•NDUKA OBAIGBENA Reveals Why He Set Up The TV Station
Getting an appointment to interview Prince Nduka Obaigbena, the founder of Arise TV and Publisher of Thisday Newspapers does not come easy. It is always difficult to track him down. He is a man on the go. He is forever moving from one location to another. If not for age, that has slowed him down a bit, this handsome Owa Prince from Delta State, can be in Lagos for a breakfast, meeting today, then fly to Abuja that same day for a lunch meeting and end up having dinner at one of the best hotels in London. He runs a very busy schedule.
That aside, he doesn’t grant interviews. He doesn’t think its necessary. He doesn’t feel he needs to talk about the giant strides he has made in the media. He sees them as just normal. Yet, he has put in 42 years in Journalism.
But several months back, we were lucky to have pinned him down for an interview. He gave us a 5pm appointment at his new Ikoyi office in Lagos. But we were afraid he might change his mind, if anything urgent cropped up. He didn’t . He is a man of his words
At 60, he has become busier, running his ever-growing media empire. He still runs Thisday Newspapers, then Arise TV that has global operations. All these are in addition to several other media-related businesses that he runs.
But he kept faith with the appointment. As City People got ushered into the presence of this great man, who is unarguably the most colourful and glamorous media mogul in Nigeria, we immediately noticed the major changes in him. He has grown a lot older. He is 60. He turned 60 a few months back. He now spots bushy greybeards that give him a more mature and eminent look. He has lost a bit of weight. The above observation notwithstanding, nothing has fundamentally changed about this man who changed the face of Print journalism while in his 20s.
We had the conversation 2 days after the fantastic celebration of Thisday at 25 and his 2020 Thisday Awards. It was a huge success and Nduka was still in a happy mood, having played host to all the big names in Nigeria, at a Gala nite, 2 days earlier. It was a well-attended event, as top government officials, Ministers, captains of industry & top politicians stormed the Eko Hotel event. The classy event had 2 world-class artistes, Asa & John Legend thrill guests. Both don’t come cheap.
That is vintage Nduka. He has a reputation for staging great shows. His 60th birthday ceremony last year was also huge as he played host to all the big wigs in society. Many Governors and Ministers stormed his thanksgiving party held also at Eko Hotel.
As we sat down to interview the man everyone simply calls Nduka, I wondered how he has been able to pull all the strings he has pulled over the last 3 decades. How does he keep beating his own records year in, year out? How does he keep achieving the impossible in a keenly competitive market?. Before the interview began, Nduka dished out instructions to his Arise TV, IT/Digital expatriate staff. These days, he pays more attention to digital issues. “That is the way to go,” he quickly explained. “My whole attention is focused on Technology issues right now.” What has occupied his attention over the last 5 years has been the running of ARISE TV. It was first launched in the UK years back before setting it up in Nigeria recently.
It is a huge investment. He has committed huge resources in foreign exchange to the TV project. He has in his employ a lot of expatriates. He set up Arise TV to compete with other Western Global news networks like CNN, Aljazera, BBC, etc. It is to tell African stories to the world.
His message about Africa is concise and direct: Contrary to what international media would have you believe, there is good news coming out of the continent and much to celebrate. Africans, and people of African descent around the world, have not only achieved landmark successes in fields as varied as music, fashion, business and politics – they have formulated and spearheaded solutions to Africa’s many challenges.
Many don’t know he was born on 14th July, 1959 in Ibadan, to middle class parents. He grew up in Benin City and studied Creative Arts and English at the University. After working on Time and Newsweek’s Special Sections on sub-Saharan Africa, he founded THISWEEK as a weekly publication in 1987, which grew to become the daily THISDAY newspaper. He gives his staff the freedom to report as they deem fit. He launched 2 international 24-hour TV stations, ARISE NEWS and ARISE 360, headquartered in New York about 6 years ago.
He attended Edo College, Benin City and Government College, Ughelli before proceeding to the University of Benin, Benin where he graduated with honours in Creative Arts. He later attended various professional, management and Graduate Schools of Business in United States, United Kingdom, South Africa and Nigeria.
He started his career at Nigerian Observer in 1978 where he was a satirist, writer and cartoonist at various times. He later became the Coordinating Editor of the Dawn monthly magazine. He left Nigeria for UK where he worked with an advertising agency, NAL and as a media consultant with Michael Jarvis and Partners.
In 1984, he became a Special Section Representative, Newsweek Magazine, New York and later as the Nigerian Representative, Time magazine, New York, United States of America. While there, he helped develop Special Surveys and Country Sections. Soon he was appointed Time magazine representative for English-speaking sub-Saharan Africa.
In 1986, at the age of 26, he established a weekly newsmagazine, ThisWeek, thus becoming one of Nigeria’s youngest publishers. The weekly was all gloss and it was printed in England. However, when General Babangida’s government deregulated the foreign exchange market in 1986, and the naira began its downward slide against other currencies like the US dollar and the British pound sterling, this took its toll on the operations and funding of the magazine. In 1991, he ran for the office of Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. In 1994, he was elected a member of the constitutional conference, which drafted the present Nigerian constitution. In 1995 he founded Leaders and Company, Publishers of ThisDay newspapers. A daily newspaper, ThisDay a trendsetter, which introduced colour on its pages and printing simultaneously in Lagos and Abuja, innovations which got competitors scrambling to do the same.
In its first year of operations, ThisDay won the prestigious Newspaper of the Year award and subsequently retained the award for 3consecutive years. With thousands of copies in circulation daily and more during the weekends, ThisDay has a huge complement of staff members in offices across the nation
Obaigbena, is one of the successful media practitioners in Nigeria and he has put in over 42 years, starting out as a Cartoonist, to becoming a Writer, Newspaper Publisher, Printer, Founder of a TV network and many more. He has also risen to be Chairman of Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria.
Below are excerpts of the interview.
How do you feel, looking back at 25 years of Thisday newspaper?
I feel great. I feel happy. If you look back, this is actually my 35th year in publishing, if you add Thisweek Magazine to it. This is because Thisweek was there for about 10 years and then Thisday Newspaper. So, if you add Thisweek & Thisday and all those TimeMagazine years, you would also have 35 years. If you add The DAWN Magazine, you will be looking at almost 40 years. If you also add my years at The Nigerian Observer you will be looking at 42 years in Journalism. So, I have been around for a long while. Aside from Uncle Sam of Vanguard Newspaper, I am not so sure of how many practicing Publishers or journalists who have been around this long, without going on to do other things.
How have you found the experience?
It’s great. It’s been very great. It’s not bad. Its been fulfilling. We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do. Media and Journalism is there to change society and it is to use them to have a better society.
How have you seen the various changes that the industry has witnessed over the years?
I welcome change. I embrace them. The world is about Change. Look, like I told you before the interview, when I started, I was a Cartoonist and Writer for the National Observer 1978/79 and when I was in the University, I continued to do that. And I evolved. I then went to work for Time Magazine before coming back to start ThisWeek, which you were part of. In 1988/89 Time Magazine named the Computer as Man of The Year. That was the time when Computers started to have an impact. The Computers began to cover life and what we were doing, just like social media is doing today. Once the Computers became the man of the Year, things started to change rapidly. News was becoming more instant. And it has evolved since. So, as the delivery methods evolved, News changed. News became more instant. So, I saw that the idea of a weekly news magazine had to be revamped. I saw that very quickly. We also had problems at ThisWeek then with production facilities in Nigeria. We used to write here and print abroad. And then came the Devaluation of the Naira, that changed the Business model. And then, we rested ThisWeek and we moved into Thisday and we quickly established ourselves as an authoritative paper. We offered a brand of Journalism that was different and authoritative. And we came with a Sunday title that kind of responded to what weekly magazines were doing. So we were out with the print, which is a more detailed form of journalism. And that has earned us our stripes and we have moved in our strides.
Despite a lot of challenges, we are still there. We have produced between 1,300 to 1,500 staff. Then add casuals and you will be looking at almost 2,000 staff. Many of them have gone to the commanding heights of this country. We have produced Ministers, Special Advisers, Commissioners. We have produced Heads of Banks. We have produced human resources who have helped. We have produced many Publishers, including yourself. We are happy to have produced high calibre professionals. Our Alumni is a very rich alumni body.
Why go into TV? Why set up Arise TV?
There was a need for ARISE TV. As news became more instant, the compelling need for television became more real. So, our original idea was to call it This Minute From ThisWeek to Thisday to This Minute. But we thought This Minute or Arise. It will be giving you news to the minute.
Why did you choose Arise?
Arise was Africa Rising, Africa was rising. We launched an African Rising Initiative with Thisday at the Royal Albert Hall in London and we produced a magazine from Africa Rising to ARISE. That was how Arise came about. So from the Arise magazine and its success in the UK and abroad, we created Arise out of it.
You are also into streaming…
Oh yes. There is a revolution, Netflix led the streaming revolution, driven by technology. We have transformed ourselves from just being a content provider to a Technology company. We have acquired a Tech company in the UK where we do coding, where we do a lot with Technology. On the back of that technology, we have launched a service to deliver Entertainment, through streaming. We would tell African stories, and we have taken the best and the brightest as an African Challenge. Our core idea is to tell the African stories, and we have taken the best and the brightest as an African Challenge. Our core idea is to tell the African story. Our whole idea is to have Africa represented in the global space. And it is not by saying it, but by doing it. The media are still being controlled by the West. The big names. The rest are trying like India. But there is no big African player. That is what we intend to do. That is why I said in our first 25 years we have established ourselves and the next 25 years is to be dominant in global space.
What drives Nduka Obaigbena?
That is the big question people have been asking. You keep moving from one thing to another, no slowing down…
There can’t be slowing down. To succeed in life. You have to keep evolving, you have to keep walking, you have to keep moving. You have to be like Johnnie Walker. Just keep walking. Just keep evolving. Keep transforming. That’s all. It is as simple as A, B, C. If you don’t change, you will be dumped. You have to be at the cutting edge of change. You have to see the curve, you have to make the curve and go ahead of it. That is it.
Many people say there is no word like IMPOSSIBLE in your dictionary. Is this true? Is it true Nduka Obaigbena does not usually take No for an answer?
How can I take No for an answer, when everything is possible. Change is Possible. Drive is possible. Keep trying. Just keep walking. Find a way to do it. Create the way if none exists. That is why you are a man. Confront impossibilities. Find a way to do it. Find a creative way to do it. I am always creative in anything I do. Luckily, I come from a creative background. As you know, there is no job in the media I have not done. Name it. Is it to write? Is it to draw cartoon? Is it to design? Is it Graphics? Is it to print? Is it to take Pictures? In those days, I used to take pictures. I have rolled printing presses. I have done all of that. If a press breaks down I know what to do. Is it in TV? I know how to edit and to shoot. Is it to write. I follow the same theory. Just use different ways to transform it. You should always try and be ahead of technology. Try and study Technology, but I know a bit of technology. You have to know a bit of everything to enable you discuss intelligently. Is it Law? Is it Commerce? Is it Finance? Whatever. Your job as a Journalist is not to be an expert in one. It is to have some expertise in a broad range and get the people who will deliver that. Because you have a little knowledge of it, you can drive it. You can drive the vision and they can put it in place. That is all.
How have you coped with the various challenges you have come across in your career?
Yes, there will always be challenges. With God on your side and hard work, you will always overcome challenges. That’s all.
When you were young, did you ever think this was what you were going to end up doing?
Well, I have always been in this space. I tried to survive with this, right from when I was in school at Edo College. I started very early. I have done so many things, using the power of my hands and the power of my ability to draw. I have done everything you can think of. I used to be a screen printer, I used to paint. I have done Sculpturing job. I have done designs. I have written books. I have written poems. I have done all that. So, I am multifaceted. So there is no part of the creative world that I am not comfortable in. That is a gift of God and I always use it to achieve what I need to achieve and to cause a change in the society and to make the society a better place to live in.
When you turned 60 last year. how did you feel?
I felt fulfilled. I felt grateful to God for having kept me, despite challenges. As you know, I was ill at a point, but I overcame that very quickly and with God on my side I keep moving. So, I have been renewed for the next 40 years or whatever number of years God gives me. My principle is whatever it is, you keep moving. Thank God for every day.
What has changed about Prince Nduka Obaigbena? What has not changed? Has age mellowed you?
I don’t know. Nduka Obaigbena remains Nduka Obaigbena. I don’t know what has changed. I don’t know what has not changed. I am consistent. I have remained consistent. I don’t know if age has mellowed me or not mellowed, but you get more matured. You have a better perspective of life from experience. You have responsibilities, which I have always have. Look at 23, I had 300 staff. So, I have always been an employer of Labour, since my 23rd birthday. And I had an audacious move to do This Week at 27 and we went for the best. We raided the biggest newspapers and magazines and brought in the best and put them under one roof. We had a great Board room. I have done it all. Our board was a Stellar board. We had the likes of Gamaliel Onosode, Arthur Mbanefo, Kweku Adadevoh, Chinua Achebe, OK Bello, Hope Harriman, JK Randle. We ran a strong board. That was where I learnt my business rope because every meeting was a seminar moment, where you get to hear and know peoples experiences. You will learn from the Masters. So, I learnt from the Masters.
Everyone says Nduka Obaigbena has Guts. How did you develop that.
My philosophy is Fear God. Not man. That sums it up.
You also have a daring spirit. Don’t you?
No. Do I dare? I just do what I’m here to do and I damn the consequence.
Are you not afraid of failure?
Yes, you fail, you stand up, you keep moving. Failure is not an option. You keep trying. Don’t give up. Why would you give up? Why? Keep going on, until you strike it. It takes time, but you will surely get there.
Do you feel fulfilled?
Not quite. Because there is still a lot to achieve. There is still a lot to do. There is still a lot to transform and the world is changing totally and fast. And you have to stay ahead of it and change with it. There are new entrants. Like they say and that is one of my believes that there is always room at the top. The bottom is crowded. So keep moving. As you are going up people are pulling you down. Don’t give up. Keep moving. That’s all you need. Keep moving.
What has kept you going all these while, all these years?
The power of God. I am driven by my Vision to deliver, to achieve. To just keep moving and to make society a better place through the power of the printed words and now through audiences and TV or whatever.