Mr. Gbenga Adefaye is a well known name in journalism circles in Nigeria. And even beyond that. A former Editor of the respected Vanguard Newspapers and one-time President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), he is currently the General Manager (Publications) at the Vanguard Media Limited, overseeing the editorial, advertisement and ICT departments of the media empire founded by Uncle Sam Amuka-Pemu.
Fondly called the Dean by his friends, he was educated at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) where he read Mass Communication. Then, the University of Lagos, for his MSc. Also in Mass Communication. He later did additional courses at prestigious institutions like the Lagos Business School (Pan-African University) and Harvard Business School. Mr. Adefaye has traversed both the print and electronic sectors of the media, having kicked off his career with the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Benin. And from there, Newsbreed Magazine, before finally berthing at Vanguard Newspapers, where he has been since 1986. A member of Ikoyi Club, Lagos Country Club and Ife Metropolitan Club, YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine, Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, AZUH ARINZE, cornered him in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, on Saturday, August 29, 2015, during the annual All Nigerian Editors Conference, for this interview. The thrust is majorly journalism, and how to stand out in the profession. Enjoy…
What makes a good journalist?
Big question! Good question! What makes a good journalist? Dedication, professionalism, fairness, integrity.
What is the commonest mistake that most journalists make?
Impatience, not being thorough, not doing enough, particularly not following through a story and sometimes arrogance. When you make a mistake, you should be humble enough to accept that you have made one and do correction.
What story must a journalist not write?
One that is false, one that is not true and one that will destroy the society.
What do you like most about being a journalist?
It’s indeed a good life; it’s also a life of discipline. Because you focus all the attention on other people, there are certain things you cannot do, because if you do, you will wreck the platform (under) which you practice and you will not be worthy of the profession.
What don’t you like about being a journalist?
Too many charlatans have invaded the profession here.
Journalism has done a lot for you, what has it not done for you?
Hmmm! I can’t think of anything for now. I wish I can…
So, what is news to you?
News is that that is new, that is exciting, that is informative, that is educative, that will help to build a better society.
Why do we have too many journalists who attain success in the profession, but they are not able to sustain it?
Because very many people don’t live realistic lives. They live in denial. Because you are a journalist, because you see policy makers, influential people, it doesn’t make you one of them. You have to build yourself to be like them. But you must have confidence. More importantly, you must develop a template for contentment. I think the problem with us most of the time is that we judge ourself by other people’s standard. For instance, what do you consider to be success? Very many people cannot define what is success to them. For them, success is oh, Azuh has become this, I want to be like Azuh. They will not know what you have done to become Azuh and they do not know even your own vision – what you will like to be.
What is the most memorable story that you have written?
Ah! That would have been 198…I can’t remember the exact year; let me not goof – when it was reported that Zik died. I was the Sub Editor. The Editors had decided that the story that Zik was dead (should go). But only myself and Niran Malaolu were on duty and then we made a call to Enugu and all of that. We discovered that Zik was not dead. So, without getting the consent of the Editor, we changed the headline and stated that Zik was not dead. The following morning, the Editor wasn’t upset, but the News Editor and other people were very upset with us; they thought we were trying to take their job. But at the end of the day, the story put Vanguard on top and I remember several years later, when Dr. Omololu Olunloyo (former Deputy Governor of Oyo State) visited my office in Vanguard, I was editing the evening paper then; he came with a copy of that paper; that particular story and he said to me, this is the only reason why I have every copy of Vanguard since then – because it’s a credible paper. I will never forget that.
In your career, no doubt, you’ve interviewed a lot of people. Who would you like to interview and haven’t been able to get?
(Silence) That’s a serious question. Because I wasn’t really in the interview field – but one person that I enjoyed interviewing was Babangida. I was the first person to speak to him outside power and I almost got into trouble…
Now, what is your take on the coming of the social media?
Fantastic experience, I enjoy it, I love it, because it has challenged the newspapers the more, it has challenged the traditional media and I think that is the most important lesson for all of us. For me, I believe in the school of thought that says let all these contend, but the credible ones will survive. I think the coming of social media has put the traditional media on its toes and so they just have to strive to survive otherwise they will die.
You rose to become the Editor of Vanguard Newspapers. What will you describe as your greatest achievement as the Editor of that huge and respected paper?
I edited Vanguard when it had the worst of infrastructure. What we were printing, in my estimation then was trash in terms of the quality of print; it wasn’t the era of colour press. We had no press. It was almost like toilet paper. But even then, what was thought to be unimaginable happened to Vanguard – Vanguard won the Editor of the Year award. Even the publisher (Uncle Sam Amuka-Pemu) did not believe it, and then the following year, I won the first Dele Giwa Editor of the Year award.
You equally rose to become the President of Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), what would you describe as your greatest achievement?
My greatest achievement, to me, was in fighting to defend the frontiers of our freedom when the Abike Dabiri bill on media was proposed and my attention was drawn to it. I felt I had a duty, having read it, having been sensitized to it, by Prince Tony Momoh and having read it, that that kind of bill must not pass otherwise the thriving media will be brought under the absolute control of the state that was already quite hostile to the media. Apart from that, setting up the CLEJ – Centre for Leadership in Journalism, at the Lagos Business School, Pan-Atlantic University. I also consider it a great achievement because I believe that journalists need training. We don’t get enough of it, especially at managerial level and being able to do that successfully; it’s now a running centre. It’s manned by Richard Ikiebe. I consider it a great achievement.
Any journalist who wants to write well, what must the person do?
Keep reading! Keep reading, keep studying. Read great writers, read great novels, read columns, read every newspaper that comes your way, every magazine that you think you like what they do.
What exactly got you interested in journalism?
Great question! When I did A-level, the man who taught me English Literature, one Mr. Omiyale… He had gone to NIJ (Nigerian Institute of Journalism) then. He had a Diploma. But had this habit of any time he was asked to conduct the morning assembly, he will come there and speak this kind of English, good construction that other people didn’t understand. That made all the impression on me and I just wanted to be like him – a great speaker and a great writer.
You’ve been into journalism now for over two decades, what would you say has kept you going?
Yeah! Satisfaction! I enjoy it. I feel fulfilled. I went out to train to be a journalist and the greatest ambition of every journalist is to be an Editor. I became one and I want to consider myself successful. I may not have tons of money, but when I look at my friends, my class mates who have become university professors, I can say I’m proudly a professor in journalism. But when I look at those of them who have been government ministers, I say well, I could have also been a minister. But we still relate. So, I feel fulfilled, I feel successful.
Why do we have too many journalists who are poor?
What’s your definition of poverty?
Most of them can’t make ends meet, they dress shabbily, some can’t even take care of themselves…
(Cuts in) – Are they journalists?
Some of them are…(Laughter)
But really, we have to get our orientation right. What do you do with the money you make? The little money you make. I have a senior, an elder, who assisted me to put up my first structure in life – Alhaji Kola Animashaun. He said to me, your first house is called a shelter. It’s not a mansion. You have the contacts, you get a brief to do biographies, I will do the scripts. There was a particular job we did and N150,000 was due for me. A lot of money in 1990 – and then he called me, he said Gbenga, your money is ready. What will you like to do with it? I said of course, daddy, give me the money, I will like to buy a flat engine Mercedes Benz. That’s what was reigning then. He said to me, never ! You know what he did? He took that money, he went and bought a plot of land. He called a draughtsman to draw a plan, he looked for a bricklayer and he built me a 3-bedroom boys’ quarters and I learnt my lessons from how to manage money from there. He did an analysis of N50,000 then – he said with N50,000, if you go out on a weekend with your girlfriend, you probably will return home with a change of N3,500! And by the time he broke it down, he said if I use it to go buy cement and block; he said from a bag of cement, you will make 35 pieces of 9×8 block, you can also make 40 inch block and you needed about 3500 blocks to build a bungalow and that even if you made the block and you now want to sell, you will sell that block that you have made with N50,000 for about N75,000. By the time he finished the analysis, I became more knowledgeable about survival and I think most of us don’t understand that. We waste the little that we get.
There are quite a number of people who read what you write, who are the people you read what they write?
I have my own heroes – people I love most. Like while Dele Giwa was alive, I kept every copy of his writing. Ladbon (Mr. Lade Bonuola) doesn’t sign articles, but I get to know what he writes and I read almost everything he writes. And there are so many people like that. Then also very important, because I’m a perpetual student, I have almost every copy of The London Economist and I think they do great writing there.
Away from work, what do you do for relaxation?
I read, I travel, I enjoy trips, I enjoy visiting places. Those are the ones that we can confess publicly (General laughter). Others we can’t…(More laughter)