For Azuh Arinze, the ace Nigerian journalist and author, where there is a will, there is always a way. Raised in Maroko, a low-income area of Lagos state, the publisher and editor-in-chief of Yes! International Magazine was determined to brace the odds to attain greatness.
With sheer grit and zeal for excellence, Arinze has established himself as a prominent name in the Nigerian media landscape and has authored several books.
He is a member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), Guild of Corporate Online Publishers (GOCOP), and an associate member of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR).
Ahead of his 50th birthday on March 24, he reflects on his latest books — ‘A Taste of Success’ and Conversations with Showbiz Stars’. He also opened up on his journalism career, losing his dad, and plans for the future.
Congratulations on turning 50. You have had a great career as a journalist, who would you say prepared you for this journey?
I never wanted to be a journalist, my first love was law but back then, my father used to buy newspapers for reasons I still cannot tell. Sometimes, to keep me busy, or to keep me out of trouble, my father will ask me to read a page and summarise it. I think that was how the love started.
When I was in secondary school, I represented my school in essay competitions, I think that got into my head because I overrated myself. I was an ajepako but I attended an ajebo school — Victoria Island Secondary School. Then, my school usually selects me to represent them in essay writing competitions, and most of the time, I’d clinch the first position.
It happened that I allowed that ‘little success’ to get into my head. When I wrote WAEC, I failed English. It was a big shock to me and everybody that their ‘star’ failed WAEC. It’s just like asking Messi to take a penalty kick and he kicks it over the bar. I think that was a humbling experience for me.
Then, my father — who was a businessman — put me in charge of one of his shops where I was able to make little money for myself. One Saturday, I bought a copy of Saturday Punch and read a column written by Azuka Jibose. I fell in love with his writing style and I started buying the paper. After a while, however, he relocated abroad and Femi Akintunde-Johnson took over the column.
Later, I sat for WAEC again and eventually made my papers. When it was time for me to fill out my JAMB form, I went for mass communication instead of law. That was how I ended up going for mass communication. When I needed to do my internship then, I met Akintunde-Johnson.
It happened that the first five stories I wrote as an intern made it to the cover of FAME magazine, so they gave me automatic employment. That was how my journalism odyssey started.
They had a sister publication called Reel Stars magazine which I was made the editor at 26. However, the magazine came ahead of its time so much later I was recalled to Encomium magazine.
At 33, I became the editor of Encomium. I served as the editor of Encomium for eight years. After this, I felt I didn’t have any point to prove again. I worked in Encomium for 14 years, and out of the 14 years, I was the editor for eight years. So, I felt there was nothing more for me to do there. I left in 2011 to set up Yes! International Magazine. This is our 11th year and we thank God.
Looking back, do you regret not studying law which you referred to as your first love?
No, I don’t have any regret. However, one of the biggest positions that I’ll be taking up next year is the district secretary for the Rotary club. It’s a major role and it will be for one year. My plan is that after that one year, I will go back to school, I am still young I still want to read law. I don’t have any regret, all I know is that it has always been my desire to be a lawyer. Journalism overtook that one but I will still get a law degree to fulfill that dream and desire.
Let’s talk about your growing up and early days in journalism. What’s the experience like?
Like I said earlier, I was an ajepako but attended an ajebo school. When I was coming up as a journalist, and I’m saying this with every sense of honesty and modesty, I knew I was going to be an editor. If you want to do or achieve something, all you have to do is find out how to get there. What I did was to discuss with editors and find out how they’ve been able to do it and one of the things I learnt was that back then in Encomium and FAME, they were asking us to submit four stories per week, I was submitting eight. I had to go the extra mile, I was going beyond the call of duty, I was going beyond the things expected of me, I carried myself well, dressed well, improved myself, went back to school, read, did short courses, and things that those in that my position bracket considered difficult. Those were the things that made my editors notice me, and little by little I started climbing the ladder of success.
As a reporter, I wasn’t even into this one kobo thing, it doesn’t mean that people weren’t showing appreciation but I respected and comported myself well and did my job well. It is one thing to respect yourself, and not be able to do your job well. One of the easiest passports that you can flaunt is what you have done and the good works that you’re doing. I try to write well and also monitor other people’s work. There are some people I read their works very well and one of them is Mr Simon Kolawole, he’s one of my biggest sources of inspiration, he writes well, he is simple and carries himself well.
All those that write well, I follow them religiously, people like Reuben Abati, Olusegun Adeniyi…, once you write well, I follow you, I make it a point of duty to learn one or two things from the way you write. People like Femi Adesina, Mike Awoyinfa, Dele Momodu, Kunle Bakare, I read them religiously, which helped me. In my interactions with them, I was able to pick out one or two things and how to stand out in the profession.
As a budding journalist then, what would you describe as your major challenge… did you struggle at any point?
Well, to be frank with you, it has never crossed my mind to leave journalism. Journalism has been very nice to me. I have never regretted being a journalist, there’s no money to be made in journalism but the truth is that you can get by, I tell people that the things I want are very minimal and God has provided for me. I’m happy, I have never regretted pitching my tent with journalism.
You have been in the media landscape for years, what can you say about journalism in Nigeria?
The truth is that the dynamics have changed. Journalism is no longer what it used to be, anyone who wants to get along must jog along because things are changing every day. You don’t have to wait every morning to see what the papers have to say, now news breaks at the speed of light. In fact, sometimes even the unprofessionals break the news ahead of the professionals. The only difference is that most times, they cannot decipher what should be published and what should not be published, then most times too they go out of bounds, they go beyond the call of duty, they make a mess of the profession.
However, when you read a story written by a professional, you’ll know that this one is a professional. For instance, if you check a medium like TheCable, you can see the level of seriousness there. You cannot compare what they’re doing to what most charlatans are doing. You have to be dynamic to survive in the profession, you have to go beyond the call of duty, and be distinct to stand out. You don’t have to do what everyone else does, otherwise, you’ll remain where they are, you won’t stand out, you will be stagnant, so the best thing to do is to keep improving on yourself. The dynamics of journalism have changed compared to how it was when I started practising.
Let’s take a look at Yes! International Magazine. What inspired the establishment of the magazine?
The first is that I felt I didn’t have any point again to prove at Encomium. For Encomium and FAME, I had worked there for 17 years. Two, I needed to express myself more. You know when you publish your own paper, one of the advantages you have is, you can decide the length of the story, I wanted to improve on what I’d seen or met on the ground, I wanted to do an interview-based magazine.
A magazine that would be error-free, and one that people can take home. You know when someone mentions celebrity magazines, most times people are reluctant to take them home but I wanted to do a magazine that people can be proud to take home and even share with their children.
Those are some of the things, I wanted a paper that you pick up and learn something from which is why our vision is to be the first choice of readers and advertisers. Then, our mission is to make the day of our readers with quality stories, interviews, gists, pictures among others.
We wanted to go beyond the call of duty. We did not want to do what others were doing at the time. We tried to step up the game from where we met it and I must say God has been nice to us and we thank him for everything.
Not so many soft-sell magazines like Yes! have been in business for this long. You started in 2011 and still thriving, what is the secret? How have you been able to sustain it?
The secret is God. It is the grace of God. Everything medium mostly depends on readers and advertisers to survive. So, once you have the two by your side, you will succeed. Businesses thrive based on relationships. When you have people who believe in what you are doing, and who are ready to identify with it, you are bound to survive. But the greatest of them all is the Grace of God.
I think as a person, I have enjoyed the grace of God and as a business, I have also enjoyed the grace of God. So, it’s not because we are doing anything spectacular or fantastic, it’s just that grace of God. I think God just loves me extraordinarily.
On March 24, you will be unveiling your two latest books — ‘A Taste of Success’ and ‘Conversations with Showbiz Stars’ — why did you choose to document your professional journey and encounters in these books?
Well, from the beginning, I have always loved to read. In fact, reading is one of the things that brought me this far. I am from an average home and grew up in the ghetto, my mum used to sell Akara — which is known as bean cake. So, one of the things that propelled me was the fact that I made reading a daily habit.
I have always enjoyed reading what other people are writing and in the course of doing that, it occurred to me that I can also write, that is one.
Secondly, I felt it would be nice to do something for posterity. The third reason is that most times, people find it difficult to succeed or thrive in an environment and because journalism grants me access, I asked myself how I can harness that access? My first book — ‘Tested and Trusted Success Secrets of the Rich and Famous — for instance, the foreword was written by Simon Kolawole. What did I do in the book? I identified some Nigerians who are doing well and I sat down with them to ask what is the secret of their success and what those who aspire to be like them must do and they shared with me. So what I am trying to do is to democratise success and to let people know that success is achievable. All you need to do is to find out those who have achieved it before and how they did it. If you are able to assimilate that, you will also be able to do that. In my other books — ‘The CEO’s Bible’, ‘Success is not Served A La Carte’, ‘Encounters: Lessons from Journalism Career’ — I did a similar thing. In our society, we have more unsuccessful people than successful ones, so the whole idea is to ensure that we move more unsuccessful ones into the club of the successful.
What informed ‘Conversations with Showbiz Stars? People have the impression that once you go for an audition, you become a star, it doesn’t work like that, there are other things that are required. So, what did I do? I sat down with RMD, Pete Edochie, Ali Baba, and most of the big names you can think of and asked them how they started and made it to the top. The idea is that anybody who reads it can see how they made it and if they are able to apply some of the things they did, they will also succeed.
The second one is ‘A Taste of Success’. Success is very sweet, don’t let us deceive ourselves. Anyone that says success is bitter is lying. Genuine success is sweet and it is the desire of everyone to have a taste of it. So, what I did is to sit down with about 25 people including top journalists such as Olusegun Osoba, Dele Momodu, and Femi Adesina. So, on the whole, we have 60 such interviews cutting across various fields. The conversation is not prose, it is question and answer and each of them responded to between 20 to 30 questions on themselves. So my books are to provide inspiration to young ones in their areas of interest. ‘Conversations with Showbiz Stars’ for instance is for those who are interested in showbiz, acting, comedy among others.
Apart from democratising success as you mentioned, are there other things you want to draw the attention of readers to in the two books?
The other thing I want to teach people in the books is that it pays to read. I also want to emphasise the fact that if someone has done something, you don’t need to waste your time making the mistakes they made. If you want to run an online newspaper for instance, and Simon Kolawole says this is how it is done, why waste your time doing trial and error? You should simply get the book and read about how he did it. You can thereafter think of one or two things to make yours slightly different. So, for me, I think people should read more.
At 50, you are a successful publisher, journalist, media consultant among others… what are your plans for the coming years?
The first thing I look forward to is writing more books. The second thing is that I pray for long life, I want to die when I clock 100 or 110. God has given me nearly everything that I want. I may not have so much but the little that I have, I am okay with it. God has given me a stable home, lovely kids, and younger ones. My mum is still alive, it is unfortunate that my dad is no longer there. All my younger ones and children are making me happy, my wife gives joy. So, God has been really nice to me, all I asked for is that God will continue to bless me and grant me longer life in good health. My desire is that when I clock 60, I would have written up to 20 books. Maybe then, I will calm down. I also pray God should bless everyone and our country with good leaders so that the suffering of the common man will be reduced.
Yours is like a grass-to-grace story. Would you say your background propelled you to greatness?
Of course, it did. If you are in the ghetto, you want to leave there. The ghetto is not a nice place to be forever. Most people who are born and brought up in a ghetto want to leave after some period of time for a better area.
Growing up, I attended a school where we have kids from rich homes. Then I was coming from Maroko so I knew it would also be nice to have a taste of such good life. I don’t have money but I am contented with what I have. God has always helped me to take care of my needs.
Looking back, are there things you wished you could have done better?
I would have loved to marry earlier. I got married at 32. Although they said God’s time is the best. Secondly, I could have started Yes! International magazine earlier too, but again God’s time is the best. Everything happens when God wants them to happen. The only thing I am not too happy about is that I wish my father did not die. I wish he lived to see me at 50. I also wished my closest friend, Ugochukwu is still alive. He died in a car accident. So, for me, losing my father and Ugo is the most painful to me at 50 because Ugo was more than a friend to me. You don’t see such friends easily. I would have loved to see my dad pray for me at 50 too. But I thank God for everything.
Are you considering going into politics in the future?
Well, people keep saying I will make a good politician but I have never really thought about going into politics. If I have my way, I would encourage my younger brother, Azuh Amatus, to consider politics, I think he would make a better politician. Sometimes, I just want to be alone in my world, but my younger brother loves having people around him, so I think he would make a better politician than myself. But you never can tell.
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