September 6 precisely would make it one year when a veteran journalist, Dimgba Igwe was killed by a hit and run driver. In this chat with select journalists, Awoyinfa spoke about how he has been coping without his ‘twin brother’, his book and journalism.
We are having this interview against the backdrop of my friend, Dimgba Igwe who was killed September 6, 2014. It would be almost a year that he was killed. It hasn’t been an easy journey but we thank God. He has been very faithful. Everybody knows us as twins, we did everything in common. We had this partnership that was very strong and profitable to two of us. It was a partnership made in heaven. He was a guy I trusted so much with everything. I trusted him even with my life. I am older than him but I see him as my senior partner or a boss. He was the headmaster, enforcer in this relationship. In a way I used to fear him quietly though. I am a man about town. I am a reporter. I could be driving my car, moving about town, I like to move about. He was the editor, manager of this relationship. He would just sit at home and shout, ‘hey Mike there you go again, there is light, instead of sitting down and working, you are parading all over the place, where are you going now, come back!.’ All those were some of the things I miss. Freedom is a dangerous thing. In this world everybody needs a master. You need somebody to caution you, somebody to fear. It is a dangerous thing if you fear nobody. I really miss him. I missed his managerial, editorship and pastoral roles. In a way he was my pastor too. Anything I wrote, he had to edit it. Right now, I am my own editor, my own pastor, manager, everything. That is just the background. We wrote this book. It took us 10 years to write this book called, 50 World Editors. It is the best book we have ever written as journalists. It is a book that shows how much passion we have for journalism; how much we love this profession of journalism. So much did we love the profession that we had to travel the whole world. There is a philosopher that says that the wisest man is he who knows nothing. We adopted that as a philosophy, yes, we know journalism, still, we don’t know journalism. We traveled round the world interviewing editors of the biggest newspapers you can ever imagine asking them about journalism; asking them to tell their journalism stories; what brought them to journalism; the stories they wrote, the highlights of their career, how they became editors; the challenging stories they ever wrote; how they felt when they became editors; what it takes to become editors; what is news, et al. All these were the questions we were asking all these great men. Some of them are icons. From CNN, BBC, Times of London, Financial Times, Chicago Tribune, name any newspaper in this world, chances are that we have interviewed the editor or former editor. It’s a book that really gives us a pride that yes, we did this. We believe every journalist that wants to progress cannot just sit down in Nigeria, he has to go out to various conferences to update himself and to network with other journalists. It is the same in all professions whether it is Law, Advertising, every year they have international conferences. These conferences are very crucial to ones development as a professional. These conferences have taken I and Dimgba all over the world. We’ve been to South Africa, U.S., India, among others. We didn’t just go to these conferences only for symposia. We went there with a mission to look for iconic journalists. Immediately they delivered their papers, we hijacked them. Conferences like International Press Institute knows me very well. Each time they would see me carry tape recorders. I was the busiest person interviewing everybody. Initially, Dimgba used to stay away. He was a shy man when it comes to journalism but I’m a reporter to the core. Though I am a shy man too but when I see news, shyness will disappear. Everyday you will see me. In our days, there were no midgets like your own. Our tape recorder was that big- Sony tape. That was the type I carried about. You can never catch me without it. In the course of interviewing the person, Dimgba would come and join me. The thing about Dimgba is that he was very intelligent. He asked good questions. He asked his questions and I asked mine. We were ‘a tag team’ and this is what we got- the book involving interviews of 50 World Editors. This is one book I can boast about, this is it! This is the bible of journalism. After this, I don’t think I will ever write any other journalism book again. People who knows our history knows we started with the book, Arts of Feature Writing. We wrote that years back; I think around 1988, 89 and it was the book that we used in starting the template for Weekend Concord which changed the face of Saturday journalism in this country when people started looking at stories from human angle dimension. The paper sold like hot cake in those days. From Weekend Concord, we went to the Sun using the same formula, initially people thought it would not work but thank God, the Sun today is a good success story. It was almost becoming an institution.
Looking back at when your relationship started way back in Concord and now that he is no more, how has that affected you psychologically and emotionally?
You can guess; it’s like me dying myself. Dimgba and I were too close, twin brothers. When one dies, it’s almost as if the other has died. I was in England in Ipswich where my son Taiwo lives and works with British Telecomms. The whole family had gone there for a holiday to celebrate with my son who was passing out his MBA in one of the London universities. I didn’t feel like going, I said, let my wife and children go but Dimgba insisted; ‘how can you not go? You spent so much money to such a great institution and he is graduating, that is the joy of every father, you must go!’
Dimgba’s words were always law, whatever he says I should do, that was what I would. That was the first time I will ever travel without him and I never knew it was going to be the last time. While there, we talked everyday. I was coming from shopping the night before he died. I was telling him all the books I have bought for him. We were always updating each other. 50 per cent of my phone was always on him. I’m sure it was the same with him. We talked throughout and he told me about the lecture he was going to deliver on that Saturday morning, lecture about the development in his home town and all that. He said he had really prepared for that lecture and he was going to wow them and I said: ‘well done.’ Only for me to wake up the following day to get a call from Lagos that something terrible had happened and I asked what it was. Eventually the bombshell was delivered but it was the last thing I ever imagined. When the person said there was bad news, that I should phone my house, I thought thieves had come to burgle my house or my house was on fire. If all that had happened, it would have been better. It would have been better for my house to be on fire, let everything perish but let me have my friend but that is the way we saw it. It was the worst day of my life. Everybody was rolling on the floor screaming. It is not a day I want to remember. The pain of Dimgba’s death is not what leaves you. It’s always there. Everyday, you are conscious the thing is there. It hasn’t been easy emotionally but God is faithful. Most of the time, I just have a feeling that he was somewhere there watching and I don’t want to disappoint him. Everything he dreamt of achieving, I want to make sure his dreams don’t die. My happiness is that he saw this book before he died and he held it and we started shaking ourselves. All those are the pictures that give me joy. As long as I live, Dimgba Igwe’s name will not die. Every year, there will be a Dimgba Igwe book launch in September in his memory so that the legacy he left behind will be sustained. He is still my co-author even in the grave. He inspires me. I always have a feeling that he is somewhere around. I’m so surprised, God has been so faithful. All kinds of ideas will just come, only that it is not easy. What two men were doing, only one man is doing it, still, I have to forge ahead. Wherever he is, I want him to feel very proud. Things are moving fine. His last son has just been admitted to Covenant University to study Economics. God has been faithful, there is no problem.
When that incident happened, the story was that he didn’t die immediately. If the emergency service in Nigeria has been effective, he wouldn’t have died. What is your comment on the emergency services in Nigeria?
Those are the things when I remember get me very angry. That used to be Dimgba’s own fear too. It was as if he foresaw his own death. Some few days before his death, he was telling our General Manager, ‘assuming if any accident happens around this Okota, which hospital are we going to go to?’ That was a question he could not answer. It is so sad. When Buhari came here, it was the same thing I told him. It’s so sad that once you are in trouble in this country, you are on your own with your God and may God help you. To think that a man for three solid hours was running from one hospital to another, he was just determined he was not going to die. He was a very strongman, a man who jogged. That is Nigeria for you. We need a whole new orientation in this country; a country that somebody will hit you, no evidence. If it is another country, everything would have been captured on camera.
The matter was being investigated then. Have you reminded the new IG of the matter?
Like I said in one interview, Dimgba himself would have forgiven whoever killed him. He has the spirit of forgiveness. What do I gain by going to police to ask if they have made an arrest? Would an arrest of the man who killed Dimgba bring him back to life? My own attitude is not to look back, if I do, I will turn to a pillar of salt and I don’t want to look back. I want to just forge ahead and pray. I know Dimgba will even pray for the person that killed him asking God to forgive him. The person who hit him at that point would have panicked. He looked at the consequences. Anybody could have done that. He acted selfishly. Instead of being man enough to carry the person he hit, he bolted away. Most men would behave that way. I’m not justifying what he did but some men don’t have character. You damn the consequences and say I did this.
Are there projects that both of you did that you would want to bring out later?
There are so many things. We are basically writers. Writing books is our niche. We write biographies. There was a project, a book we started we called, ‘The Nigeria’s Corporate Caesars,’ a very in-depth profile of Nigeria’s business founders like Ibeto, Dangote, Adenuga, etc. Top 10 business founders that made their mark, to really profile their stories. That was the book we were working on before he died. I still have the manuscript he wrote about Cletus Ibeto. There were so many things we were doing. Like I said, Ideas also come to me too. Right now, we are doing a book on boardroom leadership. What happens in the boardroom is something I know interests Dimgba a lot. For me, I don’t give a damn about all your boardroom politics and all that but you know, that kind of thing really freaks him. So I took upon myself to do it. I have been interviewing boardroom leaders, sharing their experiences in boardroom leadership. What the chairman of the board does, what the board does, what happens in the boardroom and so on. I have spoken to quite a lot of them. People like Christopher Kolade, boardroom gurus, name them, Chris Ogbeche, chairman of Diamond Bank; Sam Ohunabunwa and many others. More and more people are still responding. It’s a book, I hope to complete next year. We are also re-writing the biography of Mike Adenuga. It was something we started and didn’t finish. By Dimgba’s next birthday, that biography should come out, it’s titled, ‘The Guru; Eye Witness Biography of Mike Adenuga.’ People who know him telling their own story of the Mike Adenuga they know. He is one of the great men we have in this country. He is a man who is very entrepreneurial, who has courage and very daring. The idea is for young people like you and people who want to succeed as entrepreneur should read the story and be motivated by it. I believe entrepreneurship is what will really drive this country. It is not enough to sit down and complain of unemployment. You have been given education. The idea is to use your education to create wealth. Look for a niche, a vacuum in the society, something that Nigerians would need and create a business out of, that is the essence of entrepreneurship. There are so many talented people here. Look at Nollywood, look at showbizness, small boys with talent-Don Jazzy, Wizkid, Davido etc, that is the kind of stories I want to be hearing, stories of entrepreneurial successes. It is an area that interests me. I’m also an entrepreneur writing books, writing biographies and believing that people will read books and out of these books. They will find wisdom, knowledge that will help them to succeed in life because I believe the essence of life is to succeed. I don’t believe anybody should fail in anything. Failure is one word I wish can be obliterated in any dictionary.
Entertainment Express is a newspaper that both of you started together. It is no longer in circulation today. Did Dimgba die with the paper, or what happened?
In life sometimes, you win, sometimes you lose. We started this project believing that entertainment is a niche that we can look at and we will break through and succeed. We thought that the idea of a N50 paper in entertainment is it but advertising is the oxygen of this business. It is not enough to depend on circulation. For a N50 newspaper, I think, Entertainment Express did very well, the adverts were coming but they were not enough to really sustain the business. There was a time we increased cover price to meet the imperatives of survival. Even before Dimgba died, we decided to seek a new platform maybe to go online because it wasn’t viable. This country is a very tough country. Anybody that is coming to establish an exclusively entertainment newspaper in this country, I wish that person luck, it’s not easy. If we were to start all over again, maybe I would have gone into full fledged newspaper, rather than concentrating in entertainment. I think the other people that started before us also have the same story. I don’t think Nigeria is ripe for a paper of that nature. Even the entertainers don’t even make things easy. You are interviewing them, they expect you to give them money. Instead of encouraging g you, they would just be dribbling you; they even want to take from you. We didn’t have the big money. In a project like this, we need a whole lot of money to really invest in the business, it is not really selling of newspaper is the thing, it is just one of the things. There are a whole lot of marketing mix that has to support. It’s like war, you need aerial bombardment, you need land, this and that-you need campaigns, branding-a whole lot of activities to drive the brand. It’s not enough to sell newspapers. In any case, the competition is becoming so keen, there’s online platform, television. People prefer to sit by their television and be watching entertainment news than to be buying newspaper. The money they would have used to buy bread now they are using it to buy entertainment newspaper. When it was N50, they could afford it.
Talking about online platforms, what is the future of newspaper in Nigeria?
It is becoming more and more competitive. I don’t think newspaper will die and I don’t want it to die because newspaper is my passion, it’s in my blood. This is not the first time newspaper has been facing challenges. In the era when television came, people thought it would kill newspaper, it didn’t kill, radio came, it didn’t kill, I don’t think anything will kill the newspaper business. They will eat into the market but still newspaper will survive because there is a difference between reading something online and holding it. There is a whole world of difference. I think the newspaper business will survive as long as there is advert support for it.
What would you say is your greatest regret as a journalist?
So far, no regrets; I couldn’t have chosen any other profession. It’s the best job in town. If I see my contemporaries who went into banking in that era, they are millionaires, making billions, founding banks and doing things. At times, I regret, why I didn’t go into banking. Why did I go and study mass communication? Why didn’t I go and work in an oil company? But at the end of the day, I ask myself if that was my mission on earth or what God sent me to do? Then, I will tell myself, ‘no,’ I have no regrets at all. I thank God for the name this newspaper business has given me and the little impact I’ve been able to make. There is nothing like being a newspaper editor, columnist, writing, shaping the future, moulding agendas, influencing the direction of the nation, it’s just a powerful medium. I wouldn’t exchange that job for all the money in the world. I think I enjoy it and it has prepared me for what I’m doing right now. Being a reporter has prepared me. There is no book that I want to write that I cannot write, even engineering book, I can write it. It doesn’t mean I am an Engineer, all I have to do is look for engineers and ask them questions. I will ask questions that at the end of the day, I will turn into an engineer or I would know so much about engineering. This is the era of internet. Anything you don’t know, you go online, do your research, draw your questions, go to the experts, interview them and before you know it, you’ll become an expert too. That was how we wrote our book on management. 50 Nigeria’s Corporate Strategists, we interviewed 50 CEOs and at the end of the day, we were able to acquire the management skills. We were able to run business. That is the template we used in running The Sun and all that. There is no regret.
Are you going to launch the 50 World Editor?
We are launching it on September 15th at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Victoria Island by 10am. President Buhari is coming. We invited him. He was here when Dimgba died, that is one of the things that endeared me to him even when he was not president, he still had the compassion to commiserate with the wife, me and the family. He has that personal touch. The former president never came here. Given that, who would I support? Is it the person who was in power and did not come here or the person that is not in power but came here? Anyway, I have always known Buhari as a man with a whole lot of leadership skills and values that would drive Nigeria to the promise land. We should all support and pray for him. I’m happy we had a change of government. You can imagine what Nigeria would have been with PDP coming back with all these people parading themselves arrogantly that they are going to rule Nigeria till the end of the world. A lot of damage has been done. A lot of money looted and they are the ones that brought Nigeria to this kind of situation. I think Buhari is on a rescue mission; after the darkness there would be light. There is hope. It is better we had a change of government than to continue with this kind of situation. Things are improving; even the light, we are seeing little signs of improvements. Let us all give him support.
We have invited all our friends, Dangote, Mike Adenuga, Tinubu, my publisher, Orji Kalu. The chairman of the occasion is going to be Sam Amuka of Vanguard. He is a man I like so much for his professionalism and humility. He is a man I see as a role model and ironically, he sees me and Dimgba as role models which I find funny. I pray this book makes it because it’s a book that gives us a whole lot of pride.
Do you still jog?
Sure, I exercise inside my compound, it is even more strenuous. I don’t want to go on the road and people will be looking at me and pity me, they will say, your friend died and you are still running. It’s so risky, I don’t want to go. What if a car hits me? Do I know the people that killed Dimgba, what if they come after me? No, I must keep myself strategically so that we can accomplish what we started together. The worse news is for Mike Awoyinfa to die too. Because they will say, these two people have a pact. The only pact I have with Dimgba is to meet him in heaven and I am doing whatever it takes to meet him in heaven. I know he is a good man and a great man of God and if there is heaven, a man like that should go to heaven. I know I’m not qualified to go to heaven now but I’m working very hard at it. I know he was praying for me, saying, ‘this iniquity man!’
How has Dimgba’s death affected you?
It has really brought me to the reality of death. Death is real. It has made me to realise that anything can happen at anytime. Don’t take this world for granted, death can strike at anytime. There is need for one to protect himself spiritually and physically. My prayer life has increased. I don’t want to die an untimely death. When a man of God just died like that, what of me a sinner? I am very cautious now, I don’t do gragra on the road, I won’t take one way. In the past, I used to take risks, now, I obey the law. One lunatic can just crush you and all that, even that it is not enough. At the end of the day, you will still need the protection of God to survive. This country is a very dangerous country. One should do everything to safeguard himself from anything. You could be minding your business but you don’t know who is after you.
When he was killed, I knew what would be going through his mind lying down there. He would be saying, ‘where is Mike? How I wish Mike were to be around. If I were to be around I would have been the first person he would call before his wife. When it happened to me too, he was there. When I was writing Fashola’s book, in order to get the concentration, we went and lodged in a hotel. I was just behaving childishly. I put off all the lights and I jumped like swimming pool inside my bed and the bed tossed me back and I landed on something. That resulted in a deep cut on my mouth. Everywhere was full of blood. He was the first person I called. They had to rush me to hospital that night. I nearly died. If the thing had cut me by the throat, I would have bled to death. Dimgba said, ‘Mike wahala following you everywhere, when we were in France that was how you collapsed.’ I actually fell down in France. I stumbled and instead of allowing my camera to crash, I protected the camera so I won’t lose all my films, that was how I injured myself. And over there, you are on your own. Instead of coming to my attention, they were just looking. He was the one that was helping me sooth my injury. That man, I owe a lot to him. All the time, I was at the point of death, he was always there; when his own came, I was nowhere to be found. It’s such a tragedy.
Are you fulfilled as a Journalist?
I’m still working hard. I still have a whole lot to achieve but so far, I’m enjoying what I’m doing. I wish to write the biography of every great man in Nigeria. I’m happy, if happiness is the meaning of fulfillment but if you mean money, I don’t have that one. This country is a great country, it’s a beautiful country, so many opportunities. One should not give up hope about Nigeria. See everyday as a day that you are happy to be in. See everyday as an opportunity to do something. The best gift that God ever gives a person is to wake up every morning to see a new day because every 24 hours is full of opportunities. That is the way I have seen life after the death of Dimgba. People should not waste their time at all, don’t allow distractions. There is so much to be done to achieve success in life. Like I tell some people, don’t spend your life watching premiership. They watch and watch. They wake up in the morning; viewing centre, it is not enough, the footballers are making their money. I’m using football as an analogy. Everyday have an agenda of what you intend to achieve and at the end of the day, begin to mark which one you have achieved and the one you have not achieved. That is my rule for hardwork. Anyone who works hard will achieve success.
Is there any plan for a foundation to honour Dimgba?
We have a Dimgba Igwe Foundation. We have a committee. We have set up a foundation. With time, we will build a monument in his memory but for now, what we are doing is the annual Dimgba Igwe book launch to perpetuate his memory.