Fedelis Anosike, the Chief Executive of the Daily Times Group, is a stoic investor, who, as the saying goes, has gone through the school of hard knocks. There are a lot of things that did not cross his mind when he decided to buy the beloved ailing Daily Times of Nigeria. His books were hundred per cent, which was the reason the courts didn’t hold him down. He knows his business and the ethics that go with it. Anosike has steadied the ship and is bent to steer Daily Times straight to the top of the newspaper business in Nigeria. He discusses his trials, travails and plans for Daily Times with Onyebuchi Ezeigbo in this interview…
What milestone is worth celebrating since you took over the famed Daily Times of Nigeria?
Next month, June 1st to be precise, it would be 91 years when Daily Times was founded by Sir Demola Alakija and a group of other people. For us, 91 is a critical milestone because it is a countdown to our centenary which will be in nine years’ time. So, I think it is time for us to show the refreshed, the rebranded and the restructured spirit of Daily Times which is very resurgent over the years, and that is basically what we are trying to do. This is the first of the new Daily Times awards, drawing power from the legacies of Daily Times which is a heritage institution in Nigeria not just the media.
So what should we expect?
For us, on that day, between 3p.m and 6p.m, we will be mounting an exhibition at the International Conference Centre because it is a national event so we needed a national venue that is unifying. We are going to have an exhibition titled, ‘Nigeria through the Times.’ How Daily Times has captured Nigeria, if you can remember the stories of the civil war, the likes of those editorials that Daily Times had, the Sunday Times of Jose Ajiboye and co. So, you begin to see what Nigeria used to be; the decisions of the founding fathers through the sands of time. That is what we are going to do first and the plan is to get students from Law School, secondary schools, primary schools to come and appreciate our efforts because this is a very topical issue for us, which is history. In Nigerian schools today, Nigeria’s history isn’t mandatory, but then, go to private schools, public schools, they are teaching history of Mali, Spain, UK and so on but the history of Nigeria is on the back burner. So, out of nothing comes nothing. If we don’t know where we are coming from, we will not know where we are going. For us, the new, revived Daily Times will create a niche on history education and so the content for us is not just going to be news, news, news, it is going to be news from the eyes of history and then match it with education. You have history to educate and build a better nation for tomorrow.
There is this concern about proliferation of media awards, what are the criteria for giving the Daily Times awards?
Let me tell you there is nothing like proliferation of awards; it is for 180 million people and, I think at times, as Nigerians, we think in a very minute way and this is because we have lost confidence in ourselves. We have divisions, we have vested interests, so if you see this person winning an award, the next thing people would say is ‘why is it this person’. Daily Times has its own criteria, ethos, own focus and vision, so when you are giving an award, it ought to be built around what Daily Times represents. It is not a national award, it isn’t a merit award. We are going to have an award from the prism of Daily Times. So, people can ask questions to know what our criteria for the award are, because when you ask those questions it makes you appreciate those we have given the award to. It is not everyone in the media that lies to you, no! Daily Times is a reputable organisation over the past 91 years. We have a legacy, we have founding fathers. I am not the founder of Daily Times, I am just a custodian today. Someone was a custodian 10 years, 20 years ago, so it is a continuous process. So, when we are giving an award, what we do is to follow the ethos of the founding fathers. The last time Daily Times gave an award was 20 years ago. There is nothing like proliferation of awards. We are using this opportunity to create an award system that aligns with the ethos of Daily Times so it is not a political award. That is why you have a governance award; that is why you have a man of the decade and woman of the decade awards. We are trying to look at what these people have done. Award is an inspiration, it is not an exam. If someone gets to be a governor, that’s story already and it is inspiring. If you say someone isn’t paying salaries today, that don’t mean that he isn’t working. It doesn’t mean it is a yardstick for validation because you don’t understand what the person is trying to do but it is right for you to ask questions because that is what the media is all about. People must interrogate anything you do. Now interrogation for me is very critical and interrogation for us at Daily Times shows interest. If it is not Daily Times and you give x, y, z award and people complain, who cares? So, each time I see people question anybody, any media company that is giving awards, it makes me happy because that means that the media is being taken seriously. When THISDAY was doing awards, you can recall how many people were inspired. If you track those things and know the real impact of what THISDAY has done in Nigeria today, you will be amazed that that is why Nduka Obaigbena is getting lifetime performance award. So, you can never have proliferation of awards. We are 180 million people, all the media companies put together, how many awards do they give in one year?
Daily Times can be considered as a leader in its own right, but looking back, can you say that the new management has been doing something to bring it back to expectations?
We have done a fantastic job; we have done very solid work in Daily Times. When you take over an old house for instance, what do you do? You do what they call thorough position assessment to redesign the house to suit the modern means and remember, when you take over a company such as this (we took over this company 12 years ago) you are taking over a legacy enterprise and when you take over a legacy enterprise what you do is you dimension that legacy enterprise to the modern-day environment which is what we call contest. So, it is not only that you are waking up the company, you are also going to try to position it to compete in the new contest. Daily Times was number one before, it used to print 350,000 copies a day, we used 72 reels of newsprint a day and Sunday times was 500,000 but at that time guess what! How many Nigerians were there? There were no diverseness of technology, the literacy level wasn’t as it is today, purchasing power parity wasn’t that strong but today it is a different environment; the media means so many things. News is free so what we build on now is content so you have to dimension this company and understand what you have purchased and then put it as against what you want to build to be able to have the sustainability factor that can create value for the shareholders, the staff and the country because when shareholders invest their money, they have to pay the staff and the staff produce value for the customers and the customers pay for the products and the company makes money and pays its taxes. So, it is a 360 degrees circle, it doesn’t happen in one day so the major thing is to understand what you need to do and understand the competence and the resources to be able to do it. So, it is not a flash to the past where you think Daily Times was number one. What is number one, what doesn’t number one mean? Number one in circulation or number one in return on investment or number one in turnover or so on and so forth. But the most important thing is that we as business people know that no businessman goes into a business not to make money. No business can survive without being run effectively, no business can survive without paying salaries; none! But you have to rebuild the business and give it the right foundations for it to compete and for it to compete, you need the people and when you have the people you need the processes and the system. So business is a science but it takes time, that is why we are still here 12 years after and it isn’t something you do in a second. So we have done what we were supposed to do and we are doing the critical thing we are supposed to do and we will keep doing it and we will keep pushing it. So, I can tell you whether you like us or not, and it doesn’t matter where you look at it from, just remember that the reason you privatised it was that when government is running business, it is the business of everybody. There is no focus on creating that sustainability factor, which at the top of it, is profit. For profit to be made by the private owner, they must invest their time to turn it around and the society benefits from it. That is capitalism.
What was the state of Daily Times at the time you took over?
Daily Times was in a comatose state. I can show you the documents; Daily Times had assets of N1.9 billion and liabilities of N2.2 billion. That means the net value was minus. Daily Times was printing 1000 copies a week, with staff strength of close to 700. Daily Times didn’t have a corporate headquarters, it was inside a warehouse. There was not one printing equipment that was working and no vehicle was working at the time we bought it. But because Daily Times is such a big brand when it was booming, that has stuck in the people’s minds and that is why we bought it. It is the emotion we bought into but when you talk about it operationally, it was dead. But if you put in new capital into a company that has a strong brand value and it is relevant, you will wake it up and it will begin to compete. While you are doing this, other companies won’t be waiting for you, do you understand? They still have the advantage, it is like a relay race. They are still running ahead of you but the only reason why you can still compete is that you have that value; that is why when they hear Daily Times, everybody wants to come because of that brand and that name which used to be a well-known media company in Africa. That is what we bought into and that is what we have to keep alive to be able to help us to compete and win.
Have you got over the legal bottlenecks or are you still on it?
When we bought it, Daily Times on the book had 150 litigations and were part of the liabilities we bought. So legal issues isn’t an issue; that is why it is legal. It is not as if court is a negative thing, it’s just because we live in a system where people see court or the justice system as negative but is not. If I have disagreement with you, we are meant to go to the justice system to be able to settle it. So, it is not a negative thing to have legal issues. We bought Daily times fair and square; Folio Communications Limited, it wasn’t a consortium. During the privatisation, I led the acquisition and the law says Folio communications as core and strategic investors would take over the company and manage. So we are in charge. Daily Times ownership has never been in contention, there is a white paper and there is a gazette on it. We live in a society and we cannot be a product of the American society when we are Nigerians. So, if you talk about why Nigeria is not progressing, these are cumulative issues. So, at the end of the day that is the culture. The culture that we have now is that anything goes. For instance, if you see someone today, he is the president of Nigeria, for instance, you say yes, he is not doing anything, or that he doesn’t have a certificate. That is the society we are in, based on the debasement of the normal culture that we used to know when we were growing up. So, that is the situation we are in right now. I don’t expect to be out of it. It is something that is evolving as a holistic content of everybody. Whatever I am suffering in Daily Times since I acquired it, as a good businessman, I am supposed to have envisaged. That is where planning comes in. If you are buying legacy assets, you should know you have litigations and so on and so forth because it hasn’t been performing over the years. Once you start giving it life, people will start coming and they will say, ‘I have this and that.’ But if it is dead, it is dead. It is only a man that is alive that people want to say oh you owe me this or that but if the company is dead it is dead. So, when you see these legal issues coming up, it is a sign that Daily Times is still Daily Times because that means there is an interest, you don’t contest something that is dead, you contest something that is alive. That is why Nigerians are still interested in Nigeria because it is still a viable state.
I know you had a vision for acquiring Daily Times. Beyond what Daily Times stood for, what is this vision you want to achieve?
I am a graphic artist by profession. My vision is to build the most reputable media company in Africa. A global, most valuable media company out of Africa; so you need a strong brand name as a platform to start. I am here to build a content-based company and so I have the depth from Daily Times in terms of history to be able to create a multimedia company; that is my vision. That vision hasn’t diluted in one day, it has even been re-enforced based on the resources and the goodwill of the founding fathers of Daily Times, which have been the most supporting beacon for me.
Can you really say that the media has benefited under this democratic setting; has the media been able to live up to expectations and in what ways can they improve?
You can’t compare democracy and military regimes, it is about liberty. There is no comparison so that question is out. The issue of democracy influencing the media, of course, that is why you can talk about social media. Do you know how many people have been empowered with the fact that they can go on these platforms and say what they want and feel; that is free press. So, the media has also been democratised, and for once there is liberty. You see, God gave us life without a bargain, so any concept whether in governance or business that gives people that freedom to be themselves, that is when you see creativity at work. That is when you see value created. You can’t put any human in the box because the life that was given to you was given to you freely so it is about free press. Now, part of the things that you see that Nigeria isn’t making good progress in is because of the abuse of that free press over time by the military. That is what we are suffering today; otherwise why would Daily Times be where it is today? In 1975, 1980 that was when Daily Times was in its slumber, so that is what happened, it was the military that took it over and eroded 30 years of the life of the people that have worked so hard. So, when we are talking about a problem, we have to think about how did it come and for me it pains me when I sit down with a Chief Oshoba, Tony Momoh in years and years of an enterprise and one day somebody comes in and takes it over and cannibalises it. That is the major issue that you had, all those abridgment of free press that created all these distortions because if the politicians know that everything they do is going to be opened, they are going to be questioned and there is going to be a free press, what do you think they are going to do? They will be more responsible. So the media must be allowed to flourish because that is the only way the society is going to be built.
So far, you have painted a picture of the media industry as if there were no real challenges but we do know that we have challenges threatening the survival of the media even your own organisation.
Aren’t there challenges in terms of funding and you just spoke about intellectual capacity, are you finding it easy with funding and staffing?
Business is science. When you go to university and you get a business degree which is BSc; what is science? Invention plus validation, there is no challenge in business, the challenge you have is based on the resources you have available to you. If you want to build a house and you don’t have money what do you do? You work hard, you get the money, pay a contractor to build the house for you. If you are a media company for instance, the point is within the context of Nigeria, do you need news, do you need content, do you need media? The answer will always remain yes. As long as there is any human being on the planet, they need news to survive, you need information to grow, you need information to develop new medical inventions and so on. That means there is need for it and once there is need what it means is that if you want to play in that sector, you have to get the resources to start, that is why you have the capital market. There are people whose business is to give money for people to develop their ideas either as private entities or venture capital or as a loan or equity. So if you are playing in any business and you want to be a successful businessman you first of all have to understand the rudiments of business. That is why my brother, not all billionaires in the world are of the same age; some are 23, some 70, others 80 because not only that all fingers are not equal but everybody has their time and season when they get that critical resource that they need to turn around their business. In my organisation, I understand the challenges I have today. For you, it looks like a challenge but for me, I am firm. If you have the clear understanding of the business, then you are fine. You know where you are and where you belong, you know the amount of equity you have. If you can’t convince your partners to put more money, that means you are failing in your duties to convince them. If you convince them, then they will put in more money. There are people that have money in banks, doing nothing there, and they are looking for where it will create returns. So, every kobo that you are putting, even your private money that you earned; pension, you want returns. That is why people do pension and they put it in the bank and when they retire, they start getting the money. So, every business must be founded on one of the basic business principles. We are creating that basic business principle, process and so on which will lead to hiring the right people.
People believe that some media owners have been cornered, or politicians have huge influence on some of them to the extent that sometimes, they derail from that noble principle of always sticking by the truth. Is Daily Times one of such?
No, Daily Times will never be, but let me digress a little bit; media is business. The owners of media business invested their money in the business, they have vested interests. Some of them can decide that they are charity organisations and they want to be just an advocate, but then, how do you find the money to pay staff? If you go to the US where everyone copies modern democracy from, listen to FOX news today and the same news; listen to it on CNN and tell me if you can match them; it is not so, because there are different owners, there are different shareholders, they belong to different divides. Is there only one party in Nigeria? You have PDP, you have APC. If Buhari finds chibok girls that are missing, PDP will say no, is it so? So, this is human nature, everybody has to see things from their own perspective and their angle and the publisher of the paper is the soul of that paper, the guardian and vision of that paper. So, if he wants to lead anywhere, he knows that if he doesn’t write, the customers will not buy that paper, and he is the one that loses. If he decides to align with politicians or political party, then that means it has become a department of that political party, he becomes an affiliate. This is why you see that the online is good because of democratisation. There is no business you do that you don’t need the numbers, the numbers can only be got by speaking the truth. You have to speak to the truth, you have to present facts. If you say you are a newspaper and you publish the truth, then the people will buy into what you are doing.
Can we know a little about your background and I am sure you won’t mind also telling us about your family and so on?
Firstly, my family, I have two kids but I don’t like talking about my family because if you are in the media, you have to leave your family out of it; everybody is my family. Secondly, I have the capacity, I understand the business and I understand Nigeria very well. I lived all my life going to school here, I am a graphic artist because the major thing in media is presentation; it’s the way you see what I present. It has an overriding impact on you and this is what I studied in university. In business, I have been to the best schools I am an alumnus of Harvard business school, so I understand business. I am also an alumnus of life business school because I have been through life. Yes, I might be young I might have acquired it when I was 36 but I know before I entered the university, I had already lost my dad so I had to paint portrait to pay my school fees in university of Benin. I am also very lucky when it comes to having opportunities because not everyone has opportunity. It doesn’t matter the resources you have, it is opportunity which sometimes is a special grace from God. But when you have that grace what do you do with it? You also need to have another grace to be equipped to do the right thing. So, we are very much equipped to lead the turnaround of Daily Times and make it number one in no time, that is why I don’t see all these challenges whether it is legal or not, there are no challenges. Just like you hire an accountant to check your coming and going in your balance sheet; once you know that very well, you are happy and that is what you call control. In America, it is called control, they don’t call it accounting. Once you understand what you are doing, you have no need to fear; I and my team understand it definitely. It might seem as if we aren’t doing anything, but watch and see.