“The Story of My Life” – Seye Kehinde’s 50th Birthday Interview – Part 1

imageLast week Friday April 24, 2015, Seye Kehinde the Publisher of City People magazine turned 50 and he had a grand party to celebrate the golden age.
In this Special Birthday Interview SK, as he is fondly called reveals his success story.

How do you feel at 50?
I feel normal. Like they say, it is just another number. I don’t feel different. Philosophically at first, I found it very scary and strange because it is something that crept in on me. I never gave it a thought. Suddenly I started realising that we can’t turn the hands of the clock backwards. I don’t feel really different from the way I felt when I was 40, 45 or 35. I just see it as a clock that is tickling.

What has life taught you at 50?
Life has taught me to be consistent, to decide early enough on what to do in life and be able to do it, to have a clear focus, to find who you are, to define your mission on earth, and to have a clear picture of what you want to achieve in life.
I was lucky to achieve that early enough, l knew clearly what l was going to do with my life at an early age. So l didn’t have to waste time to do other things and that explains why l have found fulfillment in Journalism. I was Editor of TEMPO Magazine at 28.

Take us back to how journalism started for you?
I have had a clear picture of what l was going to do in life from when l was in the university. I have always had a flare for the Arts, reading up on peoples stories. Biographies and autobiographies interest me a lot, stories of great people, people who have shaped Nigeria, people who shaped the world. I am somebody who keeps books, I read a lot. When I gained admission into Ife to study History & Political Science, I had a clear picture that journalism was one of the professions I was likely to go into. I had interest in Law too. I have always admired lawyers and the law profession too. I also realised that most of the people around me were lawyers but at the same time I also loved Journalism, I love to report and mind other peoples business. You can’t believe it that I was one of the pioneer Law students at OSU. When I was in my Part 2 in Ife I started writing articles for “The Guardian” and “Nigerian Tribune”, I grew up in Ibadan with my parents, I found it so easy because Tribune at Oke Ado was just 10 minutes walk away from Felele where I lived. A great influence was Professor Adebayo Williams. He was a Literature teacher in Ife then, he used to be close to me, I have always seen him as a great writer and someone who talks very deep. I was opportuned to be close to him and that influenced my interest in journalism.

How has the journey been?
It has been great, I have found every bit of it very interesting. From the school years till when I became a professional journalist, I have always found it very interesting and I have had a successful career, I grew from being a Library Assistant at Newswatch, to being a Reporter, to being an Editor and a Publisher. I have seen it all and l have enjoyed every bit of it and I am back to combining all that now.

How was growing up like for you?
My growing up was in Ibadan. As I turned 50, each time I look at life, what comes to my mind was the life I lived in Ibadan. I was born in Ibadan, I am not from Oyo State, I am from Ogun State. I lived in Ibadan and then it was the capital of the old Western Region, Ibadan was the main point then, very relaxed atmosphere, very easy place, there was peace at that time, we can call it the age of innocence, there was no fear of anything, just basically going to school and coming back. I had an interesting childhood, my parents were both civil servants, middle class family. You didn’t have to be rich at that time to get by, just have some job you are doing and you will get by. I went for my primary school in Ibadan and secondary school in Sagamu at Remo Secondary School. From there I went to Ogun Polytechnic to do my ‘A’ levels and from there to Ogun State University to read Law but I left. The same year I entered Ogun State University was the year I left for Ife. At that time new states were created so we had to relocate to Ogun State, Abeokuta to be precise. They left me in Ibadan, so by the time I finished, I went to join them in Ogun state. That was how I had to change my base from Ibadan to Ogun State and then to Ife where I was for 4 yrs. After I finished, I went to serve in Ilorin and I went to Lagos from there.

Why didn’t you study Mass Communication?
I wanted to be a lawyer. Really, Journalism for me was just an alternative. Law really played a prominent role in my life. Interestingly, I was admitted to Ogun State University to study Law, I was a pioneer Law student in Osu. Then, UPN was in power then and there was this rumour that they were not going to recognise law students from Osu. Many parents asked their children to leave the school. At that time I also gained admission into Ife to study History and Political Science, people advised me to do 1 year of History & Political Science and change to Law the following year. By the time I finished first year and I wanted to transfer, it was difficult for me. By the time I finished the second year, I had fallen more in love with journalism. When I finished, I had to go for different courses. I did all the available courses at Daily Times Journalism Institute, I did all the courses in Photography, News Writing, Page Planning, I went to NIJ and I did all the major courses there. By the time I got to Part 3, I was already writing for all the Nigerian newspapers. When I served in Ilorin, I also worked with “The Herald Newspaper”, at the same time I taught at Kwara Polytechnic, I had a regular column in ‘The Herald’. By the time I was through with my service, I knew journalism was it for me. When I finished, I just came to Lagos and started working, that was how journalism started for me.

imageWhat inspired you to start your own media house?
When I was in Ife, I used to love softsell a lot, there were few soft magazines in the industry at that time, but I believe journalism is all about People, stories of people who performed well, those who have failed and those who have not performed at all. And I love reading biographies and auto biographies. That was when I thought it won’t be a bad idea to set up a paper that would be about people, someday. I realized that news was being too dry and too harsh, they were always talking about budget or figures and I realised that for you to be relevant you need to add a bit of human content in it.
When l was in Ife I used to joke with some of my friends that someday I will be able to do a magazine that will talk about people, entertainment, people in showbiz, fashion, politics and business and they said that will be very interesting, I drew what City People will look like and I kept it. In 1996, the same friend that I sat down with kept on reminding me about that magazine I always talked about that I was going to do. He is a finance expert, he said we should put down the figures it will cost me to set up the company, I told him I was not ready, I don’t have the money and he said how much do I need? It was then I actually realised that I didn’t know how much I needed to set up the company. I know that people talk about you having big money before you can do a magazine. He said he will join me one afternoon for us to knock the figures together, so he came with his laptop and we did the calculation and we realised that it was something that was possible. What I came up with was actually an improvement on the initial draft I had when I was in my part 3, that was how City People was born. A lot of my friends always said “you have so many ideas, you have always been talking about this magazine”, so I actually tried this in 1996 and it became a huge success.

Did you believe City People would be this big when you started?
City People is God working through me. At an early age, I perfected how to relate with God. When I want to do something, I don’t rush into it, I turn it over in my mind. When I started, I didn’t see too much challenge from the market, some papers existed but I believed I could do it.

How has journalism shaped your life?
It has made me who I am, it has catapulted me to the level at which I am today, I have found fulfillment in it. I believe that whatever you have decided to do in life, keep at it. I have learnt a lot of things from it, it has made me understand my environment better, it has made me understand my country better, I have met people, I have met great people on this job and l believe the sky is my starting point.

Do you see yourself as a fulfilled man at 50?
Yes….very fulfilled. Fulfillment in the sense that you could dream of an idea and you were able to fulfil it. I have found contentment in journalism, I am someone who is not too ambitious. All I want to do is run a good business and contribute my own quota to the society I live in, contribute positively to the change in the society. I think I have done my own bit, what l need to do is to improve on what I am doing so that I can touch more lives.

Tell us what people don’t know about you.
I’m a very reserved person, I am a very shy person, I am one of those who feel that I don’t think that I need to celebrate my private life on the pages of newspapers. I was brought up to be an easy going person. We celebrate those that are doing well, but I didn’t meet my seniors in the profession celebrating themselves. Having this kind of platform, what I have is a privilege to celebrate others. So, by the time you start celebrating yourself, you’re abusing the platform you have. People need to know about people that are doing wondrous things in the society. I live a normal life like everybody, I don’t believe that I need to celebrate myself or take space in the papers talking about yourself.

How do you unwind?
I read a lot, I read two books a week. I have one of the best private libraries in Nigeria. Don’t forget I read History. I like gisting with people. I like listening to music and these days I’ve seemed to enjoy sleeping because I don’t really get to sleep a lot.

Ibadan seems to play a major role in your life. What impact did this make on your life?
My career started in Ibadan. My romance with Journalism dates back to 1984 in Ibadan. Then, I used to write for Sunday Tribune which was then the largest circulating Sunday paper. I used to do feature articles and opinion then. The paper was then edited by Mr. Folu Olamiti. Although I was a student at the then University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, he saw the potentials in me and asked me to keep contributing to the paper. That was in the days of the man they call the field Marshal of the Media, Mr. Felix Adenaike as Editor-in-Chief of the Group. I was in my Part 2 then studying History/ Political Science. Also at that time I used to write opinion articles for The Guardian newspaper and we used to be paid I think N500 or so then. So the trick will be to get published over a month so when you go to pick up your pay it will be quite substantial. That was in the days of Dr. Edwin Madunagu, Seyi Olu Awofeso, Sonala Olumenhse, Greg Obong Oshostse, and the galaxy of stars.

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