I have always been in journalism or journalism-related areas, and have the educational qualifications as well. I have an Ordinary National Diploma in mass communication from the Federal Polytechnic Bida, I have a bachelor's degree in communication arts from the University of Uyo and another master's degree in international journalism from the University of Westminster, United Kingdom, which I got in 1999, courtesy of the Chevening Scholarships.
One of the targets I had set for myself was to publish my own newspaper before I turned forty.
My name is Dan Akpovwa.
I was born on 3rd of May 1965.
I, however, started by wanting to be a lawyer.
This was because when my mother, now late, worked in Warri High Court, I came in contact with lawyers.
But, in 1986, I did my internship with Newswatch magazine.I was there when Dele Giwa (the founding editor-in-chief) was killed. I saw the outpouring of grief. Everyone was there to commiserate with us and I read a lot of his writings, and I noticed instantly that this guy was a force for good. He must have been doing something right to positively affect the society.
So, that changed things for me: I decided that journalism was it. No, not that I wanted to be killed, I just felt that I could affect people positively by being a journalist.
Over the years, I think I have been able to achieve that.
For instance, I wrote some defining stories when I was much younger as a freelance for Quality, Newswatch and Classique magazines. I also contributed briefly to Tell magazine. I could say that when I left the university I already had a name recognition.
I was posted to Jigawa State for my National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme and was assigned to teach at Government Secondary School, Roni. I sought redeployment to Lagos State and when that came through I was posted to Chevron which was supposed to be a choice posting, desired by almost everyone. I however asked Chevron to reject me and send me back to the NYSC secretariat. There, I asked to be posted to The Guardian. That was how I served on The Guardian and worked on the Features Desk with Harriet Lawrence as the features editor.
I chose The Guardian because I wanted experience in a newspaper as I had done my internship with a magazine.
When I finished at The Guardian, I began to have the urge of being on my own and felt I could go into public relations. It was not that I was getting bored with journalism. Indeed I liked the grind of having to go and interview people, carry out researches - which was difficult in those days because there was no Google - write stories and all that. It was crazy. What I found out was that the stories I did at the publications where I worked, because I felt I had something to prove, I put in more efforts into them and made sure that they were thorough. I put in my best into them so that they would be published without much surgical operation by the editors. When I compared my work with the final output, there were minimal changes. I learnt from that, and I was also fulfilled.
Anyway, I was one of the pioneer staff of ThisDay newspapers in 1995.
When I came back from the UK, the pioneer Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Godwin Omene, invited me in 2001 to help set up the corporate affairs department. So, I was there with Mr John Araka and a few other people. But two years into the job, I began to feel that it was time to start thinking about becoming a newspaper publisher. The NDDC job was like a sinecure: we were not doing much but we were getting paid well.
I was thirty-eight years old.
It was Abuja for me, because I wanted a return to regional journalism and I felt that Lagos was already saturated with the news media. Abuja was an uncharted territory. They tried to do Abuja Newsday long ago, but it failed.
I grew up in Warri in the then Midwestern State and we had The Observer newspaper. In the East, there was Daily Star. In the West, there was Sketch and Tribune. In the North, there was New Nigerian. In Jos, there was Nigerian Standard. Daily Times was more national.
So, we had strong regional newspapers.
For The Abuja Inquirer, we wanted a newspaper which would cater to the city.
When we started, a lot of people said that the name would be a hindrance when it came to advertising. I insisted that we would go with the name. When I started I had Udo Silas who had worked with me at ThisDay as our first editor.
We took over the city by storm. All of a sudden, people started reckoning with us. We had stories that even the national newspapers were culling. If there were some major stories in the federal capital, the major newspapers called us for more insight.
The current FCT Minister, Mohammed Musa Bello reportedly said that when he went to the villages, The Abuja Inquirer was everywhere. So, he directed that all their ads should come to us. Because we have the highest reach in the Federal Capital Territory. I think that is a major validation of our stance and efforts.
We started in March 2004 and have published weekly since then. We have resisted the temptation to go daily. In fact, the capital outlay would not even allow us do that.
I think that our consistency has been helpful.
We have been guided by some words of advice from people such as one of my mentors, Mr Nduka Obaigbena; he told me that we had to keep our overheads low; Nduka Irabor, my brother, said to me: 'Don't be tempted to have so many pages unless you have the ads to justify them.'
We told ourselves that as a city newspaper, we must be able to champion causes. There was a time we focused on open defecation and the FCT eventually came up with a law against it. To some extent, I think that The Abuja Inquirer was instrumental to the promulgation of the law.
Notwithstanding, we also had a brush with law enforcement agencies over one story we published during the Olusegun Obasanjo Administration.
A lot of the times, the quantity of adverts we get is amazing. Most of the banks which advertise in the paper sign annual contracts with us. And it is because of our niche. I recall that once, Uncle Sam (Sam Amuka, publisher of Vanguard Newspapers) told me and said what should be important to me is the reach of the newspaper. That we should give the paper to the vendors and let them take it to the villages, and bother less about chasing them for the money. Let them be using it to do supply to all the villages to sell and I would find that, because of our reach, people will come to advertise, he noted.
In terms of staff turnover, I think that we are also doing a few things right. The current editor, Emmanuel Ogbeche, has been with us for at least ten years. He is the chairman of the FCT Abuja chapter of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ). He was only recently re-elected; he is the first person to be re-elected for that position in about twenty years.
I have not had any reason to regret publishing The Abuja Inquirer. I enjoy doing it. I enjoy the impact we are making.
This is something I will do all over again and again.
In addition, I can say that journalism has taken me to places I would not have been had I been a lawyer. I have also made the kind of impact that as a lawyer I would not have made.
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Taiwo Obe, FNGE
Commonwealth Professional Fellow
Founder/Director, The Journalism Clinic
+234 818 693 5900