To The Duke, and Creative Disrupter of Nigerian Journalism at 60, By ‘Tope Fasua
If I would summarise Nduka Obaigbena in a few words, I would say he is someone who tries to think of greatness for other people, not himself alone. He doesn’t do mediocrity. He is into creative disruption. He never forgets a favour, or a true friend. He is a go-getter. Never takes no for an answer. He is a lover of life. A real fun person.
He used to be more controversial than he is today; the Duke. I hated him when I supported M.K.O Abiola and he was the National Republican Convention (NRC) spokesman and gadfly who always tried to sour our ointment. I hated him when I didn’t know him but heard fabulous stories about his escapades and all. But love him or hate him, you cannot ignore Nduka Obaigbena. We learn everyday that it is important to stand up for something, than to always blend into the crowd because you don’t want to be noticed, especially in a society such as ours. Nduka Obaigbena, like a few men who have chosen to stand for greatness, chose to stand for something and it shows today.
I haven’t been one of his direct proteges. But some of those he has groomed and propped to prominence have been very instrumental to who I am today, and the little achievements I have had. However I came into more contact with the Duke himself in the last few months. I will explain.
As a young man, I was very opinionated. From buying newspapers for my dad and reading almost everything before I got home, I started forming my own opinions about social justice. At some point, I started writing letters about issues and sending to newspaper houses: Concord. Guardian. Sketch. Tribune. Daily Times. PUNCH. Those were the newspapers that drew attention then. Since we lived in Akure at that time, one could only send these letters via post. None of my letters was published. I recall visiting Rutam House to directly submit letters and what would be called Opinions a little bit later, as a young worker back in Lagos. Many times we submit these letters and back it with prayers. Although it’s still tough now, but getting published was a major deal in those days. Anyone whose name you saw in the papers had to be a legend of sorts. In short, I never got lucky. Those were in the real analogue days.
But then came ThisDay. Around 1999, my first letter was published by Mr. Olusegun Adeniyi. I was ecstatic. It was some reply to what he had written the previous week. He edited out a bit of my usually long grammar and published it at the back of ThisDay. I believe that I called to thank him because I just couldn’t believe it. I haven’t looked back since then. Through Segun I got to know Eniola Bello (now the managing director of ThisDay) and Simon Kolawole. These gentlemen sometimes published my right of reply, or helped to get my opinions published inside the newspaper. They were a relatable bunch; young and savvy then, even though older than I am. They gave some of us a sense of belonging and I think this is true for many guys in my generation. They gave us a voice, and an opportunity to express ourselves.
Being a journalist used to be a drab affair, when writers and editors had no personality and were not the savvy opinion leaders and highfliers they have become today. Nduka changed the face of journalism in that way and we have people like Ijeoma Nwogwugwu, Bolaji Abdullahi, Waziri Adio, Victor Ifijeh and a raft of razor sharp people coming from that stable.
Around the same time, I leaft Citizens Bank, where I had started my career, for Standard Trust Bank. I had struggled to leave th operations directorate in the bank because marketing was where the sharp boys seemed to be. I’m the type that will always aspire, no matter what folks says. I was posted to the Export Marketing department, where I was trying to pull my weight. My posting was done by the acting managing director then, but when the substantive MD resumed from his leave, all postings and appointments were ‘annulled’. That was the language of the day in 1997/8. I didn’t want to return to the back office, so I stuck around, only to be told by a few senior colleagues in the marketing department to shove off back to my back office. Around that very time, I received a call from one of the guys I had trained in operations that a new bank, Standard Trust Bank, needed smart people. I didn’t think twice, or look back. Here I was in Citizens, a bank to which I was and still am very grateful to for giving me a chance when I knew no one as a pimply-faced bare teenager straight out of school, but I was caught in between executive politics and I had no alignments. A quick interview with Akin Adenekan (then executive director), and Wole Ajomale (my direct boss), and a meeting with the legendary Tony Elumelu at the Oyin Jolayemi Street, Victoria Island headquarters and I was off to Standard Trust Bank, Ikeja. I was to meet great guys, mentors, superiors, subordinates and so on there, who have shaped my life in one way or the other. These are people like Kennedy Uzoka (the MD of United Bank for Africa, UBA), Walter Akpani (MD, Providus Bank), Henry Ajagbawa (former ED, Oceanic Bank), Obeahon Ohiwerei (then ED and later MD of Keystone Bank), Akin Olaofe and many, many more. It was around this time I met Egbon Dele Momodu (also a close associate of the Duke), when I went after the Ovation account. I also met all the local government chairmen in Lagos then and I remember Ganiyu Solomon (GOS), with whom I became a bit close.
This is the chain of human interaction. My little story is important because just as Elumelu gave confidence to young people and pushed us to go for goals in banking, so also did Nduka Obaigbena push guys in the journalism world. Being a journalist used to be a drab affair, when writers and editors had no personality and were not the savvy opinion leaders and highfliers they have become today. Nduka changed the face of journalism in that way and we have people like Ijeoma Nwogwugwu, Bolaji Abdullahi, Waziri Adio, Victor Ifijeh and a raft of razor sharp people coming from that stable. To believe I have met so many of them! While I was Lagos, I got so moved at times that I drove to the Apapa headquarters of ThisDay to interact with these gentlemen, sometimes out of courtesy and sometimes to ensure some ‘serious’ opinion of mine got published. They were so welcoming and friendly and we remain close till date – all of them.
So in a way, ThisDay, and Nduka Obaigbena, changed my life. I tried to get a space on the backpage of the newspaper – a prized gift to anyone – but haven’t been that lucky, or important. However, some of these big media friends I mentioned above, have yielded their space to me entirely in the past. It was because of the confidence that ThisDay afforded me that I was eager to link up with Daily Trust in Abuja when I was transferred here by the great Dr. Mike Adenuga, the chairman of Equitorial Trust Bank – where I moved to at some point, and today I write a regular column for Trust, every Sunday, since early 2016. I have never missed one day – though tucked inside the paper, but grateful I am. I also contribute to PREMIUM TIMES, another bevy of serious-minded intellectuals with stratospheric standards. I recall Dr. Adenuga used to say I was one of the few who wrote on topical issues in the bank’s internal magazine when it was functional. I believe I’m heading somewhere with my life.
Many more fruitful years on God’s earth sir. And thanks for always addressing me as ‘The Presidential Guru!’ during the campaigns. Voices like yours kept me going. Like you disrupted the media space, I wanted to disrupt the political space, whether or not I had money.
I will close with the story of Arise TV. When the idea kicked off, at some point they needed to broadcast from Abuja. Abuja being what it is, is full of civil servants who are not authorised to speak on any issue. Mr. Chike Ogeah, another senior brother of mine, gave Nduka my phone number. The Duke called in his usual respectful, backslapping way. For me, I wasn’t going to waste his time. I was honoured to have him call me to appear on Arise TV as the idea took its tentative steps. I had last met him at the gig he organised for George W. Bush, Tony Blair and Condoleeza Rice at the then ThisDay Dome and I recall how approachable he was. He didn’t take particular notice of me until this call initiated by Chike Ogeah.
One day as the last campaigns were hitting up, I shot Mr. Obaigbena a text one morning, reminding him of how I had assisted in giving AriseTV some of its first few appearances, and asking why he wouldn’t reciprocate now that I needed the exposure. His reply was swift and in no time I was speaking with Reuben Abati and other anchors. He must have liked my interview for he texted me about their plans for a presidential debate – which never materialised but I understand because it cost a lot to put these things together.
If I would summarise Nduka Obaigbena in a few words, I would say he is someone who tries to think of greatness for other people, not himself alone. He doesn’t do mediocrity. He is into creative disruption. He never forgets a favour, or a true friend. He is a go-getter. Never takes no for an answer. He is a lover of life. A real fun person. Those really close to him must be having a blast. Happy 60th birthday to the media guru. Many more fruitful years on God’s earth sir. And thanks for always addressing me as ‘The Presidential Guru!’ during the campaigns. Voices like yours kept me going. Like you disrupted the media space, I wanted to disrupt the political space, whether or not I had money. I wanted to overturn everything with the powers of my ideas, just as Tony did in banking. We are still on the project.