By Emedolibe Ngozi Emeka
My foray into the media exposed me to three very brilliant bosses. You get to appreciate and respect their depth of knowledge when you encounter them closely. With these guys, every meeting, every encounter, every engagement was enriching; an intellectual intercourse. And yes, restlessness is a dominant trait in their genetic makeup. These men are: Ibe Kachikwu, publisher of Hints, former GMD, NNPC and ex-Minister of State for Petroleum; Remi Okunlola, a lawyer and founder of R&B PR; and of course, Emeka Obasi, publisher of Hallmark, Business Hallmark and founder of National Mirror.
I met Prince Obasi during my last days at Hints. I had returned from a trip to Europe, which my managing director then, Maureen Otti, frowned at and reacted by axing me with an undeserved demotion! From Editor of the weekly, I was consigned to something-she-only-knew. Media houses are filled with intrigues and politics; I just knew it was time to move on. I activated my little contacts. Words passed around from Azuh Arinze to Louis Odion at the Sun, Kayode Ajala to Reuben Abati at the Guardian, and to Laura Nduoyo too.
Two days later, I got the call. Time was 7.30pm.
Ngozi, my name is Prince Emeka Obasi, he announced in his characteristic voice, and I screamed. Bylines announce media people more. I had not met him, but I had read him; and about him. He spoke glowingly of Hints and wanted to know how the magazine grew its huge audience and subsequently requested for a meeting with me at his office on Obasa Close in Ikeja the next day.
I was there. He told me his plans and why he needed me to join the new national newspaper he was putting together. He introduced me to the editor of the newspaper, Joshua Suleiman and the General Manger, Iheanyi Ejiofor, and afterwards asked me to go and negotiate with the GM, of course, with a caveat that I must report back to him even if the negotiations did not work. GM offered me something better than what Hints was paying then, so I accepted the offer and came in as Features Editor at National Mirror. Prince Obasi, whom I had come to know as Publisher, specially requested me to pay attention to the Saturday paper, being edited by Afolabi Odeyemi, which turned out the highest selling of the Mirror titles at the time.
The series of weekly meetings as well as some special assignments he was delegating to me opened my eyes to the unique personality called Emeka Obasi. A lover of knowledge, he would not hide his disdain for anyone who would not bring something to his table of ideas.
He believed journalists should strive for knowledge to be impactful on the job, and once demonstrated this position during the media drama between the paper and the Central Bank of Nigeria under Chukwuma Soludo. A long episode of events indeed, a truce was finally reached when very prominent Igbo sons persuaded Obasi to a meeting at an upscale location in Lagos; a portrayal of the might of his pen. He taught me that a good journalist should not be hindered by the level of influence of his medium, if he knows what he is doing, because great works could get him onto more influential platforms to share his thoughts. Imagine what an OP-ed in Washington Post or New York Times would achieve if properly directed.
His attitude to news was distinctive. He always would ask for the unpopular angle, and not what everyone is talking about. And urge you to follow up with features, demanding that you press it…squeeze it, a gesticulation of his that often reminded one of the palm oil making process in the village.
He must be commended for rubbishing that obnoxious impression that great journalists do not make good media managers. A great balance between business and emotional intelligence, his newsrooms are typical of the state of Nigerian reality in terms of diversity, unlike what is obtainable in some major media houses, where ones name, rather than ones incompetence can render one organisationally stunted.
For him, while weighing in on the editorial content of his publications, he would not stop thinking of the business angle and of course, how to make strategic use of the opportunities when they call. This came to the fore when Jimoh Ibrahim acquired National Mirror and offered him the opportunity to run it, which he turned down. That was not surprising when one considers that he started thinking media entrepreneurship as a youth corper.
With National Mirror acquired, he left to form Business Hallmark, but would get across to me again to join Extra, a general interest publication being edited by Sylvester Asoya, but that coincided with when Abiodun Rauf (another talent-hunter), wanted me in the new National Mirror. I let Emeka understand my constraints and we left open the offer and the relationship.
Counting on his fervent assurances that I should reach out to him for contacts whenever the need arose, I had called him when I was at Awka with a book, Portrait of Performance, which I wrote in support of Chief Obiano’s re-election in 2017, to explain how his aides were hindering access, but he told me to leave them and return, which I did.
Emeka was not a saint. He had his foibles, but those will never extinguish the milk of kindness in him. When my dad took ill (and later died at FMC, Umuahia) which coincided with his illness, he would often call to ask how my father was doing and at some point, sent money to me. I was honestly confident the worst days were over as regards Emeka’s health, until the ugly news came through Jolly Egbodo, a colleague of mine at National Mirror.
As humans, friends and mentees, we definitely need him much longer here, but I guess God, whom he drew closer to during the final years, needs him more. He definitely ran a great race. Rest in peace, Prince Emeka Obasi. Sleep well Ezenwata