Mr. Azuka Jebose Molokwu is an old hand in the journalism profession. A native of Onicha Ugbo in Delta State, during his days at Saturday Punch, he was unarguably Nigeria’s hottest entertainment journalist. Cornering awards here and there then, he later travelled to the United States of America where he spent over 20 years bettering himself, like he put it, before returning home recently. Weeks back, he paid a visit to YES INTERNATIONAL!’s office in Ojodu, Lagos where we got him to respond to some of our questions. Enjoy…
What have you been doing since you left journalism?
Well, I never left journalism. You go through changes in life, so I have branches – from print journalism to electronic media to social media. But the last I did was the broadcast media and social media. I’m always effectively changing.
Having worked in nearly all the branches of journalism, how do you view all of them?
They are kind of interwoven. They interlope and I knew how it was during my print media days; not like now when you have privileges to work more. Back in the days, we chased the news and I remember how we had to chase buses because transportation was not there, salaries were not regularly paid, but we did the job you know! We went after the information. It didn’t come to us through different channels like it does now on our social media, but the information on the social media is at times conflicting, so you have to be very careful as to where you are getting it from. You have to be cautious of people that encroach on the territory of journalism simply because they could write or because they have privileged information that you may not have. So, your work is very much at stake when you rely on social media. But the broadcast media is very intriguing, it’s very entertaining.
How would you describe your experience having worked in all these areas?
I always like to be number one, to grow beyond the ordinary expectation of journalism. I like to challenge the authorities. I’m fearless. A journalist should be fearless. They should be ready to risk their lives, put it on the line regardless of the end result. So, back to your question. For me, you have to differentiate. You have to know that this is better than that one and you have to enjoy what you’re doing.
You left at the peak of your career; you practically abandoned Nigeria and relocated to USA. Why did you do that at the peak of your career?
When I looked around the news room at that time, I was just 22 or 23 years old and I had achieved a lot of those things that most people in other professions may not have achieved. Most newspaper companies wanted to employ me and I looked around to realize that if I didn’t leave to further my education, and I have always admired American journalism, because I also wanted to practice the freedom of press. We had it, we demanded it from the military and we got it even though some of us scarified. People like Nduka Irabor, Tunde Thompson who sacrificed on our behalf to get what we wanted for the media and from the military. So, for me, I was afraid that I could end up in a newsroom where I will begin to circulate around the newsroom and become irrelevant. I didn’t want to be irrelevant, you know! I wanted to be concretely trained, concretely progressive. So, I knew that the best thing was to get out for a while, see the outside world, get infected and affected and here we are about 25 years later.
Do you have any regret leaving when you left?
No, no! I don’t have any regret because as I’m looking back now, I have gained a lot. So, I don’t have any regret. If I had regrets, I would have returned. But I missed some of the happenstances when I left, because I knew I could have been a part of it. But when I left, I didn’t leave completely. I make sure, occasionally, I was relevant. I remained in contact with the profession, so I don’t regret it. Never regret anything you do in life.
What you did then, can you compare it to what is happening now? What were the things you did then that journalists of today are not doing?
We were bold. We didn’t sell out. We went out for the news. We took on the authorities. We performed our duties as responsible journalists. Especially in entertainment journalism. We had a lot of gossips. Gossips that you mentioned names, that you had to talk about people because you had the facts, you had the information and the writing styles were a little bit different, and you had professionals. Those that actually went to the school of journalism. Then, you had the Times Institute of Journalism, Communication Department. You followed and adhered strictly to our profession’s code of ethics, which is “publish and be damned”.
Can you recollect the best story that you wrote?
(Laughs) The best coverage I had was during Fela’s crisis, when he was arrested by the Idiagbon/Buhari regime. Then, he was travelling to Los Angeles. They arrested him at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport for trying to export one thousand two hundred dollars ($1,200) for the basic travelling allowance and they initiated a decree. I’m not sure of that decree again, maybe 19 or 4. They now decided to use him as a scape goat because they had always wanted him, so they took his case to Race Course where the court formed a tribunal to judge his case and he went through almost a month incarcerated. I just started at Punch then and I was sent as a city correspondent with Seyi Smith who was the city editor then, and that was one of the turning points in my life and one of the best stories in my career.
Can you recollect the best interview that you conducted?
Let me see! The best interview I conducted was actually with Chief Obafemi Awolowo. I was talking to him at Oba Oyekan’s palace at an event and he slapped me on the head and said, “You never give up! Do you?” And I said no! The other interview I did was with Tunji Braithwaite. I had briefly left The Punch to work for This Week and I had Toyin Akinoso with me then. We chased this man for weeks and finally we were able to knock on his door and he said “You are very resilient, I wish I had a son like you”. So, he granted us the interview.
Can you recollect the best story that you ever wrote?
Again, I will go back to Fela, with the headline “Don’t forget I’m a prisoner”. That was for me the best Sunday story I ever wrote because my late best friend, Jerry Agbeyegbe found Fela at the lounge where he was also a pilot at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport and he ran to Punch and said Fela was being taken to LUTH from Makurdi because he was sick. That was on a Friday. On Sunday morning, I went to Beko’s house, knocked on his door, he opened it and I said ‘I want you to take me to where Fela was’ and he said I should go on my own. So, I went to LUTH. When I got into LUTH, I saw soldiers patrolling and you could see that a VIP was being held. Then, I saw Fehintola, Seun’s mum, with Seun at her back. They nodded at me to show me where Fela was, so I went there and sat beside him at the edge of his bed. Fela couldn’t say a word when I asked him what do you want me to tell your fans? Can we do an interview? Why are you here? The only thing he could tell me was, “Look, don’t forget I’m a prisoner”. I said what do you want me to tell your fans? He said, “Don’t forget I’m a prisoner”. So, I captured the moment and “Don’t forget I’m a prisoner” was the headline.
You were able to attain a lofty height then. What did you do that today’s journalists are not doing?
I was fearless. I was myself. Do what you have to do. People have poured drinks on my face, burnt cigarettes on my head, but you bypass those obstacles. Just be fearless, be yourself. Be dedicated and loyal to yourself. Do it because you love it. I did it because I love it. We were not paid salaries then. It was delayed and we were publishing like four pages inside Punch. It was all about commitment, loyalty and discipline and I loved it. I love the game of journalism and most importantly, chose E Beat. I didn’t start as an entertainment reporter, I started as a health reporter and most people didn’t know about that. I came in as a health reporter and I was transferred by accident to Ladi’s (Ayodeji) desk where he discovered me. Meanwhile, I was a DJ in Mafoluku then. I was hanging out with a lot of disc jockeys and selling shoes and clothes from Italy. I will take them to Radio Nigeria and that was where I met JAJ and all the stars that we later became friends. So, my transition into journalism was easier.
Who were your closest celebrity friends then?
Fela was there, Sonny Okosuns, Clarion Chukwura, Shina Peters; Kwam 1 was always inviting me to his office at Balogun, KSA, Ebenezer Obey. We went for concerts, but because they are my friends doesn’t mean I should feel sorry for them. No! When I had my gossip, I said look, when I’m drinking with you, you should know and when I see something I’m going to use as a gossip, I will also do it. Danladi Bako was also one of my best friends too and it was fun.
What is the greatest mistake that any journalist can make?
The greatest mistake any journalist can make is to compromise. Compromise your attitude, your position or be biased and also do things because of the privileged position you have to hurt someone; to go out and be negative. Being vindictive. Like I want to come and interview you now and have an ulterior motive for doing that. Be open minded, you don’t like me and I don’t like you, but I have a job to do and that doesn’t stop us from doing the job. At the end of the job, you don’t like me and I won’t like you, but I’m going to be fair, balanced and objective.
What makes a good journalist?
That is an interesting question. A good journalist must be able to be articulate, he must be well informed about whatever subject he is pursing or writing on. He must be dedicated to the job and he must be informed.
Now that you are back in Nigeria, do you still plan to go back to US or you are here to stay?
I’m back here. My children are in US, so occasionally, I will go to see them. But my wife and I are here in Nigeria.
What would you be doing now that you are back?
I’m staging a comeback into journalism and also through the years, I’ve discovered that I’m a machinery too. I go for the highest bidder. I’m ready to do media politics and branding, so I’m available for the highest bidders and I can guarantee them the best.