Obaigbena: Toast To Artman, Media Mogul @ 62

by Uzor Maxim Uzoatu

I have seen miracles happen before my very eyes. Back in 1986, the guru who brought me into journalism, Sonala Olumhense, resigned from his job as the Editorial Page Editor of The Guardian to take up the almost unfathomable challenge of becoming the founding Editor of THISWEEK magazine promoted by youthful Nduka Obaigbena.

Sonala mooted that he would want me in the new project – and Nduka, who I was meeting for the first time, feared that I would ask for high wages.
I simply told Nduka: “Just fix any salary, and let’s get cracking!”
“You are a believer!” exclaimed Nduka – and we shook hands.
Magical miracle was made as the magazine was produced in Lagos, printed in London only to appear on the newsstands every Monday morning.

Along the line, it was suggested that a weekly tabloid, Midweek, should join the stable to be sold every Wednesday. The dummy of the tabloid was done but the newspaper never appeared on the newsstands due to reasons that should not delay us here.
Forging ahead with intercontinental miracle-making, it’s so like Nduka to get to London, England to produce the Time magazine supplement on Nigeria, only to take me on the dot of deadline hour to the Time and Life building in London for me to write up the material. I had to write in longhand because there was no time left.

After writing each page, a lady took it up and fed it straight to the printing machine. The Time magazine edition was published early the next morning and was ferried back to Nigeria by Nduka’s sister, Ogochukwu.
Nduka told me in 1993 that he was ready to launch forth a big glossy magazine of 200 pages – or so – to be called Leaders & Company.

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I replied that I would only be available to do a newspaper like the one we aborted in our days at THISWEEK magazine.
There can never be a more driven man than Nduka when he’s in the mood. He instantly took me to Guaranty Trust Bank in Victoria Island, Lagos to withdraw the money needed to do the dummy of the newspaper.

I put up a protest that he only brought business money without beer money. He replied that I could take as much of the money given to me to drink all the beer I wanted.
“Business money does not mix with beer money,” I said.
Nduka had to bring the beer money before I left for Surulere, Lagos to do the job.
With the newspaper start-up money in one large pocket and beer money in a smaller pocket, I gathered a handful of friends such as the now deceased Olawale Obadeyi (Wally J) in an open air beer joint under a lush umbrella tree on James Robertson Street, Surulere to have a drink and talk about the newspaper to be birthed.

The next day, I was at a business centre on Falolu Street owned by Segun Ilori, who would later serve as the Chief of Staff to Governor Segun Oni of Ekiti State. Ilori’s young son, Gbadebo, instantly became my handsome mascot of good luck.
While the dummy was being done in Surulere I went to the then office of the newspaper at 23B Ribadu Road, Ikoyi on November 17, 1993 and a visibly worried wife of Nduka, the very personable Efe Obaigbena, told me: “The Poet, go home.”
I was surprised and asked her:
“Why, Madame?”
She wasted no time in replying: “You know that Shonekan is my husband’s friend. Shonekan has been overthrown and I am afraid the soldiers may come here to harm you.”

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This was how I became one of the first persons to know of the overthrow of the Interim National Government of Chief Ernest Shonekan by General Sani Abacha. When I got back to my Surulere base to reveal what I heard nobody would believe me until the news later manifested via official channels.

After completing the dummy of ThisDay, Okagbue Aduba pointed out that I had forgotten to put my name as the Editor or whatever.
I had a good laugh, delighting in the fact that title, position, class, rank, office, money, wealth and whatnot do not mean anything to me.

I am more like Che Guevara who moves on to the next revolution after the initial deed is done. One man who wondered at my lack of care for prosaic material nothings was Chief Shopeju, an old Daily Times master, who Nduka engaged to help with the technical details. The miracle of birthing the paper was simply fulfilling enough to inspire a poem:

I Did the Dummy of ThisDay
(For Nduka Obaigbena)

I did the dummy of ThisDay,
A copy turned cradle,
A deed of second service
For a swashbuckling vendor of visions
Who envisioned a mush of colour
To massage posh leaders
And the cognate company
They keep with corporate egos.

For a song the poet delivers
An image of root and gravity,
Armed with the story
Of a leader with the common touch
To gather latent talent
At the crossroads of ascent
Before the maze of revelation
Of sucklings as ancestors.

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