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With The Guardian, Alex Ibru came, saw and conquered


Alex Ibru

The idea of setting up a newspaper was originally that of Mr Alex Ibru, who had, in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, become a contented businessman, a multi-millionaire with considerable influence in business circle. But the seed of that conception was sown early during his post-primary school days. As a young student at Ibadan Grammar School and later Igbobi College, Lagos, Ibru enjoyed reading newspapers, especially the West African Pilot and also, the Daily Times, which in the sixties was easily the most influential newspaper in Nigeria such that every other newspaper was referred to as Daily Times regardless of their correct names.

What fired Ibru’s aspiration was journalists’ play on words. Also, he was fascinated by the power of the media as an intermediary between government, the people and business, and how indeed a newspaper could be used to set agenda for society. Ironically, the Daily Times founded in June 1926 as a partnership between certain Nigerians of moderate view and European businessmen, was in 1948 (three years after Alex Ibru had been born – March 1, 1945) acquired by the Daily Mirror Group of London initiating an international commercial relationship, which was to last into the seventies.

The overall effect of the entry of foreign newspaper capital was to transform the Daily Times into a modern newspaper with marked improvements in appearance, technical quality, distribution system and management (Omu, 1996).

As for Nnamdi Azikwe’s West African Pilot whose motto was “Show the light and the people will find the way,” the decline in journalism of late twenties and early thirties began to recede with its appearance on November 22, 1937 (ibid). Omu (1996) posited further that the newspaper’s vivid format, dynamic and combative style and ideological salience anchored on a campaign against racial superiority and domination aimed at restoring the dignity and self-confidence of the black man, served notice of the intervention of a new and formidable journalistic force.

From the foregoing, it could be argued that the interaction Alex Ibru had with both the Daily Times and West African Pilot as avid reader would have had profound influence on the philosophy and character of The Guardian in later years.

The Guardian in its first decade (1983 – 1992)
On Monday, July 4, 1983, The Guardian hit the newsstand as a daily newspaper. Five months earlier, February 27, 1983 precisely, the print media company, which had undergone over five years of painstaking incubation, began the journey of “providing the best and most authoritative newspaper” as it pursued its philosophical underpinning as “an independent newspaper, established for the purpose of presenting balanced coverage of events, and of promoting the best interest of Nigeria.”

The idea to launch a newspaper started in 1976 and Guardian newspaper as a brand in 1978, but due to economic recession then, the idea was shelved but realized later when it finally hit the newsstand on February 27, 1983. Five months after, the daily edition hit the streets of Nigeria.

It was a carefully thought out enterprise, which would present a balanced coverage and projection of news and views, uphold political neutrality and independence and elevate the tone of public discourse. As a liberal newspaper, committed to the best traditions and ideals of republican democracy, The Guardian believes it is the responsibility of the State not only to protect and defend the citizens but also to create the political, social, economic and cultural conditions in which all citizens may achieve their highest potentials as human beings.

Perhaps, what gave The Guardian edge right from the start was the clarity of vision of its publisher, Mr. Alex Ibru, which he narrated during the 16th anniversary and productivity award ceremony of the company in 1999. He said, “The Guardian was started when I was very young, a little over 30 years old. I found I was blessed by the Almighty God. Not only did I come from a family of a good father, a good mother, good brothers and sisters, God gave me money and I asked Him what to do with the resources He had given me. He said I should do for the people what will be of immense benefit to them.”

Largely, the publisher’s clarity of vision appeared to have been bolstered by proper understanding of dynamics and principles of management as espoused in theories such as Systems, Contingency and Structuration. The phenomenal growth of the newspaper shortly after its establishment attested to the efficient management of resources – men and materials – especially in the area of recruitment and sharing of responsibilities without losing focus on monitoring, evaluation and motivation.

These variables worked to deliver desired result with the understanding that a system is a set of interrelating elements operating within a boundary and the functioning of all of the constituent elements is dependent, to the extent that when any of the elements changes, the change is systemic, affecting every element individually and the system as a whole (Awodiya, 2012).

The assemblage of the pioneering team led by Stanley Macebuh benefitted from principles of contingency approach to management in addition to Structuration with emphasis on the assumption that people go through a socialization process and become dependent of the existing social structures, but at the same time social structures are being altered by their activities.

With Lade Bonuola as the pioneer editor, other personalities in the pioneering team, largely recruited from the Daily Times, were Eddie Iroh who was to be the Editor of the magazine (African Guardian) but due to some hiccups, the content of the magazine was published as a supplement in the newspaper and it appeared in the first edition as The Guardian Sunday supplement; Femi Kusa, assistant editor, who also provided some shaping for the content of the paper; Ted Iwere, Features Editor; Dr. Onwuchekwa Jemie, Chairman, Editorial Board; Femi Osofisan, member, Editorial Board; Dr. Chinweizu managed the Business and Economy desk; Sonny Ojeagbase, Sport Editor; Godwin Ofuru, Aerospace correspondent; Sonala Olumhense, member, Editorial Board; Adigun Agbaje, Political Correspondent; Alade Odunewu, the first columnist; Doyin Mahmoud, Chief-sub-editor; the late Mac Alabi, the Production Editor; Sunmi Smart-Cole, Photo Editor; and Bisi Ogunbadejo, the first cartoonist.

The team was largely responsible for what the revered expert on press history, Prof. Fred Omu described as “dynamic influence” The Guardian brought to bear on Nigerian journalism. Omu (1996:11) posited further: “The Guardian calls itself the flagship of the Nigerian press and so it really is. It has been indisputably the best newspaper ever produced in Nigeria and its brand of journalism has had a profound and provocative impact on Nigerian journalism.

“The principles which it expouses and the standards which it represents set it out as a national institution. In the poise and polish of its language, in its cultivated and intellectual approach to argument and controversy, in its penetrating and persuasive analysis and interpretation, in its promotion of ideological pluralism and in its endeavor to place events in their historical perspective, The Guardian has achieved great esteem in and outside Nigeria as one of the most authoritative newspapers in Africa. Its journalistic achievements are bound to influence the newspaper industry for a long time.”

On the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the Daily Guardian, in 1988, an annual lecture was introduced, which was delivered by Rt. Hon Michael Manley of Jamaica. The topic of the lecture was “Third world debts and structural adjustment.” Subsequently, the annual lecture featured very prominent personalities who were global figures with national and international issues at the centre of discourse. In the 1989 edition of the lecture, Professor Ben Nwabueze was the guest speaker and the topic was, “Our march to constitutional democracy.” The following year, the then Secretary General of the Organisation of African Union, Salim Ahmed Salim spoke on “The European Economic and Monetary Union Scheduled for 1992 and its likely Impact on Africa.” Prof. Ali Mazuri was guest speaker at the 1991 Guardian Lecture Series, while the late Emeritus Professor J. F. Ade Ajayi delivered the 1992 lecture and he spoke on “The national question in historical perspective.”

In 1986, series of subtitles such as Guardian Express, Guardian Financial, African Guardian and Lagos Life were introduced.In 1976 when the newspaper was being incubated, the military was in power. But by the time The Guardian was launched on July 4, 1983 as a daily publication, the civilian administration led by Alhaji Shehu Shagari which was sworn in on October 1, 1979, had only six months left before the government was toppled on December 31, 1983 with General Muhammadu Buhari as the Head of State. Thus, in 1984, two journalists working for the newspaper company – Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor – were tried and jailed under Decree No.4 of 1984 – Public Officers (Protection Against False Accusation).

Second decade (1993 – 2002)
For journalism practice in Nigeria, year 1993 remained most turbulent. And The Guardian had its fair share. The military had had effective grip on the country and journalists had become the main targets of their repressive rule. It was the year of presidential election believed to have been won by the late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola. However, the annulment of the election by the Babangida-led military government threw the entire country into turmoil. Eventually, Babangida stepped aside in August 1993 and an interim government headed by Chief Earnest Shonekan was put in place. But in November 1993, through a palace coup, General Sani Abacha sacked the interim government and he became the Head of State. The publisher of the Guardian, Alex Ibru was appointed Internal Affairs Minister. On August 15, 1994, the newspaper was proscribed along other national dailies. Reopened in the mid -1995, but the newspaper didn’t return to newsstand until October 1, 1995. As a result of the proscription, the newspaper, on return, emerged as one publication, subsuming all other sub-titles including the African Guardian.

Meanwhile, Saturday edition of the paper was introduced late 1995 with the appointment of Mr. Debo Adesina as pioneer Editor. He had served as Editor of the African Guardian before the proscription. On February 2, 1996, attempt (gunshot) was made on the publisher’s life. There was leadership restructuring at the dawn of civil rule in 1999 with Mr. Emeka Izeze as Managing Director, while Adesina manned the daily title as editor. Fred Owhawha was in charge of Sunday title, while Banji Adisa was on Saturday title. Introduction of Staff Productivity Award Ceremony, held on July 4, 1999. In 2000, there was a break in operation (for two weeks) as a result of agitation by workers for improved welfare.

Third decade (2003 -2012)
The Guardian online, which was started in December 1997 as copy and paste version of the paper took on a definite outlook in 2004 with the appointment of an online desk head and procurement of basic tools. Initially, it was created as the online version of the print, so, the computer department was simply uploading the print content. The pioneer head, Akin Olumuyiwa, recounted the experience at the early stage thus; “We had no working tools such as laptops, Blackberry. We had to be in the office to be able to work. News would break and you would be rushing to the office to get it posted.” But from 2004, the site was redesigned to accommodate opinion polls, breaking news and comment on stories, hence, it became interactive. Shift was, also, introduced for the five members of the desk to be able to track news real time.

Another fundamental restructuring occurred in 2007. It led to re-engagement of the entire workforce. Passage of the publisher, Alex Ibru on November 20, 2011. In order to attract more revenue from advertisement, the concept of Wrap Around was adopted by the management officially from May 1, 2012. There was also change of editorial guard with the appointment of Martins Oloja as Editor in October 2012, while his predecessor, Debo Adesina, who had held forth since 1999, was elevated to the position of Editor-in-Chief. The endownment of a Chair in honour of the late publisher was inaugurated at the University of Port Harcourt in November 2012.

Fourth decade (2013 to date)
Owing to what the current publisher, Lady Maiden-Ibru tagged “the rise of digital media and pressures on circulation and advertising revenues,” the newspaper, in 2016, underwent a major change in its operational architecture with the adoption of a new template of leadership structure whereby authority is concentrated in the office of the Executive Director while each department retains considerable power to man their area effectively. The new structure also affected the management board with membership reduction to a small size. Earlier in 2015, the online unit was outsourced “to compete maximally. Hence, stories are now twitted, sent on Facebook, Istagram and other social media accounts. Commercially, the platform has begun to attract advertisement revenues, while improvement has occurred technically. Now, there is also the Guardian TV (mainly online) complementing the social media presence online.” Also, the process to procure radio license is on-going. Above all, at 35, The Guardian is turning out to become a multimedia centre with strong presence in all media and channels of mass communication in addition to serving as a hub of compelling content and entertainment production.

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Alex IbruThe Guardian
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