Thisday At 25: Blazing The Trail
On July 13 1986, something novel berthed in the Nigerian media space. Thisweek magazine was born but the question on the lips of many pundits and members of the public was Nduka who? The publishing industry was dominated by money bags in the persons of the likes of Late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola of the Concord, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu of the Champion, Late Alex Uruemu Ibru of the Guardian. A few veteran journalists were also active on the publishing scene like Pa Sam Amuka-Pemu of the Vanguard and the quartet of Late Dele Giwa, Yakubu Mohammed, Ray Ekpu and Dan Agbese of the News watch magazine. There was also Chris Okolie of the New Breed Magazine.
Who then was this then 27 year old upstart that had boldly taken the industry by storm? Obaigbena wasn’t a push over as he had paid his dues by working for the prestigious News week and Time magazine. He also had the distinction of being the first journalist to interview the then Military Head of State, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari when he first came to power on December 31, 1983. As the points man of Time magazine in West Africa, he had made so many contacts with the business and political elite and was a force to be reckoned with even though he wasn’t too known to the general public at the time.
The magazine was the first to be all glossy and was also published from London before being air freighted to Nigeria on a weekly basis. The Duke as Obaigbena is fondly called raided the Guardian newspapers and poached the likes of Pini Jason, Uzor Maxim Uzoatu, Sonala Olumhense amongst many others. He poached Tunji Lardner from News watch and in a short space of time built a formidable team that paraded the finest of pen pushers and wordsmiths in the Nigerian print media.
The magazine had a lot of promise but tragically died after just five years because of the devaluation of the naira by the then General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida led regime.
He delved into partisan politics by contesting for a seat in the then Third Republic Senate which he lost and was part of the constitutional conference between 1994/1995 under the then General Sani Abacha led regime.
His love for adventure got the better part of him in 1995 and he took the publishing industry by storm when the Thisday Newspapers was launched in January of that year.
Few people gave his paper a chance as they saw him as an opportunist who cashed in on the fact that the military had proscribed Punch, Concord and Guardian. They opined that the paper would go into oblivion in an industry that had a high mortality rate when the ‘big boys’ would have returned.
He proved his critics wrong as the paper continued to wax stronger and grew from strength to strength while pioneering many innovations. It was the first paper to reserve the back page which was traditionally for sports for columnists which other papers followed. It was the first paper to publish the daily activity of the Nigerian Stock Exchange and was the first to introduce colour to its pages.
It continually churned out breaking news especially in the politics and business beats that it soon became the paper of choice for the decision makers and elite.
It was the first paper to diversify into entertainment by using star power to rebrand the nation. He did this through his bringing in of international artistes like Beyonce, Jazy Z etc to perform at concerts which resonated well with the Nigerian public. The Thisday awards brought in the likes of Bill Clinton, George Bush Jr, Condelezza Rice, Collin Powell, Tony Blair etc into the country to add spice and flavour to the awards.
There must be something in the paper that makes some of its journalists return back there after they have left. Olusegun Adeniyi was poached from there while editing the paper to be the spokesman of the late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua. He returned back there in 2011 as the Chairman of the Editorial Board. Bolaji Abdullahi, erstwhile Minister for Youth Development as well as Sports joined in 1997, left after a year to work with the African Leadership Forum and then rejoined there in 1999 before leaving for the UK where he got the British Council Chevening Scholarship. Bisi Ojediran left for The Shell Petroleum Development Company and returned back there in 2008 as the Editorial Board Chairman. Joseph Ushighale, the current Managing Editor left there to become the Chief Press Secretary to Donald Duke and returned back in 2007. The current Managing Director of Arise TV and former editor of the paper, Ijeoma Nwogwugwu left for an assignment with the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE) before returning back. Dr. Reuben Abati who was with the Guardian for nineteen years pitched his tent with Arise TV after serving as Jonathan’s spokesman for four years. What is it in the paper that makes some of its members of staff return back after one would have thought they would have moved on? Only the Duke of possibilities apologies to Waziri Adio, the Current Executive Director of the Nigerian Extractive Transparency Initiative (NEITI) can answer that question. We urge the Duke to make it open to the public so that we can learn from him.
Congratulations to the Thisday Group on its Silver Jubilee and we hope to celebrate more years of robust journalism with the Duke in good health.
Tony Ademiluyi writes from Lagos and edits www.africanbard.com