The Publisher of Daily Times of Nigeria (DTN), Mr. Fidelis Anosike, in this interview with select journalists in Abuja, speaks on the importance of celebrating DTN @ 91 and Times Heroes Awards ceremony slated for today as well as other sundry issues surrounding Nigeria’s oldest and famous newspaper in Sub-Saharan Africa and the media industry. GEORGE AGBA was there for LEADERSHIP.
Daily Times of Nigeria will be 91 years today, What is the motive behind the celebration?
It is not a motive; it is an inspiration. Ninety-one years of Daily Times creates a platform for us to inspire ourselves. If you see what we are doing and the way it is packaged, you will understand that we have to do it not less than the way we packaged it because it is Daily Times. Daily Times is the number one media platform in Nigeria.
Is there anything that propels you to honour certain Nigerians with the DTN Times Heroes Awards?
Nothing propels us; it is because they deserve it. Those on our prism deserve to be honoured, they deserve to be acknowledged, we need to charge them to do more. When they give you an award, what it means is that you are doing something and so, you need to do more.
But you are honouring certain individuals at a time people are criticising media houses for giving proliferated awards. What are the criteria for giving DTN Times Heroes Awards?
People will always criticise their fellow human beings. People will always try to stop what other people are doing. So, what is the alternative; do nothing? No, you must have to be true to what you believe. Once you believe in something, once you know and understand the fact that you know what you are doing in terms of trying to push the ethos of the organisation, you will certainly be true to your cause. Daily Times is the independent newspaper of Nigeria. It was founded 91 years ago and the last time we did award was 20 years ago. We have looked at what is happening all around us and we try to create an award system that focuses on impact.
The criteria borders on what you are doing in your own little way that impacts on more people than normal. So, the criteria is impact. There are so many diverse areas of life that you can choose from but when you take one action you have taken what goes beyond yourself and your immediate family, that affects the majority of the people, then we will begin to talk of Daily Times Awards. Take former President Goodluck Jonathan for instance. After the elections in 2007, what did he and the late President Umaru Yar’Adua do? They acknowledged that the elections were not perfect and they began to take steps to set up the Justice Uwais-led committee and they followed it through. After that committee, they built on its recommendations and carried out an electoral reform. At the end of the day people don’t think about that; they only think about the outcome of the elections.!But what is the impact of what we saw.
The impact was the fact that even though he subjected himself to an election under a new electoral system, he was bound by the outcome because he was one of the people that structured it. It is instructive to note that Jonathan accepted defeat after the historic 2015 presidential poll. What do you think of such an impact? What it means is that in the next 10 years we will have a near-perfect election and once you have near-perfect election what it means is that people can be held accountable. Once people can be held accountable for their actions, what it means is that we have a proper structure of governance in which power belongs to the people. Jonathan and the late Yar’Adua started this journey of power returning to the people. In trying to consolidate it, we have to encourage them by saying ‘thank you for what you have done’. So, nobody is remembered for what he takes; you are remembered for what you give. The late Yar’Adua and Jonathan gave Nigeria an electoral system that will germinate.
Think about it; during the 2015 elections, they predicted that Nigeria would break and what happened? Jonathan said not a drop of blood is worth anybody’s political ambition. What was the impact of Jonathan’s action? We are in 2017, two years after the 2015 elections and everybody is fine. So, this is the kind of world system we created. Take Pastor Paul Adefarasin for another instance. What is the impact of his ministry he takes to prisons? What of Dr Oby Ezekwesili? When people gave up hope she remained focused and said ‘No, these Chibok girls are still alive; what is happening to them?’ look at Nduka Obaigbena; see what he has done in the media. Take Linda Ikeji for instance or you take the good governance we are talking about as far as governors are concerned. Look at Governor Okezie Ikpeazu and the local government elections he did.
We are talking about getting the third tier of government revived so that democracy can permeate to the grassroots. Look at Governor Nyesom Wike; he has over 1000 projects running in just two years without the money that Rivers State usually gets. Go and see for yourself. Then you talk about Kogi State Governor Yahaya Bello. Look at the inspiration the man in Kogi has given to people from the 6-3-3-4 system. Kogi used to be a flash point for criminals but the state is calm today. What of Anambra? I’m sure you know the foreign direct investments that have come to Anambra State by Governor Willy Obiano, the security structure that has returned to Anambra State, the agricultural projects that are going on in Anambra State. Or is it the man in Kebbi- Governor Abubakar Bagudu. Everybody talks about the fact that half of the rice we consume today is being produced in Nigeria, saving the money that would have been spent on capital flight for importing metric tons of rice.
So, our criteria for selecting awardees are clear. We can defend it and we will keep defending it. Look at the life of Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki. He is medical doctor, banker and later became Kwara State Governor as well as chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum. What did he do with the governors’ forum? He built the governors’ forum as a political block as you will recall that in the past 16 years, the governors have given Nigeria two presidents. They created a peer review mechanism, they created an economic structure and they became a power block. What happened to the PDP? Because the party attacked the governors’ forum, Saraki leveraged on that and went ahead to become the Senate President. Look at the quality of the members of the National Assembly today as against the first, second and third Senate; you will see the robustness. So, when people begin to question what people do, I think that as far as we are concerned, you can’t be in Nigeria without being a Nigerian. You can’t; we live in our society, but it doesn’t take the whole country to turn around the country. It takes few good men. Look at the United States of America. If you remember the history of that country, you will know that it got to a point where the mafia and the dons were running the country but it also got to a point where they knew that they have to build a democratic society. So, that is where we are now; everything is coming together and that is why we have to encourage those behind Nigeria’s success in our own little way.
What should we be expecting from today’s Times Heroes Awards ceremony?
It is going to be fantastic. The idea is about institutionalising a reward system. We may not get it right 100 per cent at once but at the end of the day, once we put our foot forward and begin to get opinions of people, we will definitely make it better. So, it becomes revolving and it is going to be better each time. We can also track awardees because anybody we give an award will be under our tracking system and we can withdraw the award in the course of your life. What it means is that once you receive our award, you are now in our purview. We will track the awardees and support them in the course of their works.
So, why do you think the Daily Times @ 91 awards ceremony is different from others?
It is the oldest surviving newspaper and that is a mark of an institution that has longevity. Longevity is what creates sustainability and sustainability is what creates development. It is simple; it is not that after 10 years you fold up. This company has evolved with the time. So, it is a life company, it is a dynamic company, it is a company that has very strong heritage. That heritage is what we, be it me as a custodian today or the next person that is going to come, have all aligned with. We have all aligned with the ethos of the founding fathers. The vision of Daily Times is clear.
You are venturing into the newspaper business at a time when there is a growing concern that the online media, with its advantage of breaking the news even before the event where that news is emanating from is over, may soon send the print media packing from the business. What informed your decision?
When the radio was invented, they said print is going to die. Television came and they said it is going to blow out radio. I can tell you that it is simple. When you work on the street, you see a billboard and people pay to put their adverts on the billboard which is just like a signboard. It has no content. What a newspaper has is content that you can fill and store. You can use it to teach and that brings us to the niche that we are trying to create- using history to educate, using history to empower, using history as news item to recreate our future. So, the online is only an additional platform for distribution; it is not content in itself. You have to create the content before you put it online. So, where are you going to get the content from? If you don’t have depth you don’t have depth. Ninety-nine per cent of what is in the online is fake news because it has no checks and balances.
We are coming into this business because the depth of this business is strong, the addressable market in Nigeria today is strong. What you see in the online is that online helps and supports content distribution in a very cheap and sustainable way. People are discerning; they read the fake news in online medium as entertainment, just like fiction. No print newspaper can be accused of fiction. If I want to tear you down or malign your character, it is easy for me to go and post it online because it is faceless. That is what they call guerrilla war. It is faceless like Boko Haram; nobody knows them. It is subterfuge, a situation where somebody sits down in his bedroom and pushes something. But people have knowledge. If we educate people with history of Nigeria, if we educate people about what is happening in Nigeria, when they see that fake news online they will push it back through the lips.
But did you consider the attendant risk that comes with newspaper business like coping with high cost of production?
There is no attendant risk because technology has made it easier to distribute content. That is what you have to understand. I don’t have to print 300,000 copies like Daily Times of old used to do. Once I develop the content and I have my subscriber base, I know where my paper is going. I can track it also so that I can get a feedback. So, the online platform has thought us how to manage clients better. All we need to do is adapt and once we do that adaptation, the next thing is bigger business.
The acquisition of Daily Times of Nigeria generated a lot of controversy, leading to litigations. What is responsible for this and what is the way forward?
It is a big and good company, so people are certainly going to drag it down. People circulate all sorts of fake news about Daily Times. Once they see that Daily Times is in resurgence they begin to say all sorts of things. It is normal and it is nothing to be afraid about. But anybody who says he has claims over Daily Times don’t need to go to court. Daily Times has a fixed address. Go there if you have a title; you don’t need to contest title and that is why they call it title. It is not about going to court and say you have shares. No, there is an open process of transfer of shares; it is a settled law like land. You don’t take people’s land from courts; you buy the land. So, the only way people can lay claims to Daily Times, whether in the court or anywhere. is through purchase. The person has to come to me and I sell to him just like the federal government sold DTN to me and I paid them with receipt. Any other thing is rubbish.
There is a partnership between Folio Communications and LEADERSHIP Newspapers Group with a view to writing the Nigerian history and culture. What is the driving force and what should we expect from the project?
That project is a very big one. Like we are talking about perception, one of the critical things that has been drawing us back is the perception we built over the years or the perception we inherited from the military. People love Nigerians but they don’t love Nigeria and that gap is what we are trying to bridge. So, LEADERSHIP Newspapers Group Limited and Folio Communications Limited have come together to create a grand book that one of our subsidiary companies has had in the works over the years. So, LEADERSHIP is bringing its force in the market place and its knowledge of book making and we are bringing our knowledge of design, book making and marketing to be able to align together to create the project, using a book as a platform to sell Nigeria. The book has series and the first series we are going to launch will be about 30 kilogrammes. So, when we give you the book, it will be so imposing that you have to look at what is inside. Most of the things that you will see there are from the archives of Daily Times.
At the end of the day it is engaging, so that people can begin to give us some respect, so that they will not think that we are truly the way they think about us because even our young ones are beginning to think that this is the way Nigeria has always been.
When you go into those archives, you will see when the first plane landed in Nigeria, you will see the founding fathers of Nigeria.
There was no dichotomy, there was no ethnicity; we all came together as brothers and sisters to create this great country. You will see that our strength is in our diversity. So, we are trying to be able to put that together and create the awareness about our history and heritage.