Legendary Nigerian newspaper reporter and media manager extraordinaire AremoSegunOsoba has paid homage to his late friend Dr. Alex Ibru, founder of The Guardian, Dr. Alex Ibru for his foresight in “recognizing a good investment when he saw it.”
“I hold that the wide latitude of freedom given to the editorial and business managers by Ibru greatly contributed to the credibility of The Guardian and subsequently its success,” Osoba said. “His strategy of not allowing the family business to affect the image of The Guardian was also helpful.”
Osoba’s tribute forms part of the foreword he wrote to a new book, THE MAKING OF THE NIGERIAN FLAGSHIP—A Story of The Guardian written by two ex-Guardian staffers Aaron Ukodie and O’seun Ogunseitan. In saluting the visionary leadership of Alex Ibru, Osoba also commended the co-authors for putting together such a historic book. According to the newspaper icon and two-time governor of Ogun State, the book “is the continuation of a growing culture of documenting our national memories.” He continues: “I maintain that individual and institutional memoirs are necessary for deepening our understanding of ourselves, our societies, our organisations, our histories, and our future. It is when we successfully interrogate our journeys in life that we can renew our values, and jettison unproductive practices in our journey. With this work, something good has started in documenting an important chapter in media history; it should be sustained by continuing The Guardian story. What better way to do that than to set 2023/2024 as the next date for The Guardian story at 40.”
Osoba urged the Nigerian media and corporate organisations to document their own stories for posterity, saying: “How delightful it would be to read of the exploits of similar organisations in our country within and outside the media!”
From Osoba’s account, “the vision for The Guardian started in 1977 one evening, at Alex Ibru’s house on Louis Solomon Close, overlooking the waterfront. There, we sat, reflecting on the state of Nigerian journalism.
“Having been friends with Alex Ibru for a long time; having been a newspaperman all my working life, I had discussed the idea of starting a joint newspaper with him. For him, it made good business sense to add a media portfolio to the increasing business lines of the Ibru family, ably piloted then by their patriarch, Chief Michael Ibru.
“Alex bought into it right away, even if Chief Ibru was more cautious. The idea was to have a quality, private commercial newspaper that would regularly break the news, command ardent following, and draw advert patronage as was the case with the Daily Times before its acquisition by the Federal Government in 1975.
“Having been an active participant in the glory days of the Times, I knew such an independent, well-funded newspaper would prove successful. We had a name for it—The Voice—which we promptly registered as we began to do more work on its feasibility.
“The discussion started shortly before I left my job as the general manager of the state-owned Herald newspaper. The discussion continued after. When our project had not taken off, I accepted the challenge to manage the Sketch, another state-owned newspaper. Thereafter, Alex also began discussing with Dele Cole and Stanley Macebuh. Our initial idea was modified. They planned a quality broadsheet newspaper that would be strong on news and bold in expressing well-reasoned opinions on issues in the news.
“The plan was for me to manage the enterprise after my tour of duty at the Sketch, so I was involved in all the major negotiations regarding equipment and staffing. Indeed, I recommended Lade Bonuola for the editorship of the paper, having been acquainted with his work at the Daily Times when I was the deputy editor of the Sunday Times. I could vouch for his intellectual depth and technical proficiency as a newspaperman. In fact, the printing of The Guardian was done at the Sketch Press in Ibadan with the permission of the state governor-owners of Sketch until the time that The Guardian Press could take off.
“My managing The Guardian, however, was not to be. The change in government in 1984 led to my appointment as the Managing Director of the Daily Times of Nigeria. Knowing that I was a product of the Daily Times school of journalism, I had embraced the historic opportunity to reposition the organisation which I had left, first on secondment to the Herald in 1975 with mixed feelings, and finally in 1978, when I ended my adventure at the Herald.
“For two years, Alex held on that I would take the job of Managing Director of The Guardian. It was only after that the vacant position was filled. What this book celebrates is the evolution of the birthing of The Guardian idea to its germination into a formidable force as a paper of record and influence in its first decade of arrival. Whilst The Guardian is 38 years old as a newspaper this year (2021), the account here is on the first ten years, that is, 1983-1993. It focuses on an important decade in Nigerian history, a period of the collapse of civil rule, the return of military rule, and the short-lived civil rule. In a sense, it provides a rich perspective on our national history and how a news medium responded to it. It is the story of a dream that birthed other dreams; the coming together of Nigerians from diverse origins to actualise their dreams of being part of a big experiment to document and share perspectives on the Nigerian story. That experiment is so successful that today, the products of The Guardian school of journalism can be found among the directing minds of Nigerian journalism, the same way that products of the Daily Times directed the media until the turn of the century.”
The authors similarly share their experience: “For this book, we carried out at least 19 interviews with many of the key personalities of the era; some of them via telephone, particularly for those currently living outside Nigeria. We had free access to The Guardian library, from where we got several useful materials.”
The book is dedicated to ex-Guardian journalists like “Krees Imodibie and Tayo Awotusin, who died in the Liberian fratricidal civil war in 1990. And Dr. Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo, one of Nigeria’s indefatigable reporters, who died, in 2017, at the age of 57, when his sun was still rising. To Dr. Stanley Macebuh, who dreamt of having a newspaper which would rank in the top five in the English-speaking world; and, to Mr. Alex Uruemu Ibru, whose enterprise, and benevolence led to the creation of a phenomenal newspaper.”