WITH an inspiring and enterprising journalism career that spans well over three decades, best-selling books in journalism practice and biographies, founding editor of defunct Weekend Concord, Mike Awoyinfa is still on top of his game. And come Monday, July 23, 2012, this popular columnist and founding Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief of The Sun Newspapers will clock 60.
Mike Awoyinfa granted ENCOMIUM Weekly an exclusive interview on Wednesday, July 11, 2012. At this no-holds-barred conversation, the publisher of Entertainment Express really opened his life as a book for us to read from its beginning to the success it has expectedly turned out today. He equally talked about his journalism career, family life, regrets and more…
Is there anything really special about being 60?
I don’t know how it feels. I even feel younger than ever. I’m physically fit. I don’t know headache or any serious ailment.
But at 60, something has really changed if you are to be honest with us?
Nothing much. The only thing is that these days, when I sit down for too long and I want to walk, it is as if my waist is paining me. When I want to bend down to wear my shoes, it takes a whole lot of time. So, in this sense, I can see age creeping in. again, I tend to forget things a little, I will put something somewhere and I will forget. These are some of the strange things about getting old. I have also started growing grey hair. You can see some white strands (laughs). But I don’t want to dye my hair. So, I now have low cut. It is not as if I don’t want to see the white hair, I feel good looking young. Every morning I do my jogging, I run for an hour every morning on the street of Lagos. This is more than any medicine. It tunes you like a guitar, you are strong and mentally sharp. I think I will recommend this kind of exercise for everybody.
At a time when the average age is well below 40, what gave you this grace of clocking 60 in good health?
I don’t know, you have to ask God. Everything is in God’s hand. God determines how long you live. All the tributes and all the glory go to Him. I thank God that people look at me and say I don’t look 60. But I’m 60 (laughs). So, God has been very good to me. I take things very easy. I don’t let problems weigh me down. I take life as it comes. I think young. I don’t fight. My life is just simple.
What then is the greatest lesson life has taught you so far?
As you grow old, you always wish you are 10 or 20 years younger. I wish I had known this thing long time ago. That is always the case. One lesson I have also learnt is if you find a goal or vision and you put your mind there, work very, very hard at it and you pray to God, you will definitely make it. My ambition had always been to be an editor. It is the highest calling for every journalist. As far back as 1989, I reached the top of my career as an editor. Not just an editor going to take over a paper that has been there. But my own responsibility was to engineer a fresh newspaper from zero. There was nothing like that before. I created the concept, the editorial contents. I even created the name of the paper. I am talking of the defunct Weekend Concord. That was my defining moment, the paper that really made me. It was a paper that was built after my personality, my character, my interest, my love and passion. Everything was moulded into that newspaper. I’m forever a tabloid person. I believe in journalism of impact, journalism of drama. I believe in journalism of breezy writing. I believe in journalism of compelling writing. Above all, I believe in sensationalism. When you get a story like that, you want to hype it. But in hyping it don’t lie, you tell the truth. Our profession is a very exciting one. Every day is a new day for us.
We all know what happened to Concord, and the entire Concord titles after June 12. Did you make any effort to replicate the idea elsewhere?
When we got to The Sun newspaper, we came with the experience of Weekend Concord on our back.
But you weren’t doing exactly a Weekend Concord there?
No, we had to modify the model, but the emphasis was still on tabloid journalism, screaming headlines, dramatic picture and human angle stories. We started as a weekly, then a daily. Before you knew it, it became another success story. We are happy that God used us again to achieve something.
How much of that do we really see in Entertainment Express?
It is a young paper coming up with its own potential. It’s a niche market. So, the approach is different. We are looking at entertainment per se. Eventually, we will become a daily when we will go into full blown journalism.
Still a tabloid?
Yes. Like you know, we already have The Sunday Express. But the core thing here is entertainment. We believe in entertaining our readers. We don’t believe in boring them.
Like I said, how I wished I knew what I know now early. I would have been a billionaire by now. All the things I know now, if I had used them well.
Can you please share it with the younger ones so they can commence their journey to the billionaire’s club?
If I’m given the opportunity to start my life again, 20 years back, I will not work for anybody. I would work for myself. The most exciting thing is entrepreneurship. If I have the opportunity again I will be my own boss rather than working for somebody.
Other than being a journalist, can you still recall your childhood dreams or obsession?
Reading was my passion back then as it is now. Reading is the best foundation. The more you read, the better writer you become. So, the books, the novels and all I read impacted on my character, my thinking process and my writing skills. I wrote good essays in secondary school. So, I knew I would be a novelist, a poet or a journalist.
You write one of the most successful columns in the history of journalism practice, did you set out to be a columnist and who were your earliest influences?
Column writing, for me is the stardom of journalism. That was the way I saw it in those days. Having a column there with your picture, your name and your thought processes was to me a special privilege. I used to like people like Gbolabo Ogunsanwo of The Sunday Times. I used to read him religiously those days. I also read Dele Giwa’s Parallax Snaps. So, Dele Giwa was a very, very big influence.
So, when did you write your first column and where?
The first column I wrote was as a chief correspondent in Kaduna. There was this press conference I attended in Kaduna when I was chief correspondent for National Concord. That was in 1983/84. I went for this press conference that was addressed by Mallam Aminu Kano. There was this Hausa old woman reporter who introduced herself as a reporter from one Hausa newspaper. She was asking questions without notebook, pencil or pen, at the end of the day, I interviewed her and did a story. I was amazed by this reporter without notebook, pen and all that. Dele Giwa used it for me and created a column for me called Reporters Notebook. You know he was so captivated by what I wrote especially because of its human element. He didn’t even need to tell me to continue. I just took over the column. Every week, I filed in two or three stories. From there, when I had the opportunity to become the Features Editor of National Concord, I created my own column called Press Clips till date. That has always been my signature. That has always been my column.
Can you still remember your most widely read comment on the most controversial subject you have treated in Press Clips?
“May your road be rough.”
On Tai Solarin?
Yes, Tai Solarin came on air during the Babangida Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) crisis. He was arrested and security agents were interrogating him on national television. That inspired me to write a satire, “May your road be rough.” I started satirizing the whole encounter. People thought I was abusing Solarin. I was almost crucified because people didn’t understand the piece. Satire is a very, very dangerous style. So, I published all those protest letters from my readers, Awoyinfa on the Cross. When I published it, those who knew what I meant started attacking the ignorant ones. It really created a whole lot of controversy. It was one subject that really made me notorious.
A certain young man recently wrote that Mike Awoyinfa is dead. How did it feel to read that?
Man evolves. You can’t be the writer you have always been. I have lost my steam. Maybe I’m not the energetic and brash Press Clips I used to be. I mean, the older I become, the more I feel nearer to God. So, my new Press Clips is now more of journalism of evangelism. While I’m still writing, I still try to evangelise, bringing people to God in my own unique style. I think I have a religious duty to perform, to win souls at the same time I’m practicing journalism. So, I try to kill two birds with one stone.
Talking about being an evangelist, were you ordained as a minister of the gospel?
I’m not. I’m ordained on the pages of my newspaper. People call me pastor, bishop, primate of Press Clips Pentecostal church (laughs). I’m the founder of the church. It’s not mockery. I’m in serious business. I mean, if I can use a light-hearted approach to win souls, why not? I pray for people, I bless people.
What about your most interesting exclusive story as a journalist?
I have so many stories that are very difficult to pin point the most defining one (thinks…). I did a story, Ajayi, the Taylor. It was about a man in Akure, who was accused of using a girl for ritual in a cemetery. And the girl started emaciating almost like an AIDS patient. I travelled down to Akure to interview the girl. I also interviewed Ajyi, the tailor. I had my tape hidden, they caught me, but I escaped unhurt. I have also done some literacy interviews with Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Amos Tutuola, J. P. Clark. I raised the standard of literary journalism in this country.
We understand ourselves. We have the same attitude and philosophy. We are in the same boat. And our goal is to reach the shores of prosperity. We will do everything not to sink, because if we sink, we will all sink together.
How old is he?
I think he is 56.
Your new business enterprise is going on fine, so what are your future plans?
To write more books, books, books…I want to write more biographies. There are many Nigerians waiting for their biographies to be written. We are going to write more. The one we did for Dr. Mike Adenuga, Jnr., would be presented next year when he would be 60.
How did the one on Segun Osoba fare?
It was great. We thank God.
We learnt you guys made millions of naira from the project?
By the grace of God, we thank God. It is not really about the money. Look at the caliber of guests, who graced the occasion. Four head of states under one roof, all in the name of presenting a book.
You owe us a book on world famous editors, which is supposed to have been a self birthday gift. Where is it sir?
We thought we would be able to meet the 60 birthday deadline, but the book is still in the works. We just returned from Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad and Tobago, for a journalism conference. We met the editor of Los Angeles Times. We want to include him in the book. The book would definitely come out.
Let’s get more personal, what are your wife and children’s names and what are they doing?
My wife is an educationist, a teacher. She is Olubukola Awoyinfa. My son is Babajide Awoyinfa, Taiwo Awoyinfa, Kehinde Awoyinfa and Ayo. My last child was born in 1988.
How are they doing?
They are all graduates. My first son is with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN). He wants to follow his father’s footsteps. One of the twins is going for Masters by September at London University.
How long have you been married?
A long time ago, 30 years ago.
What has kept your marriage?
My wife is patient and understanding. We journalists are very erratic. We are very difficult to stay with. If you give journalist a space and freedom to fly around without qualms, you would also have your peace.
Doesn’t she complain?
She did but she’s now used to all my ways. I try to play my role as a responsible husband and father.
You are handsome and famous, how do you cope with temptations from ladies.
I try to cope. I try to avoid temptation as much as possible. At times you fall, when you fall, you stand up again and move.
You have fallen before?
I have fallen many times. It is not how you fall, but the ability to stand up. At 60, I think I should stop falling. No more temptation.
How are you celebrating Entertainment Express’s one year as a newspaper?
We are having a party with celebrities at Niteshift Coliseum, on Saturday, July 28, 2012.
What should we expect from Entertainment Express now it’s one?
We want to go daily as soon as possible.
So, how are you celebrating your 60th birthday?
I think we will have a dinner for friends at Sheraton. May be not exactly on my birthday, which is July 23. It should be around early August.
What more do you want from this great God, who has given you the best?
He should keep blessing me with good health and riches. I want money, in this society if you don’t have money, you are in trouble. I also want to do more. There is so much to do. I also pray for all my readers and Nigeria to be salvaged. Our country is right now bedeviled with bombings and insecurity. This is not the Nigeria of our dream. We want back our Nigeria. We want good leaders. There are too many problems.
- UCHE OLEHI
This story was first published in Encomium Weekly edition of Tuesday, July 17, 2012