Dr. Fidelis Anosike, Chief Executive Officer of Folio Holdings, publishers of the Daily Times Newspaper, has lined up activities to honour heroes of the newspaper, as part of activities designed to mark its 100-year anniversary.
In this interview, Anosike, an astute media entrepreneur who founded Folio Communications at 24, the company that went on to acquire Daily Times in 2004, explores his journey into the media industry, as well as speaks about the activities he is lining up to honour former MDs and editors of Nigeria’s oldest surviving newspaper.
You have come a long way. You set up Folio Communications at 24. How did it all start?
I will say that I started life rather early. I got into the university drawing portraits, so I am a graphic and creative artist. I graduated from the University of Benin. I still tell people that the creative industry is not just my passion, it is my job. I also did loads of self-development. I got enrolled at Harvard Business School Owner President Management course (OPM 39). So, to that extent I am a Harvard alumnus, and being at Harvard made me understand how to run businesses properly.
Yes, at 24, I established Folio Communications, which went on to acquire Daily Times of Nigeria, the oldest surviving newspaper and noteworthy media organization in Nigeria. Since then, I have been trying to see the much I can do with the resources available to me, both access to capital and knowledge, to expand the frontiers. Besides the media, I also have investments in other areas such as water resources and renewable energy, and I am also financing some global companies on major research on mobility and renewable energy space.
On how I was able to set up a company at 24, I think it’s important for us as human beings to pray to God to give us consciousness. You can get consciousness at 10, you can get consciousness at 30, you can get consciousness at 70. If you pray for the grace of God, you can get consciousness early. I think I was lucky to get consciousness early and importantly, an opportunity. So, how did I set up Folio? There is an uncle of mine who worked with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). He introduced me to the Head of Communication at the bank, a certain Mr. Bolarinwa of blessed memory, and one Mr. Amobi. They allowed me to enter for CBN creative jobs. At that time, if they wanted to make a Christmas or Eid cards, or something like that, they would make the bid open and whoever wins; that is if, they pick your design, you will be commissioned to do the work. I won on three occasions, and the price for each was N14,500. With that, I was able to get my office, and went on to create an ecosystem for my friends that studied graphics with me. Whenever a company needed design services, we all made design submissions and as fate often had it, one of us always won. Together we won on many occasions and got contracts from institutions like First Bank, NNPC and CBN.
That was how I was able to build up capital to go into the communication business. I created a standard for myself and my friends and became a relationship manager for them because they were all on paid jobs. Whoever made a design that was successful shared the proceeds with others. It was a case of all for one and one for all. We designed, restructured and produced all the diaries of NNPC for two years running through open and competitive bid process. We introduced Nigerian idioms into those diaries rather than white labeled ones from FT and so on, which gave it local content. This is because we felt that we should promote our own country. I am full Nigerian. I am proud of my ethnicity as an Igbo man, but this is Nigeria, our country. None of us chose to be here, but we are here all the same, and we must make our country work.
When exactly was Folio Communications established?
That was in 1991. In 2004, Daily Times was put up for sale. Before then, they had tried to sell the shares through public offer via the stock exchange. But it failed, so BPE resorted to Core Investor Sale which refers to a situation where whoever buys it, takes full management control. Folio Communications was already a thriving communication company, and so felt that we needed a media voice and had to create a media company. Long before then, I was already involved in some creative work for ThisDay, and that was how I met Chief Dele Momodu. I had a lot of background knowledge. I reasoned that if I had to make my dream known, I needed a media voice. Therefore, I entered the bid as the singular company involved, others were consultants and consortiums. We were pre-qualified, and made a deposit of $10,000 and put in our technical bid. We were number one. We actually scored 81 percent. The terrain was known to me. I learnt under Dele Momodu and Nduka Obaigbena; these are men who are far ahead of their time.
I’m sure that until Dele celebrated his 60th birthday, people may have thought he was 90, same as Nduka. They are my pillars, including Okagbue Aduba. About how I was able to understand Nigeria and how it works, I connected with their energy which was infectious. At that point I already had $1 million for the bid bond. This is a security for your integrity. No bank will lend you money for a bid bond. You can only finance it with equity. It is money you lose if, at the end of the day, you did not pay the bid price. Daily Times Bid Bond then was N100 million. Like I said, they had tried selling it via shares, hoping that people will buy and someone will acquire the majority share, but nobody came in. This was because the media industry in Nigeria is not bankable; it has not been restructured so it doesn’t have capital flowing into it. We bid and attracted N1.25 billion into the media industry as far back as 2004. Our first bid was, I think N327 million. Our competitor bid N800million in the first round. That was N500 million above us. But we knew the bid was in two rounds. Our second-round bid was N1.25 billion, while our competitor’s second round bid was N1.05 billion, so we won.
When we bought and took over Daily Times, its liability was N1.9 billion. The assets were N2.3 billion. The enterprise value was N700 million or slightly above that. We bought Daily Times at almost twice the price the government was hoping to get. It is on record, and I was about 35 years old then. Nobody would have given an ‘Igbo boy’ a chance to buy Daily Times. I am a testimony that things can work for you in Nigeria if you believe. I had no godfather, only by faith and audacity of hope.
The Folio Media Group (FMG) has come a long way. Today, it has access to the technology space and we are also doing consolidated media offering to clients. the Folio Investment and Trading Company (FITC) is an investment company focused on media, creative and cultural industry investment and innovation. We also have as part of the group, Folio Media and Creative Academy (FMCA), which is working in tandem with relevant authorities to train journalists and creative industry practitioners. The aim is to train 50,000 in those key fields in five years.
Does the Creative African eXchange perform the same function?
No, that is Folio Media and creative Academy. The Creative African eXchange (CAX.caxafrica.com) is part of the Folio Media Group. It is part of the initiative we are trying to use to consolidate the continental space of the creative and cultural industry.
Can you shed more light on 1st October and Miss Nigeria as offshoots of Folio Media Group?
1st October Limited is a publishing company that we set up in 2007 to publish the birth of Nigeria. It has evolved overtime because we have done over 10 different publications on Nigeria and state governments. It also went ahead, in 2014, to give birth to a global public perception movement for Nigeria called ‘Nigeria, Our Heritage.’ This was launched at the Kennedy Centre, and it was the first ever African event at the Kennedy Centre, Washington DC on the sideline of Obama African heads of Government meeting. What we are trying to do with 1st October and Nigeria, Our Heritage, is to see how we can transition the love of Nigerians to love of Nigeria. We saw a gap there in terms of country branding. We want to create a platform that will enable us to use Nigerians, specially those in the Diaspora, to drive the love for country. This is important because at the end of the day, other countries spend millions of dollars in country branding. Even the United States spends up to $240 million annually to brand their country. You see, once you are in Europe as a Nigerian, you take a 30 percent cut. If Aliko Dangote walks into an office in New York, and says he is a Nigerian, he takes a 30 percent minus. That is huge! That’s one of the reasons our national development is stunted; because our brand, the brand Nigeria, has so much deteriorated. There are many reasons: political instability, military government of thirty plus years, advanced fee fraud, imperialistic gang up and many more. So you can see the reason it has happened over the years.
So we as Nigerians, we are doing what we can to change this for the future because people only do business with those they can trust. Without that trust, we cannot have foreign direct investment coming to Nigeria. You can have $10 billion like in Lagos State, and you are happy, but you could have $100 billion. You can begin to see how that affects national security, the issue of banditry and so on. The problem is image. Nobody wants to do business with anybody that is dirty. If you wear dirty clothes, you become non attractive. There are options; people can sit down in New York and put their money in Scottish windows or savings accounts and make returns. But if you want people to come from China or America, you must present yourself in a way that will make them to fly in first before realising that there are challenges. Of course, there are challenges everywhere. Afghanistan is probably receiving more investment than Nigeria even as they are beset by terrorism. So it is a matter of how you package yourself as a country. Nigerians must help to improve the whole because when the whole collapses, the part, which may be fantastic, will automatically collapse. That is what 1st October is doing. It is a big project. We just recently partnered with the Nigeria Diaspora Commission, and in October, we will start an immersion programme, which is going to bring 100 young Nigerians from all the Ivy League schools in the Diaspora to Nigeria. We will train them on issues of national development and deploy them to about 100 companies, and expose them to what Nigerians are doing right. We know that a lot of things are going wrong, but let’s amplify the right ones and let’s also inculcate this into the young people. So, it is going to be a deliberate effort to raise 1000 people young people that can become advocates for the country. This is what 1st October is all about. This is a positive national development platform.
We have also remodeled Miss Nigeria to become more than just beauty pageant. It’s more of female empowerment platform. It was founded in 1957. It gave life to all other pageants in Nigeria. Our very first Miss Nigeria is still alive at 86, Chief Mrs Grace Oyelude. We shall also institute a commemorative lecture in her honour as a DTN icon. Every Miss Nigeria is an ambassador of the Green Girl Company, with projects like Green Dignity Kit (GDK) and Green Girl Academy, among others. Nigeria is our country, nobody chose it; it chose us and we have to make it work. We must not use all the energy we have to think of how to break the country. What is happening today is a consequence of long-time inaction; of doing the wrong things, and not having ideas for doing the right thing. Most of the governors were busy building airports they don’t need, but neglected the primary schools that are supposed to train people that would shape the future. They neglected education, and dwelt on less important things. So when you lose empathy, you start approaching things from the middle. That explains why conspiracy theory comes in.
What attracted you to the Daily Times and what has been your experience running the company?
Daily Times has huge pedigree. The company was created by Adeyemo Alakija and the London Mirror Group. It went on to have Dr. Ernest Ikoli, Alhaji Babatunde Jose, Amb. Dele Cole, Aremu Segun Osoba, Chief Tunji Oseni, Prince Tony Momoh, Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi, Chief Innocent Oparadike, Dr. Onyema Ugochukwu, Chief Sam Amuka Pemu among others. The Daily Times was the biggest mouthpiece in the country. At one time, Alhaji Jose was asked if he would run for president, and he said he was already chairman of Daily Times. That was how big the Daily Times was. It was indeed the fourth estate of the realm. Because I did appreciate the enormity of what I took upon my shoulder when I took it over, the commercial problems arising from property didn’t weigh me down. I am not a property person, the only personal property I own in Abuja was bought with my money. No government or minister can claim to have given me any land.
When we took over Daily Times, there were about 400 staff in the company. Money from the government was not coming anymore, so we had to restructure. We had to downsize, and fought with the union for two years. During the fight, the business was closed down. Then Hallmark Bank, which loaned us the money, took over the company. We didn’t recover the company through legal means until September 2007. So, I acquired the company in 2004, it was hijacked by Hallmark Bank. Everyone was interested in the assets, but no one was thinking about the liabilities. We had to go to court. There was this man, Mr Adrian Wood, one time CEO at MTN who joined us at Folio Communications. His mandate was to revive Daily Times, and put it on the same pedestal as the New York Times. He employed people from all walks of life; both Nigerians and other Africans to make it a model. We knew that without a dominant and strong media organization in Nigeria, the issues of national development will fail. That is why in America, they have Fox, CNN, etc., based on their ideological beliefs, and tied to politics.
Without a strong media, there will be fragmentation, and that explains why the masses don’t have a voice. We wanted to make Daily Times what it used to be. Thereafter, all sorts of people started taking us to court. All these people came from third parties because Folio acquired Daily Times alone. In the typical Nigerian context, everything is contentious, not to talk of when you acquire a national asset. We adapted to many things in the course of all these.
We have continued to push. The first Times Heroes Awards [email protected] in 2017 was massively supported. We interacted with many governors in the process. See what Nyesom Wike of Rivers State is doing today. We are proud of him. We saw the character the man brought with him to the office from day one, and gave him an award. We gave award to people like Yahaya Bello of Kogi State. You know, sometimes you have to encourage people with potential or you lose them.
Why did you retain the name Daily Times after acquiring it? Is it because of its influence?
No, it is not because of the influence. Daily Times owns the largest archives. It is 95 years now, and will be 100 years in five years. How many media companies in Nigeria are 100 years old? Daily Times is beyond a newspaper company. It was here before Nigeria. It created the Nigeria Stock Exchange. It has produced two or three state governors. It is a national development company.
Daily Times will mark 100 years in five years. You have lined up events to mark the anniversary. Can you tell us about that?
Yes, in the run up to our 100 anniversary, we have created an event to celebrate icons of Daily Times – our heroes; Times Heroes. The first one that we have designed is for Ambassador Dele Cole. We are hoping to do these in their states of origin. Ambassador Cole’s event will be held in Port Harcourt. It will be a two-day event. On day one, we are going to train about 500 journalists in the area. On day two, there will be a proper Lecture where the likes of Dr. Mrs Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Dr Adewunmi Adeshina and other distinguished scholars and technocrats of Nigerian origin will be invited as Keynote Speakers. There is nothing like making impact in your home state. We have lined up about 15 of our former heroes. The first one will be in Rivers State because that is where Amb Cole comes from. We don’t want to keep celebrating people when they are dead; we want to celebrate them while they are alive, and learn something from them. We will talk about national development and the role the media play. In Nigeria, we let out heroes die without transferring knowledge. We need to have teach History in Nigeria because if you don’t know where you are coming from, you won’t know where you are going. We must return history to our schools. And that is what we are doing at Folio Communications. It is important therefore, that we get this first one right.
Secondly, we are developing a book, which Dr. Onyema Ugochukwu will co edit with Chief Tunji Okegbola, DTN Librarian of over 40 years, to be launched at our 100-year celebration. Amb. Dele Cole proved himself to be an epitome of politics without bitterness, media game changer and diplomat per excellence. He created the legacy of The Guardian and revived the legacy of Daily Times, and when the government was becoming overbearing, he created a new legacy at The Guardian.
We are also planning for the First Onyema Ugochukwu lecture, which will hold on 9th November, 2021. We will celebrate Ernest Ikoli, the first ever indigenous and founding editor of the Daily Times. We are also looking at celebrating Allahaji Babatunde Jose, Aremu Segun Osoba, Dr yemi Ogunbiyi, Chief Sam Amuka-Pemu, Mrs Grace Oyelude – first miss Nigeria, Prince Tony Momoh, among others. Our goal between now and the next five years, is to institute a minimum of 10 lectures. Each of them will be in respective home state of the icon, most of them and their governors have accepted. Indeed, they are all excited about it. We will send a letter to Governor Wike believing that he will be gracious enough to accept and host the 1st Amb Patrick Dele Cole lecture.