ByÂ Morenike Taire
Amma Ogan looks as if she ought to be bottled or framed and put in an exhibition for viewing and admiring. The famous crew cut combines with a devastating feminine figure to give her an exquisiteÂ rather than toughÂ appearance. In other words, she appears way too fragrant and far too sweet to be feminist.
It brings to mind that helpful clichÃ© about appearances. Those who would know insist, and legend has it, that a star had fallen from the feminist galaxy of the Nigerian press when, more than a decade ago, the former editor of The Guardian on Sunday left the country for the United States. Back now with Pulitzer Prize-winning husband, Dele Olojede, to attempt to redefine news journal publishing in Nigeria, Ms. Ogan chats with Morenike Taire in their Ikoyi home about what is Next, what has changed, and what has remained the same.
You’ve been in the print business, first as a professional – a journalist – and now as a manager/entrepreneur. Have your views changed in any way?
No. When you’re managing, you’re more aware of the business side of it; you’re more aware of what that requires. Even when I was working at The Guardian as the editor of the Sunday paper, the infrastructure of setting up the advertising department, the production departmentâ€¦ It’s a huge business and there are so many different parts of it that have to work at the same time.
And you were as involved in the business side of things?
No. I was involved in the production side of it but strictly editorial. The way we had it set up then, advertising, marketing, could be in different departments.
In the Nigerian situation, do we have the right newspapers? People say we don’t read; they say people can’t afford to buy newspapers. Does this kind of change the role of newspapers in our society?
I don’t know about “people can’t afford to buy newspapers”. If you look at the numbers, we have a sizeable working class. It’s probably very small compared to the overall population, but I don’t know if we actually satisfy that particular group that we know has money to spend on anything they want. It is up to them to decide: from what amount of money they have available to them, is this what they need? Sometimes, they’re two different things because if you position yourself in the way that it’s important to do, it’s necessary for them to buy you, to read you, to know what’s happening in their children’s schools, to know what to buy, what not to buy, what to pay for them. When people find that, they will be able to decide: “this is what I need to buy”.
When I interviewed Mr. Olojede a few years ago, right after he won the Pulitzer, he did say and I quote: “There were people at The Guardian who were just as brilliant as or even better than I”. His argument had been that it’s the environment that counts. Do you share that view?
Well, we’ve had a very good reception to Next. We’ve had people who would like to come and work for us and people stop you and tell you, “Oh, we like what you’re doing”. We started the paper basically with Nigerians: people trained here, who lived and grew up here; people who have worked here, moved abroad and came back. And, anywhere you go in the world, generally, you find Nigerians making strides. They’re hard people to ignore and are making strides. I think there’s something in our national character that has to do with enthusiasm, determination and intelligence.
So yes, I agree that if you provide the right environment people will flourish.
And, are you providing the right environment?
We’re trying very hard to do that.
People have said Next is a response to The Guardian’s decline. Is this true?
No. I’m not arguing about whether The Guardian has declined or not. The Guardian is three or four times the size it was when I was working there so, you can judge whether that’s declining or not. There’s a need for a different kind of newspaper. It has happened before. The Concord came along. Newswatch came along. People get comfortable and somebody new comes along and everyone sits up and says: “What can we do better?” I think every ten years, every five years, the industry needs a little jolt-competition. So, that’s what makes people wake up.
What will it take not to have you comfortable?
You should never get so comfortable that you think you’re perfect. And, it doesn’t only apply to the mediaÂ in every sphere of life. So, what you have to do is keep abreast of what is happening. You need to read around. You need to educate yourself. You need to know what’s going
on in the rest of the world. You have to keep your eyes open on
what’s happening in other places.
Does the Nigerian press cater to the needs of women sufficiently?
I don’t think so. That is one of the areas where we can do a lot more; to cater not only to the needs but also the interests and to encourage people to look outside some of the boundaries that society prescribes about what they can do and what they cannot do.
How could the Nigerian press serve women’s interests better?
There used to be a time when, if you were a woman and you joined a newspaper, you’d be expected to work in, maybe, the children’s section. There is absolutely no reason why a man who’s a father and who also is part of the production of children should not have a role in deciding what they should do and what they shouldn’t do. In a way, these are stereotypes. When I was at The Guardian, (I was) the Defence Correspondence.
What I believe you’re saying is that if women played various roles in the media, they are better able to project a more balanced view of things.
The world is made up of men and women. You should be able to walk into the place and find people from everywhere. The same opportunities that men have women should have. Your future should not be determined on the basis of your being female. Basically, people should be able to say, “this is what I have to do”.
Corruption is a general problem, but it has crept into the fourth estate of the realm as it were. Would you agree?
And Next seems to be doing a lot of investigative journalism. Is this deliberate?
Yes, it is.
A great piece of photojournalism appeared in Next a few weeks ago. It was the picture of a member of the House of Representatives who had his hands up in the air in frustration, apparently, because someone had asked how much he earned and he’d said: “I can’t tell you how much I earn.” He was captured just that way. Do you suffer for this kind of bravery, if you will?
Yes, but it’s a question of doing what you believe to be the right thing to do and one of the most important reasons why we started this newspaper was to return to the ethics of the profession; to show that there’s a proper way to do it and that it can be done. That in Nigeria, we have the ability and that people will respond to something that is done well and done for the right reasons.
What are you doing to tackle corruption in the media?
In our newspaper, we do not accept money for placing stories. That is one of the most important things and I’m happy to say that people…
People say you were a feminist while at The Guardian. Is this correct?
Yes. I suppose it is, yes.
Who’s a feminist, by your definition?
A feminist is a woman who does not believe that, because of her gender, she is in any way inferior or less deserving than a man.
“Not deserving” is one thing, having a level playing field is another. Is there a level playing field? Will there ever be, considering the roles that Biology has thrust on women?
There should be a level playing field. People should have an idea of what they want. I think, what really we want is freedom of opportunity to allow anybody – men or women – to reach their potential.
Clearly, a feminist is not somebody who stays marriedâ€¦
I’m not telling anybody to marry or not marry. In every marriage, you have to work out for yourself what the role of each person will be, what environment you want to create for your children and what your values are. Marriage requires that you make sacrifices and it requires vigorous sacrifices for women. If you want to fulfill your career and still be a good mother, you have to… The role of the man is to provide for the family…
I do agree that there is a context in which marriage and feminism are incompatible. Life itself is a compromise. If you decide not to marry, you’re making a choice. You’re making compromises, if you decide that this is a more important issue for you.
What about the editorial contents of Nigerian newspapers?
Do you agree that government is taking up too much space and social issues too little?
Are you saying we have too many articles about government?
I don’t think it’s right. Let’s just say… We hear about policy, what government is planning to do. What way does it trickle down?