It is not for nothing that Prince Nduka Obaigbena, the indefatigable media mogul who sits atop THISDAY Media Group and ARISE News Channel, is called the Duke of Journalism. Stars in the Nigerian media firmament have largely shone in either the print or the electronic media – you can attempt a mental count of those you consider successes in the media business. But here is one star that bestrides the two worlds and has shone successfully in each, giving light to multiples of millions.
ThisDay, a newspaper Obaigbena founded in 1995, years after the collapse of the predecessor glossy magazine ThisWeek, is still the darling of lovers of political and socio-economic analyses, business reporting, entertainment and style, arts and culture, and many more. The newspaper is a sine qua non for advertisers. Those in PR will testify that if companies want news of their corporate events published in two Nigerian dailies, ThisDay would be one of them. That speaks to the immense success of the first newspaper in Nigeria to pass its back page over to columnists when others reserved that page for sports. Most, if not all, Nigerian newspapers today practice that model.
But ThisDay has not restricted itself to newspapering. Its annual ThisDay Awards, begun in 2000 to celebrate contributors to the growth of the Nigerian society – in politics, business, education, etc. – is easily the most glamorous corporate event in the country today. There was also the THISDAY Music and Fashion Festivals which first held in 2006 and attracted musical acts from across the world, including Dianna Ross, Beyonce, Lionel Richie, Rihanna, Mary J Blige, Jay Z, Snoop Dogg, and so on.
When he launched Arise News Channel, an international TV news channel with an African focus, in 2013, the electronic media space in Nigeria was not a vacuum. Ten years down the line, many Nigerians would think their lives incomplete any day they do not watch Arise TV, particularly its signature breakfast show, Arise Morning Show.
I have overheard some people argue that Nduka Obaigbena, who chairs the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN) and the Nigerian Press Organisation (comprising the NPAN, the National Union of Journalists and the Nigerian Guild of Editors), is no genius – after all, the success of his media businesses is made possible only by the calibre of manpower he attracts. What those people fail to realise, however, is that the ability to attract the right kind of talent is itself genius, but the greater genius is even the ability to retain this pool of talent in a world where loyalty is increasingly becoming a scarce commodity. The mark of good leadership is not in what you do yourself but in what you are able to mobilise your followers to do – and those followers won’t follow if they do not believe in your vision.
Last year, when Obaigbena was conferred with the National Honour of Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON) by former President Muhammadu Buhari, a group in the North, Unified Northern Nigeria Youths Forum (UNNYF), in congratulating him, described him as “an icon in the media industry” whose “creative innovations have continued to define the industry, making THISDAY newspapers and ARISE TV the leading media outfits in Nigeria”. The group, in a statement signed by its spokesman, Aliyu Sani, called him “a living legend who has successfully brought new innovations to the media, setting new records and re-defining media practice in Nigeria”.
Born 14 July 1959 in Ibadan, South West Nigeria, Nduka Obaigbena studied at Edo College, Benin City, and the University of Benin. He later attended Graduate School of Business at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, and the University of Cape Town where he undertook the Advanced Management Programme.
Obaigbena’s journalism career began while he was still a student at the University of Benin, at the age of 19 – and I have Anthony Ademiluyi, the Editor of Buzz Times Media, to thank for this piece of information. He started as a satirist with The Observer, then owned by the Bendel State government, and his cartoon ‘Leke Leke’ had a large following. But he resigned from The Observer in protest after his mentor, Chuks Okuwa, was fired by the government. He floated a monthly, The Dawn Magazine, and made Okuwa the editor. That was his first attempt at media ownership.
After school, Obaigbena travelled to the United Kingdom where he worked with NAL Advertising, Mike Jarvis and Partners, Newsweek and Time Magazines, and, on his 27th birthday, 14 July 1986, he launched Thisweek Magazine. The rest, as they say, is history.
Nduka Obaigbena turned 64 on 14 July 2023, and the Nigerian media space has been inundated with goodwill messages, particularly from political leaders – from House of Reps Speaker Tajudeen Abbas to Deputy Speaker Benjamin Kalu, Delta State Governor Sheriff Oborevwori, former Commonwealth Secretary General Emeka Anyaoku, former Senate President Bukola Saraki, and many others.
Oborevwori, governor of Obaigbena’s home state of Delta, called him an accomplished journalist, outstanding patriot, a detribalised Nigerian, a shining statesman and an exceptional entrepreneur who has inspired others to succeed in many endeavours.
“For us in Delta, we will continue to identify with your laudable commitment to the defence of our democracy and national cohesion even as you have used your medium to promote the rule of law, good governance, and fundamental rights of citizens,” Oborevwori said in a statement issued by his Chief Press Secretary, Festus Ahon.
What else can one say? Here are 64 hearty cheers to a media colossus whose reach transcends the African borders. May your days be long!