Alaska Ekele is the Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of Ndokwa Vanguard. In this interview with Duke Etiyemonu and Nelson Ochem he explains his sojourn into media practice.
May we meet you?
I am Alaska Ekele, Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of Ndokwa Vanguard Newspaper. Apart from publishing Ndokwa Vanguard I am also the author of 30 Prime Movers in Ogume, Image Makers in Ndokwa, History and Culture of Ogume Clan (1440AD to the Present Day), Ndokwa Torch Bearers, 40 Years of Ogume Grammar School (1975-2015): A Legacy of Academic Excellence and Modern English Idiom for Academics and Professionals (unpublished).
I belong to four professional bodies viz: Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) as Associate Registered Practitioner in Advertising, arpa and Associate Chartered Institute of Administration, ACIA.I am the immediate past National Assistant General Secretary, Association of Nigerian Authors, ANA and the the current President, South South Writers Union. At present I am the Financial Secretary, Association of Community Newspaper Publishers of Nigeria, Delta State
How did you get involved into media practice?
It was my handwriting that brought me into this field.
It all started in February 1993 when I visited Vanguard Newspapers in their corporate headquarters at Kirikiri Canal, Apapa, Lagos. I filled a form requesting to see the then Advert Manager, Mr. Chuddy Oduenyi. When he saw the form I filled, he was so impressed with my handwriting to the point that he ushered me into his office immediately. At his office another drama played out. He didn’t believe that I was the one that filled the form. He asked me repeatedly, “were you the one that filled this form?”, and I answered in affirmative. To make assurance doubly sure, he gave me another form to fill and I did that which impressed him the more. He simply exclaimed “this is intelligent writing.”
The next thing he did was to ask his secretary to invite one lady in Editorial Department, Chidinma Ibegbu to his office. While we were waiting for Chidinma Ibegbu to come the Advert Manager offered me a bottle of soft drink and asked me to feel comfortable. When Mrs. Ibegbu entered the office, he quickly asked her to take me to her office and give me orientation because I was going to work with her. I did not go through the rigours of writing application letter or given employment form to fill. That was how I joined Vanguard Newspaper. I was assisting Chidinma Ibegbu on her page called “Home Front” which featured every Friday. Later I was given a column titled: “Me & My Work”which featured every Saturday. A year later, I was moved to Special Projects Department and later to Advert Department as Advert Executive.
Why did you leave Vanguard Newspapers?
I did not leave Vanguard Newspapers. I only stepped aside. In 2005, I stepped aside to nurture Ndokwa Vanguard in order to give my people a voice. I am still a member of Vanguard family
How do you mean?
Apart from producing my newspaper, I was made a consultant on Advert matters and to coordinate advert for the company in Ndokwa and its environ.
How has it been since you started Ndokwa Vanguard?
To the glory of God we are about 13 years in the business and I can tell you that it is a rough road to travel. At a point, I almost gave up because the reading culture of Ndokwa is relatively very low.
It is worthy of note that I rejected a juicy offer because I want to give my people a voice. Barely a year after starting Ndokwa Vanguard, one of my clients, late Chief Bright Ugwoegbu, the CEO of Boussalle Group Limited invited me to his office at Apapa, Lagos. He said “Alaska you are quite enterprising but your people are not helping you enough. I want to establish you. I want to open a press for you in my community Isunjaba in Imo state. You will manage it. I will pay five million naira into your account, give you an official car and driver and pay the running cost of the press for one year. It will be a community newspaper which I intend calling “Isu News” but we will blend with news around Imo and other states.”It was an irresistible offer. I thanked him enough for recognising my potentials but that I was sorry to disappoint him because my mission was to give my people a voice and to add her to the comity of ethnic nationality with a community newspaper. While leaving his office that faithful day, he said, “I love you. You are a man; a man that can take personal decision. I wish you the best in your endeavour! Unfortunately, this Chief died on May 29, 2013. What a wicked world!
Apart from Chief Ugwoegbu was there any other person in or outside Ndokwa that has given you any form of assistance?
The answer to this question is multi-dimensional. First, nobody has offered to establish me. I am the only person sourcing the fund to finance the business. Again, all the people contributing by way of selling the paper, writing either news stories, features, advert materials etc, are contibuting to the success of the business.
How are you getting fund to finance the business?
It is survival for the fittest. Newspaper business is highly capital intensive. If not that I was determined and have a passion for it, I would have have since quit the business. The business is not self-sustaining because of low patronage in terms of advert. You know, no newspaper can survive without adverts flowing. I use whatever I am making from Vanguard, writing testimonial, certificates for schools, sale of books etc, to finance it. Once a while, I get adverts that sustain it. If you check our publications you will appreciate us with the quality we are bringing out to the reading public. Our publications matches international standard. Inspite of the biting economic crises plaguing the nation, especially the hike in price of commodities, we have not made an upward review of our cover price because we want the low income earners to continue to buy. Even at N200 cover price most people still complain. Majority tell us that instead of buying Ndokwa Vanguard at N200 per copy, they would prefer to buy a bottle of beer at any price. There are the ones that like to buy the paper on credit.
You write testimonial, Certificates for schools?
Yes off course! Most school owners in Lagos that have seen my writing appreciated me by giving me the job of designing their testimonials and certificates for a fee. This is one thing you cannot take from me. I have very good handwriting!
What are the challenges you are facing in the business?
My Bible tells me that money answereth all things. If there is no cash-flow, there will be limit to what you can do. Most people see us as a reproach. When we go to them to place advert for their social engagements like obituary, marriage ceremony, birthday etc, which will be documented and serve as a reference material in years to come, they will say they don’t have money. But the first thing that readily come to their mind is which musician to engage. They will pay consultancy fee to the musician, engage him or her for an agreed fee, make provisions for food and drinks and keep aside equal amount of the engagement fee or more to spray the same musician. His family, friends and well wishers compete to know who sprayed more to the cheering of other guests. If they want to listen to our request at all they may be asking you to accept paltry sum, reminding you that times are hard. Many find it difficult to part with N200 for a coy of Ndokwa Vanguard yet they can buy bottle o beer, musical compact disc etc for any amount.
Apart from placing adverts in Ndokwa Vanguard, some of them that had cause to place advert in Vanguard or any other media organisation don’t think towards my direction even when they know that I can deliver.
To use a professional in whatever you do is not the same thing as using quacks. As a professional, I owe my clients duty of care and offer professional advice and can make-good. They don’t need to see me one on one because they can ask me to place advert for them in any known media. Everything can be done electronically. They can send materials to me through text message, Whatsapp or e-mail and payment can be done through e-banking.
I will use the opportunity to mention that in the course of doing this business, I have come across notable figures in the society. Many of them have assisted me in one way or the other. They have confidence in me and have used me to place adverts and commercials for them in other national papers, radio and television.
Without the minimum delay, let me quickly appreciate two notable figures in Utagba Uno – Barrister C.I. Egwuenu and Admiral MCO Onah. Apart from financial assistance to us, Barrister Egwuenu has been helping in making sure that our publications are read by every Ndokwa son or daughter. He buys 100 copies from us and give to every Ndokwa man that come his way free of charge. In similar vein, Admiral Onah has continued to offer philanthropic gesture to us and made us his media partner/consultant. High Chief Johnson Opone the President General of Ndokwa Neku Union, NNU is another great philanthropist. Any time they have need to go to the press they remember their son Alaska Ekele who is in that field. God will continue to bless them.
Apart from financial challenges which you stated earlier, was there any striking moment that made you bite your finger in the course of doing this business?
I have no regrets in life. Every situation I pass through in life whether good or sour are bound to occur to give me thick skin. The moment I begin to reflect over disappointments I may have reached the culminating point in my life. Otherwise I wouldn’t have been relating well with many people. Take for instance, somebody I helped in many ways before and after I started my publication who decided to enrich a non Ndokwa person. The same person said for the good I was doing for him he was going to buy me a brand new car in lieu of the money he was suppose to pay me. Till date, neither the car nor the money came and I am very happy even when he has made the non Ndokwa person a house and car owner in Lagos. I still relate well with him. If I were some people I will declare media war on him. The experience is enough for me to write a book. He remains my brother and the Bible says we should be our brothers keeper. The same Bible tells me that I should not put my trust in men because the hands of man shall fail me.
How about bringing up business idea and at the maturity stage of the business the person tells you to go and mind your business except you want to apply for the business you initiated and executed. Heaven did not fall. I still relate well with him because I see him as my brother. In life, what is not your own can never be your own. It is only God that has a perfect gift and lift someone from grass to grace.
How has your publication impacted own the people?
To the glory of God, Ndokwa Vanguard has remained a source of accurate news reporting, features and so on. With our publications we have been able to avert intra and inter communal wars in many Ndokwa communities. Through our Community Social Responsibility, CSR, we have given practical training to Mass Communication students from all the tertiary institutions in and around Delta State. Our your men an women have been legally hooked through our “Ndokwa Vanguard Queen.” Ndokwa Vanguard is a source of research material and have served as a bridge builder, I have created employment with the publication. Above all, it has added Ndokwa nation among the league of ethnic nationalities with community newspaper.
Are you hoping to quit the business some day?
Winners don’t quit and quitters don’t win. The primary purpose of establishing Ndokwa Vanguard which is to give them a voice and to let them know that it is possible has been achieved. We have trained scholars in this business and they should be able to brace up the challenger. No condition is permanent. Therefore, at the appointed time, I will step aside.
What advice do you have for the people?
My candid advice is that our people should develop objective mind. They should seek information because information is power. In 1787, Thomas Jefferson wrote from Paris to Edward Carrington, whom Jefferson sent as a delegate to the Continental Congress on the importance of a free press to keep government in check. He concluded that if he had to choose between “a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.
We need to prove the saying that “if you want to hide anything from Ndokwa man you put it in writing”, wrong.