Getting an appointment for a personality interview with Prince Nduka Obaigbena, the ebullient Publisher of Thisday Newspaper does not come easy. It is always difficult to track him down. He is a restless entrepreneur. And 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.
But last Wednesday 22nd January, 2020, I was lucky to pin him down for an interview. He gave me a 5pm appointment scheduled for his new Ikoyi office in Lagos. But I was still afraid he might change his mind, if anything urgent cropped up.
Lately, he has become busier, running his ever-growing media empire. He still runs Thisday Newspaper, then Arise TV that has global operations, spanning London, the US, Lagos and Abuja. All these are in addition to several other media-related businesses that he runs.
But he kept faith with the appointment. As I got ushered into the presence of this great man who is unarguably the most colourful and glamorous media mogul in Nigeria, I 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 great man who changed the face of Print journalism whilst in his 20s.
We were having 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 I sat down to interview the man everyone simply calls Nduka, I wondered how he has been able to pull all the stunts 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 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 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 in 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 see fit. He launched 2 international 24-hour TV stations, ARISE NEWS and ARISE 360, headquartered in New York 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 the 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 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 in operation, 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 more than 700 staff members in offices across the nation
Prince Nduka Obaigbena is one of the successful media practitioners in Nigeria and he has put in about 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 the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria.