If you are lucky to find a way of life that you love, you would have the courage to live it. That thesis best describes the personality of publisher of First Weekly news magazine, Ekundayo Asaju. The Kogi State born Prince, no doubt, is on the list of leaders who have broken through the glass ceiling and forged the way so that younger professionals can exist and flourish. In this interview with the Editor, FOLORUNSHO HAMSAT, Asaju shares his journey in journalism, his family life, personal experiences, and thoughts about how modern day journalists can succeed, and more. Excerpts…
Would you say you are meeting your expectations of life at 56?
To be quite honest, I don’t have to complain. God has been faithful to me. I can say my journey of life has been eventful, hitches that were meant to shape and toughen me came and with God on my side I overcame, I’m an overcomer. At 56, it could’ve have been better but with the benefits of hindsight, this is where God wants me to be. To him alone, I return all glory.
If you were not a journalist, what would you have been?
I think a lawyer. I actually studied law at diploma level. While growing up, I admired great lawyers like the late Chiefs GOK Ajayi, Gani Fawehinmi and Alao Aka-Bashorun. May the Lord bless their souls. They all left their footprints on the sand of times.
You have come
far as a journalist, share with us briefly your memorable and challenging moments in the course of writing news.
I have had memorable moments, starting from the early part of the 80s, as a staff writer in Climax magazine, Moji Danisa was my first editor. I remember vividly how an America deportee and relation of Gani Fawehinmi on wheelchair decided to pitch his tent in front of the American Embassy in Lagos in protest over his deportation. He was said to have had a spinal cord injury while in America. In the course of trying to get an interview with him at his home somewhere in Ikotun area of Lagos State, he drew a gun and threatened to shoot me for invading his property while pretending to be looking for accommodation. Another memorable incident in my attempt at sourcing for a story was at the Fame magazine. I went to Okitipupa in Ondo State to investigate a story involving a then popular socialite who was running a fake foreign degree programme, awarding racket and ripping top Nigerians off, Dr Felix Lowen. Prominent Nigerians like Maitama Bello and Kwam 1 were some of his victims. On getting to his home very late in the night, I told the security man I was invited from Lagos by his boss who my source had told me was out of town. Thank God it wasn’t in this era of GSM, the poor chap welcomed me in and called one of the wives to attend to me. I told her I was on a business mission for her husband, so she didn’t have any reason to doubt me because of my approach and expression. She said Felix would be returning the next day. After a while in the living room, I told one of the relatives that I couldn’t get an accommodation for the night in the hotel, and the guy volunteered to accommodate me in his room close to the living room. There was blackout in the town and the household retired to bed almost as soon as I came in. I had spotted where the family albums were immediately I entered the living room.
While they were all asleep I crept to the sitting room with my pocket flashlight, took the albums, went through them and removed some of the best pictures of his scam victims.
I went back to bed quietly and got up very early in the morning so that Felix won’t meet me. I told my host I wanted to buy something down the road, since I didn’t come with any bag apart from a small folder where I had tucked the pictures. I made for the park from where I boarded a bus to Lagos. Getting back to work, my editors were so happy with the result that one of them actually gave me a bottle of Guilder for my daring efforts. Then, it wasn’t about money but the prize. We all desired this and the competition was stiff and cordial.
The third incident was in Calgary, Canada. I had accompanied Sir Shina Peters on a tour of Canada. We had a successful show in Calgary and a Nigerian decided to host us to a breakfast treat after the show. I went with SSP and a couple of his friends, thank goodness, I have never been a cheeky person. While we were at the table with our host, his friends and those of SSP, a particular man who everyone there referred to as Baba started chatting with SSP as they both went down memory lane. SSP told him he should return to his social life like before. SSP obviously knew him but I didn’t, and the man said, “pelu awon were onikokuko yen, won ma pa mi” (with those crazy journalists around, they would kill me). “Ikan wa to hate mi gan, mio mo nkan ti mo sefun” (There’s a particular one among them that hates me with passion, I don’t know what I’ve done to him). When SSP asked him who was it, he said, they call him Dayo Asaju, and here I was eating quietly beside this angry man without any iota of suspicion I was in his bad book! SSP calmly asked him if he had met or known Dayo, he said no. SSP smiled and merely said ‘small world’ and we continued with our food. I became very uncomfortable afterwards and when SSP noticed this, he gave a smile and signalled that I should be calm.
We left quietly for our hotel rooms only for SSP to visit my room in the afternoon and introduced to me the man, Sliki. He is the popular socialite that was the toast of top musicians in the 80s; the hit track K1 waxed in his honour is evergreen. So, he reconciled us and I apologized for some of the stories he claimed were untrue that I wrote without confirmation. We took pictures and pump hands. The journey from the late 80s in the media has indeed been challenging but interesting. But with more access to information, strategic planning and painstaking investigations now, we celebrity writers can achieve results without breaking bones unnecessarily.
Excelling in one’s chosen field often requires an inspiration, what inspires your steady success as a journalist and publisher?
My background really prepared me. My father was my greatest influence, I looked up to him, right from my childhood, I did everything in like manner, from my primary school, Adeola Model School, Offa where we had the press club. I discovered here that with the kind of talent and interest I have for nosing around for happenings, it would be an accident of monumental dimension not to pursue my dream in journalism.
In secondary school, Okene Secondary School, Okene, a school that could be likened to the likes of Kings College in Lagos in the 70s and 80s in the then Kwara State. Even at Form 4, I was already the president of the current affairs society, I represented my school along with General Soladoye (rtd). We won prizes and accolades in the state. This passion has always been there, from home and schools. The passion must be there, grown and nurtured. If you don’t know the basis and rudiments you’ll fail, if you don’t develop the required rapprochement with people, you’ll fail. If you don’t pay your dues, you’ll fail. You must be ready to serve. Though, with the coming of the social media, we are still heads over the ocean. Again, you require strong discipline and will to say no in defense of the job, compromising unnecessarily and blackmail leads only to one direction, quick money and early exit from journalism. I try as much as possible to be contented with what comes my way.
As a stakeholder, do you share the notion that celebrity journalism is going out of fashion?
I don’t think so, we only need to reinvent. There are some of us that are not good in buying and selling or some businesses but news reporting. Going online is also going to work for us in spite of the aggressive and non-professionalism ravaging the social media. The point is, with time, the wheat would be separated from the chaff. Soft-sell publishing won’t die.
What was the target you had when you started First Weekly magazine, and would you say the target is being met now given the state of publishing in Nigeria?
I started First Weekly magazine with some of the best minds in the industry, those of us at the management level were close associates then and the desire was to create a different space. We succeeded largely in creating new and young celebrities, we came up strongly to stamp our authority in the industry, we worked tirelessly to justify the cliche, ‘best stories under the sky’, and some of our competitors always waited for us to hit the stand before publishing. I give great credit to all. We all ran a very good race. The advent of First Weekly magazine 13 years ago opened up the space and gave room for stiffer, better and conducive competition.
This credit is actually not mine alone as I was just an individual though the leader, my associates and workers were awesome. They put in their best and I’ll forever be grateful to them, without their commitment and support, it would have been a different story. 13 years down the line, we are still in business and doing really well with the magazine in soft and hard copies.
What is your social life like?
I create time to socialize reasonably now. Times are changing, I’m now more involved in family matters. As an elder in the family, it is now a must to attend family functions. Our children are getting married and we can’t but play parental roles of giving out and receiving new members into the family. I don’t night-crawl anymore as I won’t want to be caught in acts I won’t be able to defend before my children (laughter).
Not many people knew why you are addressed as ‘Clear Leader’, would you like to share the reason?
The nickname which is now preceding me was given to me by Sanya Ojikutu. This was when we started Fame Weekly magazine. And it was stamped by Mayor Akinpelu, Kunle Bakare, Femi Akintunde-Johnson, Desola Bakare and the late Wale Olomu. Not forgetting Bashorun Dele Momodu. The runaway success stories of Fame and Encomium magazines will give you the answer to that question. To be tagged by these great individuals is an honour I cherish. The name now goes before me everywhere and it also opens doors. Whatever I did back then to be so tagged, I pray the almighty God to keep improving them as my children are proud of it. My family, friends and associates are also proud of it.
Do you have a take on why great journalists and critics of government’s policies do change attitudes as soon as they are invited into government?
It is always very easy to criticize people in government from the outside but when you become part of the system, you’re confronted with the stark realities. You now know that at times things might not be as they seem outside. It is not about the perks of office alone that defines some of our people. Those running the affairs of the country are not better than us or better prepared but this thing needs a lot of understanding of the system and perceptions would change. Some are critics just to be partakers in the ‘eating of the national cake’ but some of our guys are real agents of change. We’ve seen journalists that have criticized, went into government and performed well.
Would you bless any of your children showing interest in becoming a journalist?
My first born is already a journalist; he graduated in 2015 with good grades. He had a stint with CNN Nigeria. He’s now a content provider. Just like my father prayed and blessed me not to get stained in the industry, I’ve also done same for him.
What are the main challenges facing the publishing industry that you think government can solve?
The high cost of printing materials is a major encumbrance; again, certain privileges must be given to encourage robust practices because in an atmosphere of intimidation, harassment and clampdown on newspaper houses the end results are never palatable. Access to information is also crucial, the day the government pronounces the criminalization of denial of access to information, it marks the beginning of the rebirth of the country because the Fourth Estate of the realm would be able to work and watch efficiently for the society.
What is that particular event that brings smile to your face whenever you recall it?
That was when I had my son. I was in the labour room. It was no joke though, as we were preparing for caesarian when the guy rushed out.
Younger journalists who wish to grow in the business, what would you suggest are the prerequisites?
One, shun pecuniary interest to promote falsehood. Two, make good news judgment. Three, plan before swimming in the shark infested publishing business. Four, shun blackmail. Five, never attempt to outshine the master, and six, run your own race.
Is it all work or you have a time to relax with the family outside the home?
I’m a family man to the core. I spend most of my time outside office with the family. The children are growing and really need me for directions.
Mention three positive qualities about you that people probably didn’t know
I’m too trusting, generous and selfless.