Opening Remarks by Taiwo Obe Convener - Summit on Functional Social Networking for Journalists. Held on Thursday, 20 February, 2014 At the Amphitheatre, UBA plc, UBA House, 57 Marina, Lagos, Nigeria.
NIGERIAN JOURNALISM SHOULD NOT REMAIN THE SAME - AFTER TODAY
This is a very special occasion for many splendid reasons. This is an occasion for gratitude. To Almighty God: for the inspiration for this summit, and the vessels He provided for its realisation. Such as Yomi Omogbeja, editor of Athletics Africa, who doggedly persuaded me to stay the course, and the United Bank for Africa plc, for its sponsorship. Especial thanks to the management and staff of the bank’s Marketing and Corporate Relations Department, for their collaboration and co-operation to make this a success. To you, who dropped everything else to be here today; from Abeokuta, Ado-Ekiti, Abuja, Ibadan, Kaduna, London, Warsaw, Ikire , etc – and those following live via Twitter, a big THANK YOU. To my senior colleague and brother, Richard Ikiebe, director of the Centre for Leadership in Journalism of the School of Media and Communication, Pan Atlantic University, for his constant encouragement. Through him, the EverythingJournalism group on the professional network, LinkedIn.com, which I founded and have been managing since 29 January 2011, published, a year later, a book titled Travails of Next and Nigerian journalism in the digital age, based on a thread on the forum. Richard sends his best wishes from the United Kingdom, where he’s currently trying, as Marie Colvin, the award-winning American journalist who was killed almost two years ago in Syria, would have put it, “to find the truth in a sandstorm of propaganda” about the real footprints of Nigeria’s media leaders in the building of this nation where greatness still eludes us. Gratitude to our panelists, several of whom I am meeting for the first time today. This is also an occasion for home-coming. There are at least
three people here who were former UBA employees: Ogie Eboigbe, who turned 60 last week –happy birthday, Sir! – and Mrs Bunmi Akinkugbe, my friend from childhood. Both of them worked in this bank’s Corporate Affairs Department -- and worked the phones, putting kind words on my behalf to people connected with this bank as I sought its sponsorship. My sincere gratitude. And, there is: Anderson Uvie-Emegbo, one of our panelists, who between May 2008 and December 2009, was this bank’s pioneer Group Web strategist and Pioneer Head, Web Management and E-Media. He offers a background as to why UBA is sponsoring this event: “It is heart-warming,” he says, “that they are still one of the top three banks using social media as at today while its former Group Managing Director Mr Tony Elumelu is Nigeria’s leading business leader using social media.” We can’t agree less, but, of course, I know there is at least one other reason, which is Providential. But, we will get to that presently. This is an occasion for a reunion. I have a number of people here whom I haven’t seen or spoken to in a long while. In my email exchange with Sereba Agiobu-Kemmer, who writes on gardening for The Guardian, I told her that I had known her since I was a 20-yearold intern on the Evening Times, in the original Daily Times of Nigeria. She then was a features writer whom some of us wanted to write like. I am sure that some of you too have seen folk here who you’ve not seen or spoken to in some while. Perhaps you want to tell the person next to you: Welcome. This is an occasion for engagement, discussion and conversation. My former colleague, Tive Denedo, who is one of the people I would have reunited with today, but he is regrettably away in Delta
State, puts it more succinctly: “to engage, discuss and hold a conversation about the convergence of traditional and social media and how the experience and years of deployment of the former can help design a pathway of value for the latter. (And) there is a lot to explore and interrogate.” Permit me at this juncture to welcome Mr Kehinde Bamigbetan, my former colleague at MediaReview magazine, who is one local government chairman I know who uses the social media to enhance his function as chairman, Ejigbo Local Government in Lagos State. And, from the Lagos State Government is the Special Adviser to the State Governor on ICT, Mr Lateef Raji, and his able assistant, Mr Babatunde Ogundiran. I welcome and thank you for joining us in this crusade. Yes, this occasion is to launch a crusade. But before then, please, let me share two stories. I had sent via email a very long note to almost everyone here, as special invitation to this occasion. In the concluding paragraph of his response to my email, the Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief of Independent Communications Network, publishers of THE NEWS/ PM News¸ Mr Bayo Onanuga, stated: “My editors need this experience, beginning from my colleague, Mr. Ajibade, who has refused to join Twitter or Facebook.” Ajibade, to those who don’t know him, is the executive editor of The NEWS/PM News and the author of Jailed for Life: A Reporter’s Prison Notes. In response to that same note, Ajibade had simply stated that: “I will make it. Take care, my brother.” Then I pulled his tail. In my thank you note, I said: “And, when we finish the event, you will be on Twitter.”
The next email from Ajibade was a long one but not as long as my note. It was addressed to the THE NEWS/PM News editors and me. Please be patient and listen: “Dear All, When Facebook turned ten last Tuesday, I celebrated the milestone quietly with Mark Zuckerberg and the other four founders of their online social networking service. I respect and admire these people for inventing this life-changing technology when they were teenagers at Harvard University. I have used their glorious example, just in the same way that I have used the inspiring example of Evan Williams and the three other founders of Twitter, not to talk of Bill Gates, to plead, in lectures and symposia, that our country should create an enabling environment that will effortlessly produce the likes of these young people. Just two days ago when Satya Nadella became the new CEO of Microsoft, Mr Onanuga and I-at my prompting-still talked about how the Indians are beating us at this game, thanks to the secular and scientific vision of Jawaharlal Nehru. So, Taiwo, it is good that you and UBA are bringing us together to deliberate on how to use social networking services to enhance our jobs and our lives. But it will really gladden my heart if we all realise that as we consume other people’s inventions we should learn to create unique products that the rest of the world will celebrate and use for the betterment of humanity. Mindless and slavish consumers always irritate me. If I’m not obsessed with Twitter and Facebook and the latest mobile phones at the moment, this is my concern. See you at the conference.” Thankfully, Kunle Ajibade didn’t turn his back on us. He is here, today. But, hold on a moment and listen to my response: “Dear Kunle: I think the next crusade for me would be to get Nigerian
journalists to be less obsessed with government officials and do reporting that is people-centric. Because while we are busy waiting on politicians and corporate titans for whatnot, we miss out on the Seun Osewas of this world. (At the age of 23 in 2005, Seun Osewa created nairaland.com – which with almost 2 million registered users as at January 2014 – is ranked by Alexa.com, No. 7 out of 500 sites visited in Nigeria, following google.com, google.com.ng.,facebook. com, yahoo.com, youtube.com and blogspot.com, in that order. Twitter is No 8, while Vanguard.com is No. 10.) Have you heard of Emeka Azuka Okoye before? Forgive me, if you have. Perhaps you could also ask the person who covers your ICT. He probably does but what stops a magazine such as The News making such a person and his exploits the subject of a cover story? The Zukkys of this world got ‘covered’ by the TIMEs of this world. Not once, not twice. (I posted a link to the interview on webtrensng.com where Emeka Azuka Okoye talked about his exploits as an innovative software developer. Among others, he designed the first banking website in Nigeria with IBTC merchant bank at the launch in December 1996 of the Nigerian Equity Fund, and created the first internet banking app, which IBTC used for their online banking in 1997. In 1998, he co-founded Nigeria Exchange, ngex.com, one of Nigeria’s earliest web portals. Ngex.com was a one-point source of Nigerian news, forums, Nigerian-themed greeting cards, search engine, etc. His software company, called Netron Systems Limited, reportedly created the first local e-commerce platform, beating the likes of Solix Technologies to win the Xerox Nigeria e-commerce project. The project was supported by UPS, FSB bank and Valucard Nigeria Limited.
In 2010, he developed the ReVoDa mobile app, a solution whereby voters can use their cheap phones to generate reports that can be sent to a central location, where the data will be cleaned and turned to information, in a very simple format and manner. The app, a first in Africa, has been shown in Ghana, Liberia, Togo, UK, USA and Tunisia.” (Emeka Azuka Okoye: please take a bow.) And there are more of (Okoye’s) type in this country. You’ve heard of Jason Njoku, no? Google him, please, if not. Young men and women who are trying in their own way to make a difference to our essence but, of course, our media couldn’t be bothered. Shall we start that crusade together to get obsessed about them? Yes?” I believe that Ajibade and I agreed that to make progress, we must FIND solutions to our problems, one way or the other. Enough of the lamentations. This occasion is to help us find solutions. I talked about two stories. So, please be patient. The name, Tola Adenle, would sound familiar to some of us here. Faithful readers of the rested The Daily Sketch/The Sunday Sketch, The Comet on Sunday and The Nation on Sunday would remember the lady whose columns’ hallmark was SAYING IT AS IT IS. I grew up reading Tola Adenle – I am now in my fifties.... In 2011, Mrs Adenle, a “grandmother six times over and born in the age of dinosaurs” – she is actually 68 - began a journey of discovery. She started a blog, emotanafricana.com, as a repository for some materials from her rested magazine, Emotan, A Woman’s Magazine, which she had founded and edited in 1977, as well as some of the essays in her columns. In her words, she “set out to document in a modern medi-
um those of my old newspaper essays that I wanted to share with a new generation as well as provide an outlet for contributions that I would want to continue to make to political and social discourse not only in Nigeria but Africa and beyond.” In my long note, I had quoted former Vice President Atiku Abubakar as saying that ‘social media is where young people, the bulk of Nigeria’s population, gather to share their thoughts, often venting their frustrations with the inefficiencies of the country.’ So, no genuine professional can afford to not play there.” I am excited for Mrs Adenle, who did not feel intimidated by the new media, but was ready to learn and now stands as a proof that social media is NOT for only young people. As she allows in a recent post on the blog’s performance in 2013, “emotanafricana.com has achieved (its) goals, and perhaps more.” She once begged friends and family to check the blog, but, today, the blog attracts thousands of readers on its own, from over 120 countries around the world.” Please check in on emotanafricana.com, and help spread the word about it, so that the traffic, which sees Nigeria coming third – after the United States and the United Kingdom – can change, and she can also earn revenue from it, even as she says her days of running up and down is long past. It is Nigerians in the Diaspora that shot the traffic from USA and UK above Nigeria’s. She needs more readers from the base of her postings. By the way, one of the most read subjects on the blog, Yoruba aso oke, has spurred her on to start a book on the subject. To say it is as our own Aliko Dangote would: nothing is impossible. Or, as Barack Obama said in his remarks at the Nelson Mandela Memorial, it often “seems impossible until it is done.” I bet that there are a number of us in this amphitheatre, who I’d describe as “analog journalists” using the term my senior colleague,
Mohammed Haruna, used in his response to my long note, who need to be bold and go on a similar journey of discovery as Adenle did. I can assure you, there is fulfilment therein, including financial. You must have heard of a number of non-journalist bloggers, who are reaping bountifully from their initiatives. To journalists here, I say, don’t cede your turf. Quite many of us go about with two or more smart phones but do nothing meaningful with them. There are a number others who just need to raise the ante to make their engagements on the social media more rewarding. Time is money. I believe that some of our panelists would share some insights and ideas with you. After this occasion, I can assure you that I will also be on the look-out for, and share some helpful stuff: at least one reason why you should join the EverythingJournalism group, and going forward, follow The Journalism Clinic (@Clinic4Journos on Twitter to not miss other themes and schemes that we plan. We’ve now become family... kindred spirits. Which brings me to me that crusade. This is an occasion to declare a new direction for the Nigerian media industry: One of our participants, Mrs Ibiyemi Olufowobi, director of Network Operations of RayPower FM had in a Skype chat with me, wondered if this summit would not be tilted towards the print media. “Hope the resource persons will take the electronic media into consideration!” she noted. My swift response: “The major solution is get out of your comfort zone.” She didn’t wait for my longer response. I would have quoted Dave Carey, president of the Hearst Magazine, who, in 2011, challenged his staff: “Let’s dramatically dial up our entrepreneurial thinking. Let’s put a final stake in the heart of ‘playing it safe’. Let’s move out of our com-
fort zone. Let’s think of ourselves as inventors....” That clarion call, I can assure you, is paying huge dividends to Hearst. It’s all about technology, which has disrupted, and is still disrupting, the way the media business is being done around the world. Technology has levelled those barriers that we had always held so sacrosanct. I am the NIGERIA DIRECTOR of INNOVATION MEDIA CONSULTING, a global consultancy firm which works with media companies to innovate and embrace new digital platforms, and find bold new strategies as well as new revenue streams. Even as “All the News that’s Fit to Print” still appears on the masthead of the iconic The New York Times, on 14 February, it posted on its website, what it calls “our nine favourite videos on love.” Please search for VOWS of LOVE on the NYT website. One of the videos I watched was opened with a commercial. It’s instructive that the profile of NYT’s Twitter handle, @ nytimes (10million followers and counting) starts with “the conversation starts here....” So, we should begin to think less of whether we are a print or electronic medium, but more of creating content that will attract and engage audiences on all devices that technology has spurned. INNOVATION MEDIA is asking media companies to become INFORMATION ENGINES™ and transform by shifting from readers to audiences and from audiences to communities. The long and short of this, dear friends, is that we have to adapt and adopt or we become extinct. As Axel Springer’s CEO, Mathias Dopfner, says, “technological change with all its effects is irresistible. New electronic devices offer extensive opportunities for media companies to distribute their content. This development has only just started. There will be other devices – flatter, bendable and foldable – that can hardly be captured by our imagination today.” Let me quickly tell you a story. In 2010, at the 17th Ibero-America
summit, late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez railed on a former Spanish PM Jose Maria Aznar, calling him a racist. The King of Spain, Juan Carlos who was at the summit decided to give Chavez a royal tongue lashing. He leaned forward and told Chavez: “Will you shut up?” Of course, this made headline news worldwide. But, someone who was thinking creatively and knew what technology could do, decided to get a voice actor to mimic the king’s outburst and thus was born a ringtone, which, according to records, have been downloaded by an estimated 500,000 people. Imagine that this happened in Nigeria, at N100 per download, that would be N50 million to the operator, and shared 60-40, you can begin to figure out how the initiator could be “shutting up” a few people. In Spain, it generated a revenue of 1.5m euros. Mugs, T-shirts, etc were made from this single but powerful insult .As Fela would have sung it, “insult me and I would be rich.” OK, yes, you agree to begin to step out of your comfort zones, to change your mindsets, you might begin to think of where the funds would come from to elevate your infrastructure and to even hire, train, retrain and retain the right kind of people to help accomplish this – I say to our publishers, for instance, that it is not just enough to have online editors, but there is also need for computer programmers and the like on the team who speak in binary language, algorithms and so on. I share your thoughts. That is why I said, in the beginning, that it is Providential that this occasion is being held in the home of a financial intermediation behemoth, and one with a spirit of adding value to its communities. I believe that the media industry needs a juvenation in the form of a Special Intervention Fund. I believe that I have been able to
make a business case for this. I now want to follow up with a request to the Managing Director of UBA plc, Mr Phillips Oduoza, to help lead the way in the urgent consideration of this Fund; with special arrangement with the Bank of Industry, which has become an expert in managing such funds. This will help people such as my young journalist friend, Stanley Azuakola, who runs TheScoopNG, and writes satire even better than some of the best in the world, but needs good funding to do the business in a profitable way and with integrity. The UBA Group – and I want to include the UBA Foundation in this net – could also sponsor a creative show – like the Dragons’ Den - which will also be an entertainment platform, where people with ideas on media businesses can also pitch for funding. There could also be charitable media development funding initiatives such as the 10 million dollar support fund by ex New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. There are many possibilities for your kind consideration. What I am certain about is that you can make it possible. I am also certain that there are resourceful persons and specialists that I can rally together to work with you. In addition, Sir, I already have requests from various parts of Nigeria from our colleagues to do repeat performances of this summit in their places. So, let me also play Oliver Twist, and request that you kindly support regional versions of this summit. In the spirit of Federal Character. Ladies and gentlemen, this occasion, finally, is to provoke our thoughts well enough so that we can go out there and embrace the future without trepidation, and with a change-mindset. So I say it as Rafa Nadal would: Vamos! Vamos! Let’s go! Let’s go! My immense gratitude to you all.