FAME’s Untold Stories: Ideation Process

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By FEMI AKINTUNDE-JOHNSON :fajalive1@gmail.com 08182223348 - (SMS Only)

Femi Akintunde-Johnson

As I was saying…

There may be the possibility that three stories emerge on how the idea or the concept of FAME began; but to the best of my recall capacity, this is the story. I had been a little amazed how news bits and ‘gossips’ that would only take a maximum of three inches across two columns (of a six-column newspaper page) in our weekly strip (earlier called Whispers, that I later changed to ‘Goldfish’ and ‘Basketmouth’ respectively), the same story – with a little embellishment and some interrogatories – would be splashed across the cover pages of Vintage People, or its older rival, Prime People. And they were mostly hot potatoes at the newsstands! Of course, my newspaper, the Saturday Punch was a staple, and the centre spread entertainment pull out (called Saturday Highlife, SH) was the star-light!

A peculiar story would explain my dilemma quite vividly. Sometime in 1989, a good source hinted to me that the boisterously popular former civil war leader and leading politician, Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu (then 56) was romantically entangled with the then current Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria, and Miss Africa, Bianca Onoh (who was barely 21). It was a massive gist for anyone else, but it would still not take more than three inches, and a little more, on the sidelines of SH.

In one of our chats, I let Kunle into the secret, and like ants on sugar, he swarmed over me and the gist; he wanted more info, details I didn’t bother to drag out from my source. He pleaded with me to step down the story, and introduce him to my source. He must have promised me something refreshing: like my favourite bottles of Stout and Coke, plus a large wrap of Suya.

We dug out my source, and for a few days, Kunle mined him of info so incessantly that the fellow swore me to a ‘verbal oath’ never to divulge his name or connection to the story. After assuring him, I made the same request to Kunle which he speedily conceded to. I don’t know what he told them in his office, but the story came out a couple of weeks after, and it was a blast. I could not believe “that little gist” was this massive, running on different planks, and angles. Especially as the two ‘alleged’ love birds refused to comment on record, yet denounced the story as bunkum. They strangely carried on with these denials until they wedded in a lavish ceremony five years later in 1994!

The doggedness and penetration of the tabloids didn’t sink in well enough, but I realized I had a lot to learn. However, I was still on a roll as the entertainment ‘editor’ of the most popular weekend volume, with acclaim, awards, souvenirs, and countless solicitations dogging my ‘wooded’ old Punch office complex at Kudeti, Onipetesi, near Idi Mangoro, a suburb of Lagos.

Suffice to say that by 1990, we had started grumbling about the quality and brazenness of the ‘society reporting’ around us. We started dreaming of something better than Hello, The Enquirer, the noisy UK tabloids, etc. Kunle introduced me to a foreign magazine outlet at the beginning of Allen Avenue, Ikeja – the same space as the ‘University of Suya’ – where we would ‘browse’ through countless foreign magazines and weekend newspapers. No Nigerian newspaper or magazine was sufficient as a standard to beat, we wanted to outdo the foreign journals. I managed to buy a few. Obviously, Kunle’s salary from Vintage was heftier than mine, so he could afford to buy more regularly.

Overtime, I would spend several hours at the Bakare family house in Ijeshatedo (Lagos); and would sometimes sleep over. Most of our time was spent discussing, arguing and analysing the model and frame of the journal we wanted to create. On few occasions, Mayor would join us, especially when we wanted to make decisions on some of the major points we had been debating. We had long and robust arguments about the title, the tag-lines, departments, types of staff, where to recruit…and those technical matters…yet, we had not even registered a company, or a business name.

Finally, I was mandated to collate all our decisions and points, and write a proposal. It was both chastening and enormously gratifying to do so, since I wanted our project to have solid and well-researched grounding, and I had an interest in developing critical presentation and logical arrangement of materials. Each person submitted ideas around the area of each person’s core competence: Mayor on Society (especially the high, and pretend-high sections – environments that were like second nature to his restless imagination); Kunle on Arts, Television and Style (he was of course a man besotted with looking good and showing graces); and I was in charge of the entertainment area (broadly speaking, the linchpin of our dream enterprise). I had an ally and a bouncing board in Wale Olomu (he died in 1994) who was living near my apartment at Gengeto, Oko Oba area, outside Agege, Lagos.

Wale and I spent quality time in my two-bedroom apartment, knocking and building ideas, column concepts, and what have you. Wale was a staff of Republic newspapers then, but it was taken for granted that he would be our first senior staff member whenever the dream became a reality. For Wale, it didn’t matter much if he was eventually absorbed or not, he simply wanted some of his ideas to find breathing place with people who seemed to share his enthusiasm and vision for the job.

Any start-up, or new business, hinged on resourcefulness and quality service provision must seek and encourage like-minded people whose skill sets are not made available simply to earn and obtain gratification…but who share a driven desire to want the project to succeed, and expand beyond expectations. Yes, such people may be hard to find, but when you do – for they still exist – recognize them and treat them with love, respect and sincerity.

(Second strip of excerpts from chapter 1 of my latest memoir, ‘FAME: Untold Stories of its Rise & Fall’ – November, 2021 – Amazon/Kindle/Lulu – 354 pages)