50th Birthday Exclusive | Ex-PUNCH Strong Man, Azu Ishiekwene on what he learnt from his controversial exit from PUNCH Newspaper ….Sets to release his book + Why he resigned from LEADERSHIP Newspaper

Media Veteran, Azubuike Ishiekwene, Executive Consultant, LEADERSHIP Newspaper.
The Encounter….
Meeting famous columnist and ex-PUNCH
strong man, Azubuike Ishiekwene at
the departure wing of the Dr. Nnamdi
Azikiwe
International Airport,
Abuja, on Saturday February 7th was a total coincidence. I was at
the airport on my way out to Lagos after my 7 days tour of duty in the Federal
Capital Territory and after my strategic encounters with the likes of General Sam Momah, ex-two time minister
of Science and Technology, DAAR Communications
PLC’s GMD, Tony Akiotu; NURTW
national leader and President, Alhaji
(Dr.) Najeem
Usman Yasin, Abuja
based Dr. Nkem Momah and a number of
other dignitaries, I was relieved, at last, to leave Abuja and fly into base at
Lagos.

I was returning via an Aero
Contractor
Boeing 737-400 series jet and our flight exit time was for 10:45
am. My cab man had dropped me at the ever busy international wing of the
airport from where our flight was to take off at 9am dot and I was waiting at
the departure hall after going through the rituals of getting my boarding pass
and going through security checks alongside other travelers.

However, I never knew a big fish like
the former PUNCH and LEADERSHIP strong man was also travelling out of Abuja to
Lagos. He was going via Arik Air and
I think his take off time was some minutes after 11am or thereabout. So, how
did I jam the pen star? I was busy with my Saturday papers of Thisday, The Sun, Punch and The Nation while waiting for the
boarding announcement. After some 20 minutes I decided to move round the already
crowded departure hall to feed my eyes with activities in the hall. It was
there and then I ran into him, surfing one of his smart phones at another end
of the hall. That was my first time of meeting him face-to-face and it was
equally the first time I do had the honor of exchanging pleasantries with him.
It was good I did and equally handed him my complimentary card. But just as I walked
away to feed my eyes with sight of beautiful faces and places of business
stocked within the departure hall of the airport, something in me struck  with a re-awakening verve “That is a celebrity
you are missing”. Like a mad man, I quickly rushed back to him. He was on phone
this time around; I waited patiently as he rounded up. I quickly announced my
intention to him. I told him why I need him to talk to my blog, Asabeafrika and as if I charmed him
altogether, the media great beckoned on me to sit beside him. He took one more
call on his classy phone and by the time he was hanging up my midget was
already pointing at his mouth like a robber trying to extract submission from
his victim.
He didn’t mind as we sank into an
impactful 25 minutes chat which was halted by the announcement of my flight to
Lagos on the airport loud speaker.
Azu to Asabeafrika….’Between being a columnist and being an editor, Journalism is the bigger jacket’

The
Resume…..

Apart from the fact that Azubuike Ishiekwene clocked 50 today February 19; he is one Nigerian newsman with more than enough
credentials at his beck and call. Until a scandal threw him into a wider
national consciousness in 2010 after spending 24 years at The Punch Newspaper which he joined in 1986, Azu could be described as a silent operating giant of the media who
minds his business and let his work speak more for him than his personality.  Born on February 19, 1965; Azu holds a
masters degree in Public Administration
and International Affairs from University of Lagos and a Bsc in Mass Communications from same institution.
Ishiekwene (or Azu as he is fondly addressed) is a member of the Nigerian Union of Journalist (NUJ) and
an Associate Member of the World Association of Newspapers.
He was born in Port Harcourt, Rivers state (South-South Nigeria) to Mr. and Mrs. Roberts Ishiekwene of Ndokwa West Local
Government in Delta State; he attended Christ
The King
Primary School, Ajegunle, Lagos (1972-1978): Gaskiya College, Cardoso, Ijora Badiya in Lagos (1978/79-1983) for
school certificate; Jibril Martins Kuye
Memorial Grammar School, Iponri, Lagos (1983-1985) for Higher School
Certificate. University of Lagos (Mass Communication) from 1985 to 1988 and
University of Lagos (Masters in Public and International Affairs) from 2003 to
2005. All these institutions are in the South Western Parts of Nigeria.
Azu joined PUNCH in 1989 (after serving as an intern in 1986) and
has at various times been staff reporter, investigative reporter, features
writer, senior features writer, deputy features editor and deputy editor of Top life magazine (A Punch publication).
He was also a member of The Punch
editorial board, and Editor of Saturday
Punch
between 1996 and 2001. He was editor of the company’s flagship paper
and daily title, The Punch, between
2002 and 2006 when he was appointed Executive Director, Publications, with
direct oversight functions for the company’s three titles—Sunday Punch, Saturday Punch
and The Punch. He has won many
awards, including the Babatunde Jose
prize for journalism
1988, the DAME
Award
for informed commentary 1993, 2001, 2004 and again in 2006; and
Editor of the Year, NMMA 2006.
Azuh was equally editor, UNILAG
Sun
(A publication of the University of Lagos Mass Communications
Department); winner, Babatunde Jose
Prize for best Print graduating student; serial winner of the Diamond Awards
for Media Excellence (DAME) for Best Informed Commentary; Editor of the Year
Award by the Nigerian Media Merit Award;
Columnist of the Year by the Nigerian
Media Merit Award;
Outstanding Alumnus Award, Department of Mass
Communication, University of Lagos, 2008.

Azu Ishiekwene to Asabeafrika….’My transition from PUNCH to LEADERSHIP was the toughest challenge in my career’
The former GMD, LEADERSHIP Newspaper
is also a member of the World Editors
Forum
, a board member of the World
Policy Journal
(A platform of the World Policy institute), and a former
Chairman of the judging panel for the CNN/Multi Choice African Journalist of
the Year Award. He is the Author of the Trial
of Nuhu Ribadu;
A riveting story of Nigeria’s anti-corruption war.
Azubuike
Ishiekwene
lectures part-time at the
Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NUJ)
He is also a board member of the Global Editors Network since creation in April
2011.
He was equally a former Chairman of
the Editorial Board of LEADERSHIP Newspapers.
Welcome to the world of our brand new
celebrity on your soar away Africa’s number 1 Celebrity encounter blog Asabeafrika. Enjoy the excerpts.
Seeing you today at the international
wing of the Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja is such a great
privilege. Recently you resigned from your new duty post as the Group Managing
Director of LEADERSHIP Newspaper, what really informed your decision to leave
in January 2015?
Thank
you. I signed a three years contract with LEADERSHIP in January 2011 and that
contract expired in January 2014. I resigned formally on January 31st
2015, so you can see that I mutually agreed with the publisher to extend my
contract for one year; that is how it is.
But there were allegations that the
management wanted you to renew the contract and your publisher even highlighted
it in the report announcing your resignation?
That
is correct but at the time I signed the contract I have spent over twenty-four
and a half years as a journalist; that was in 2011. In any case before the
contract was signed up in 2011 I have consulted for LEADERSHIP for three months
between October and December 2010. So,
I had some ideas in what I wanted to do and it was time to move to that level
and this was mutually discussed and amicably agreed between the publisher and me.
But in my capacity as the executive consultant for LEADERSHIP, I am still
engaged informally with the company. 

“It was a time when people thought
they could exploit what was purely professional judgment on my heart and all
kinds of interests wanted to hijack it but like I said ‘truth ultimately
prevails over falsehood’

Azu with the GDA at the departure hall of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja

So, what is the brief of an executive
consultant because the title sounds alien to the ears of professionals?

No,
it is not alien. Back then in The Guardian, Andy Aporogwu is probably one of the most famous executive
consultants I can immediately think of. So, it is not new. He was of course
executive consultant for The Guardian. But in terms of the
contents, it simply means from time to time when the company requires it; I
will make my professional services available. So, my professional services will
still be at the disposal of the company from time to time; that is basically
what it means.
Sir, when you came on board as the
executive director, publication and later GMD, it was generally noticed that
the LEADERSHIP brand came alive with new features that endeared the Lagos
readers to it, what exactly did you do to bring about that change?
Well,
whatever I have done (to re-brand LEADERSHIP) I did not do alone. I have
enjoyed the tremendous goodwill and support of the publisher and of the
editorial and non-editorial staff members with whom I have worked in the last
four years at LEADERSHIP. But of course, like I said, before I joined
LEADERSHIP from The Punch, I have
worked for about twenty four and a half years at The Punch and I had a bit
of goodwill which I brought to the table and with the encouragement and support
and team-work of other persons that I met and of course including the chairman
himself, we had to do some things quickly and part of those things that
impacted the Lagos market was of course, content. We had to look again at the
content and see how we can re-set the content to reflect the Lagos market as
you know the Lagos market is highly competitive and a discerning market. So, we
had to work on the content in such a way that the paper will reflect the taste
and preferences of that market. Because as you also know, it is the biggest
advertising market as well; that we had to do and we were also able to get the facility
to set up a press here in Abuja. And we entered into an exchange printing
agreement with The Vanguard (Press) which ensured that the paper got out earlier,
we also had other partners with whom we work to ensure that the brand became
more visible and also that the content became more relevant and useful to
consumers. 

“I didn’t have an experience in PUNCH
that I am ashamed of or that I want to put behind for any reason. As I said, I
have done this (Journalism) for close to twenty eight years and the experience
I have garnered at work, among friends, at home make the entire frame work of
my existence”.

Azubuike Ishiekwene with Asabeafrika’s Gbenga Dan Asabe after the encounter

What is the difference between being
a columnist and being an editor? I am sure you have served in both capacities
in the last 28 years?

(Laughs
wryly) Well, a columnist is somebody who inflicts his or her opinion on the
public I guess but an editor is the person who is responsible for the entire
content of the newspaper and as you know a column is just one small aspect of
the entire newspaper. The newspaper contains news, views and so forth. But a
column is just the opinion of the writer.
Which one gives you the best thrill,
column writing or editing?
Well,
I don’t think I have given too much thought to that, especially in a world of
twenty-four-seven news flow when you are constantly engaged with the consumers
of the news; where you are constantly interested in gathering information, you
are updating, you are sharing your views. So, the news has become a virtual and
a continuous unending cycle. So, it is difficult for me to specifically state
which one gives me the best kick. We are just engaged almost twenty-four-seven
with the news. All I can say is that I enjoy journalism; I enjoy journalism as
a profession.
The media is supposed to be a public
trust where everyone is expected to be able to put forward his or her opinion but
what we see today is that managers of news like your humble self seems to
prefer giving the opportunity to air views to the highest bidder. As a veteran
of this profession, do you think that is a threat to the respect imbued in the
media as a public trust?
Well,
Gbenga, I don’t know weather I am a veteran.
(Cuts in) But you are with over two
decade experience?
I
am afraid I don’t agree entirely that news has become elitist. On the contrary
I think that the news space has become democratized. It is also now more
accessible especially because of the wide spread access and availability of the
new media. There is always a platform for everyone depending on your taste or
preference. If you still love your news paper, that is the classic or legacy
press or traditional press you can go for it but there are those who still
consume the news outside of that space, even the traditional press has extended
itself online and there are bloggers like you. I think the avenues for news
consumption has become more democratized and widely spread and I think it is a
good thing for society. 

“Looking back at the entire scenario
I think it was a change for which I am most grateful to God because it has made
me better, it has made me stronger, it has made me deeper; it has extended my
network base from my understanding of the country”. 

There is this raging perception that
sooner than later paid journalism will go into extinct and practitioners will
survive by the feat on the new media. Do you share the fear as a news manager?
I
do not. I believe that both are complimentary and will continue to be
complimentary. It is really up to the managers to take advantage of the new
media and serve consumers with relevant news, with news that provide content,
with news that they can use. So, I think that they are more complimentary than
competing.
Azuh Ishiekwene to Asabeafrika…..’Hardwork & Integrity is the currency of success in journalism’

Can you tell me the most challenging
moment in the trajectory of your career?

Oh,
I guess the most challenging time was my exit from PUNCH and when I had t move from Lagos and my family and my base
where I have been for over twenty-four and a half years to virtually explore a
new frontier in Abuja. But every challenge has embedded in it the seed of its
own success. So, that was a quite challenging moment in my career but I am
grateful to God and to those who have supported me over the years. I think it
has been a journey for which I can only thank God but really, that transition
was a very difficult one.
But how did you handle the scandal
then, there was a lot of  crazy
allegations made against you by your colleague Steve Ayorinde, how were you
able to manage the whole scandal and still remain strong? I mean to some people,
it was like the denigration of the esteem associated with the media, so what
did that experience do to you as the victim?
Well,
truth prevails over falsehood, it doesn’t matter how long it takes but if you
are in the crucible, it can be extremely difficult. But ultimately truth prevails
and I think it is the understanding of that fact, the grace and patience to
understand it that carried me through. I mean life is full of ups and downs and
challenges but as they say ‘when the going gets tough, the tough gets going’
and ‘it is the hot water that gets the best out of the tea bag’. You may not
fully understand it when you are going through certain experiences in life but
as they say ‘it shall come to pass’ and when it comes to pass then you look
back on it and you will have a whole lot to be thankful for. It was a time when
people thought they could exploit what was purely professional judgment on my
heart and all kinds of interests wanted to hijack it but like I said ‘truth
ultimately prevails over falsehood’.
But looking back at the whole
scenario and how it played out leading to your exit from PUNCH a place that
seems to have discovered and groomed you, would you have ever thought of
leaving the establishment considering your role at the time as one of the
directors at the top?
I
would have had to go; I mean, would I have also loved to leave LEADERSHIP? I
mean there is a time when you have to go and before all of that, I have been
contemplating. The moment you cross the twenty-year bar, if you are a true
professional, you must begin to think of what to do. So, I was already thinking
about what to do then before I eventually left PUNCH. And it should be clear
that I resigned on my own volition because I felt that was the best thing to
do. Looking back at the entire scenario I think it was a change for which I am
most grateful to God because it has made me better, it has made me stronger, it
has made me deeper; it has extended my network base from my understanding of
the country. 

Azu
Ishiekwene to Asabeafrika…’I really dont think the news space has
become elitist in nature. Instead, it has become highly democratised’
Have you seen Mr. Steve Ayorinde
since then?
No,
I have no personal…Steve and I, are …. I mean, he is a younger colleague. So,
there is no bad blood.
What I am asking from you is that
have you seen him after the 2010 crisis?
Oh!
Many times!
You have reconciled?
Long
ago, long before now, we have since moved on.
Are you thinking of writing a memoir
against that particular episode of your life?
I
may come to that but I think the first step for me is to aggregate what I have
written over the years. I want to put all what I have written over the years in
a book form and I guess your memoir is often what you write towards the end. I
think that there is still some ways to go.
(Cuts in) But how do you know the end
is come?
No,
by the end I mean….of course when you are moving towards the end of your
profession.  I still consider myself very
active; I believe the best is yet to come. So, if I am to write my memoir now
it will probably be an incomplete one. 

Media Veteran, Azubuike Ishiekwene, Executive Consultant, LEADERSHIP Newspaper.
You mean it will be an incomplete
memoir at your age in the profession?
It
will be an incomplete one because I believe the best is yet to come.
If you are to find yourself
addressing a thousand young journalists in a ball room what is going to be your
chief message to them as a media CEO of over two decades?
Hard
works pays, hard work pays. That is just the point. I know that there are lots
of people who are impatient now, understandably, but hard work pays. And I will
also add that hard work and maintaining your integrity, these are two values
that I have found extremely useful and being kind to people you meet along the
way because you never know where your path will cross again. That is what I
will say.
Tell us a bit about your wife and how
do you compensate her for all the off-home moments as a busy Media CEO? Is your
wife equally a journalist?
No,
my wife is not a journalist; she is a business woman. Her name is Ufoma
Ishiekwene
. She has been a pillar of support to me with the entire
family, it was difficult for her to come to the point that I will have to move
from Lagos to Abuja, I didn’t move with my family and we have been together for
so many years but she has been extremely understanding and supportive. And we
have enjoyed the company of each other and enjoyed the grace of God
tremendously in our marriage. I guess that is it.

Azubuike Ishiekwene….’I am not the first media person in Nigeria to become an ‘Executive Consultant’
What is the secret of success in
marriage?
I
have been married for over twenty years and I will tell you that one of the
secrets of a successful marriage is understanding; having a large heart, a
heart of forgiveness and supporting each other all the way without giving
license to a third or second party interference.
Are any of your children taking after
you in this profession?
No.
Well, two of them have a flair for writing but one is an engineer.
Between the two work-lives in PUNCH
and LEADERSHIP, which one would you say is the best of all? I mean which one
gave you more in terms of success returns?
It
is difficult to classify experiences in that way because in life, experiences
tend to re-enforce themselves. So, which experience was good, which experience
was bad? It is how you react to the experiences and what you take out of them
to improve your life that matters.  It is
not necessary to me weather one experience is better than the other.
So, you have put the PUNCH experience
behind?
I
didn’t have an experience in PUNCH that I am ashamed of or that I want to put
behind for any reason. As I said, I have done this (Journalism) for close to
twenty eight years and the experience I have garnered at work, among friends,
at home make the entire frame work of my existence. So, it is not experience in
one area of life and all of these things like I said add up; somehow depending
on how you apply them to make you a better person.

Mr. Ishiekwene to Asabeafrika….’We rebranded LEADERSHIP by re-setting the content’
When are we expecting the book that
intends to aggregate your opinions in the last two decade plus?
That
should be within the next one year. It is just basically going to be a
compilation of my works over the past twenty years.
Who is your role model?
Well
I have many, as you grow in life, depending on what stage of life you are, you
have people whom you look up to. Not that some are more important than the
others but it depend really on where you are. I have a few of them like Chief Ajibola Ogunshola the former
Chairman of PUNCH Newspaper, Prince Julius Adelusi Adeluyi, the
founder of JULI Pharmacy is also a
role model. Dr. Olatunji Dare, Pastor Sam Adeyemi of Daystar. There are so many of them
because it depends on which area of your life they are influencing at a time.
Thanks for opening up to Asabeafrika
Thank
you so much Gbenga.