Just take a closer look at him and you will see the cool mien and comportment of this erudite writer, shrewd journalist and a diligent businessman. He has been in the business of journalism for over two decades and has done extremely well for himself. His name surely rings a bell in the Nigerian media industry even though he only worked in three media outfits, Fame Weekly, Reel Stars and Encomium Magazine, where he served as the editor for eight years. Azuh Arinze is a man who never beats his drum in the market. He is quiet, easy going and cool headed and always smiling. He portrays absolute professionalism and brilliance. The former Editor of Encomium Magazine recently released two books. One of the books is entitled ENCOUNTERS, which focuses on the lessons from his journalism career while the other is SUCCESS IS NOT SERVED A LA CARTE. These two interesting books are market leaders and pace setters, commanding huge sales and deep interests from the general public.
In this interview with ISAAC IFEANYI AGWAZIM, PUBLISHER/EDITOR-IN-CHIEF of TOP SOCIETY MAGAZINE, Azuh Arinze, Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine spoke exclusively on his foray into the media, the industry itself and other topical issues. Excerpts:
You just dropped two books, one of which is ENCOUNTERS where you wrote about your experience and challenges faced in journalism, can you tell us some of these challenges?
I have faced a lot of challenges, not one, not two, not three. I‘ve faced more than a hundred challenges. Actually, there are many things I‘ve learnt in life. The issue is that when I meet someone, I usually learn from such a person. In the book, we have well over a hundred experiences that we brought together.
Out of these over a hundred experiences you encountered in your journalism career, which one would you say made you stand firm and go all the way?
Well, I would say all of them made me firm in their own different ways. Like my encounter with Dr. Christopher Kolade. I didn’t set out to interview him, I just had an encounter with him. Before my interview with him, I had interviewed a lot of people who mentioned him as their role model. Dr. Kolade was to deliver a lecture at the Goldengate and I stumbled on the programme and I went and waited at the venue for him. By the way, I had long realized that serious people don’t go late to events. So, with that at the back of my mind, I got there on time and waited and about 30 minutes or so to the event starting, I saw the man walking into the venue and I approached him and he told me he wasn’t there for an interview, but because I persisted, eventually he granted me the interview. So, the take away from there is one, you don’t wait until everything is okay before you take action and another thing is that you must learn how to obey time. It was because I got there early that I was able to get him. The third one was that the man was not there for an interview but because I refused to take no for an answer, he eventually granted me the interview. So, from that encounter alone, I learnt different lessons. I have interviewed over 300 quality people. I am talking about Bank MDs, Billionaire Businessmen, People who control Multi-National Companies, Top Dignitaries and others. I have had encounters with them and got a lot of lessons from them and these are the things we incorporated into the book.
How does it feel to finally put your collection of all these interviews together and make it a book?
Well… I feel very happy, I feel excited and privileged, but I think all the glory should go to God. I haven’t come up with the book because I am the most brilliant journalist or I am the most fantastic writer. I think I just have to thank God that at this point in time, it has pleased Him to use me as a vessel to accomplish this. So, sincerely I feel honoured and I feel happy.
Going back to your career, what prompted you to leave your first love, law for journalism?
I never wanted to be a journalist. My first love, like I have always told people, was law. But it now happened that Fame Magazine organized one competition back then called Fame Reader of the Month and I happened to be the first winner. So, the day I went for my prize, I met Mr. Mayor Akinpelu, Mr. Kunle Bakare, Mr. Femi Akintunde Johnson and you know, I just liked the ambience, the way they dressed, the way they comported themselves, the way they treated me and everything. So, I then told myself that it won’t also be a bad idea for me to do Mass Communications and see whether I can become like these people. So, you see, I never wanted to be a journalist, my first love was law but you know God works in mysterious ways, I was dreaming of law and God says, look, you are going to be a journalist and today, this is where we are and we thank God for everything.
Which year are talking about, here, I mean when you had this encounter?
This should be around 93. If I get my book, I will get the exact date because in the book, I published the IT letter that I took to that place. It should be in the early 90s.
How has the experience, that’s talking of your career, been so far?
It’s been wonderful, it’s been very wonderful. Journalism, I must confess, has exceeded my expectations. Although there is no money to be made in journalism, the truth remains that it has opened doors for me. It has brought me in contact with people that matter, people that some people who have money may not be able to meet. Journalism has granted me access to people. Journalism has given me the opportunity to sit face to face with men and women of power. You know, people that others salivate about and idolize. Journalism has brought me one on one with them. Those are some of the advantages of journalism. Another thing journalism does is that you get to know about things sometimes before people know about them. So, the greatest thing journalism has done for me is access. At least, I have met about one or two great men, my own idols, through the profession.
What are the things being a journalist has taken away from you?
I think if I had been into banking or oil and gas, with the level that I have attained, I should have made more money than I have now. I’m just managing my life now. So, I think it has only taken money away from me.
What are those common mistakes you think media practitioners make?
Number one is, most times journalists forget the reason they are journalists. The reason is some journalists want to be interviewed. They want to be talked to. They begin to see themselves as stars. I’m not a star, I’m just a reporter. They may say I’m a publisher of an international magazine, yes, but first and foremost I am a reporter. Then, most journalists are too careless. They take too many things for granted. They invite some journalists to an event, instead of them to concentrate on what they went there for, you see some of them drinking; they drink to an extent that they forget the major reasons they are there. Again, most journalists don’t plan, most of them are not hardworking. You know you have to be extraordinarily hardworking for you to leave a legacy in the profession. But some people just want to coast along. Unfortunately, if you coast along you’ll hardly make any impact. There are 24 hours in a day, but any serious journalist must work for 25 hours. You should also do your thing differently and not the way other people do it. If you do it the way others do, all of you will be classified as one. Then, some journalists don’t dress well. When you go to meet somebody, you go there looking unkempt and looking too beggarly, it doesn’t help your cause. Anything you give them, they take, making people to now use them to play football. And again, most journalists don’t improve on their craft. What they have always known is all they know till date. You have to go all out to upgrade yourself, your knowledge, try to expand your horizon. A journalist should learn how to be a master of everything. Don’t just restrict yourself to one thing. If you ask me to do an interview, I can do that, ask me to write a story, I can and that is what a good journalist should be. And in this age and time, a journalist must be IT compliant. These are the necessary things a journalist should master and some journalists write, but they don’t go through what they have written. To avoid mistakes or errors, you must read and read whatever you have wrote, again and again before you push it out. Why are you rushing to push out something that will be fraught with errors and people will read it and begin to look at you from an unserious angle. So these are some of the little, little pieces of advice that I would like to give.
How did you come about the name YES INTERNATIONAL Magazine?
When I was about to leave Encomium Magazine, I didn’t plan to do a magazine. I wanted to float a PR company. I had even registered a company called Honours Communications Limited, perception and reputation managers. That was what I wanted to do, and I had already gotten my mentor then, Mr. Yomi Badejo-Okusanya. So, we have planned the strategies and everything. But my younger brother who is a Reverend Father, his name is Chijioke now said why do I want to go and start afresh, that I should focus on what I had always done, and that was how I now said okay, let me stage a comeback to journalism. In fact, as at the time I came up with Yes, I didn’t know there was a magazine in America called Yes Weekly. All I wanted was a name that will be very easy to pronounce, just like Fame Weekly, and that was why the first sticker we did, we called it Yes Weekly. However, it was when we were trying to register it that we found out that there’s a magazine in America called Yes Weekly and they told us that we can’t register it because of the ISSN number or something. So we now had to remove the weekly and put international and that was how we got or eventually settled for Yes International. But I just wanted a name that people will easily remember, a name that will be positive. I didn’t want an ambiguous name.
What do you think makes a good reporter?
One, a good reporter must be very, very rugged. Although, it is also good if you write well because I remember when I was in Encomium, some of my best reporters then were not fantastic writers. But you know what I told them, just go and get me the stories, I will re-write them. A good reporter must also be a good networker. He must be an affable person and somebody that has good contacts. He must be a hard worker. He must be persistent. A good reporter must not be somebody that will take no for an answer. A good reporter is somebody that walks into a place and see what others are not seeing; you have to be creative, you have to be imaginative, you have to be perceptive. When I was much younger, if you invite me to a place, once I get to that place, what I will say to myself is, what won’t other reporters do there; that is the angle that I want to explore. I always want to differentiate myself. A good reporter should also dress well. It doesn’t matter the quality of what you are wearing, but you just have to be neat. You have to look presentable, you have to be a personable person. Then a good reporter must be able to keep secrets. When you don’t keep secrets today, people will not tell you things tomorrow. And as a good reporter, if they tell you, you can publish this one, you cannot publish this one, don’t say because they said you should not publish it, then you sneak out and go to publish it, no. You are ruining your integrity, you are ruining your reputation and people won’t want to associate with you again. For me, these are the little drops of water that make a mighty ocean. And if you put all these things together, you will find out that you become a better reporter.
How has life been treating you being a publisher, an author, a father and a public figure all together?
Well, I have been into this all my life. As a matter of fact, I have never applied for any job all my life. I went to Fame Magazine then to do my IT. And the first five stories I wrote were on the cover of the magazine and that was how I was offered automatic employments, and all my life this is what I do. My wife met me in the course of the job. So, there is nothing I do that she does not know; even if I am doing production overnight in the office, she knows. Sometimes, she comes with the kids, all of us will be working, she will be in the office and I will be working. Even my kids are used to my writing, reading, proof- reading, correcting, transcribing, name it. As far back as when I was with Encomium Magazine, I have always transcribed my interviews, people don’t transcribe for me. Since I started YES! Magazine, only once has somebody transcribed for me and it was not because I wanted the person to transcribe it for me. The person came to do IT here, we finished the interview and she asked for the transcription and I told her I will do it myself, but she said no, if you had taken me along to do the interview and you come back and you are still the one to transcribe the interview, how will I learn? That was why I gave it to the person. I usually transcribe at home around 4am, 5am, 6am when everywhere is calm and quiet; that is the best time for me to transcribe, but I don’t know what happened that day I brought it to the office and I was here doing it and she said no, let me do it and immediately she said it and insisted, that was how I allowed her. Left to me, I would have transcribed it by myself, I have always done that. I don’t want to talk as far back as Encomium, let me just talk about YES! I have always transcribed my interviews. Everything that I am today is God, my parents, Mr. Kunle Bakare. I will say Mr. Bakare because he gave me my first job and Mr. Femi Akintunde Johnson who gave me the first opportunity to write. So those two men I will forever be grateful to.
Having come this far in this journalism industry, what are those errors that you think must be written off in order to give the profession its befitting status?
Journalists should carry themselves well, most of them don’t do that. Journalists should learn how to respect themselves. If you don’t respect yourself, why should I respect you? So, until journalists begin to respect themselves, they will not get the respect they deserve. Journalists should also begin to separate charity work from journalism. Journalism is business. I am not saying you should be too blatant about it, don’t blackmail people, don’t go about collecting money and all that. But when there are special stories to do, you people should sit down and discuss the terms of the business. So, they (journalists) should respect themselves, they should begin to see it as a business. Then they should imbibe this idea of constant improvement, most journalists, maybe the last time they read any book was when they were in the university or secondary school, and they should be prepared all the time. No matter how much you know how to argue, if you have a case in court, you can’t handle your case. You require the services of a lawyer. Same thing with the medical profession; you can’t say because you have a little knowledge of the profession, then you now say you are a medical practitioner. So, we have to professionalize our profession because the profession, as it is now, is an all comer’s affair. Anybody can call himself a journalist and until those things are checked and resolved, we will continue to have same challenges.
What are the kind of laws that you think can be laid down to curb these anomalies?
It is not for me to decide. It is not for me to proffer the solution, but I think the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria, the Nigerian Guild of Editors, The Nigerian Union of Journalists and some professional online bodies like the Guild of Corporate Online Publishers should come together and come up with something like a law that will guide the profession. They should sit down and come up with something, discuss it with the government and take it to the national assembly and if the bill scales through, if it is passed, it becomes effective.
Let’s talk about your second book, SUCCESS IS NOT SERVED A LA CARTE, what is the motive behind this?
Well, a lot of people have some wrong impression about success. Success is not something you sell in the market. Success is not transferable. Because you have a father who is a millionaire does not mean you are automatically going to be a millionaire, if you don’t do what you are supposed to do and success is not what you can rush into a restaurant and they prepare it and bring it to you and put it on the table for you. You have to work for it. What I was trying to do in the book is to let people know that there are things that once you do them, success is likely to be yours. Why I say that is because we can create our own success, we can give birth to our own success. If you decide that you want to change your life, your style, your academic background, it starts from within. So what we have done in this book is to get people, who to the best of our knowledge have succeeded. We sat down with them and we now asked them to take us through how they started, how they have been able to get to where they are, what they did, the mistakes they made and how they have been able to sustain their Success is not a destination, it’s a journey and it’s an unending journey. If it had been a destination, people like Dangote wouldn’t still be building a refinery. He’s Africa’s richest man, but he is still looking for ways to make more money, to increase his profit and sales. So that is what tells you that success is not a destination. You don’t ever arrive at that destination, you just keep going. I have sat down with people who have succeeded like Christopher Kolade, Tony Ezenna, Simon Kolawole, Pete Edochie, Olu Jacobs, Steve Babaeko, Lolu Akinwunmi etc, lawyers, doctors, bankers, journalists, actors, musicians, comedians, people from different fields, to find out how they made it. That is what is the book is basically about.
What is the biggest lesson you have learnt so far as a journalist?
Some journalists think that what they sell is news, but what they sell is not news. What they sell is actually their integrity. It’s not about just writing fantastically. If you write a fantastic story and they are stories that you have cooked up, how many people will believe what you have written? So, for me I think the most important thing is that all journalists must have a reputation and integrity because once you lose it, that is the end. There used to be a magazine published by one Lawrence Akapa or so, the guy was fabricating and manufacturing fantastic stories. When he was exposed, that was the end of the magazine. So, what is most important is integrity, not the kind of story you have.
Who is your role model in the journalism profession?
My role model and my mentor is Mr. Kunle Bakare. He has inspired me the most. But there are other people that I admire a lot people like Chief Dele Momodu, Simon Kolawole, Femi Adesina, Reuben Abati, Ikechukwu Amaechi, Olusegun Adeniyi. Those are the people that I read and I enjoy their writing styles and everything. I follow these people on daily basis, I know who I read on Monday, Tuesday I know, Wednesday I know, Thursday I know, Friday, Saturday and even Sunday I know.
What will be your message to upcoming journalists?
Don’t join the crowd, if you join the crowd they will lump you together, but if you stand out, people will take notice of you. If you keep doing what every other person is doing, all of you will be classified as the same. But if you stand out, people will notice your comportment, your carriage, your charisma and in a short while, doors of opportunity will begin to open for you.