brand integrity. We decided to be as objective as possible and allow the readers to draw their own lessons or conclusions. We were never going to practise censorship by behaving holier than the Pope. Everyone would be allowed his say or appearance. We shall tell our stories through pictures. There would never be an editorial abusing anyone but we shall let everyone express their views without intimidation. We had strict codes for our Bureau Chiefs everywhere, including Yinka Agboola, Remi Aboderin, Tosan Aduayi, Jean Frances Maduakor, Anne Sekyi, Laolu Akande, King Nee, on how to be fair and reasonable at all times.
Ovation metamorphosed several times before it settled mainly for events like weddings, birthdays, funerals, outdooring, housewarming, concerts, beauty pageants, fashion parades, lifestyles of the rich and famous, travels and tourisms, etcetera. We made people feel comfortable and it became aspirational. People dreamt of the day they would eventually appear in Ovation. Many brides said they were anxious to get a good husband so as to experience the feeling of gracing the pages of Ovation. Parents were proud and used Ovation as albums and souvenirs. No one ever throws the magazine away. We made and nurtured contacts. That’s our biggest assets.
How did we feel when people started copying us? We felt very flattered. I read somewhere that imitation is the best form of flattery. So many magazines came after us but there was no time we felt intimidated. We understood the fact that a marathoner would make a fatal mistake by trying to see if others were catching up with him. We tried to maintain our own speed and pace. Many came and threatened to give us a run for our money but we had no money. God and passion kept us going. We promised to publish a world class magazine and we did. Even our biggest critics could not quarrel with that fact.
Was there a time we felt like quitting? That was never an option but we were faced with monumental challenges that almost knocked our existence but for the benevolence of God. One of the strategies that helped was the diversification exercise. Being international ensured we were never bored or totally encumbered by the whims and caprices of powerful people who may wish to oppress us for the fun of it. We learnt great lessons from the days we fled Nigeria and decided never to keep our eggs in one basket. We spread our wings across the continents and covered events in over 60 countries.
How did we coordinate our international affairs? Chief Alexander Opeyemi Akinyele was one of the first people to invite us to cover a wedding beyond Africa and Europe when we travelled to Mumbai (Bombay) where the Ondo Chief married his Indian wife, Maria Bernadine Calvaho, on July 4, 1999.
John Fashanu was also very instrumental at the beginning. He used his wide contacts to introduce us to people and places. He invited us on a visit to the United Nations where we met the then Secretary General Dr Kofi Annan and the famous British politician Mo Mowlam. John introduced me to Ms Isha Tejan-Cole who became our greatest facilitator in West Africa. Isha introduced us to The Gambia in 2000 where we met President Yahya Jammeh and his Moroccan wife and the richest Gambian at the time Ahmadu Samba. We promoted tourism and John Fashanu attended the launch of Ovation in Banjul. We took Nigerian fashion designers Funmi Ajila and Graces Hats to showcase their talents before a powerful audience including the Vice President Madam Isatou Njie-Saidy.
We were invited to Sierra Leone in 2001 just as the fratricidal war was ending but there were remnants of the rebel forces. I invited my friends Mayor Akinpelu, Kunle Bakare, Folabi Odeyemi, Tunde Adewale (Tee A) along on those trips. We were received warmly by President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and hosted by the most popular Nigerian businessman in the country Chief Tony Izubundu Chinyere. We met former military ruler Johnny Paul Koroma. We visited Nigerian peacekeepers and travelled through the danger zones of Port Loko District. Our gallant soldiers were very happy.
Our exploits took us to so many places. We were invited in 2002 to Dubai on a special tour to market the place to Africa. Dubai wasn’t this popular then and it was mainly patronised by traders. Dayo Adedayo the Nigerian-born London photographer invaded Dubai with his Mamiya cameras and came back with crispy pictures. We dared to change the famous slogan “see Paris and die” to See Dubai and die!”
We were invited on sight-seeing and tourist exploration to the Eastern Caribbean island of Commonwealth of Dominica by Valery John (of blessed memory). There we met the then oldest woman in the world, Elizabeth Israel (aka Ma Pampo, born in 1875) and the Prime Minister of Dominica, Mr Pierre Charles. We had a team of seven, Segun Fatoye, Tosan Aduayi (our North American Bureau Chief), Mike Effiong (who was Editor of Encomium magazine), Gbenga Olunloyo, Tunde Adewale (the comedian known as Tee A) and Photo Editor, Ajayi Oyebo…
Which were the stories that made us extraordinary? We had so many, beginning with Mohammed Al-Fayed. We wrote stories on Moshood Abiola, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Wahab Iyanda Folawiyo, James Onobiono of Cameroon, the Olympio Brothers of Gabon, Samuel Adedoyin, Rasaq Okoya, Anthonio Oladeinde Fernandez (one of our most ambitious stories in New York, Paris and Scotland), The Ooni Oba Okunade Sijuwade, The Awujale of Ijebuland Oba Sikiru Adetona, The Sultan Ibrahim Dasuki, The Alaafin Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi III, The Emir Ado Bayero, Wole Soyinka, The Otumfuo Nana Osei Tutu II, The Esama Gabriel Osawaru Igbinedion and Lady Cherry, The Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu, The Ibru Brothers led by Olorogun Michael Ibru, Parakoyi Bode Akindele, Baba Ijebu Kessington Adebutu, Gani Fawehinimi, Agbaakin Harry Akande, Pastor E. A Adeboye, , Sonny Odogwu, Subomi Balogun, Alex Duduyemi, Bola Kuforiji-Olubi, Bode Olajumoke, Michael Adenuga Jnr., Bola Tinubu, Aliko Dangote, Femi Otedola, Fola Adeola, Tayo Aderinokun, Tayo Amusan, Keem Belo-Osagie, Tony Elumelu, President Nelson Mandela, President Olusegun Obasanjo and Stella, President Ibrahim Babangida, Head of State, The Abachas, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, The Abachas, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
The Ikemba Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu and Bianca, President Gnassingbe Eyadema, President Jerry John Rawlings, President John Kufuor, President John Evans Atta-Mills, President John Dramani Mahama, President Jacob Zuma, President Omar Bongo, President Goodluck Jonathan, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Kola Abiola, Lt. General T. Y Danjuma, Daisy Danjuma, Fela, Florence Ita-Giwa, Folorunso Alakija, Cletus Ibeto, Sayyu Dantata, Kanu Nwankwo, Jay Jay Okocha, Terry Waya, Sam Jonah, Asoma Banda, President George Bush Jnr., President Bill Clinton, President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, Richard Branson, Prince Charles, Oba Obateru Akinruntan, Bola Shagaya, Cosmas and Charity Maduka, Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo, Pastor T. B Joshua, Pastor Chris Okotie, Evangelist Ebenezer Obey, King Sunny Ade, Kwam 1, Chris Uba, Bisi Onasanya, Lisa I’Anson, SEAL, Erelu Abiola Dosunmu, Erelu Ojuolape Ojora, Paul Boateng, Mai Deribe, Fifi Ejindu, Angelique Kidjo, Tunde Baiyewu, Patty Boulaye, Agbani Darego, Bode Ajagbe…
What was our staying power? Naturally we must thank God. We also mastered how to reinvent our brand. We did some of our stories in French, Portuguese, and Hausa, subject to request. We introduced Ovation television last year as a weekly program using existing platforms of AIT, Silverbird, GhONE Ghana, BEN Tv London and Afrotainment in the US and Canada as well as YouTube. We started an online newspaper www.thebossnewspapers.com to be a very authoritatively objective news portal. There is much more to read when our books are published.
No matter the difficulties, we shall continue to encourage our youths to keep hope alive. Nothing is impossible.