IN my eventful, beautiful life as a newspaperman, I thank the Almighty Father for using me and my friend of blessed memory Pastor Dimgba Igwe to create two great newspapers from zero to hero, from nothing to something, from ideas to substance, to life. To God be the glory!
Last week at the 20th anniversary of the Sun newspaper and Sun Award night, my name and that of my late friend were mentioned in a brief documentary as the founding Managing Director/Editor-in-chief of The Sun with Dimgba Igwe as my Deputy M.D. and later the Vice Chairman of the Board of the paper. Before The Sun, there was Weekend Concord, a paper that fills me with ecstasy and nostalgia, a paper that in 1989 blazed a trail and changed the face of Nigerian journalism on Saturdays with human angle stories that excited readers and newspaper vendors alike. And as to be expected, every other Nigerian newspaper started its own Saturday paper complete with an editor and a team. To God be the glory!
The woman of substance whom God used to accomplish this newspaper revolution in Nigeria is Dr. Doyinsola Abiola, 80 on Wednesday, February 1, wife of the great publisher Chief MKO Abiola, the man Nigerians voted and elected as their President on June 12, 1993 but the forces of negativity annulled the election and put our President in the gallows where he was poisoned to death—some say with a cup of tea. May God forgive them!
Every writer, every journalist remembers with great delight that special moment, the defining moment when your boss calls you to tell you the good news: that you have been appointed editor. Thirty-two years ago, Dr. Doyin Abiola, my Managing Director and Editor-in-chief at Concord newspapers called me into her office to tell me about a brainwave she had while holidaying abroad: to create a distinct Saturday-only newspaper which will compete with the Sunday newspaper. I was going to have a team and dream out the editorial content and design of the newspaper. She wanted it called Saturday Concord but I preferred Weekend Concord which she accepted. Right there in her office, she ordered: “Give me a dummy!” By that she meant a model or a sketch of what the paper will look like. I left and came back later with the dummy. And the rest is history.
Today, I salute the courage of my boss. In those days, some advisers who were fearful and resistant to change advised her to start slowly, first as a pullout inside the daily newspaper National Concord instead of a full-blown Saturday newspaper. Another advice was that Mike Awoyinfa was not matured enough to be made an editor. But Dr. Abiola rejected their advice and obeyed her gut instinct. Thank God for a woman of courage. And when Weekend Concord succeeded and was creating waves, the naysayers came back to admit they were wrong.
From the beginning to the end, Dr. Abiola supported and protected her baby, the Weekend Concord like a mother hen. When we went into excesses, she cautioned us. Where we excelled, she praised us openly. As the editor, you worked hard not to disappoint her having taken a big risk on you. Looking back, Weekend Concord was definitely the best years of my newspaper life. We were young, creative, adventurous and bellicose when it came to news. I remember the unapologetically sensational headlines we crafted—most of which came from the workshop of my brain. Take this story of the Alaafin arrested with his entourage in London Gatwick airport on March 24, 1998 on the allegation that drugs valued at 1.5 million pounds were found in their luggage. What did I do? I simply called for a picture of the Alaafin laughing. Then coined a headline: NOT ALAAFIN MATTER!
We did the unusual—which is the real meaning of news. My comrades in arms were journalists and craftsmen like Dele Momodu, Femi Adesina, Sam Omatseye, Omololu Kassim, Shola Oshunkeye, Eric Osagie, the late Sunday Umahi, Aliu Mohammed, Ben Memuletiwon, Ose Oyamendan, Chika Abanobi, Yetunde Francis, Olugbenga Opebi, Mrs. Titilayo Balogun, Lat Ogunmade, Lanre Ajeboriogbon, Timothy Oyeola. We were in seventh heaven until Abacha’s men came to close us down and threw us out into joblessness. Maybe I should start writing my memoirs.
In her memoir captured in my best-selling book 50 Nigeria’s Corporate Strategists, Dr. Abiola says: “One business and editorial success story in Concord is the idea of Weekend Concord, Nigeria’s first Saturday paper. I am proud to say we changed the face of newspapers on Saturday. We started the Weekend Concord and it became the in-thing. Everybody cashed in on it. Before then, nobody was making money on Saturdays. The idea of a Saturday paper came to me while I was on holidays abroad. I was thinking about the fortunes of Concord and I realized that Saturday was a day of loss. The circulation figure was low, and advertisers were not placing adverts on Saturdays because they said people don’t read on Saturdays. I said something must be wrong. So, while holidaying abroad, I looked at their Saturday newspapers and I saw they are different. The packaging is different. It’s lighter. They feature things that affect people in the weekend, things like what’s on television, entertainment, where people can go to relax, books, reviews, travels and all that. The paper is not heavy in its editorial contents. I began to feel this could be adapted to the Nigerian situation. I began to see a market for a leisurely, people-oriented Saturday newspaper in Nigeria. My feeling is that if you give the readers what they need, then they would buy your paper. But if you publish what they don’t need, then they wouldn’t buy your paper. I am still proud of what we have succeeded in doing on Saturdays. Since we started Weekend Concord in 1989, it has remained the largest-selling newspaper in Nigeria…A managing director must be willing to take risk. He or she must be willing to break the norm. At times, I deviate completely from the norm. When I wanted to start the Weekend Concord, Nigeria’s first Saturday paper, I recommended the then features editor of the National Concord, Mike Awoyinfa, to edit the paper. I had spotted some qualities in him as the person best suited to edit the newspaper. So, I called the management and told them what I wanted to do and they told me it couldn’t be done. But I said: ‘Thank you very much.’ And I went with my plans. I called Awoyinfa and said: ‘Give me a dummy in two weeks’ time’ which he did. They didn’t like it but then Weekend Concord turned out to be a very successful venture. And they were man enough to come back to say I made the right choice. A managing director must be able to spot talents, must be able to know who is good at what.”
To Dr. Doyin Abiola, I say thank you for yesterday and may your days and years be lengthened in good health, sound mind, peace and the joy of the Lord as in Proverbs 3:2. May your legacies and the people you have trained and mentored continue to speak for you, our mother hen for good journalism, for breathtaking scoops that bring in money and joy to our readers. Happy 80th birthday Ma!