By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, let’s leave politics alone today and discuss personal issues. I’m very happy to tell you some positive development in my life. I was brought up by parents who taught me that atelowo eni kii tan nii je (all you can be sure of is the reward from your personal hard work). I’ve since imbibed that dictum like a sacrament. And it has never failed me.
I’m aware that many Nigerians believe that politics can be taken as a full time vocation but I’m of the view that it shouldn’t be so. Our country would be far better when leaders learn how to manage people and resources in their private capacity before attaining power.
The essence of this sermon is that we should not expect much from those who gate-crashed into government without ever micro-managing their own lives. The most difficult task in a man’s life is how to grow a business from nothing to something especially in a particularly difficult terrain of Africa.
Many young ones have asked me questions about how they can make it in life but I’m not able to answer them one on one. It is my intention to paint my personal portrait today while hoping they can draw their own conclusions. It is not for nothing that it was said that Rome was not built in one day. Rome was seen and accepted as an epitome of majestic grandeur. But whatever is seen in that famous city was conjectured and actualised through the incredible vision of its architects and the tenacity of its energetic builders. There is thus no alternative to working assiduously for greatness.
By the grace of God, I should be celebrating my 55th birthday this time next week. How time flies! It looks like I celebrated my 50th only yesterday. I know many would expect me to pop champagnes and make elaborate merriments but I’m sorry to disappoint them. For me, this is a moment for sober reflections and a time to up the stakes in my carrier as a journalist and media entrepreneur.
As we grow older, we should begin to work harder for the legacy we wish to bequeath to the younger generation. I often shake my head in pity of those who fail to realise we don’t have all the time in the world. I see many behave like they would live forever but failing to realise that only the brands they created while around can keep their names alive in perpetuity. Brands are not easy to build. Double brands are even more difficult. In double branding, the originator and his product are joined like Siamese twins. You can’t mention one without your mind flashing to the other. Examples of such are Bill Gates and Microsoft, Mike Adenuga and Globalcom, Steve Jobbs and Apple and Ted Turner and CNN (though he lost the company, it remains his gift to the world). There are not many like them who grew their brands from scratch and ruled the world. Aliko Dangote decided to make his personal name the brand just like Saatchi & Saatchi.
It is for that reason that I’ve been working frantically with my team for the past nineteen years to build an enduring African brand called Ovation International magazine. It has been a very tough journey but I must say, it has been a worthwhile voyage. At every stage, I have had to tap into the wealth of experience and material support of God sent friends and mentors.
Ovation was a child of circumstance, I must emphasise. I was at my lowest ebb on the run from the dreaded military of General Sani Abacha. Finding my way through the forest of Benin Republic was an act of God made possible by benevolent kindness of friends. My forthcoming biography is expected to depict my ordeal in vivid detail. There are several books in the pipeline. I owe it to those who have asked endlessly for those works. We are working on several volumes of Pendulum essays, by popular demand.
The big news for now is that after publishing the Ovation International magazine for nearly two decades, we have decided to venture seriously into television.
The decision is not fortuitous but something that has been meticulously worked at for over a decade.
The idea to go electronic was first mooted by the entertainment giant, Mr Ben Murray-Bruce. We had met on a flight from Abuja to Lagos. “Dele, have you thought of translating your magazine into television; it would be a bomb!” he said with finality. I thanked him and that singular act ignited my interest instantly.
The problem was Ovation International magazine was already a huge project which was practically heavier than an elephant. We were grappling with many challenges of publishing the most ambitious magazine brand created by Africans for the world. We were determined to cover events and report stories from every part of the world. Africans were scattered everywhere but without being able to express themselves freely and powerfully no matter the magnitude of their achievements. At the very best, they only appeared in tokenistic publications created for Africans and restricted to Africa. Unfortunately, our big men have gladly accepted their fate in the hands of racial publishers and media barons who cannot imagine Africans on the covers and screens of America or Europe.
Our mission was to offer a veritable platform for telling our stories of tribulations and triumphs against all odds. Our celebrity class was deliberately projected in certain fields such as business, professions, music, movies, sports, comedy, politics, diplomacy, and so on. We criss-crossed the world in search of African newsmakers. Since 1996, we have managed to cover over sixty countries on all the continents. We have published at different times and stages in English, French, Portuguese and Hausa. We expanded our operations to Benin Republic and Togo (for our French translations) and Ghana for our production while Nigeria remains our biggest basket for sourcing editorial materials. We’ve printed and remained permanently with the same printers, fifteen out of nineteen years, in Enfield, England.
The burden of airlifting the magazine to different countries has been the most traumatic as different countries have varying attitudes to printed materials. We have been mostly discouraged by the friendlessness of security agencies that treat publications like they deal with textile dealers and general merchants. On one occasion at the cargo section of Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, an anti-narcotics agent threatened to open the wrappers of every copy of our magazine one by one just because someone refused to pay him some gratification. It took the intervention of one of their big bosses before the truck was allowed to go. On another occasion the truck and the guys conveying it were locked up and made to sleep inside the airport. No one ever imagines why most publications have not survived beyond a few years. Truth is that bad leadership affects everyone and everything.
A little encouragement from our leaders would have created many badly-needed jobs and taken the recalcitrant boys and girls off the streets. The market in Nigeria is particularly huge but distribution is forever harrowing. An average vendor selling just ten copies of Ovation daily could make as much as N100,000 in twenty days, and just imagine if our ports made it easy to push more copies. We have had to devise several methods to the madness in order to stay afloat. It is a miracle that we were able to beat the torrents of woes.
Advertising is one key area in the media industry and this is a different kettle of fish in Africa. This is why I must single out Dr Mike Adenuga Jnr as the single biggest corporate media buyer and individual supporter of journalists that I know of in Africa today. Globalcom has changed the face of entertainment and the fate of our entertainers forever. The same is being done for sports, especially the game of football. If we have ten Adenugas who share a passion for the African dream, our continent would be a much better place to live in. May God almighty continue to bless Dr Adenuga, his family and organisations.
I salute all those who believe in African brands and have done their best to support their own. We’ve been blessed and inspired by many in the course of this journey. Mr Hakeem Belo-Osagie and Dr Tony Elumelu have shown incredible interests in our affairs over the years. We can’t thank them enough for their immense contributions to developing our great continent. Their intellectual prowess helped in moulding and guiding us in the right directions.
There is the need for African media to thrive. I have no problems with Nigerian businesses advertising abroad but home must not be abandoned. The security challenges we all face would be drastically reduced if and when the large army of unemployed youths is carefully and gainfully employed. It is our determination to continue to weather the storm by being creative and adventurous in the industry.
It is in this regard that we have finally taken the bold step to embrace both the print and electronic media. We are starting with one hour action-packed television programs on Silverbird Television in Nigeria, GhOne in Ghana and BEN Tv in London. We intend to move quite rapidly to developing similar slots on Sky TV and also on French television. We have never forgotten that Africa has a significant French speaking population and we have always tried to protect their interests and give expression to their culture and lifestyle. Other platforms are being concluded in West and East Africa as I write this. We are very serious about delivering on the promise we made in 1996 to celebrate Africa and show the world that our continent is not synonymous with diseases, famine, internecine wars and all the bad stories that sell like hot cakes in Western media. We hope and pray that we shall enjoy the support of the African icons whose conquests have been under-reported for decades. The opportunities in Africa are limitless if we all join hands to promote our best interests.
The journey that we propose to embark upon with Ovation TV is an exciting one. On our part we are committed to establishing one of the most colourful and brightest television stations not only in terms of presentation but also in terms of content. For this we have our rich Black heritage, culture and diversity to thank. Africans and black people in the diaspora are some of the most visible in their various fields of endeavour. We are intelligent, resourceful, charismatic and superbly entertaining. We add spice to the world even though we do not always appreciate this and allow others to put us down. It is no wonder that Africa is now considered the precious economic and commercial darling of the world. There are many suitors competing for the riches that the African potential throws up. We are proud to be in a position to now vividly celebrate Africans and black people not only in print but also most vividly through the visual electronic media.
There are two young gentlemen who activated this journey of faith faster than I had planned. Their words of support and encouragement became so compelling that we just had to ignite this rocket without further delays. Thanks to Wale Adebajo and Adewoye Adetunji. We are ready.
– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Dele Momodu/Thisday