-set to run for Ogun East Senatorial seat
Mr. Bayo Onanuga is one of the cerebral journalists Nigeria is blessed with. As the Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief of The News magazine and PM News, the widely read evening newspaper in Nigeria, he has successfully managed the publications for more than two decades with his team.
Born in Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State, on June 20, 1957, the Fellow of the Nigerian Guild of Editors and member of the World Association of Newspapers, attended Ijebu Muslim College, Ijebu Ode, and later went to the Federal Government College, Odogbolu. He graduated with Second Class Upper at the Department of Mass Communication, University of Lagos.
After graduation, he worked as Client Service Executive at Practions Partners, before he crossed over to OGTV. He once worked as a sub-editor with The Guardian newspaper and senior feature writer with the defunct National Concord. He was also the Senior Correspondent of the now rested weekly magazine, The African Concord, and in 1989, he was appointed the editor of the magazine. Three years after, he resigned his appointment over the insistence of his publisher, the late business mogul, MKO Abiola that he apologize over a story on the former military dictator, Ibrahim Babangida. Onanuga thereafter led his colleagues, who resigned with him to found Independent Communications Network Limited (ICNL), the publishers of The News magazine and PM News in 1992, and has remained the MD till date.
But now, the Ijebu born journalist has pitched his tent in politics. Not only that, he’s now ready to vie for Ogun East Senatorial District seat in the next general elections on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
According to the award winning publisher, he enjoys the support of his people. He explained why he’s delving into politics, among other issues, when he received ENCOMIUM Weekly’s ABDUR-RASHEED ABUBAKAR at the newspaper’s headquarters on ACME Road, Ikeja, Lagos on Tuesday, May 20, 2014.
Many people know you as a seasoned and respected journalist, but much is not known about you as a politician. Will it be right to describe you as a political novice?
Honestly, I would say I am not a novice. As a matter of fact, we are all involved in politics because whatever decision the people we refer to as politicians take, affects our lives. In that sense, we are all expected to be involved in politics. Although, I may not have been a real partisan politician as such, but I have been actively interested in politics since the Second Republic. I may not have openly declared my intention to vie for any post, but I have always been interested. For instance, I was a student at the University of Lagos when the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) was formed in 1978, and I remember that some of us besieged the headquarters of the party to obtain the membership card. I registered as a member and attended meetings virtually every week. Interestingly, we made meaningful contributions as students. For me as a student to have gone out of my way to join a political party showed that I have all along been interested in party politics. As a journalist, our job can never be totally divorced from politics, because we always have certain political beliefs, we always have certain political persuasion. For instance, I always sympathize with politicians in the progressives mould. Most of my friends who are politicians are progressive, people who I believe practice the politics that can further improve the lot of Nigerians. I’ve always been interested although sometimes the demand of duty is what has been hindering us from fully participating.
For instance, I managed Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s publicity when he contested for the governorship of Lagos State in 1998/9; I couldn’t have done so, if I wasn’t interested in politics. In fact, I wrote a position paper on the state of affairs in Lagos for Asiwaju in this room (referring to his office at ACME road), and that was the summary of the programme the man wanted to pursue if elected Governor. So, I have always been involved in politics. So, it won’t be right to declare me a novice.
Why exactly did you make the Senate your target?
A politician must try to assess the environment and know when it’s good to move in. Initially, I was not interested in any office, but my people called me and said, ‘why don’t you go and contest this thing?’ It’s going to be vacant again in the next elections and I said, why not, let me give it a try. if I get it, fine, if not, I go back to my job.
There is someone currently occupying the seat you are gunning for, who is a member of your political party, Mr. Gbenga Kaka, how do you fancy your chances of getting the ticket ahead of him?
As of now, what I have done is, I am on the field, consulting the people, sending them a message that I can make a difference in that constituency and so far, I am getting a lot of support even for a first timer gunning for a political office. I am encouraged by the support I am getting on the field. The fact is that, for that office, the party ticket is determined by primary election which I am preparing myself for. Gbenga Kaka could get the ticket again or Mr. Bayo Onanuga could get the ticket, it’s an open thing.
There are speculations that based on your relationship with the party leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, you could be an anointed candidate of the APC?
I am not aware of that. If I am going to base my relationship with Tinubu as a factor for going in there, then I should just go and sleep and say I would get the ticket, but no, I am on the field. I’m working very hard, I am sending a message to my people, I am consulting as many people as possible. The ticket is not going to be won on a platter of gold, I will have to work hard and I am trying to do that.
How close are you to the people, especially at the grassroots?
I’ve always been going home, always been close to my people, I’m not a standoffish person. In a sense, I am a grassroots person. you can say I’m a middle-class but I relate well with the grass roots.
Have you done any community development service?
I have been helping my people in my little way. I relate with them, I’ve been offering all kinds of assistance to my people. It is not until I sink a borehole that I will offer myself for service. People who do such, do it to fool the people. When they get into office, they start stealing the people blind, in a bid to recoup all the money that they had spent in hoodwinking the voters. I think the way to assess political office seekers, is by the programme they offer. And when they get there, people should score them, on their performance. That is the way things are done in civilised nations, not like here where you have a president who swore to protect the territorial integrity of our nation and who now claims, after this integrity had been serially violated by Boko Haram terrorists, that we should not blame him, but blame the terrorists. It is such a big absurdity.
What sets your party, APC, apart from the PDP?
The difference is clear. Nigeria has been governed in the past 15 years by the PDP and we can see where that has led us. Our country has never had it so bad than our present state. We see our country unravelling, today, no thanks to the PDP. Nigeria has become a laughing stock in the eyes of the world because the world cannot understand why we have a sitting government and then some people will cart away 278 girls in a boarding school and more than 36 days after, you have not found those girls, except the ones that escaped.
That is how low PDP has sunk this country. Look at unemployment, today, only about 10 percent of graduates get jobs if they are lucky and the remaining 90 percent are abandoned. PDP has been trying to find solution to power supply since 1999. Even after privatisation, we still don’t have this power. There is no better time to kick out this party than now and the APC is the party that I see that has the capacity, that has the men and materials to kick out this party. Enough of all these rubbish that we are seeing as a nation. It’s time to find an alternative and I believe APC is a better alternative to the PDP.
How do you think the government can overcome the Boko Haram insurgency?
Whatever suggestion we give now may be too late in the day. Things have gone so bad that we now assemble hunters because our soldiers have failed. They are assembling hunters to go and look for the girls in the Sambisa Forest that our soldiers are afraid to go to. The former governor of Lagos, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu has been championing the call for state police for a long time.
If we had state police, you can monitor everybody because they will cover every corner of the state unlike the federal police now. Crimes happen undetected, criminals get away with crime because the police that we have do not have the coverage that the nature of our country requires. If we had state police, Boko Haram would have been long detected and would have been nipped in the bud.
For instance, the recent abduction of schoolgirls in Chibok, the Boko Haram sect sent a message that they were coming. People around the area knew they were coming. They saw the movement of some strange people, they requested for reinforcement, yet the school girls were kidnapped. Besides, I learnt that Sambisa is about 100klm to Chibok, unfortunately, nobody, not even our military stopped them until they escaped with the girls. If we had state police, it wouldn’t have been so easy for them to escape with those girls. These are some of the things we were supposed to have done as a nation, but we have failed to protect the lives of our citizens. It is very embarrassing.
And do you think the APC government would have done all these?
APC government would change the entire system by fighting corruption, which is our fundamental problem. Corruption is everywhere, even in the military, which was why it has been difficult for them to defeat Boko Haram. Imagine, I learnt that the guns the soldiers were using to fight the insurgents were used during the Biafra war in 1967-70.
Our police still go around with AK-47, tell me which country is still using AK-47? We gave our forces outdated weapons to fight terrorists with sophisticated weapons. All these must stop. We need a government that would change all these, a government that would treat our police, soldiers properly and accord the people respect. The PDP had failed us, and I believe this is the right time Nigerians should give APC the chance to rule this country and restore its tarnished image.
Back to your political ambition. How financially ready are you, knowing very well that politics in Nigeria is expensive? Or do you have sponsors?
(Smiles) I am not a rich man. I am a poor man. But in politics, what keeps people going is goodwill, and that is what I am enjoying now. As we speak, a lot of people have promised me money, despite the fact that I have not declared fully. They just heard that I have declared my intention to contest and they promised to support me.
Therefore, it’s the goodwill that will sustain my campaign. You can’t have all the money for campaign, but once people support you, the money will come. Also, at the appropriate time, I will do fund-raising; raise money from friends and relations, because I am covering nine local councils in Ogun state, about half of the state, and with the help and support of my people, the plan would work out for me.
What is your agenda?
Several things motivated me to join politics, perhaps with my little intervention; our people can be assisted in overcoming poverty. Poverty is the greatest problem we are facing in this country. As at 1998/99 or so, a study was carried out in Ogun East, and it was discovered that about 90 percent of our people were earning less than a dollar per day.
That showed the level of poverty in that part of the area 15 years ago. You can imagine how things would have deteriorated with them now. My plan, as a senator, is to attract projects to the areas I am representing by creating more jobs, empowering the youths and women. if I am able to do this successfully, I believe those I helped would help others. Also, we have abandoned road projects, which contractors have already collected money for.
It is part of my agenda, to ensure that such money is spent on what it is meant for. My agenda is to promote good laws for the good of our people. In other parts of the world, good laws are put in place to help solve the problem of poverty. These are some of the things I plan to do.
What is the problem facing Nigerian media and in what way do you intend to help if you find yourself in the National Assembly?
Our problem in the media is structural. If you compare what we witnessed in the media 20-30 years ago, when newspapers were selling about 1-2 million copies in a day, to now, when the total circulation is less than a quarter of a million, about 10 percent of what they were publishing 30 years ago, we are not making progress, rather we are retrogressing. If we are not selling so many copies, it means our revenue base will be stunted.
Also, advertisers are shifting away from the print to the new media. The media, not just in Nigeria, all over the world is facing these problems and that’s what is affecting the economic well-being of journalists. If a newspaper doesn’t make enough money, how do you expect such newspaper to pay its staffers good salary? It is not the fault of the media organizations but the environment, because the environment doesn’t allow media organizations to make enough money that would enable them pay their staffers.
How do we solve this problem?
Government must assist the media, because the media products are not like beverages or other products. We offer a social service, we are mediators between the government and the people. That’s why the mass media is called the fourth estate of the realm. Apart from Executive, Legislature and Judiciary, the constitution gives us clear responsibilities to hold government accountable at all times.
For us to perform that function effectively in an economy like this, we need the assistance of government. There is a way government supports media is other countries, not in a corrupt way. For instance, the whole copies we produced yesterday (Monday) were useless because as we were producing, it was raining, and the rain never stopped till night.
It showed that we wasted our efforts; time, energy, money, etc because agents will return the copies produced as unsold. We need the assistance of government. We got some little help in the past, when government reduced the tariff on importation of newsprint. The present economic situation doesn’t favour the media at all.
What will then happen to this company you have built for years when you eventually find your way to the Senate?
People have been asking me this same question, but I have always told them, that if I drop dead, would the company die with me? It won’t die! When you set up a company and it lives for about five years and gains stability, it has gotten the life of its own, even if the founding fathers leave, those left behind would continue to run the organization. This is the case of PM/TheNews. About six of us started in 1993, and some left, and today, I and Ajibade and the managers are running the organization. When I leave, Mr. Ajibade is still around, other managers are still around, they will fill the space. But I am not going yet, I have some months to stay. I can only talk about departure when I have the ticket.
I have spent the bulk of my adult life here, since 1992; 22 years, that is more than a third of my life in this company. Therefore, I will not walk away and allow what we have built to get destroyed. I will always look back and see what can be done.
Tell us more about the soft side of you, especially how you juggle work and family responsibilities?
I am a family man, I am a homely man. I don’t joke with my family. In fact, I will rather sacrifice work for my family, because whatever we are doing, family comes first. If you’re working, you’re working for your family. If you don’t value or have time for your family, what’s the essence of the work? If you’re rich and blessed with wealth, without your family, it’s nothing. I take my family as very important, and if they didn’t give me support to declare my intention, I wouldn’t have come out to do so.
For me, no night clubbing, I stopped that decades ago, not that I don’t go to parties, I do, especially the owanbe parties in my town or if my relations or friends invite me. I am not the kind of person that you would see at beer parlours, drinking beer. I spend most of my time on the computer, because there are lots of things to read and by the time you get engrossed with the internet, it will take away your entire time. That’s what I do, trying to explore new knowledge, which is now made possible through the internet. I don’t smoke, I seldom drink, and if I drink, I drink lightly.