Reminiscences: Rescued by Loyalty

Femi Akintunde-Johnson

As the year 2024 cranes its neck to peep into our lives, we remember the days of the long knives in our journey in journalism – from the prism of a reporter-editor-publisher, over 25 years ago. We dubbed this chapter as “Saved by Loyalty” in our  2001 book, ‘Lifelines: A Slice of my Life’. We may learn a couple of lessons about the vagaries of life.

 “In early 1997, the traces of boardroom crisis that would subsequently engulf all the young battlers in Fame magazine had started rearing their heads. The several issues arising from the palaver led us to pitch different and bitter camps, as we battled each other with all sorts of legal arsenal we could muster. While the other party raised a formidable legal team led by the erudite grand luminary, Prof. A. B. Kasunmu, SAN; in our corner with all the pungency of his hydra-headed all-action attack-team was the indefatigable Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN.

We went underground for a few weeks to avoid being hounded into detention in the power-play enveloping us, while our initial lawyer (Mr. Soji Adegbesan) prepared legal documents to articulate our defence in such a manner that the obvious injustice would be clear to all.

My house was besieged, as policemen and detectives combed the whole neighbourhood looking for me. You would think I was a bank MD being sought for non-performing loans. In spite of the protestations of my wife and little children, my official car, a Jetta Champion, was towed away, when they could not get the keys. My neighbours must surely think it was a stolen car; or that the car was not paid for, and the owners had forcibly repossessed it. I didn’t bother to explain to any of them though: who would believe my report?

When eventually we came out of hiding, we began a relentless struggle to make our case; clear our names and demand just remuneration for investing good six years of our lives building the publication as a successful brand and a prosperous business.

Soon, my partner and I went on several trips to detention centres in many parts of Lagos State: Milverton Road, Panti Police Station, Alagbon Detention Centre, etc. We spent days in detention answering questions upon questions on allegations that were patently stretching the reality. We also spent days in Kirikri Maximum Prison on remand from the Ikeja High Court. We were before a tough judge, Justice Inumidun Akande (later the Chief Judge of Lagos State). She insisted that we spend about six days at the notorious prison. Our stay in Alagbon, Panti (that is a dungeon no one should inhabit) and Kirikiri was a different kind of education and revelation which occupies several chapters of another book, ‘It’s A Dog’s Life’.

In spite, and in the midst of all these unflinching torment and unending upheavals in our professional and matrimonial lives, we started, produced, edited and supervised the launching of a new magazine called ‘National Encomium’.

It was surreal, really. By divine orchestration, all the staff with us in Fame then, minus three or so, elected of their own accord, to swim or sink with us (my partner and I), and they practically worked their socks off to shake up the general interest magazine market; dislodge the reigning publications; and within five weeks, we became the leading magazine in its category. This last day of 2023 is another good opportunity to salute the loyalty, doggedness and unbridled steadfastness of our younger colleagues who chose to send in their resignation letters (over 30), when the board of Fame would not rescind its decision to kick us out of relevance.

The “boys” were led by Dayo Asaju (now publisher of First Weekly magazine), Tony Akhigbe and Michael Effiong (now Editor of Ovation International, and lately Special Adviser to Akwa Ibom State governor). Others in the famous gang are: Bunmi Beckley, Tai Santos-Akinloye, Tosan Aduayi, Arinze Azuh (now publisher of Yes International magazine), Segun Banjo, Yemi Oladeinde, Remi Adelowo, Dare Muyiwa, Biodun Shasanya, Niyi Adebayo, Tolani Abati, Dare Daramola, Kanmi Onayiga, David Iyiofor, Kanbi Owolabi, Ajayi Oyebo (Ovation’s photo-guru), and Segun Sobiye (now publisher of Posh magazine).

The list also include all members of the following departments; marketing (Doyin Omotosho and Sanmi Awe), adverts (Ngozi Okobi and Seki Momoh – now late), production (Tiki Myvynn-Chukwurah, Olubukola Ojo, Gbadebo Olalemi and Joshua Sobiye); even our circulation driver, Taju Lawal (now late) was not excluded.

Frankly, it is these young men and women (including Elder Tiki), we must hold as the real backbone and sinews that held the dream of National Encomium together, such that it became an institution of sort in general interest newspapering…

While we battled to save our lives and reputations at the courts, we realized the anger at the other side was stoked by the fact that Fame magazine could not reopen, as it was laid comatose by the near total absence of its editorial spine… 

Our efforts to resuscitate our professional grip on the business would have been near impossible without some strategic assistance. We had no money; all the millions were stuck in the banks; our accounts were frozen, so we were on a budget worse than shoestrings. It was so challenging that if we had sat down to carefully factor in all the necessary costs of sustaining a magazine for only three months, we would have fled. But God raised business-angels like Mr. Muyiwa Adetiba (the foremost pioneering spirit behind what they now call soft-sell journalism) who gave us a two-room office to operate from – for free! Help also came in trickles from very few notable admirers and supporters who dismissed the allegations against us, and did what they could to help us. We practically shut down my wife’s fledgling PR company, Footprints, as we had to clear out all the cash in its accounts to ‘fight’ this new battle.

 Without such people; without the uncommonly loyal staff; without the grit and gusto to succeed that only crazed youthfulness can instigate; and surely without the grace and protection of God Almighty, there never would have been an “Encomium”. Simplicita!”

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