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Football Beckons but the Pen is Stronger

The current built of Dan Esiekpe, Group Managing Director/CEO of IMS Limited, hardly says anything about this once agile footballer whose love for the round leather game dictated the schools he attended in his growing up years.

The compelling force of football brought him from then Bendel State (now Edo and Delta States) to Lagos where he discovered Baptist Academy as the school where he could continue to lace his boots. But unknown to him, fate was there to prepare him for the media world and it was from Baptist Academy that he first ventured into the world of journalism. Dan started his primary school education in Orerokpe, the headquarters of Okpe Local Government Area.

His father, a civil servant, worked in the then Sapele Urban District Council and Western Urhobo District Council. Before then he was in Warri District Council and he also worked with Warri Club in those days. “But Orerokpe was the place we stayed for long. I can say I’m so culturally and emotionally attached to the Okpe people. I speak the Okpe dialect to tell you how much I’m attached to the people. It was an idealic life growing up.

“The idealic life was supported by the fact that when you close from school,l you go back to the school again to play football and after that if there was still time, you run to the river to swim. But today people pay to have these facilities,” he recalled.

By the time he finished his primary education, his love and for football had grown considerably. When it was time to choose a school for his Higher School Certificate, the choice of the school became an issue.

Two prominent schools in Lagos with high football playing profiles – Baptist Academy and CMS Grammar School Bariga – came up for consideration. He gained admission into these two schools, but a neighbour who had graduated from the Baptist Academy encouraged him to attend the school on the ground that it had a track record of hosting people from Bendel State that were doing well in the football arena. “That was what really attracted me to attend the school,” he says.

Journey into Journalism
Even though football occupied a very good place in his scheme of things, there was also this inner ambition to write. Dan Esiekpe’s versatility and creativity have always been part of him; as early as his days at Baptist Academy, Lagos, where he pioneered the publication of The X-Ray, a student publication. His literary skill was to later earn him a regular short story column in one of the Daily Times titles-even as a secondary school student.

His creative exploits continued after graduation from the University at Radio Nigeria as a Sports Producer and Sports commentator. Joining Lintas, Lagos therefore, he worked on major brands like Guinness FES, Harp, Lux, Lifebuoy, UAC Corporate, Passat, Audi and launched the Volkswagen Santana.

Dan then moved to Nigerian Breweries; where the then Unilever and Heineken-owned brewing and marketing giant groomed and polished his functional and managerial competencies: From Advertising and Brand Management; through customer management and trade marketing; to strategic planning, competitive strategy and general management.

He was at different times, Sales and Marketing Manager of Sierra Leone Brewery; Sales and Marketing Director of Ghana Breweries, Sales Director, Nigerian Breweries, Marketing Director, Nigerian Breweries and Commercial Excellence Director, Nigerian Breweries.

Dan is a Mass Communication graduate of University of Lagos and holds a Postgraduate Certificate in Strategic Marketing Management from the Harvard Business School, University of Pennsylvania. He enjoys creative writing and has two novels, “The Union Manifesto” and “Return to Freetown” to his credit.

How He Got into Broadcasting
When and how did he get into broadcasting? He started with radio broadcasting when he was deployed to Sokoto during his National Youth Service Corp, NYSC, programme. “I was the only mass communication graduate in that set. Also during this period, the National Broadcasting Commission needed a mass communication graduate, likewise the NTA.

“The chief inspector and Mallam Atiku wanted me to serve as a Public Relation Officer, but I insisted that I would like to serve, in the interest of the NYSC, by creating programmes that will popularize the NYSC. Later on the radio station was christened as Rima Station, due to the federal government policy that all federal radio station should be returned back to state ownership.

“Right from Sokoto I was also opportune to run various programmes, like network programme, magazine programme and a particular programme named trip around Sokoto state. Also my background in football started coming to limelight as I started running football commentary on my station with a colleagues of mine named mallam Bello Katuna.

“It was very popular then, because we have to run the commentary in both Hausa and English, because of the nature of the audience involve. It was right from Sokoto that I  got to radio Nigeria. Then it was the programme controller who informed me that the station will like to retain me since my service will soon come to an end, but Lagos needed to interview some people and he asked if I would like to go to Lagos state and I replied yes.

“I took the interview, but I was almost tempted into going to Daily Times. I had not resumed at Daily Times and had come all the way from Delta, through my uncle and the late Godwin Agbroko. I have work already at Radio Nigeria, Godwin had none and I told him that we should go to Daily Times that I used to write for them sometimes ago. When we got there we met the likes of Tony Momoh.

“Tony asked if we have done the test I replied no and he said we should do the test. Later we were employed into the Daily Times”.

Transition from the Media
Even though he has left broadcasting for quite a while, Dan still has fond memories of the industry. “I can tell you rightly that broadcasting was very good to me. I used to work through the week, and on Saturday, there was what was known as sport pavilion, which must be a live match to be reported every weekend. There is the challenge cup, we have the principal cup amongst others and I have Ernest Okonkwo my boss.

“I also have the opportunity to travel far and beyond with all these Nigeria football clubs. You got a lot of personality, so it was very exciting. My last assignment was anchoring the Moscow Olympic, just after the 1990 Africa nation’s cup that Nigeria hosted. I was at Ibadan with Tolu Fatoyinbo and from there to Lagos for the semi- final stage of the match. It was a very exciting time, being a young man that just graduated from the University and talking to the whole Nigeria.

“In those days, the only thing we enjoyed is popularity. On Monday morning people will phone in commending the good work that you are doing and meanwhile you close and start looking for a car to carry you home. The only place to look out for then was the advertising, and when you talk of advertising, it has to be Lintas, and Lintas too was looking for people who have worked in broadcasting house in their company and they have prominent personalities in their disposal.

“I joined Lintas with the likes of Kofo, Gbenga and others. It was from Lintas that I started real marketing, although it is difficult to find such opportunity now. I worked on various products like Cadbury Bournvita and others, I also worked on Guinness advert, it was in that same time that there was vacancy at Guinness and I moved into Nigeria Breweries. Although there was misunderstanding that I can’t move from Lintas to Nigerian Breweries, but Robert Robins who interviewed me said no, they needed me and he persuaded the personnel director that they needed me and that they should forget about their arrangement”.

At the Nigerian Breweries, due to his creative ability, he left his mark in the company through the very popular Television reality show the Gulder Ultimate Search. “Gulder ultimate search came in the quest to re-launch Gulder. We started on the platform of ultimate hero. The Gulder ultimate search was conceived as the triumph of man over nature and its terrain. The concept was that man should live off the land; if it’s fish you want to eat you fish for it and likewise others”.

Future of Advertising
As the chief executive of top flying agency how does he see the future of Advertising Industries? He feels the future is great and very bright for the industry. He sees great prospect in the ongoing privatization programme. Apart from that, he also believes the agricultural sector holds great prospect for the industry.

Kenya, he says, have successfully re-branded their coffee. They now have the fine blend of Kenya coffee and if you are looking for the best coffee you choose Olivia. “It is possible to look into the Cocoa breed in Nigeria and say because of the Nigeria vegetation, any cocoa breed in Nigeria have a highly nutritional value and that when you drink Bournvita made with Nigeria cocoa, you enjoy a special relaxing effect and it tastes great.

“Likewise the Ofada rice; package it and sell it to the world market and inform them that this is another kind of rice. We have the necessary skills needed to build those propositions and once those ones are put in place and you put communication behind it, we have huge opportunities that we have not tapped,” he said.


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