Last 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.
The Role Newswatch, late Dele Giwa and Ray Ekpu Played In My career.
When Newswatch came in 1985 I got involved with the four guys then, late Dele Giwa, Ray Ekpu, Yakubu Mohammed and Dan Agbese.
Those were the shinning stars then, all in their 40’s at that time. What got me interested in Newswatch was the role played by Prof Adebayo Williams. He was then in the English Department at the then University of Ife but he was a Columnist at Newswatch. I loved the writing of Adebayo Williams so much that I used to go and hangout with him at his Department in the Faculty of Arts.
I got to like the four guys behind Newswatch so much that twice I invited Dele and Ray to come to Ife to deliver public lectures on contemporary political issues then.
That was how I got close to Dele especially and sometime in 1985, the Universities were closed down for a long time so I was Idle.
So one day I told my brother I wanted to go to Newswatch to see if I could get a Vacation Job there. They were then at their old office at Oregun. I filled the form at the gate and I was asked who I wanted to see. I said Dele Giwa. I was told it was Mr. Yakubu Mohammed that was around, I said okay. When I met him I felt like melting. He looked mystical to me. I couldn’t imagine being ushered into the presence of a great writer and journalist who I used to read on the pages of Newswatch. I recalled vividly the way he started the conversation, “ Yes young man can I help you?” he asked briefly. I was rattled. “ I want to work with Newswatch” I mumbled. Sorry, we don’t have a vacancy, he retorted. Before ushering me out I quickly chipped in this. Yes, I know but can I be allowed to just hang round your office to help you push papers round, like a messenger? Before he could reply I landed another one. I don’t need to be paid I quickly told him. Really? He asked. We don’t have space for that here. There is not much you can do here. I was downcast when he said it. I told him I love Journalism and I wanted to be let loose within the premises to understudy the galaxy of stars in the company.
Not to discourage me, he asked me to go to the Library next floor to see one Nyakwo Oso, who was the Librarian. Off I went to the Library and I met this man submerged in a pool of books, newspaper, magazine. I told him my vision and begged him to let me be his messenger.
He told me point blank that he had no vacancy for me to fill but that if I could help with Press cuttings and filling he wouldn’t mind and that he can just give me taxi money to and fro.
His offer blew me away. At last I got what I wanted. I started work right away. That was how I worked for about two months. That made me get close to many of the stars in Newswatch at that time like Dele Olojede, Emeka Obasi, Nosa Igbiebor, Dele Omotunde. From writing newspaper articles and filling and joining research, the beat I liked so much was arranging daily newspapers for the Editor-In-Chief, Dele Giwa. I would tag his newspapers as early as 7am because he usually resumed early. And it was much joy to take his newspapers to him as he took his early morning coffee.
By the time my vacation was over and I was going back to school my Oga, Nyakuwo, who is the best in the industry congratulated me and said I should not hesitate to keep coming back anytime I was on vacation. Your job will be waiting for you. That was how my relationship with Newswatch started. I went back each time I had vacation. But unfortunately by the time I finished my programme in 1987, Dele Giwa had died and Newswatch was in turmoil.
My Tribune Years
I have always loved journalism. I remember that in my Part 1, part 2 in Ife at that time, I have always done my vacation jobs with Media houses . And this was around a period when they had long closure of schools and all that. Schools were always closed at that time. Infact, my interest had always been in the Media from Part 1 and of course, I used to live in Ibadan with my parents and each time we had a vacation I would go to Nigerian Tribune at Imalefalafia. Even, my relationship with Tribune started by my just walking in to see the Editor of Sunday Tribune, Mr. Folu Olamiti, who is now the Corporate Affairs Director with the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC.
He was then the Editor of Sunday Tribune. And Sunday Tribune was the largest selling newspaper at that time. I don’t know how he was able to do it but Sunday Tribune was selling, I guess it was because of Sports because they carried Pool results and all that. Sunday Tribune was selling like hot cake. I went there and explained myself that if there was anything I could write and all that. And of course, I was a student of History and Political Science. So, everything we did in school, I just realized I could apply to every day living. So I would write articles of National Interest. History of Sir Ahmadu Bello, the crisis of the Palestinaians, Liberia and the rest of them. I just realized that what we did in school, one could link it to the present day situations. So, I was always doing articles. So, every Sunday, I was always getting published in Tribune because he (Folu Olamiti) was the Editor and I was dealing with him directly. Then, of course, the paper had this centre-spread to be filled at that time. So, I was always giving him stories, articles and of course, my articles too. Then, of course, I used to send articles to The Guardian too because they had OP. Ed i.e Opinion/Editorial page and most of the time I got published. And if you get published then, you could always go and collect your money. So, any time I come to Lagos, I would just go there and collect it. But it was very small at that time. I think it was 500 naira at that time but each time you got published you’ll get it. So, that was what made my interest to grow.
And of course, in my Part 3, we set up a club in Ife, it was in International Relations Department, because I was also doing elective courses in International Relations, so, we set up Students Society of International Affairs (SSIA) formed after the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, NIIA in Lagos here, because I had a relationship with the Institute. And because of that, I used to bring people to Ife to come and deliver lectures. And that was how I got to invite Dele Giwa to deliver a lecture.
So, my relationship with late Dele Giwa made me fall in love with journalism. And I said to myself, if these young people, because they were very young at that time, I said if these young people could make a living out of journalism and they were okay, why not aspire to be a journalist? And of course, that influenced me a great deal. So from that point onward, I developed a relationship with a lot of people in the media while I was still a student.
Of course, my plan was, I was going to work with Newswatch after leaving school. But at the time I was leaving school, Dele Giwa had been killed. He was killed in 1986, and I left school in 1987. And things had taken a new turn in Newswatch and all of that. I know Dele Giwa told me at that time that once I finish from school, I should just come that a job was waiting for me.
The NYSC Years In Ilorin
And that was how the Newswatch chapter closed. And during my NYSC programme, I had to go and serve in Ilorin. And I was officially posted to the Kwara State Polytechnic to teach African and European History. I served in History Department, the Head of Department, H.O.D was so much in love with me that he just handed the Department over to me to run. So I was teaching European and African History which was a no problem. But one day, I found my way to Herald Newspapers in Ilorin. And just like I did in Newswatch, I introduced myself to them. Then, the Editor was not around. They said it was the Chairman of the Editorial Board who was around at that time. And the guy happened to be Dapo Olorunyomi who also at the end of the day became a director in The News. I introduced myself to him and told him what I wanted. And he said no problem, that I should be freelancing, and before I knew what was happening, I had an every Tuesday column. And there were a lot of things to write about at that time. And I was writing on so many things, politics, history, interesting topics and everything. And they started publishing it. So I was doing the 2 at the same time. So, most times if I was not having anything to do at Kwara Poly, I would go to the library of the Herald newspaper. So, that was how I served. And by the time I finished my NYSC, I had a job waiting for me in Lagos. One of the senior colleagues who I had worked with had read one or two of my articles in Herald. He then sent for me, his name is Seyi Olu–Awofeso. He was editing a magazine called The Insider. It was a specialized and classified magazine that deals with privileged information and all that. He was in Lagos as well and he said I should just come and join him, when I finished my Service year. However, when I finished my service year, I was retained in Ilorin to be a Lecturer at Kwara Poly. But I didn’t feel the academic line was the way for me. Even though I had a flair for it. I said to myself, it should be Media. The HOD said I should go and think about it.
My Years At Concord and This Week
So I left Ilorin for Lagos, immediately I arrived Lagos, I started work with The Insider magazine the following day. And everything was around Research, and what helped me was my Newswatch experience. So, it wasn’t actually, a problem for me. So, from that one we were working on, then of course came the offer for me to join the African Concord. African Concord at that time was edited by Mr. Bayo Onanuga and of course the likes of Mr. Babafemi Ojudu, now a Senator. He was a reporter that time. Dapo Olorunyomi who I spoke about, we had formed a conglomerate that joined Concord. And African Concord was the place to be at that time because of the young guys who were there. And of course, it was really, really interesting. I was able to learn a lot of things about Journalism. Oh, sorry, before African Concord, I had worked with This Week magazine. I left The Insider to join This Week magazine, owned by Nduka Obaigbena who now runs ThisDay News-papers. So I joined This Week and was there for about 3 years till when the offer to join the African Concord came. I spent my time at Thisweek to do a lot of professional courses to know more about journalism. I did all the related courses that you could think of at the Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ) and then, Daily Times Journalism Institute. That was in Surulere and NIJ was in Ogba, both in Lagos here. So, I did everything from Layout, just on my own. I was just doing those short courses. As I was finishing one, I was starting the next one. Photography, Angles of Photographs, how you could do layout. How to do everything that you could think about in journalism. And of course broadcast journalism. I did a wide range of courses. And after a while, I did some advanced courses at NIJ. So, for me I was able to combine my job with studying. They were not full time courses, it was more of an evening thing. So, at the time I was leaving Newswatch, I was like ready to take on my new job. So, when I joined African Concord, it was so easy for me. Then of course, I was in a group with Femi Ojudu, Kunle Ajibade and co. The thing was, we were all journalists and we were there. We were really the hottest at that time. And of course, one day, we decided to do a story on Nigeria. The then Military President Ibrahim Babangida made a statement, that he did not understand the Nigerian economy. That he didn’t understand how the economy was running, on Autopilot. So, we just sat down to analyse the statements he made. And we did. African Concord was owned by late Moshood Abiola. Meanwhile, Babangida was of the opinion that MKO was the one who asked us to do that story to rubbish him.
And he closed us down. So, MKO called our Editor at that time, Mr. Bayo Onanuga to meet him. He then said he had met his friend, Babangida that he said he was going to re-open the place, if only we could apologise to him. That all those things we wrote, we didn’t quite believe in them. And of course, he (Onanuga) told him he was not sure that he could apologise. That it was not a matter of we writing it, that we divided it among ourselves. Of course, he told him there and then that he was not sure he could apologize for he actually believed in it. And it was divided among ourselves, that you handle this, you handle that. And collectively, we believed in what we wrote. So, that was his position. So, he left, telling MKO that he needed to consult the rest of us before a decision could be taken. And MKO said he should see him first thing the following day. And of course, he called us and asked if we would accept the condition. We were like nobody should beg for what we believed in and all that. So, he went back to MKO the following day and said we could not beg. So, rather than beg, all of us were ready to turn in our resignation letters. And of course, that made us leave.
The Birth of TheNEWS
And we ended up in African Guardian. African Guardian was having a problem at that time, so when we left African Concord we were asked to come in and help them revive African Guardian. Mr. Sully Abu, the Editor-in -Chief now invited us to join African Guardian at that time. And of course, our reputation from the African Concord just got us to African Guardian. So, we were there until we decided to form The News magazine. About 6 of us. Bayo Onanuga did not join us at African Guardian. We said he shouldn’t join us, that he should be free to work on the new media project with the Accountant amongst us, Idowu Obasa . So, we worked in African Guardian for a year, before we left to float The News magazine. So, that was the sequence.
Why I Am Unconventional
By nature you are unconventional, shy, quiet, humble and almost faceless. Has this rubbed off in any way on your profession?
It has to do with my personality really. I think I have always been a shy and simple person by upbringing. I am not a pretentious person and I also believe we should do things our own way to get different results. I like to think outside the box I like to question conventional wisdom. I like to do my own things the opposite way.
I don’t believe all of us should do things alike. Otherwise, the whole world will be unexciting. I believe everyone of us has some distinct traits, I took the decision that if anyone wants to break into a market, the person should be unconventional and that may possibly stand you out. So if you face the direction everyone is headed, you won’t stand out. This has always worked for City People.
From day one when we came out, people were doing Colour, we did Black/white, and everyone thought I was crazy but of course, people saw the result. We have been very lucky, all the experiments we carried out paid off, and that is why today we have 4 publications. For us to have done all these within 19 years, I know we are doing something right for the magazine to still be alive. So when I see this, it keeps me going. We may not be there yet, but I know we are on the right path.
Advice For Those Who Want To Actualise Their Dreams
do have for those who want to actualise their dreams?
There are certain things you need to do in life. Talking about young people,you have to define 3 things. One what is your purpose in life. What is your Vision, Mission And Purpose, goals? Don’t be afriad to realise your Dream . Dream big . Don’t take No for an answer. Know yourself, know what you want to do. Decide on what you want and stand for it. It is said, “he who stands for nothing will fall for anything.” So stand for something, put all your energy in it. I have often been told that I pay too much attention to City People. I found what I love: Journalism. So the young ones should do just that. For me, Journalism is a calling. It isn’t about coming to work, it’s my Passion; so everyone should be Passionate about what they do. Of course, if you follow your passion, feel good about it and put in your best, you will be better off for it.