Azuh Arinze @50: God has done nearly everything for me
Azuh Arinze is the Publisher /Editor-in-Chief of Yes International Magazine and Convener of the Yes International Magazine Annual Lecture. He’s a member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, Guild of Corporate Online Publishers and an associate member of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations. He served as the Editor of Encomium Weekly between 2003 and 2011, and was named Africa’s Best Entertainment Writer in 2010 by the organisers of African Film Awards in the United Kingdom. In this interview with CHIJIOKE IREMEKA, he speaks on his forthcoming 50th Birthday, which he will mark with book presentation.
At 50, how has the journey been, especially when it comes to your career?
I START by saying that I know when I will die; I’ll die at 110. That’s because, it’s what you ask God that He will do for you. So, I know that I have 60 more years to live. But talking about 50 years, I think God has done nearly everything for me. Most of the things I wanted to achieve before hitting the age of 50, the Lord has done for me and the Lord has been nice to me considering where I’m coming from and how far He has brought me.
I enjoy good health; I enjoy good marriage, good family, and good friends. The only pain I have now is that my father is not alive to see me clock 50, but my mother is around, alive, well, and kicking. Then, I used to have a close friend, whom I would have loved to be around; his name is Ugochukuwu, unfortunately, he died in a motor accident.
I’ve been blessed with so many friends, the gentleman here is one of my closest friends; he’s Sylvester. I’ve had dependable and reliable friends as well as younger ones making me proud and happy. I never regretted having them, because the earliest lessons I learned about life is that when you are up, you try to pull other people up. Once everyone is up, you’ll have a measure of rest of mind. I learned that from one of those I look up to and I adopted it in my family and it has worked for me.
I think all the way, God has been extraordinarily nice to me. In fact, if you ask me, I think God has been partial with me and He has shown me so much love and support, maybe more than I deserve, but that is not to say I have everything. But then, I have some of the most critical things that one could wish for.
Fifty has been nice and I look forward to the next 60 years, knowing full well that the next 60 years would be better than the 50 years that I’ve covered already.
Owing to what you have achieved at 50 and looking at where you are coming from, what would you say prepared you for the feat?
First and foremost, it should be God, because we are nothing but pencils in God’s hand, as Wale Adenuga would say. So, without God, I don’t think I would have come this far. So, all glory has to go to the Almighty God first, then my family background, the kind of family I come from, the mentors that I’ve had and I still have, the friends that I’ve had and still have, the schools I attended, the neighborhood that I grew in and the books that I’ve read. The people that I’ve met, some personal decisions, some lessons that I’ve learnt about life that I try to deploy and have worked for me and will also work for people. For me, those were some of the things that prepared me for where I am today.
You intend to have a public presentation of your books, perhaps, to mark your 50th birthday. Does this have to do with the saying, ‘if you refuse to document your achievements, you are robbing the next generation? Or is it a mere coincidence?
Interestingly, the books are not about myself. In fact, the two books that I’m going to be unveiling on March 24, will be my 6th and 7th books, but I think the book where I talked about myself a little is Encounters and that should be my 3rd or 4th, where I chronicled a little about my journalism odyssey.
But why am I coming out with two new books? You know we were used to party or some people would have preferred to have a party or something else, but mine is that I want to do something that posterity would continue to remember me for.
Now, talking about the titles of the books, one is A taste of success. There is nobody on earth who does not want to have a bite or a taste of success, or who does not want to know what it means or how success tastes in the mouth. So, what I did was to convince some of those who, to the best of my knowledge, have done very well in their fields, people like Chief Segun Osoba. He’s one of the greatest journalists that this country has ever produced. People like Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa; he is one of the greatest pharmacists that Nigeria has produced. The two books have 60 of such interviews and each of the people I interviewed cut across professions in journalism, media, law, politics, sports, showbiz, and everything.
The second book is titled, Conversations with Showbiz Stars. A lot of our younger ones are interested in going into showbiz and they think it’s all about glitz and glamour, not knowing that before you begin to have a taste of that glitz and glamour, there are other basic and necessary things to do. So, to do that, I had to sit with people like Pete Edochie, Sunny Ade, Richard Mofedamijo, Genevieve Nnaji, Funke Akindele, Alibaba, Femi Kuti, Lagbaja, and Onyeka Onwenu; there are about 60 of them on the whole.
But the whole idea is to democratise success. A lot of people have this impression that success is an utopia or something that is not achievable or attainable but it’s achievable and attainable. All you need to do is to know what to do. You know success runs on principles; once you can master those principles, once you can deploy them well, you can always succeed like those who have deployed it before you.
What I have tried to do is to get all these and funnel them into a book. Of course, it would have been too voluminous, so we have to have two different books. In the first one devoted strictly to those in entertainment, we have 10 actors there, 10 comedians, 10 musicians, and five people who work behind the scenes, so that anybody who wants to go into entertainment could learn from.
The book is all encompassing; most of the biggest stars are there, and the other ones who have excelled in different fields of human endeavours. They are all there, they took out time to share their stories about how they started and how they (younger ones) could get to where they are today and where they are headed next. That’s basically what the books are talking about.
So, the books are not about me, but my little way of contributing to the intellectual space and also to ensure that this myth people have about success is demystified. For people to know that it’s achievable. If someone has done work, you don’t need to make yourself a guinea pig; all we need is to read up on those people and know the mistakes and circumvent the mistakes you learn from them and get to where they are.
Book authorship comes with challenges. What were the challenges you encountered in the cause of writing those books as well as your career as a journalist?
The biggest challenge facing the industry is the inability of the people to separate the wheat from the chaff. There are many charlatans and quacks parading themselves as journalists. That is the biggest challenge the industry is facing. But talking about my books, I would say the major challenge was trying to pin them down for interviews, because these are not the people you see easily. Some of them, you can pursue for a month, two or even one year or so. Some, after pinning them down, they will tell you that they are not interested.
The next one is that I’m a very finicky person. I have reporters working here, but when I conduct my interviews, I do the transcription myself. For me, I think that is the most difficult aspect of journalism, especially when I know that these things are going to be put in the paper and I do not want anybody to come tomorrow and say he didn’t say what was reported. So, I try as much as possible to hear you loud and clear and capture everything you say. Right from my career as a reporter till I rose to the position of an editor, till I became an Editor of Encomium, it’s part of the things I learnt from my boss.
To write a book, you have to do what I call interminable reading and editing. I have a very good friend here who we bounce ideas together. When I’m confused, I will consult him, and when he’s confused, he will consult me. Those are some of the challenges I encounter to ensure that the book is error-free.
Also, to write a book involves a lot; you have to convince the people that will write the foreword for the book. For me, those were some of the challenges. Though, having written seven books, I now have a system that will be activated whenever I want to write a book.
How long did it take you to do this given the challenges you encountered?
Let me tell you what I do, to do this book would have taken three years. In fact, I am working on another book,Everything Journalism. Once I get the title, it can take me one year or even three years, because I don’t write fiction or fashion; my writing is based on facts. So, if I need to pin down about 30 top journalists in the likes of Ray Ekpu and Nduka Obaigbena among others, it takes time to pin them down.
In the course of the year, I have already known what I want to do and I pursue it alongside other things I do. The sure place to get these journalists is when there is NUJ conference; there is the likelihood that they will be in attendance. Sometimes, you get an invite to an event and you have to be there when you find out that the people you are looking for will be at that event.
Also, there are some of them who don’t go out like Christopher Kolade. There are some you will write and they will say they are not interested. So, I decide what the focus will be. If I need to interview 30 people, I will list the names of 60 of them and start pursuing them. And at the end of day, I will get 30 people or 40. Then I will weed out those that are not needed; it cut across. Sometimes, I would say I want to pursue the First Class people, it’s really about the theme. So, talking about the books, it took me about three to four years to do.
Journalism is going through a trying time at the moment. Comparing then and now, what changes have you observed in current day journalism?
Journalism has changed; the dynamism has changed. The greatest thing that happened to journalism is that you get news at the speed of light. Incidentally, that is the saddest thing that has happened to journalism. Oftentimes, in the bid to be the first to first to break the news, people churn out fabricated stories and falsehood, the stories that they can’t authenticate.
I studied mass communications and I know that to do a story, you need the five ‘Ws’ and ‘H’ but many people are not particular about this, but it’s out there. Some of them don’t even know what is defamation or libel; they think that it’s everything they see they can publish. They don’t know that there are some stories, even if they unfolded before them, yet they can’t prove it when the person goes to court.
The good thing about journalism is still the bad thing about it. But the thing that still gladdens my heart is that people can still distinguish between the quacks and professional journalists, though sometimes, the professional journalists refuse to develop themselves on the job. When a professional journalist does something, you will know.
Not too many soft sell publications are still in business now. How have you been able to manage YES International to this height?
The secret is God. Like our vision is to be the first choice of readers and advisers and we have refused to take our eyes off that vision. And our mission is to make the day of our readers with quality stories, interviews, gist, tips and others. It’s like when you give the people what they want; they tend to gravitate around you.
But it doesn’t mean that it’s all rosy. The terrain now is very slippery and difficult and business now goes up and down. What you need is the ability to continue to hang it there, no matter the situation. Any paper that has the support of readers and advertisers will flourish like a business planted by the riverside. And we really don’t joke with readers, because they are key to what we are doing.
What were your lowest and highest points in this industry?
Our lowest point, hmmm… sometimes, you have good staffers and they leave you suddenly; that’s one. I don’t want to delve into many things, but I think one of the highest points for me was the day I saw the first edition of Yes International Magazine.
Let me tell you a story. I had a dream before it came to pass that I will be driving one day and I will see a vendor holding the paper I produced. It’s something I had and had forgotten about it. But I think it was along the Maryland or Agidingbi area that a vendor came to me and was trying to market Yes International Magazine to me. Immediately after the vendor left, I had a flashback and I broke down and shed tears of joy. It was like a dream I had that came to pass. That was the highest point.
Then, the day we had our public presentation of the Magazine. To think that I gave birth to something that has come to stay, is a high point for me. Yes International has been in the public eye for 11 years and we have not defaulted in terms of salary payment, because it was one of the vows I made to God to always pay my salary. We may not pay like banks and oil companies, but that little we agreed upon, we have not failed in doing that, not because we have the best human managers or experienced staffers, it has been the grace of God.