Nduka Obaigbena, the man who changed the face of Nigerian journalism
By Bayo Obajemu
When Reverend Henry Townsend, the founder of journalism in Nigeria, introduced the profession by publishing the first tabloid ‘Iwe Irohin Fun Awon Ara Egba’ on November 23, 1859, he probably had no inkling how far his idea would stretch through the decades. However, 160 years down the line, journalism has truly evolved in Nigeria from sectional to national and even global reportage. And part of that success story is a man called Nduka Obaigbena.
Obaigbena, the Duke as he is fondly called by close associates, in many ways is Nigeria’s version of Katharine Graham, (June 16,1917- 2001) an American publisher and the second female publisher of a major American newspaper, following Eliza Jane Nicholson’s ownership of the New Orleans Daily Picayune (1876–1896).
She led her family’s newspaper, “The Washington Post”, for more than two decades, overseeing its most famous period: the Watergate coverage that eventually led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. Her memoir, “Personal History”, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1998.
Like her, Nduka possesses strong character, finesse, and a stubborn determination to succeed and make an imprint where angels fear to tread. The newspaper business is a difficult one, and to succeed is no easy task. In the din of the competition, there are lots of landmines, but Nduka has for decades, managed to navigate the treacherous mines to arrive at a juncture that can be termed an inexorable success, a rare one in an industry whose major landmark is graveyard of dead publications; ones that fell victim of the bloodied competitive battle of the industry.
One of the most abiding connecting thread he shares with dame Katharine, is being an earthy, liberal publisher that gives editors and reporters a hell of editorial choices, without breathing down their necks. This latitude extended to reporters has helped shape the paper into corporate and political reckoning. This editorial independence to staff to pursue excellence, journalism fineness and to rise up to their calling of acting as a watch dog to government and governance has made Thisday ” Le Monde” of Nigeria’s journalism.
As a Nigerian media mogul, Nduka founded ThisDay, a newspaper with a mission to change the face of journalism in the country through vibrant reports of contemporary Nigeria, innovative page planning and colourfulness. Apart from Thisday, he also publishes African focused style & culture magazine and Lagos, Nigeria- based 24-hour international news channel Arise News. Before these he had published Thisweek magazine in the 1980s.
Easily one of Nigeria’s most influential newspaper publishers, and certainly one of the most cerebral, he has managed to build a powerful network of friends that cuts across all segment of society. He has an uncanny knack for smoking out gifted journalists to his pool; this strategy has strengthened his editorial sinew. It is a testament to his relevance that the corporate world and politics load on him with patronage in form of adverts and special projects in order to avoid the “trouble” of Thisday.
Born on July 14, 1959 in Delta State, Obaigbena attended Edo College Benin City, and the University of Benin, receiving an honours degree in Creative Arts.
He began the publication of the Thisday Nigerian newspaper in 1995. In 2000 Obaigbena founded the annual Thisday Awards which honour those who made contributions to Nigerian society in the political arena, global business, Women of distinction, and leading figures in the Nigerian education sector.
In 2013 he launched an international TV news channel with an African focus, Arise News, signing a contract with Globecast for satellite transmission on Astra 2G for broadcast on the UK Sky platform, and to Hot Bird for cable distribution, with bases in London, New York City, Johannesburg, and Lagos.
Before the ascent of Arise News, some staff and suppliers complained about Obaigbena’s failure to meet payment deadlines. However, Obaigbena had all these resolved and now ensures this problem which occurred based on certain trivia no longer happens.
About three years after the launching of Arise News, Obaigbena was involved in an inquiry being conducted by Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC), which was investigating the spending of a $2.1 billion fund by the NSA, Col. Dasuki.
The ensuing course of investigations affected Obaigbena’s operations. About this period, some contract staff complained/protested delay in payments. Presently, Arise News Nigeria staff are managed under an HR Management Consultant company that ensures prompt remuneration. Payment plans also exist for London, South-Africa and other foreign Staff.
The investment of the like of Nduka and others in journalism points to the fact that no democracy can strive without the active participation of the Fourth Estate of the Realm. Apart from informing and educating the people, journalists are also opinion molders in the life of a nation, particularly those operating under democratic rule. Democracy depends upon literate, knowledgeable citizens, whose access to the broadest possible range of information enables them to participate in the public life of their society.
Nigerian journalism has come a long way, it has had over 160 years reporting the nexus between the governed and the government. While we can say practitioners like Nduka, Olorunyomi, Onanuga, Obasi and Kolawole are young Turks that have added value to the profession, there are many godfathers that cleared the path. We have to give kudos to Ernest Ikoli, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Eronsile Anthony Enahoro, Chief Akintola, Lateef Kayode Jakande, Peter Enahoro, Babatunde Jose etc
As Nduka Obaigbena marks his 60th birthday, we must pay tribute to his success and great contribution to enlightenment, for without Thisday, there will still be chasm in the path cleared by pathfinders of the profession.