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Obaigbena: The man who owns the news 

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By Oma Djebah

It was late afternoon in September, 2000, when my colleague, Waheed Odusile, then Group politics editor of Thisday Newspaper, came to meet with me at the ever busy Rutam House, the seat of The Guardian newspaper. At that time, I was on the political desk of The Guardian.

I had just returned from Uyo, where I had gone to investigate some unsettling developments, and I was about taking off on another reportorial trip to Katsina, when Odusile  came calling.

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Halfway through our meeting, Odusile offered flattering compliments about my journalistic trajectory which had caught the attention of Prince Nduka Obaigbena,  Publisher of Thisday, and Eniola Bello, then Editor of Thisday. Creditably, Obaigbena  has a firm grasp of the role and power of the media, and created the flourishing  institution, and ambience for positioning the media to accomplish its noble tasks. I prevaricated for a month. This was understandable.

The Guardian and Thisday  occupied parallel verses in the world of  journalism: the former was conventional and the latter reformist.  At the heart of my vacillation   was also the question: Why would I quit a formidable organization, such as The Guardian with a promising career path well defined  to join a newspaper that was just a few years old  in an industry with high mortality rate?

If you ever wondered why I eventually opted to join Thisday,  you need go no further than read Michael Wolff’s  excellent book, The Man Who Owns The News: Inside  the Secret World of Rupert Murdoch.  The theme of that book resonates perfectly with this subject matter. Obaigbena represents  what Wolff calls the   ”the man with the vision”, a concept that encapsulates Obaigbena’s brand of journalism which has changed  Nigeria’s media landscape for good, and demonstrated how tenacity, knowledge,  and the  audacity to confront  stereotypes, triggered a revolution in our media industry.  I’m delighted that I’m part of the team Obaigbena called the  visionaries .

Obaigbena’s goal extended  beyond building  a media empire. More crucially, he was committed to help develop journalists as distinguished professionals who could be called to public service.  And within a short period, Thisday has established its prime reputation as the newspaper that breaks the news, and Obaigbena, has distinguished   himself as the publisher that owns the news.  Like Murdoch, the Australian-American media mogul, today Obaigbena sits atop his Thisday Media Group with  presence in Washington, New York, London, Johannesburg and Nigeria. But unlike Murdoch, Obaigbena’s progressive   credentials are striking, and very pervasive.

If there is a Nigerian media entrepreneur that clearly understands the  global media environment, it’s certainly Obaigbena. As publisher of Thisday Newspapers and founder of Arise Television, he acts with speed and dispatch that often leave his admirers and critics stunned by the gripping results of his exploits. If you worked at Thisday in its early years, chances are that you certainly have been schooled in the Obaigbena  style of journalism and media dynamics. He doesn’t take a no for an answer, and his interventions often bring out the best in many situations.

If as his editor, you attempt to rationalize efforts you made to authenticate a story, his usual question often time would be:  And  what did you do?  I recall an incident about how a reporter had apparently appeared in a manner that was less than salutary.  At the meeting of editors, staff waited with bated breath, to see how Obaigbena would pounce on the reporter! Surprisingly, the publisher made a fleeting presence at the meeting with a charge:  As the editor, the buck stops on your desk! Though those weren’t his exact words, but they were the substance of his reproach! He buoyed, and upbraided his team when the need arose. Little wonder Thisday soon became a major reference point in politics and business reporting.

Obaigbena has awesome capacity for recognizing talents and nurturing them. Like many of my colleagues, my professional breakthroughs came while at Thisday. Within three months of my joining the company, I was elevated to the position of Group Politics Editor while Kola Ologbondiyan, current PDP publicity secretary was appointed as my deputy. And within two years, I was promoted to the position of deputy editor  with Segun Adeniyi as the editor, while Lanre Isse-Oniru, presently APC publicity Secretary succeeded me as Group Politics Editor. I later advanced to the Editorial Board. Obaigbena  doesn’t  suffers fools gladly. He teaches you to exude confidence and infectious surefootedness. The Duke, as he is fondly called, is straightforward, plain-speaking, but occasionally bristles in displeasure like everyone else.

There is more to Obaigbena than Thisday. He has personal effects:  he has   recommended many for various roles with the result that Thisday has produced countless top government functionaries, professors, accomplished businessmen, among others. That is partly why at 25, the company has experienced stellar accomplishments, prospered in tough waters, and flourished in fiercely competitive industry. Obaigbena understands the intersection between   entertainment, music-festivals and journalism, hence he introduced Thisday Music- festivals.  He remains one of the most outstanding Nigerians whose exceptional contributions to promoting Nigeria’s brand globally is  matchless. He deserves a befitting national honor.

On a lighter side,  the Duke has a penchant for casting headlines that bear the imprimatur of standards-gripping, engaging, compulsive, morbidly educative but sometimes too long for our liking ! Obaigbena is a man of many firsts; the first to introduce colour  newspaper, and the first to print  simultaneously in major cities with digital technology . When he started procuring  new cars for his editors, many news organizations followed suit.  recall as a beneficiary of that generosity, I had a brand new Polo car in 2000 and upon my return from post-graduate studies in Sweden, I was allocated another brand new Audi A4.

Obaigbena, the media mogul utilizes the power of his media group to conceive and build a new world for all! On reflections, I thank God I accepted the offer to join Thisday, an awesome family. Thank you the Duke, a phenomenal entrepreneur and an enigma, for the excellent opportunity. Happy 25th Anniversary!

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  • Oma Djebah, a former Delta State Commissioner for Information, who has served on the United Nations Secretary General’s Panel on Governance in Africa, was a Senior Editor at Thisday. He is currently Conducting research on Crisis Communications and Strategy on the Gulf of Guinea Energy Crisis at the School of Communications Management, McMaster-Syracuse Universities, Canada and USA.

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