“There is only one principle to succeed, hard work you just keep working at it. I have a philosophy about life that in whatever happened or happens, keep moving.” –Nduka Obaigbena
Where do you start the story of a man who many distinguished journalists will write about? A man who at 26 years was the last to interview Major General Muhammadu Buhari (Rtd) as Head of State and first to interview then Major General Ibrahim Babangida (Rtd) as new Head of State en route his super successful supplement on Nigeria at 25 Years for the global edition of the internationally acclaimed TIME Magazine. The cover story about Nigeria was so successful the board of TIME group, hosted the government of Nigeria in New York, in the penthouse of time life building and invited the United States elite to celebrate Nigeria. The Head of State, General Babangida (Rtd) sent a delegation headed by Air Vice Marshal (AVM) Ishaya Shekari, Anthony Ukpo (who was Minister of Information), Wada Maiyida (His Chief Press Officer), Abba Daboh amongst others. The black American community included leaders such as Andrew Young and Jesse Jackson.
Thirty four years later, Prince Nduka Obaigbena also known as The Duke of Journalism has kept working and walking at it. Was that the starting point for the Duke? Far from it, Publisher or Chairman as he is fondly addressed by his staff is one coin with many sides, not two. Definitely what everyone has no dispute about is the Man’s confidence and ability to go after whatever he sets sights on as well as his generosity and accommodating spirit. In addition to this, is his philosophy of enterprise “free entry and free exit”. The journey for THIS MAN with six decades of living, born at the then prestigious University College Hospital (UCH) Ibadan, started at Government College, Ughelli in the then Mid Western Region, which was around the time of the black and proud movement.
He formed a group called the Black Cultural Movement and campaigned at that time (1976) after the Sharpeville massacre in South Africa, for South Africa’s Independence. He and others then started a school magazine called Chindada, which was used to awaken black consciousness. From there, he started cartooning for the Nigerian Observer which made him a very rich student because the Observer then, paid Ten Naira (N10) per cartoon, which he drew daily.
After graduation from the University of Benin, he joined a company called Nigerian Advertising Limited in 1982 in London. He moved on to a better job when he was engaged as a consultant for Michael Jarvis and Partner, who were consultants to advertisers and also the media. He became a researcher on Nigerian markets from where he was introduced to TIME Magazines. He joined the TIMEs helping them develop special sections (which were a combination of advertising and editorial) both of which he had the proficiency for. He produced sections on Morocco and Zimbabwe. At the time, Nigeria was going to celebrate Twenty (25) years after independence, which led to proposing a major special section on Nigeria at 25 which was perhaps the most successful special section TIME Magazine did at that period.
The success of the TIME supplement on Nigeria @ 25 Years kept the THIS MAN working as he walked into THISWEEK a magazine, which when he started, had to surmount the challenge of having just one printing press in Nigeria, that could print coloured magazines. This press was already printing for competition on the only tenable day suited for magazine publishing. So it meant he had to print in London, weekly. Therefore by Monday morning everywhere in the country, THISWEEK was out to sell and was able to challenge ‘Newswatch’.
The Babangida administration decided to work with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and meant that the Naira had to be devalued, so Nigeria set up what was called the SFEM (Second tier Foreign Exchange Market). The naira to dollar then was about Eighty kobo (80k) to a dollar, but fell to Three Naira, Thirty Two Kobo (N3.32) to the dollar on the first day, which was like a three hundred percent fall, which meant that THISWEEK Magazine’s cost of production increased by three hundred (300%) percent immediately but the revenue remained same, because the magazine could not increase the cover price. By 1992, it was clear that with the increase in cost of production, it was not sustainable printing THISWEEK in London because the naira was continuously devaluing.
So was this the end of THISWEEK, THE MAN, The Duke, Obaigbena? Far from it, in his usual philosophy of Keeping the Walk on, he registered his Leaders and Company in 1992, to start THISDAY newspaper. In a few months, THISDAY will mark its 25th Anniversary but will the Duke stop moving, stop walking? Far from it, despite the success of THISDAY as a brand, THISMAN has yet again stepped into broadcasting with the latest on his stable, ARISE NEWS TV.
What has kept Mr. Obaigbena going through thick and thin? In his words, “hard work! There is no question. There is no other way to succeed. Success is in the eye of the beholder, it is like happiness or whatever it is. There is no end point yet, it is a journey. It is a marathon, so there is absolutely no end point yet, your end point is at the very end. So it is how you finish, which is more important than how you started. So it is what you accomplish at the end that matters the most. Like Colin Powell said, ‘It is easy to go to war, but what is your exit strategy?’ If you don’t plan your exit, you cannot start an entry. Some people will start very well, blaze the trail, but end up very poorly.”
The new Sexagenarian is not stopping the work and walk as he believes moving with a vision is what keeps him going. He reminds many of the depth of some of the daring ventures he has taken, when for instance it becomes a point of note that of all the frontline News Magazines existing then in the 1980s, only THISWEEK was malleable in the 1990s to transform into a newspaper called THISDAY an interesting addition was that this enterprise became the first national newspaper to be floated in the country without its own printing press.
The drive to dare comes in Obaigbena’s words “you need a vision, you also need a modus operandi and then you achieve your goals. Success is a combination of circumstances, combination of your circumstance, circumstances beyond your control that puts / pushes you to the end, so to be successful, you have to be a master of your circumstance. It is not what you do at the beginning, but what you do at the end. So to be successful, it is how you end up. For me, I cannot say I am successful yet.” He however admits that successes in life need elements of luck too. “It is a totality of circumstance. It includes luck, includes getting to a place at the right time, it includes divine innovation, it includes very many things. That is why I say it is a totality of many circumstance, all things considered.”
The Duke of Journalism relives his proudest moments in journalism, one which he ranks high up is the coverage of the death and burial of the late nationalist, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. “Our biggest story which I liked, was the Awolowo story. One day I got a call when we were still doing THISWEEK from the late Bisi Onabanjo who was former Governor of Ogun State. He wanted to write for THISWEEK, he was writing the ‘Aiyekoto’ column and so we became very close and so anytime I drive to Benin, I stopped at Ijebu Ode and went to his house on ‘Fidipote street’. I would spend time with him and he would take me to the Awolowo house in Ikenne. I got a bit close to the Awolowo household and the grandchildren as we were in the same generation. When Awolowo died, we were among the first sets of people to know.
“During the burial preparation, I deployed a team led by Tunji Ladna to go and cover it but the biggest miracle came with printing. Awolowo was being buried on Saturday, our printing day (in London) is Friday night. Our flight day (back to Nigeria) is Saturday night, distributed on Sunday, so that it would be everywhere by Monday morning. So we went to cover the Awolowo’s funeral. It was one of the biggest stories of the time, there were no mobile phone, and so we wrote the story on that Saturday and made sure we caught the Nigerian Airways flight that night at 9pm. The Awolowo burial finished at about 4pm. The whole production process began in earnest in readiness for the 9pm flight. The editor travelled and made sure they finished on the plane, so we arrived London on Sunday morning. We had told the press, how important it was, so they were able to turn it around for us that Sunday, lithography, printing everything finished at about 6pm (in London) and moved straight to Nigerian Airways flight and we landed on Monday morning and so we cleared on the tarmac of the Airport and we went straight to kakawa (in Lagos). When everybody opened the magazine, they were in a state of utter disbelief at how we were able to get it to press in time. That was one major production that I am immensely proud of even to this moment. Flight, logistics, technology, everybody came into play.”
In his 43 years of journalism, an event that stands out in mind attending was the inauguration of Late Nelson Mandela as President of South Africa. “I was invited to the Mandela inauguration and my Nigerian passport was full, there was no space because I was a globe trotter, no visa page left, so we went to South Africa embassy with the kind of reputation I had, they now stamped the visa on a plain paper and stapled it to my passport. I got it at about 6pm in London. South African Airways left at about eight thirty (8:30) so I rushed to the Airport. Upon arrival, I was lodged at the Carlton hotel in downtown Johannesburg. So I got into my room and changed quickly and rushed to enter the bus as you couldn’t go with a personal car. I remember that day very well in that Union building in Pretoria. It was an outside event, no high table; there was only one high table of four to five people namely Mandela and the rest of those who led the struggle for South Africa’s freedom. Every other person was seated in the audience. I went there and saw foreign dignitaries the Colin Powell’s, Prince Charles, Buthelezi, Yasser Arafat, Fidel Castro in fact everybody who was somebody in the 20th century was there, and it was the biggest event I have been to.”
On a final note, how does this journalist handle personal frustrations? He sleeps! “When you sleep at night, tomorrow morning you wake up to a bright new day. I sleep a lot, soundly! There is nothing too tough and I just keep moving, I keep walking like Johnnie Walker.”
–––Lanre Bayewu is a Media Relations Consultant and former staff of THISDAY