Akinpelu… conversing the Mayor of lifestyle journalism at 60
It is unusual to find people in the class of President Muhammadu Buhari and Bola Ahmed Tinubu take out time to pen birthday messages to just any individuals. No, this is not about the usual text messages or the ones you find on social media. We are talking about birthday wishes that were crafted, signed and published on national dailies. That’s a rare privilege reserved for deserving individuals like Isiaka Mayowa Abiodun Akinpelu, otherwise known as Mayor Akinpelu.
On April 4, 2020, Akinpelu clocked 60 and friends, family members, colleagues and dignitaries, including President Buhari and Tinubu, went all out to celebrate a man, who has contributed to the development of lifestyle journalism in Nigeria. All through the day, his social media pages kept buzzing with wishes that show how much ‘Lord Mayor’ has touched people’s lives.
On his Facebook page, he wrote: “Today April 4, 2020, I clock 60 years on mother earth. I’m grateful to God for good health and a wonderful family. I have a lovely wife and beautiful children. And the happiest moment in my 60 years was when my daughter, who I had when I was a Part Two student in UNILAG, became a woman and exchanged marital vows with her husband in Raleigh, North Carolina, USA. She has since made me a proud grandfather twice over. Though we cannot celebrate because of the coronavirus lockdown, I thank God for life. I can’t even share drinks with my friends, but it’s okay. I want to reach out to my friends and well-wishers; thank you for being part of my journey. Please, remember me in your prayers and thank God on my behalf. We shall find time to celebrate when this is over. Mayor at 60! It sounds nice to hear.”
For a party freak like Akinpelu, his 60th birthday would have been another big party. Unfortunately, COVID-19 lockdown means no party. However, online celebration was massive; only God knows how many phones calls he received that day.
As part of the celebration, The Guardian reached out to the ever-smiling Akinpelu for a possible interview, which he obliged. Just a phone call and he gave an appointment same day. Well, having started his journalism career with The Guardian, speaking with the newspaper on his 60th birthday is indeed an honour.
Locating his Excellence Villa apartment in Omole Phase 1, Ikeja, Lagos, wasn’t a difficult task; the Publisher of Global Excellence Magazine is well known within the estate, especially among security guards. When you are a night crawler like Mayor, security men are your best friends.
Dressed in his usual white outfit, Akinpelu appeared ready for the session that lasted for about an hour. But hey, social distancing was fully in action and hands well sanitised, as he recalled his journey to 60.
“I see it as something nice and wonderful because, I remember that my late father retired at 60. He was a successful businessman; he had a factory in Lagos. When he was 60, he retired and moved to Ikorodu and for another 26 years he lived, he was there. So, getting to that age, it just occurred to me that it’s an old age, though I’m not retiring. I’m grateful that I was able to make it,” he enthused, beaming with smiles.
Attaining 60 comes with some changes and Akinpelu is already adjusting to it.
“Basically, it’s just that you are more mature and your priorities are different; you value family and friendship more. Biologically, you cannot be as vibrant as you would like to be. Even if God has been kind to you and you have good health, there are certain things you cannot do; you are slowed down. It’s the age of wisdom, so you attach wisdom to most decisions that you take.”
However, physically, nothing much has changed for Lord Mayor, who remains young at heart. In fact, he still attends parties and clubs every Fridays.
“This lockdown is the first time that I will be sleeping in my house on a Friday; I’ve never done that before. I’m a kind of person that believes that on a Friday, you must go out to a club or a lounge. You know, when you go to parties, you probably see your mates and contemporaries. But when you go to clubs, you will see your mates, but most of the people there will be the younger ones; I feel very comfortable in the midst of young people,” he noted.
When it comes to body massage, Mayor is a freak. However, exercise is something he still struggles to keep up with.
“I do massage regularly; I’ve been doing that for over 20 years’, I’ve never missed it any week; even when I’m abroad, I do my massage. Relatively, I do exercise, but I’m not good at it. But I still do things that make me feel young,” he said.
Though a seasoned lifestyle journalist, young Akinpelu had a childhood dream of becoming a lawyer or a diplomat. But as fortune would have it, he ended up in journalism.
“When I was growing up, Medicine and Law were the foremost courses; most of our politicians then were lawyers. I told myself I was going to be a lawyer. When I was young, I was a bit argumentative, so, I always see myself as somebody that will be able to advocate for people.”
After his Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) in Lagos, Akinpelu entered Law for his first degree, with History as his second choice.
“Apart from Law, I actually wanted to do International Relations; I wanted to be a diplomat. But in the University of Lagos (UNILAG), they don’t do International Relations at undergraduate level; you have to pick another course then do it as second degree,” he informed.
Unfortunately, his cut off mark wasn’t enough to get him admission to study Law, which forced him to settle for History, with the hope of doing a second degree in International Relations.
Done with his first degree, young Akinpelu was posted to Maiduguri, Borno State, for his compulsory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). Like others, he did his Federal Civil Service interview in Maiduguri as a corps member. Luckily, he was employed and was posted to Federal Ministry of Internal Affairs as a Social Welfare Officer. From there, he was transferred to Maximum Security Prison in Lagos where he worked as Social Welfare Officer.
“From the very first day, I didn’t like the prison environment; I told myself I wasn’t going to spend time there. I was supposed to work and after some times go back to the university to do the International Relations or do Law as second degree; those were the options that I had at the time,” he noted.
At the time Mayor was with the Maximum Security Prison, late Afrobeat creator Fela Anilulapo Kuti was serving his term there; renowned journalists Nduka Irabor and Tunde Thompson were there.
“As a young guy that just finished his university, who happened to be a fan of Fela, I was so excited to see Fela close-up like that. Then, they had different workshops for prisoners; I think the carpentry workshop was like the elite workshop. Fela, Irabor and Thompson were there, so, I would leave my office to go and sit and gist with them. When it was time to take them back to their cell, I would go back to my office; I did that regularly,” he said.
It didn’t take long before Akinpelu’s association with the inmates attracted attention of the prison authorities.
“The Comptroller of Prison told me, ‘you are an officer of the prisons, you are not to be seen fraternising with inmates.’ But I didn’t listen to them. At a point, they transferred me from Maximum Security Prison to Medium Security Prison. Not long after my transfer, Nduka Irabor and Tunde Thompson were released. Nduka became the News Editor of The Guardian and we kept in touch.”
When the Mamman Vatsa coup happened and they were executed by the Babangida regime, Irabor reached out to Akinpelu in search of underground information.
“He said, ‘you worked in the Maximum Prison, I want to know how these people were executed.’ So, I left my post at the Medium Security Prison and I went o Maximum Prison; I moved around and asked questions from the warders. I was able to get their last days, the things they ate, how they related, how they spent their night, the songs they were singing while they were being taken to the stakes; I did it for The Guardian. So, that was my first time of writing. I’ve always loved writing; when I was doing my youth service, we used to write then and post of the board, but that was the first time I would write for a news medium,” he noted.
Impressed by his report, Ted Iwere, who was the editor of African Guardian then, also engaged him to write for the magazine.
“I did some things for the African Guardian as well. So, Nduka now said, ‘oh, you write well, why don’t you start writing for us?’ That was how I started writing for The Guardian as a freelancer. I used to write gist about what was going on in prisons and I would add sports to it. Nduka was later moved from The Guardian to Guardian Express as the editor. Guardian Express was the most successful titles in The Guardian stable then, so, I used to give them stories. One day, Nduka told me to resign and join Guardian Express; I did. I was with Guardian Express for one year before I left and I joined Prime People magazine,” he recalled.
From Prime People, Akinpelu conceived Fame magazine and co-opted his friends Kunle Bakare and Femi Akitunde Johnson into it. Unfortunately, that relationship didn’t end well; that’s a story for another day.
It was during the Fame crisis that Akinpelu’s first wife left him.
“I was going through hard times then and the lady felt, ‘this guy, he’s going down.’ You know then, as the Editor of Fame, I was popular and all that. After I left Fame and my friends were using Fame to attack me when I was in Today’s Choice, she felt this guy has messed up himself. So, she left with my daughter.”
While battling to pick up the pieces, God opened Mayor’s eyes and led him back to his first love.
“God gave me the wisdom to say, ‘Okay, let me go back to the woman that I’ve known from when I was younger; my girlfriend then that had a child for me when I was in the university.’ That was how I went back to my present wife and married her. Apparently, my first wife married me because of the fame that I had, not that she was really in love with me. I went back to somebody that knew me when I was nobody and started my life all over again,” he said.
On his biggest lessons of life, Akinpelu said, “Don’t trust people; I ran into problem in Fame because I trusted people. When we started the magazine, when he Chairman gave me 45 per cent share, he didn’t give to three of us; he gave to me. If I had insisted that I wanted to keep the 45 per cent, I would have kept it. I was the one that said, ‘no, we are going to share it 15 per cent each and we will have the same salary so that we are one.’ I remember the chairman told me when we were negotiating that, ‘Look, I don’t know your friends, I don’t have any business with them; it’s you and I. I’m giving you 45 per cent, if you like to give your friends, that’s you and your friends. But I thank God for today,” he said.
Meanwhile, if there’s one man, who has had major impact on Akinpelu, that’s the chairman of Globacom, Dr. Mike Adenuga.
“I knew Adenuga through a friend of mine, Niyi Adewunmi, who is one of the closet staff to Adenuga. Actually, there was a story that was supposed to be published in Classic magazine when Dele Momodu was the editor; he happens to be my friend. So, Adewunmi came to me to help them talk to Momodu so that they can get the facts of the story, which I did. That was the first time that I got to know Dr. Adenuga. Since then, we’ve been doing things for him,” he revealed.
Those days, Dele Momodu used to handle Adenuga’s media, but when he (Momodu) went on exile, Akinpelu took over the job.
“In fact, I handled media for him up till the time that he started Glo. You know he’s a very private person; he doesn’t like publicity at all. So, one of the things that we did then was to dissociate people from writing about him, whether positive or negative. But when Glo started, there was no way we could use that strategy; he has to be the face of Glo.
That was when we stopped doing PR for him,” he said.
Describing Adenuga as a man with large heart, he said, “I’ve never seen any Nigerian that is as generous as Mike Adenuga. Dele used to call him the African Spirit and truly, he’s a spirit. He may not have seen you for years, but one day like that, when you needed him most, he will just appear and do something that will change your life. In fact, you will be wondering, ‘Did this man know that I needed him at this time?’ He helps so many people, but because he’s a very quiet person, many people do not know his good nature.”
Don’t expect Akinpelu to write a negative story about Adenugu; it won’t happen.
“It will be madness for me to want to write and write a negative story about him because, I have access to him. He will feel betrayed because he will feel that, even if he has done something wrong, I have access to him. How can I write something bad about someone I’ve known since I was a reporter? If I hear something, I will call and tell him, ‘this thing you’ve done is wrong.’ Not that I will go and write it on the pages of newspaper, no; I don’t joke with my friends. It’s not journalism that got me to where I am today; it’s my friends that got me to where I am. The difference between one journalist and the other is the network of friends that are available to you.”
He continued: “When I advice my younger colleagues, I tell them, ‘My friend, if you think that you can blackmail people and you will be comfortable, you are just deluding yourself. You cannot as a journalist blackmail people or collect brown envelopes up and down and you think you will be successful; you will only get small, small money that you can use to enjoy yourself. But if you want to make real progress, you need friends; it’s those friends that can get you to where you are going. At every point in time, I’ve always enjoyed the goodness of friends. I’m very lucky that at 60, I’ve really enjoyed the generosity of my friends,” he enthused.
Akinpelu’s Omole Estate home won’t have been possible without the support of Mike Adenuga, who provided the first fund to start the project.
“This house that we are in, I started this house with the money that Adenuga game me for my 50th birthday. Ten years ago when I was 50, I did a very big party at 10 Degrees Events Centre; King Wasiu Ayinde Marshal (Kwam 1) was on the bandstand. Alhaji Aliko Dangote, Femi Otedola… everybody were there and supported me, but Adenuga didn’t come. One day, when Bella was getting married, there was a diner they did at Civic Centre and Bode, who used to work for him told me the Chairman said I should attend. I told him I didn’t get the IV, but he said I should go to his house and collect an IV; he was living in VI then. I went there, collect my invitation card and went for the party.”
Mayor was packing his car at the venue when Bode showed up.
“He said, ‘Oh, Lord Mayor, before you go in, let me give you what the Chairman said I should give to you.’ He gave me an envelope and I dropped it in my car and went for the party. But out of curiosity, I just said let me go and check what this man gave me. I went back and saw a postcard where he said, ‘Happy Birthday’, attached to it was a draft of N7.5million; I was surprised. So, I went back to thank him. I’ve had this land before then, but it was that money that I used in starting this building. So, he has touched my life and other people’s lives in different ways. It’s just that because he’s so shy, he doesn’t want to mix with people; he just wants to be in his house and work.”
Meanwhile, Akinpelu’s love for white could be traced back to his interview with Femi Otedola over 30 years ago.
“It was actually Otedola that influenced me to wear white. When I was in Prime People, I was the style reporter then, so I used to talk to a lot of people. Then, I did a story on those, who wear white and why they do so. Femi was the youngest among the people I interviewed then; he used to wear only white then. Ironically, he still has a copy of that magazine; he showed me a copy of it in his house. He told me that he had a dream and he saw his grandfather and he told him to be wearing white that he’s going to be a great person. I was really influenced by that interview and I said I was going to wear white like him. Then, he has a peculiar way of wearing white; he wears white with loafers made with Aso-oke. I started doing like that,” he said.
In fact, the first set of Aso-oke loafers that Akinpelu had, were given to him by Otedola.
“Until we started Fame, I was wearing only white guinea brocade; I don’t used to wear colour at all. But when we started Fame, because we had to go to meet clients and agencies to canvass for advert, I had to start wearing suites. But most times, till now, I wear white.”
A visit to Akinpelu’s house will tell you the man loves cars.
“I believe in reincarnation, so, I think I must have come to this world at a time that I didn’t have a car. So, I’ve really suffered not having a car. I love cars; it’s not now. Since I was a reporter, I’ve always loved cars; I’ve always used cars different from what my colleagues have. When I drive a good machine, it gives me that satisfaction. In fact, Dele Momodu once made a fun of me; I think I bought a new car that time. He said, ‘Mayor, are you sure these people that sell cars are not using juju on you? Any time you make money, it’s car you want to buy.’ But I love cars,” he noted.
Though he has driven several brands, Mercedes Benz remains Mayor’s favourite.
“I’m a Mercedes Benz person; I think the best car in the whole world is Benz. At every point in time, I always have a Mercedes Benz. My first car when we were at Fame was a Jetta Executive, which was a very popular car then. I want to thank our Chairman then, Mr Adesanya; when we started, he was the one that bought our cars. Since then, I’ve driven a lot of cars. But when I look back, I think it’s Mercedes Benz for me,” he declared.
Now 60, Lord Mayor is resetting his priorities.
“I see myself now as an old man in semi-retirement. I will still be in journalism and I still want to write, though I don’t write as much as I used to do. I got involved with journalists Hangout, which is about public commentaries, which I will still like to do. One of the things I would love to do is to resume my column, which used to be very popular. I want to start writing again; maybe I will just pick a newspaper that I can write for and just write once a week.”
As for parties, “I can’t go to parties as much as I used to do; I have to mellow down because I’m 60 now. I want to get closer to God; I’m a Christian, but I hardly go to church. I want to be able to look at my children and try to guide them and just hope for the best.”