Lanre Alfred is one of the most colourful celebrity reporters and Editors in the Journalism industry today. He is also a Publisher who plays big Online where he maintains an influential Blog that commands respect and attention. He has just released his new book on Nigeria @ 60.He recently spoke to Citypeople Publisher Seye Kehinde on why he decided to package the commemorative edition on Nigeria. Below are excerpts of the interview.
Congratulations on your new book. Why did you decide to write a book on Nigeria at 60?
If you examined my career over the past two decades, you will discover that I have specialized and excelled, to God be the glory, in chronicling people and events. Being a widely-travelled journalist has also opened up my eyes to the fact that our job as reporters does not start and end on the pages of our medium.
So, a few years ago, I wrote my first book; a coffee table book called Lifestyle of the Rich and Famous. It was very well accepted and it spurred me on to other book-writing ventures. In 2017, I published The Titans (The Amazing Exploits of Nigeria’s Greatest Achievers) and I was also widely applauded for it.
But this latest effort attempts to fill a gap in our national history; the lack of books on some of our past and present heroes. Whether we want to believe it or not, Nigeria is a nation that is guilty of not keeping data, which has, over the years, led to the distortion of her history.
Many of those who came before us, despite all their monumental talents and achievements, refused to pass on to us lessons that can guide us as we navigate through the labyrinth of life. Our generation is the poorer for it because many do not have a sense of where they are coming from or where they are headed. So, what this book has done is spotlight and profile extensively those who have contributed to the development of this nation in their different fields of endeavour.
What did it take you to put the book together?
I think more time was spent on researching and compiling the list than actual writing. By the time, the list was compiled and agreed with my team, it was easy to start writing. I must confess that the Covid-19 lockdown was a blessing in disguise as it gave me a lot of time to write without the distractions of work and my other business endeavours.
As regards the experience, well, I have been there before so, it was nothing otherworldly. However, writing this book opened up my eyes to the richness of Nigeria’s socio-cultural and political history and the roles certain individuals played in her evolution.
Interestingly, one of my greatest challenges in writing the book. I have a close-knit team of researchers and for many weeks, we deliberated and argued, for and against, several names on the initial list. There were some people whose achievements, we felt, did not measure up to the standard of inclusion set for characters in the book, and we were unanimous and unbiased in de-listing them.
Nigeria has been blessed with many great citizens; so, for instance, in football, how do you talk about Kanu Nwankwo and leave out Stephen Keshi? When you compare their antecedents, you would see that they both merit being listed but the dilemma would now be that only one of them can be profiled because of space constraints or some other such factors. We had many such knotty moments but at the end of the day, we are all happy with the output because no sector was left out and no worthy person was excluded.
Tell me a bit about your love for Celebrity Reporting…
My interest in society journalism otherwise known as celebrity journalism was cultivated early in my childhood. As a youngster, my integration into larger society hardly occurred by reading. I learned a lot by watching and listening.
It was fascinating to listen to the words that flowed through people’s minds and leapt from their mouths. It was even more interesting to watch people give life to their utterances by their actions and inactions which were oftentimes precipitated by the purpose and intensity of their words. Much of the watching and listening I engaged in happened at home and outside my home; it was a very rich experience to me as a kid.
While my peers obsessed about the next best prank or menacing hoax, I fixated on the adult world. It was a rich experience that exposed me to different worlds, a colourful mix of intrigues and episodes that manifested as if it were a theatre – new characters walked in and out, conflicts arose, and conversations got interpreted and misinterpreted giving rise to a range of actions that thought me to see the world through any prism but a tunnel vision. The experience was enriching and not very far removed from the theatrics of the most captivating literary masterpiece or classic movie.
So you see, my background was vocal.
My evolution through those impressionable years had great bearing on the adult I became. As a young adult, I fell in love with society journalism at my encounter with Gay Talese, the Italian-American journalist notable for his impressive contribution to the 1960s new journalism.
The piece that endeared me to Talese and celebrity journalism was the one he did in the winter of 1965. Gay Talese had arrived in Los Angeles, USA, with an assignment from Esquire Magazine to profile the late music genius, Frank Sinatra. Sinatra was clocking 50, feeling sick and unwilling to be interviewed. So Talese remained in LA, hoping Sinatra would recover and go back over his initial refusal to grant Talese an interview.
Talese reportedly started ferreting information from Sinatra’s associates, staff, groupies and family members even as he closely observed the late music genius. Eventually, his persistence paid off and he got his exclusive entitled, “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold.” The feature article was published in 1966 and went on to became one of the most celebrated magazine stories ever published, a revolutionary example of what came to be called new journalism.
I remember the way Esquire introduced the story: “A work of rigorously faithful fact enlivened with the kind of vivid storytelling that had previously been reserved for fiction. The piece conjures a deeply rich portrait of one of the era’s most guarded figures and tells a larger story about entertainment, celebrity, and America itself. We’re very pleased to republish it here.”
Reading Talese and the encomium that his effort garnered, I wanted to write like him. I wanted to write better than he did. I developed inexorable thirst to tell not one or two great stories similar to Talese; it was and it still is, my intention to out-write him and outclass him.
Tell me about your love for writing. You have written how many books now?
I love it so much! I have written seven widely popular coffee table books; Titans…The Amazing Exploits of Nigeria’s Greatest Achievers; and Highlife – Lifestyles of Nigeria’s Rich and Famous; and biographies like Pacemaker – Triumphs of IghoSanomi at 40; The Lion of Afia Nsit – Triumphs of Scott Tommey at 45; Julius Rone…The Jewel of the Delta; Dapo Abiodun…The Heart of Prince and this latest book
Why did you dedicate the book to the chairman of Globacom, Dr. Mike Adenuga?
The story behind my decision is quite interesting. I have always followed his giant strides in the business world. After examining carefully, the impact of his business on the lives of Nigerians and Africans, in general, it was hard to pick anyone ahead of him.
So, the book is especially dedicated to the man popularly called ‘The Bull’ as a homage to his humanity and relentless strides at rewriting the African business narrative; for standing tall and wading through odds with the courage of a knight and confidence of a champion.
In a land dogged by human and infrastructural lapses, Dr. Adenuga’s humanity and entrepreneurial ingenuity nourishes the glands of kith and kin even as his genius oils the wheels of industry.
What you would also find intriguing is that, unlike the proverbial warrior who lives to chant the poetry of his own deeds and derring-do, Dr. Adenuga remains impressively humble and immune to conceit, treading a rare path to acclaim. He attracts honour in torrents, at home and abroad.
And I am happy to dedicate the book to him because his exploits continually resonate as an undying tribute to mankind’s better nature. Dr. Adenuga emerged as a worthy recipient of such honour because his deeds and recurring success establish him as a man who challenged resolve with steely grit, and exploited the arduous planes of ambition and toil, till he encountered grandeur at the crossroads, where wild contemplation and hard work morph into triumph.
And interstingly, amid the ravage of the coronavirus, the widespread gloom and apprehensions of citizenry and industries caught on the receiving end of the pandemic, Adenuga has raised hopes and planted joy in the bosoms of Nigerians. His huge donations to the Federal Government and several state governments have been instrumental to the containment of the virus. These are no doubt the hallmarks of a selfless man and patriot, and are thus, worthy of being celebrated.
You have put in almost two decades into this profession and it is obvious that you love it.What has your experience been?
Yes, I really do love it. I believe that journalism is one of the most noble professions in the world. It is a calling and when you align yourself with that calling, it is only natural that you will love and enjoy it. And I have never had any struggle in loving the professio n.
Your style of writing is particularly interesting. You begin your stories with proverbs, parables and commentaries. Why is it that you don’t like to go straight to the point?
It’s impossible for me to simply go straight to the point. Life is a dance of seduction, encompassing every living and inanimate thing into its intricate and sensual weave.
And so is writing. No living thing or element can live in immunity of that slow, provocative dance of wonder and intrigues that characterises life. I apply similar wisdom to my writing. But let me hold back a bit before I start waxing too esoteric for the purpose of this interview.
I can’t write just for writing sake; I believe every story offers new opportunity to titillate the readers and lure them into the world or event being reported and the artistry of the reporter or writer. It doesn’t matter if the story you read does not bear my byline. It could be a piece I am editing; I simply can’t let a good story go unburnished with the needed shine.
Even the most boring happenstance or person deserves to be reported with finesse. Writing should be rapturous to the writer and to the reader, it should be equally thriling. I write the way I do because that is who I am. Do not forget that the perfect window into the psyche of a writer is always through his writing.
One must admit that some of the intros in your stories make interesting read. But don’t you think they may not be suitable for people who are in a hurry?
I don’t think so. I believe that the man or woman who is too much in a hurry to read hasn’t the temperament or the depth for good literature.
You look so quiet and gentle, incapable of writing the kind explosive stories you write.
That is simply the way Lanre Alfred is cut out to be. (laughs). I am actually a very private fellow. I have a very close circuit of friends. And I think I attract like minds. On writing explosive stories? Well, we’ve all got a bit of thunder in us.
How do you write? Do you have some rituals or habits you must indulge in before you start writing?
I have an eclectic writing habit. But I love a bit of serenity most of the time. Yet, you would be amazed to see me scribbling away in the midst of some mad noise. Well, I will say that eclectic best defines my writing culture.