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The lady is 70

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The Lady was 70 yesterday. I am referring to no other person than Mrs. Maiden Alex-Ibru. It is the Day the Lord has made, as the church hymn proclaims. I can report that yesterday was a curtain raiser, a prelude to a rousing celebration which will reach a crescendo on Saturday with thanksgiving, featuring prayers, dancing and rejoicing, deserved rejoicing. I say deserved rejoicing because Lady Maiden has seen a lot. She has gone through excruciating experiences. What makes the pain to cut even the more sharply through the spine is that her beloved hubby departed earthly life on the wife’s 62nd birthday anniversary.

Our “invisible” paths first crossed in 1982. Mr. Alex Ibru, her husband was already a familiar face and one day he did pop in at Adetona Street, Ilupeju, residence of Dr. Stanley Macebuh to see how far the necessary and painstaking detailed planning for The Guardian was progressing. Macebuh, Nicholas Iduwe and I had been meeting quietly for more than one year, sharing out responsibilities among ourselves under the headship of Macebuh. On the day Mr. Ibru joined us at the meeting, we suddenly discovered it was about 8:00 p.m. and it was getting dark and unusually late for him to be outside unduly. Mr. Ibru said he had to leave so he would not receive a query from Madam! The statement struck me.

We finally and formally relocated on November 01, 1982, to Rutam House which was to be the headquarters for the business and operations of Guardian Newspapers to continue with our brainstorming. As editor, the lot naturally fell on me to prepare a mock issue of The Guardian. A copy of the dummy was given to Mr. Ibru. Another was circulated among management and circulation. Unknown to me, Mr. Ibru gave his copy to his wife to dissect and make her comments. Meanwhile, members of the management had disapproved of the headline point size. All efforts to impress it on nearly everybody that the newspaper we were planning was a quality newspaper were unavailing. “Where is the headline now? Where are the headlines?” These were the questions fired at me. Chief Odubonojo, the circulation manager was pointedly asked if he was going to be able to sell the newspaper with the font for the headlines which were in small point sizes. Everyone was expecting banner headlines. The argument was that the Nigerian newspaper readers were used to only roaring headlines. The potential reader makes up his mind in the traffic upon seeing the pack of newspapers on display in the hands of vendors from afar. To break into the market, a new newspaper must be screaming in its headlines all the way.

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Now, the bang! Mr. Ibru came to my office and threw an envelope on my table. And he said to me, “Mr. Editor, you have the support of my wife!” He said the wife was happy with the dummy he took home. I heaved a sigh of relief and my spirit was lifted. When I opened the envelope, it contained a nine-page handwritten comment by Mrs. Ibru, captioned “The Guardian—dummy: Observations/ Suggestions.” Mr. Ibru said his wife got persuaded after he narrated to her the reasons I gave for electing subdued headlines. With her endorsement the issue about the character of the newspaper was settled and it reinforced my resolve to fight it out. The lead was to carry a headline with point size no bigger than 48points. And rarely would it get to 72 or 84 point-sizes. The planning team at Adetona Street had left all editorial matters in my hands after we agreed on broad policies. Everything about production was left in Iduwe’s hands. I had added to my schedule advertisements until Jide Oluwajuyitan came on board and Yahaya Awosanya did the same to take administration off my hands.

The policy was that the newspaper was going to be a quality newspaper. The principal characteristic of a quality newspaper is that it appeals to reason rather than to emotions. It is addressed at leaders in government; in commerce and industry; the arts and culture; and the universities— leaders in all facets of life. If we were to go by the traditions of the early century in Britain and the United States, you say also at the Church. That was the tradition and The New York Times and The Times of London held special attraction for me. What we were going to sell was the masthead and the readers would be made to trust that he would get value for his money by just picking up a copy of The Guardian. The content would be compelling.

Among the striking suggestions Mrs. Maiden Ibru made was one she described as tricks to arrest readers’ attention and it went as follows: “use of art, boxes, attractive heads, subheads, pictures, wide spacing, odd measure type”—what editors would call bastard setting. She added: “white space is a critical element in all graphic design, but it must be used intentionally.” On photographs she said: “Sensitively used, white spacing may enhance a photograph. The art of selecting and using photographs comes from taste and experience…the use of editorial skills to making ordinary photographs look like scoops, is particularly clever. Faces and movements are more lively and interesting than photographs of things.”

On the Education Section, her suggestion was: “The objective in this section is not to make money but primarily to give information and only secondarily to make money, if indeed there is any immediate naira profit at all.”She concluded by recommending that the entire package should have what she called Flow, Form, Harmony, Balance, Continuity, Contrast “and please, remember the KISS rule which is Keep It Simple, Simon. Simplicity is the key word.”

Mr. Ibru waited for me to quickly run my eyes through his wife’s observations and suggestions and he said to me that I could see that his wife and I were on the same page to bolster my confidence. Since I did not know much about her, I asked him: “Where is she coming from?” It was then he revealed that his wife had a master’s degree in journalism from the United States. Her first degree was from the University of Ibadan.

What I am getting at is that, that The Guardian set out as a serious newspaper and remains so till today is largely owing to her support at a crucial time when a good number of stakeholders had justifiable fears about the direction the paper was headed with subdued headlines in a society that had lived for decades with screaming headlines. I said I was one of those writing them; they were a feature of mass circulation newspaper. The Guardian was going to be discriminating in its appeal to the market. It was being targeted at those in the A, B and C socio-economic bracket.

To announce the debut of the newspaper, it was written: “Nigeria has a huge gathering of daily and weekly newspapers, but not yet The Guardian. To shape, guide and guard her destiny. We are pleased to announce The Guardian is now here….It may interest you to learn that The Guardian is a unique, three-part packaged paper: local and foreign news, features and commentaries in one section; business and finance in another; and then the arts. Our editorial pages will be a fountain of wisdom. The financial pages are geared to lead our businessmen, every morning on a business tour of international markets…to conquer the world.

“We have carefully assembled highly skilled professionals, managers and men and women of scholarship to run it. Just consider it: Allah-De will run his column; Dr. Stanley Macebuh, another distinguished columnist is executive editor; Dr. Patrick Dele Cole, a newspaper administrator who is dedicated to the sanctity of scholarship; Eddie Iroh, a novelist and television features controller is on board; Dr. Femi Osofisan, a renowned playwright is here with us; Femi Kusa, a brilliant and forthright journalist is assistant editor; Chinweizu, the author of The West and the Rest of Us; Dr. Onwuchekwa Jemie, a literary critic and co-author of Toward the Decolonization of African Literature is editorial page editor/ chairman, editorial board; Adigun Agbaje, the first to make a first in political science at the University of Ibadan and who took a master’s degree in precision journalism and political communication from the University of Lagos will be political correspondent. Duro Irojah is our Northern star; Sonala Olumhense, the bright star in the Skyway, he will write with disarming wit and humour. Dayo Oluyemi, MSc. Political Science will report from the National Assembly. Ted Iwere from Columbia University is head of features. There are more. Mr. Alex Ibru is publisher and Lade Bonuola (Ladbone) will run the newspaper with a workforce that has been specially selected to give you value for money –cheerfully and courteously. It is an exceptional combination, for exceptional writing, and an exceptional newspaper. All of which goes to prove that you are in good company.”

When we were warming up to debut on February 27, 1983, as weekly, Eddie wrote his classic: “Sooner than later you will read The Guardian.” It filled our billboards everywhere.It was amidst this array of stars in The Guardian galaxy that Mrs. Ibru emitted her rays albeit quietly. For after she made her input, she withdrew from the visible firmament, from the frontline, certainly to take care of her husband. I cannot state on oath however that she was not exerting subtle influence on our writings although Mr. Ibru never brought this to our attention. I was to set eyes on her only when the family came visiting the company—Mr. Ibru, the Lady and the children. I was in the newsroom when they were passing and Mr. Ibru said to me that that was his family. I was not to set eyes on Mrs. Ibru again until when the newspaper was celebrating its fifth-year anniversary in 1988. She came to where I sat to invite me to dance with her. How do you dance with your chairman’s wife? But it was proof of her humility.

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She is accessible, and she is in her elements caring and nursing. When Mr. Ibru was appointed Minister of Interior, Maiden Ibru moved to Abuja with him to see to his meals. The depth of her love for her husband was demonstrated during his horrendous travail when the Abacha goons made an attempt on his life. He was wickedly shot at close range. The nurse and mother in her came clearly to the fore. She looked after her husband with uncommon understanding, patience, humaneness and dedication for nearly three years in Britain. They were experiences that could break a less endowed. Lady Maiden exemplified courage and resilience .The same dedicated care was on display when his elder brother took seriously ill. She was by his bedside for upwards of three months in England. I came to the recognition that the seer was right after all. Mr. Alex Ibru had said to me many years earlier during conversations in moments when the pressure of work was less that an unsolicited seer in the United States walked up to him and told him that he would one day meet his wife, and the seer described the said wife so accurately that he could not miss her. Alex began to seriously look for the prophesied wife. He sighted her at Abibu Oki area of Lagos Island. He told a stunned strange lady without men’s usual stammering that she was his wife. The rest, as they say, is history.

Given her training in journalism, her accessibility, nobility of heart, accommodation and care, it was not surprising that it was Mr. Alex Ibru’s desire that his wife, Lady Maiden, should succeed him as chairman of The Guardian after his demise. In this role she has striven to carry the burden of the office admirably. A good listener, at editorial board meetings, she would listen to everyone make his points which are not necessarily shared by her. She regards herself as any other member of the board. Not once did I witness her over-ruling the editorial board decisions which are always products of a clash of scholarship, of experiences and clash of reasoning. She is adept at getting members of the board relaxed after a stressful and tiring debate. Look in the direction of that corner, she has brought banana to feed us, the members of the editorial board. At some other times, some other comestibles. And she does most of the serving. Lady Maiden could be generous to a fault, buying and giving away clothes to staff in the lower cadre. You would want your daughters to wed every other day! Just put her in the picture. She is warm-hearted and full of grace. Polish in pronouncement and carriage defines her gait. A highly organised lady, she cannot stand disorderliness and ugliness.

All rise, here is presenting Lady (Mrs.) Maiden Alex Ibru, the mother of Anita, of Ose, Toke, Tive and Evie. Let’s fill our glasses and clink same.We can only wish her strength, wisdom and grace in the many years ahead in the discharge of her onerous task of upholding the traditions of forthrightness regardless of the odds, and holding aloft those values The Guardian cherishes and for which the flagship is well known and for which she paid a heavy price.

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Maiden Alex-Ibru
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