Mr. Eze Anaba is the editor of Vanguard newspaper. He’s also the president of Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE). From Abia State, he is married to Itoro and their union is not only flourishing, but also blessed with children.
Mr. President, like some colleagues now call him, holds a Master’s degree in Communication from Leicester University in the United Kingdom. Widely travelled and sitting pretty on the boards of some leading human rights groups, AZUH ARINZE, publisher/editor-in-chief of YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine got him to share his time and thoughts on Tuesday, April 25, 2023.
They looked at his journalism career thus far, especially life as an editor and also his plans for NGE.
How did you get entangled with journalism?
It’s something I’ve always had interest in, growing up with my dad. My dad will buy newspapers. And I will read the papers from the back, the sports section, and then watching people like late Mike Enahoro, the famous newscaster those days also inspired me. Back then, I didn’t know the difference between broadcast and print, but I loved both. I loved Mike Enahoro’s attires on TV and I loved reading sports in newspapers, from the back. Even till date, sometimes I still find myself psychologically flipping through newspapers from the back pages. So, I grew up saying okay, I wanted to sound like him, went to school, tried to do my internship, got into Vanguard, they took me as an intern, after school, I came back there and I’ve been married to journalism since then.
What would you say makes a good journalist?
A good journalist must read widely, broadly, must love the profession, must be dedicated to the craft and must be professional. But first of all, you have to be very well equipped. What does that mean? You have to be very well educated. Education in this sense does not mean you just get a certificate by the way. It means you reading widely and understanding issues, being very professional and dedicated to your craft.
What makes a good story?
A good story must contain the 5Ws and H. If you answer all that, you have done a good story. There’s also a saying by my chairman, Uncle Sam (Amuka Pemu)… Let me start with what an editor should be. He says an editor is the one who knows what not to publish. Now, once an editor decides that a story should be published, it should have all the basics, all the answers, the 5Ws and H – where, when, why, what and how. So, once all those questions are answered, you have a good story.
What makes a good newspaper?
In my view, a good newspaper is a paper, first of all, that the public assumes to be very objective. You must respect your readers to feed them what is right, what is professionally correct, because these days, why do we make a case against sensationalism, why do we rein against those we call the uneducated or the uninitiated? It’s because they are not professionals, they do not know what should not be published. A good newspaper is a paper that knows what should be published, respected by its readers or audience and then taken seriously. They understand the issues, understand what national security is all about, understand what puts a country together, because a newspaper can easily destroy the country as we saw in our recent history. Let’s start with June 12 (1993) presidential election. Some papers died because of being against June 12 then. Look, the readers are not stupid. If the readers consider your paper either biased, sensational or unprofessional, you will die. That’s it in a nutshell.
What makes a good interview?
Good question! What makes a good interview is when you, the interviewer, understand who your subject is. For instance, you are interviewing Wole Soyinka, who’s in the news lately. Do you know what Wole Soyinka is all about? There must be something about Wole Soyinka you want to sell to your readers or to your viewers and what are those things? When all those questions are answered, you will know how to go about the interview. So, a good interview, in my view, is an interview that brings something unique about your subject to your readers or to your viewers. There must be something unique you want to bring out, you want to sell; not the general thing people know about him already and even if it’s the general thing people know about him, it should be reinforced. For instance, your historical position. Are they still the same? Do they align? Let your readers understand who this man is – put him on a pedestal. Is he still consistent, is he still professional, the way he was then and now, has anything changed? If it is a new perspective you want to sell to the public, then go straight to the point.
For one to write well, what must the person do?
You can’t write well if you are not very well read. Let’s get that clear. That’s why they say a good journalist must know a little about everything. You must be very well read. For instance, if you are a columnist in a newspaper; those days ‘columnism’ used to be the job of experts, experienced journalists who have seen it all, who have spent time understanding the terrain, understanding the country, understanding the economy, understanding the political situation of the country, understanding the politics and it’s their experience now they are bringing to bare and pushing forward. So, ‘columnism’ is about experience, it’s about being very well educated, it’s about being very well read, it’s about being very professional. That’s why some people read some writers because of their language, ideas, position on issues or because of their backgrounds; because of their intellect, because of their education and again because of their political views. People read some columnists because of their political views – it could be professional, it could be sensational. Today, some sensational columnists, people read them too. Even though you can be outraged by that sometimes.
What do you like most about being a journalist?
What I like most about being a journalist is setting agenda. The mere fact that I set agenda, the mere fact that what I publish as an editor influences people, the mere fact that what I publish is taken seriously and some are involved, either in a discussion, position or what I will call open discussion in high places. People say okay, because Vanguard published it, it must be the truth. That is what we should do. Vanguard published this, that is the position of the government or the political party or a particular group or any people. Your agenda setting function. That’s why the rigour that we take to publish a particular news item, especially on the front page of a newspaper, speaks to the fact that we know that we are trying to influence the public, we are trying to educate the public and we are trying to inform the public.
What don’t you like about being a journalist?
Very few, but I can tell you the one that irritates me – people think you have answer to everything, and that’s because they assume you are god who should know. For instance, a political party loses an election, the media is blamed; somebody quarrels with his wife, it’s the media; somebody falls out with his business partner, he blames the media. All sorts! You are expected to have an answer to everything.
What would you say has been the greatest thing that journalism has done for you?
It made me who I am today, and I am not taking this lightly. That I am the editor of Vanguard today is because of my work as a journalist and it has made me, whether you like it or not, a stakeholder in the Nigerian project. My views and the paper I edit are taken seriously and I do not take that lightly. That, for me, is one great things that journalism has done for me.
What would you have wanted journalism to do for you that it has not done?
What has journalism not done for me? (Thinks) Journalism has done everything for me. I’m happy the way I am. You cannot have it all. So, I’m happy. Journalism has done everything for me.
What’s the commonest mistake that you’ve noticed with most journalists?
The commonest mistake most journalists make is to take people for granted. We think we know everything, but we don’t know everything. I was once asked a question by a top source in the intelligence circles during a social gathering. He said to me, you journalists think you have all the answers. You don’t! You don’t know why those of us in the security circles do some of the things we do. So, we sit in our newsroom attimes and we tend to answer security questions. Governance has several components and the security part is also a very huge component. We don’t know why they do what they do. So, I left that interaction understanding or believing that we take some things for granted because we are journalists. I left that place better educated.
Earlier on, you were saying something about knowing what to publish and what not to. What kind of stories must an editor not publish?
Again, let me restate what I said – a good editor must know what not to publish. Now, what stories shouldn’t you publish? Today, the country is on the verge of a new government. Everybody knows there are petitions at the tribunal, there’s a president-elect and then you go and publish stories that could provoke either the aggrieved to rioting or you try to diminish the president-elect or his supporters in the name of sensationalism. That, for me, would be irresponsible journalism. That’s why in a democracy there’s a tripod of the executive, the judiciary and the legislature. We are waiting on the courts now to finish their hearings, their judgement or whatever. Now, a newspaper goes out and starts howling, either diminishing the victor or diminishing the vanquished, it will be irresponsible journalism. It will be not understanding the times, especially a time like this. So, in a nutshell, not to be seen to be politically current would be irresponsible journalism.
You became the editor of Vanguard newspaper in 2016. How would you describe life as an editor?
I will describe life as an editor this way – interesting, challenging. Professionally challenging and interesting. Especially now.
Why now, why not before? What makes it more interesting now?
Before, there was a difference between an editor and a businessman. What I mean by that is that previously, an editor was just producing the paper. But now, a thin line divides an editor and a business manager. You are both an editor now and a business manager. What that means is that the fortune of your paper, business-wise and economically, also depends on you as the editor. What you publish and the people you are able to attract matter. In those days, you had the editorial divide and the business side, but now there’s almost none because the editor is now part of the business side. So, your editorial policies should also factor in the fact that your business must not die.
What would you say makes a good editor?
A good editor must have credibility, No. 1. Apart from the points I raised earlier, a good editor must also have integrity, must be very well read, must be educated enough to know what to publish and what not to publish. In fact, a good editor must almost be all-knowing. Let me repeat that, must almost be all-knowing! You must be discerning enough, you must be all-knowing enough to know what not to publish. A good editor must have integrity, a good editor must be professional, a good editor must be well read. That’s the only way you can guide your subordinates who are also very well educated, have their own political views, have their own ideological orientation. So, as an editor, you must rise above the fray and you must be very well equipped to rise above that fray and lead also.
What would you say has been your greatest achievement as an editor since 2016 when you took over that position?
The achievement of an editor is in the fortune of the newspaper. So, my greatest achievement is the rise in the sales figure of Vanguard – and it has risen. That’s No. 1. If you are superintending or you are editing a paper that is shrinking, you are dead. So, seeing the rise and growing acceptability of the paper has been my greatest joy.
What stands Vanguard newspaper out?
I will start with the ownership. We are benefiting from the integrity of the owner (Sam Amuka-Pemu). Sam Amuka-Pemu, everybody knows, is one of the legends of our business. He set up Vanguard based on his integrity and professionalism from Daily Times. So, we, his staff, and who are like his children these days, learn from that. In Vanguard, we always stand on the side of people, we publish in a way to be regarded. All we do are based on three tripods essentially – integrity, professionalism and truth. So, I think those three things judge us. Sometimes we get it wrong. Don’t get me wrong. We are not perfect. We make mistakes, but we are also quick to apologize when we get it wrong. But I think those three things stand us out and that’s why even our partners, people who patronize us, recognize that. When we get it wrong attimes, they call the publisher. “Uncle Sam, this is not you, this is not what you stand for”. And he calls us and we make amends.
Talking about Uncle Sam. What are those of you that operate from inside and see him more know about the legendary journalist compared to those of us outside?
One sentence I can use to describe Uncle Sam is that he’s a man of very few words. You sometimes have to strain your ears to hear him talk, but what he says is usually full of wisdom. I have here on my board in the office some of the things I’ve learnt. Let them read them out. He says the definition of editing is knowing what to leave out. I heard that from Uncle Sam, I didn’t read it from any book. The other one is, if you want to do it, you will find a way, if not, you will find an excuse. Uncle Sam is a man who lives for journalism. All his life has been in the newsroom. So, we learn daily from him, from his wisdom, his experience and his knowledge. Therefore working with him is like going to school and he tells you there’s nothing you cannot do without; there’s no story that’s too big for you not to publish or there’s no story that’s too big that it cannot be dropped. He always says that no matter how big a story is, it can die because there will always be another day. Again, that a news story lives for just a day. The next day, you are reviewing yesterday because yesterday is gone. Today is always another day. It’s a daily school listening to Uncle Sam and I tell you, for those of you who don’t listen to Uncle Sam every day, you are missing.
So, why do you want to lead the Nigerian Guild of Editors as president?
If you know me very well, you will know that I’m not given to contestations like this. But the media industry is at a stage now where we all need to get involved. It’s like politics where they say politics is too important to be left to idiots or to politicians. The media industry is too important to be left to the uninitiated or to people who do not understand, because those of us who live it daily, we know what we are going through, we know what the price of newsprint is, we know what the production cost is, we know the status of the existential issues facing the media today. Listening to Uncle Sam again, who was in the vanguard of setting up the Guild of Editors with his friends, Prince Tony Momoh, Alhaji Lateef Jakande and co, the reason they set up the Guild of Editors is to help our profession and I honestly think, for some of us who listen to Uncle Sam, who listen to his friends, we know that the Guild of Editors should be a tool to help the media, because there are major issues confronting the media. We can’t hide that they need to be addressed and I think I’m in the best position, based on my knowledge as editor, based on my experience working with Uncle Sam and with my experience of being in the exco of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, better equipped, very well armed, to tackle those issues.
Why should journalists entrust you with this mandate?
I will just list three things. I’ve spent 30-something years in the newsroom, uninterrupted. No break! And I’ve risen through the ranks. So, if you’ve spent 30-something years in any profession, you are called an expert. In the Army, are you not a general?
Good! So, I’ve spent an uninterrupted 30-something years. I’ve risen to be editor of Vanguard and I know I attend management meetings in Vanguard, I know the media issues and for people like Uncle Sam that we sit with, just like with other newspaper owners, TV owners, I know what they say and what the cry is. With this knowledge, will I be fair to the media by sitting aloof and allow people who do not understand the issues to deal with it? That will be a crime to a profession that I belong to, that I’ve worked so hard to serve and that I am still into. I will even retire as a journalist. I won’t be fair to my profession if I fail to do this, and I honestly think this is the right time to do it – to put the issues confronting the media in the front burner, and at all levels. I have the experience, I have the capacity, I have the knowledge to do it. So, why not?
What will you say is the biggest challenge confronting the Nigerian Guild of Editors?
Right now, I think the biggest challenge confronting us is training. The outgoing exco, which I’m also part of, has started a new thing. There was this funding we got from the American government to train journalists and the training was done in six regions of the country. So, what I plan to do next is to escalate that and also create an interface between us and the government to deal with our issues. My slogan is, you have to be in a profession before you have professionals. So, the greatest challenge facing NGE today is how to make media houses viable, how to make the government look at media houses, not generally giving money or anything.
Let’s take policies or waivers to import newsprint for instance. I think that’s one of the things we can do and I think that’s one of the challenges the NGE has now; to interface with the government in a way that policies that would be beneficial to the media can be implemented. It’s a good thing that there’s an incoming government. Hopefully, that would be the next line of engagement.
One of the greatest challenges we are having in the media is the advent of the social media. What is your take on that? Also, how does the professional journalists wriggle out of the quagmire of fake news?
The social media has come to stay. Make no mistake about that. In fact, there’s a general feeling that the mainstream newspapers will soon die, but I don’t believe that. They will not die, but they will shrink. The biggest challenge before us is to confront these social media players in their own turf and impose credibility on them. That’s why today the digital platform of Vanguard is so huge that there’s a special office we have created in Ilupeju (Lagos) for that. It’s not something you can shy away from. The days of the monopoly enjoyed by the print is gone and gone forever. We have to confront the social media players in their own terrain. So, how do we do that? You bring credibility to bear, you also become a major player in the area. For instance, Vanguard is very active on social media these days. We have our digital platforms that are rife, we have our digital TV that is rife, that is growing. So, once we storm that space, it will crowd out fake news and Nigerians are educated enough to know what is fake news. There were platforms that started like the house on fire, churning out fake news, sensational stories here and there, and everybody was running helter skelter. Where are they today? They are gradually being phased out or dying on their own simply because the credible media are coming to the fore.
Today, apart from Vanguard, apart from Punch, you have The Cable, you have Premium Times and you are also there, Azuh! We are all players, playing in that terrain, crowding out fake news and that’s the only way to go. And as time goes by, we all will become major players in that space, in that ecosystem and we will crowd out fake news.