Tony Momoh
Prince Tony Momoh, the journalist par excellence, a bibliotherapist and cultural engineer is the 165th child of Momoh the first. He is the third of the four children his mother had for Momoh the first and his mother was the junior of the three groups into which the Momoh Household of 45 wives and 245 children were organised.

Ace journalist, Dimgba Igwe’s last interview: Things I like and dislike about Mike Awoyinfa

Indeed, no one knows tomorrow. In Katsina, on Thursday, August 28, 2014, and at the 10th annual All Nigerian Editors Con¬ference, veteran journalist, author, preacher and Vice Chairman of The Sun Newspa-pers, Pastor Dimgba Igwe, spent nearly an hour with YES INTERNATIONAL! magazine Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, AZUH ARINZE, talking about ‘tomorrow’. Not knowing that he had barely one more week to live. And also not knowing that, that would be his last interview. Fifty-eight years old and from Abia State, the soft spoken pen pusher, who was also the Associate Pub¬lisher of Entertainment Express, shared his candid thoughts on the journalism profes¬sion and his rock-solid relationship with Mr. Mike Awoyinfa and more; much more…We, on this website, reproduce the interview here as our Tribute to a fine journalist whose days may well have been cut short by those whose motto is GREED.

What makes a good journalist?

A good journalist? Well, a good journalist is somebody that has a sense of curiosity; some¬body who ab initio believes in a cause, a mission; it is like there is a driving force within you that does not take something that is wrong; that wants things to be corrected. Those are the innate propelling elements that drive a good journalist. A sense of curiosity and then a sense of a mission and then there is also the element of the skill. The person should have a lot of resilience. Journalism takes a lot from you, so you have to be persistent. To get news, there are lots of frustrations, so you have to be persistent. And then I will say some¬body who also is substantially skeptical, somebody who doesn’t take everything, who is not credulous, who doesn’t just take in everybody’s word for it. In fact, we used to say every morning, a journal¬ist should; the same way you take a cup of tea is the same way a journalist should take a cup of cynicism; so that you have this cynical approach to the society. You don’t just believe things because they say it is so and everybody believes in it. That, for instance, was why I was asking yesterday when I was making a brief comment if the things the Governor (Ibrahim Shema of Katsina) was saying were true. Because you cannot just say they are true because he said them. So, those elements are critical composites of a good journalist.

What makes a good editor?

A good editor needs not be a very good writer but he should be a good manager, he should be a good motivator because a good editor is driving a team of people and he has a sense of where the paper is going. So, he should be somebody who has a capacity to organise a group of people, motivate them to achieve a goal. If you read the memoir of Ben Bradly; Ben Bradly was the editor of Carl Benson and Bob Howard. Ben Bradly said he never went to the Editorial Board; he didn’t visit all those places. He said he was not particularly a good writer but then he’s surrounded by these star reporters and he’s a damn good manager, working with Karchan Graham. And, he can make decisions. A good editor is like a coach. He knows who the stars are. He may not necessarily play the game as well as the people he is leading but he knows where he wants them to be, he is driving them to achieve that goal. Of course, it is an added bonus when he is also a good writer because, you see, when you tell a man you have written nonsense; the only thing that entitles you to say that is the fact that you, yourself, have written something credible. You have to earn what¬ever you are demanding from the reporters; from your team members. You have to have earned it either by your performance or by your past and so on and so forth. If I call Steve (Nwosu) or Femi (Adesina) and co. and say, do it this way, the only reason they will believe me is because they know I have done it myself. If I haven’t done it and I’m sitting there pontificating, they are never going to believe me. So, credibility is going to come from what you have done.

What makes a good story?

That’s a tough one. But a good story should answer questions about the curios¬ity of people. A good story should have the capacity to make somebody say, aha! Do you mean it? Is that true? If the person says is that true; elements of a good story should now be that you answered those questions. Yes, it is true, this is why it happened, this is how it happened, this is when. A good story should answer all the questions. When I read your story and you leave me wonder¬ing, asking questions again, it means you have not answered all the questions. So, the story is incomplete. When a story is incom¬plete, a reader reads it and does not have a sense of totality; he then makes up his mind whether to believe what he has read or not. But it should answer all those questions.

What do you like most about being a journalist?

Well, the sense of audacity. It gives you a sense that you are part of those who could shape and re-shape the society. It is the fact that in my own little corner, I can decide to have a point of view, to have a perspective on how this society should be governed and I dare say there are millionaires – people that are very rich – they don’t have that kind of audacity. They can’t speak; I can! I can write, I can take a position and I have the capacity also to affect the direction of the larger society. It gives us excitement. You know we don’t usually have plenty money, but it is not money that makes people come into journalism. Journalism is like a voca¬tion, it’s like people going into ministry, it’s like people going into missionary work. When they were going, they were not going to become the richest guys in the world, they were going because they had a call; there is an inner propelling force, saying this is what you should do. Sometimes, they don’t have money. I have a friend; the Bureau Chief of Chicago Tribune. He’s a guy, called Ray Long. He says I’m a Bureau Chief; I don’t want to go higher. This is all I wanted. I don’t want anything more. I want to just be here as a Bureau Chief until I die…

What don’t you like about being a journalist?

In our materialistic environment, I don’t like the fact that it doesn’t give you enough money to remove financial insecurities from your life. Otherwise, I don’t think of any other profession I will like to be in. I like to be a journalist. There may be issues about the dangers and all that. But I don’t bother myself about those ones. What I bother about is the fact that the profession some¬times does not generate enough resources to sustain its devotees.

What is the costliest mistake that any journalist can make?

Writing deliberate falsehood. You know in those days, Razor was writing stories that didn’t happen and that killed Razor. The costliest mistake is to lose your credibility. You see, the trading capital of the journalist is your name; it’s your integrity. When that integrity is lost, then you have no business. You’ve lost all!

What is the greatest thing that being a journalist has done for you?

The greatest thing that being a journalist has done for me? Has it done things for me? Well, the same thing that it has offered me – a platform to serve and in serving the soci¬ety, sometimes, there are little, little benefits here and there and so on and so forth. But the fact is, it has given me the opportunity to serve, it has given me a platform, it has made it possible for me to be part of those members of this society that could possibly shape the agenda of this society. A lot of people don’t have that platform and they are in millions.

What has being a journalist not done for you?

Of course, it has not made me rich (general laughter). In other professions, if I had risen to the level I am reputed to have reached, then I should be very rich and comfortable. But it has not done that. But that is also the very nature of the profes¬sion. If you are in this business for the right reason; not for the reason of exploitation and corruption, you are likely to experience what I’m talking about. But if you are in it as a platform to exploit, to extort and you have the capacity to do that, then you could, of course, make money. But then, the more of that you make, the less of the journalist you become. Because when you extort; if you extort from ABCD, those people would pass the word around to the members of their class that you did this, you did that. At the end of the day, it vitiates the respect accorded your name.

You’ve been in this profession now for decades, what would you say has sustained you?

The original thing – the sense of mission and the fact that I’m passionate about it. I don’t know what else I would have been doing. I’m not good at trading; I can’t really trade successfully. I love being in this pro¬fession; in the writing profession generally. So, I would say what has sustained me is the devotion and the passion for it and the fact that I love playing with words, I love trad¬ing in words, dealing in words. It’s an area I will say I have an innate capability and passion for. Now, that in itself sustains me. Sustains me in the sense that when I read a good thing, a good article, a good book, it gives me excitement.

Most people attain success in what they are doing but find it difficult to sustain it. Where do you think they get it wrong? Or where do you think they lose track? Especially in our own business…

Yeah, you see, if you believe your own PR. If you noticed, most of the places I go, colleagues say, ah, you are this, you are this, you are this… Now, if it gets into your head, it can derail you. What I’ve learnt is: Don’t believe everything people say. They just might be saying it to appear nice on one hand and two, encomium doesn’t pay house rent; it does not pay school fees. We need to also know that the fact that a man is praised, a lot of people are hailing you, is not the ultimate. In all that, keep your head down, remain humble and drink another cup, called a dose of reality. Always give yourself a reality check. Don’t get carried away and, sometimes, it is good for a man generally. Whether you are a journalist or not, to say to yourself: Where am I now? What have I achieved now? What have I done? Where have I missed the mark? How can I correct it? What’s my future like? And what are my prospects? What can I do now? Those questions we should always keep asking ourselves because it will help us to get better and it will help us to re-position ourselves. It is never late to re-position yourself, until you die…

What is the best way for a journalist to make money from the profession?

Do a damn good journalism and if the damn good journalism produces money, it helps. Now, the way it goes is this: Journal¬ism in itself is a business. If you are into publishing; publishing in itself is a business. But journalists, I have learnt, are not often good businessmen. Because we think that business is somehow beneath us. But it is the thing that drives the whole journalism enterprise. When we worked in Concord (Newspapers), we were more of journalists and we spent a disproportionate measure of time on the journalism side and then when we left Concord, we now said we would never work for another person. But if we ever did, we must be in charge. Not only of the journalism but of the business side. That’s what we basically did in The Sun…

(Interruption) – But you lost out at some point?

Of course, we lost out at some point because em… that is the aspect that brings back the fact that journalists are not always good businessmen. Because a businessman in our setting is not just knowing about how to do the business but knowing about the intricacies, the politics of it. So, you could say we won on the business side but we lost out on the political side; the politics and the intricacies of it. That is because of this society. In a different society, it probably would have been different. Well, thank God, the little shares we have, we still earn little, little dividends from it…

But really, do you have any regret about the way the whole thing ended up? Your exit from The Sun…

Naturally, there will be regrets because we didn’t exit the way we planned. So, naturally, there will be regrets. But you see, one lesson I learnt: Don’t sit in one place, mourning the past; move on with other things, re-position yourself. It takes us back to what I said before. It’s never late to re-position yourself and in any case, directly or indirectly, I’m still part of The Sun, I’m still part of the organisation. I’m a shareholder in the place; I’m the vice chairman of the place. So, in a way, yes, I’m still part of it. But in terms of whether we left the way we would had envisaged, no! We didn’t leave the way we would have envisaged and that in itself is regrettable. But having moved on, we don’t sit, looking at that and regretting. We are looking forward.

You have done a lot of interviews. Who would you like to interview but still haven’t been able to interview?

You see, who we like to interview depends on the theme because there are so many people in the world you would have liked to interview. But when we were doing a book on world editors; it’s a book we did, which is coming out this year. I hope it comes; the ship should have berthed. If they clear the book from the wharf, then it should come out this September we are entering. Now, when we were doing that book…

What’s the title of the book?

World Editors… Conversations With Global Editors on Media Trends and Best Practices. It’s a book we did for many years and it involves interviews with editors of global newspapers like The Times of London, New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times of London. Just name it! All over the world. Some from India, some from Canada, some from Spain, all over the world. It’s 50 of them. We wanted desper¬ately to interview Christiana Amanpour and then we went to CNN Atlanta and we met this our friend there; what’s his name? Jim. We asked and Jim Clanson said no, she’s in Washington or she’s in New York. I see her as the world’s No. I reporter. I would have liked to interview her.

Which is the most memorable story that you have done?

Ah, I wish I knew; I wish I knew. It’s dif¬ficult for me to pick, frankly.

Partnerships hardly work in Nigeria. But yours and that of Mr. Mike Awoyinfa has been able to last for decades. What will you say has sustained that relation¬ship, that partnership, that friendship?

The fundamental reason partnerships don’t work in Nigeria is greed. You see, when you are starting business with people, even that day you are starting, they have already plotted how to cheat you; they have already plotted how to take advantage of you. Partnerships work if there is the absence of greed. No. 1, if there is content¬ment. No. 2, if there is mutual self confi¬dence in each other. After all, what is part¬nership? In our own case, it’s a synergy of skills. There is something you have I don’t have; there is something I have you don’t have. So, we bring the two together and then we build a stronger capacity simply because we are leveraging on your strength and leveraging on my strength. There is a saying that success would come if you don’t mind who takes the credit. It’s also very im¬portant. If I’m doing partnership with you, a little time you say oh, I contributed this, I contributed that, you begin to audit all those elements; it doesn’t work. It requires a sense of sacrifice; it requires a sense of commit¬ment. What Mike and I do; we don’t do that. While I’m here now, Mike is in UK because his son is graduating (MBA) from one uni¬versity. So, he’s gone there. And something has just cropped up – I have an appointment for Thursday. Now, I’m going to do exactly that which he and I would have done. But I will do it as if it’s two of us that did it. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t there. You know, those are just the little, little elements and then you need to trust each other.

What don’t you like about Mr. Awoy¬infa, having been with him for a long time?

Well, I call him an iniquity man (general laughter) and he knows that. Every day I am chastising him. He moves around a lot; much more than I would have liked for him to do. I believe that a writer should be substantially monastic. You should not be a man about town all the time because writing is a difficult business. Again, you cannot change another man. You leave a man to be himself; you recognise who a man is and you deal with him in the way he is, not the way you would have liked him to be, which is a figment of your imagination. If you don’t agree with a man’s person, then go and fight with God who made him.

What do you like most about him?

He’s a simple, nice and honest man. He’s a very humble person. A man that is simple, a man that is trustworthy. He won’t lie to me, he won’t cheat and those are the things I like. And he’s a very creative person. Restless most of the time. But he’s very creative and with me, he has no ego issues. He has no ego problem and so, it makes it easy. There is nothing I can’t say to him. If it is wrong or bad, I would not look for a nice word to say it. I’d basically say it. He will understand that I am not saying it be¬cause I want to put him down but because, of course, I’ve made sacrifices for him. Enough to warrant the right to tell him off and I would say vice versa.

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What is your take on the coming of the social media?

It is the thing that has destroyed the con¬ventional media; it is the thing that created the paralysis that is in the conventional or the traditional media…

(Interruption) – So, what is the way out now?

Well, the way out is adaptation. We need to study it, we need to seek to adapt to it, to see the best that could be made out of it. It needs to be synthesised because the way it is, it is coming with the good, the bad and the ugly. There is so much mud, going on in the social media too. With that, what do we do? It is to sanitise it. To find a way of sani¬tising it; digging something good and leav¬ing those ones that are worthless. Because if you noticed, they said the school cert. result this year is the worst. There is one simple reason: If you remove social media, you remove digital television, you remove BB and Facebook and all that, twitter; all those members of the social media, if you remove them, then school cert. result will improve. Because students would then concentrate on reading. Originally, these things were not there and when a child is idle, he reads. Children don’t read any more because they are tweeting, they are doing Facebook and all that.

A lot of people read what you write, who are the people you read what they write?

Anyone that writes well. I like people that write with a sense of style. Of course, if you start mentioning names, you become a bit unfair. But it is just good enough to say I like people that write with a sense of analytical depth and present their argument with fairness. I don’t like people that are too partisan; write like writing is war, like they are fighting with the other side because me, I try not to write with anger, I try to balance the odds in different ways. So, if that be the case, I also like to read people that write that way and then, of course, I like a lot of foreign newspapers. I like the fact that they write with so much confidence and panache and style and the depth I find in their writ¬ings excite me too.

What makes a good publisher?

A good publisher? It’s a complicated question because publisher as a politician; if you are a politician and you are a publisher, I would advise you be detached. Get out, al¬low the professionals to do the job. A good publisher, therefore, as a politician, should be measured by the extent of detachment he’s capable of giving his professional staff, team members. But if you are a publisher, as an individual and you are a professional, then what would make you a good publisher is the nose for business. You need to under¬stand that what I’m publishing is a product. It’s not just a newspaper; it is also a product that somebody, a consumer wanna buy and I must offer the consumer what he wants in this product. So, you constantly keep asking yourself questions: Is there something in this that somebody out there wants to buy? If I have my money and I have to juggle it between different options, will I spend it buying this my product? If you have a product that you would not buy, why do you think another person would buy? So, it’s all about offering the right values to readers.

Away from work, what do you do for relaxation? What keeps you busy? What keeps you engaged?

Do I even relax? I’m too busy even in my idleness because being a pastor and being a writer, they are two jealous professions. Each is sucking at the other and there are too many people that want to see me, too many problems on the ground almost all the time. But if I do have time to relax, I like to read. I mean, the thing that gives me the greatest pleasure is to read a nice book.

Who is your favourite author?

Incidentally, I don’t deal with favou¬rite authors. But the kind of books I read, they are mostly business books, corporate biographies, political biographies, memoirs. Incidentally, Mike and I can travel… There are occasions we route our travels through UK because there are good bookshops there. I know there was a time we could have passed Dubai. We stopped because there is a bookshop there where we used to get good books. In looking for good books in these places, we always go to the media section. I can now tell you that the media section in most bookshops is small. Yeah! They are not big. And because we are looking for media books and memoirs of journalists, we like such books because it lets you see that what you are trying to do, people have done it a long time ago. So, the problem you are facing, somebody has faced it before. That’s the way it goes. So, I don’t deal with this person or that person is the best. For me, I’m eclectic in the way I read.

Culled from YES INTERNATIONAL Magazine.

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