Title: FAME: Untold Story Of Its Rise And Fall
Author: Femi Akintunde-Johnson (FAJ)
Publisher: Basic Skills Academy, Lagos. 2021
Pages: 369 (digital version)
Reviewer: Kayode Adebiyi
FAME: Untold Story Of Its Rise And Fall is a retrospective and evocative account of an explosive tabloid, which took the media industry by storm in the early ‘90s, as told by one of its three founders, Femi Akintunde-Johnson.
Those who understand how the entertainment and lifestyle sub-culture of the Nigerian press was set up and structured in the ‘90s will remember the author of this book; a highly professional, intuitive, creative and relentless journalist, so full of ideas, and an eagerness to test them, that he rose from an unpaid intern to the newsroom authority at none other than The Punch newspaper within just two years!
FAJ and his two friends, Olakunle Sikiru Bakare (or Kunle Bakare) and Isiaka Mayowa Akinpelu (or Mayor Akinpelu), founded FAME on a conviction that the time was ripe for an authoritative tabloid capable of giving all those glossy and glamorous foreign tabloids a run for their money – they didn’t want it to play in the local league! And although, their collective credentials were never in doubt as to their ability to run a newspaper, the huge investment in ambition made colleagues predict to FAJ, Kunle and Mayor that FAME would not last six months.
When the prediction failed and FAME actually ran for six years, the same naysayers became optimists and were surprised to see the paper interred within six years.
In the introductory part of the book, FAJ explained his reluctance to give an account of why FAME rose to prominence among Nigerian tabloids within a short period of time and fell even more spectacularly six years after its first publication. For over a quarter of a century, he had been unwilling to answer the biggest questions people asked him: “What happened to FAME? Why did you guys allow that beautiful project to die?” FAME: Untold Story Of Its Rise And Fall is, therefore, according to the author, his “truth and closure”.
In the first chapter of 17, First Contact: The Genesis, the author started off by narrating how he met his eventual partners. Kunle was the first he met after a press conference. The attraction was in their both being outliers. For instance, FAJ thought he was the only one who didn’t wait for ‘keske’ (a term for the ritualistic inducement handed journalists after an event for favourable coverage), until he met Kunle.
The author’s meeting with the other guy in the group, Mayor, was through Kunle. If the meeting with Kunle was by attraction, the one with Mayor was with caution and mutual suspicion.
Second chapter – Reminisces – saw the author set the record straight on two mysteries, which defined the entertainment industry at the time. First was the origin of the term ‘Elegant Stallion’ in reference to music legend, Onyeka Onwenu and then how popular Nollywood star, Richard Mofe-Damijo came to be known as ‘RMD’.
There were also lessons in integrity and professionalism, told with reference to FAJ’s first encounter with then up-and-coming Shina Peters.
For a story reluctantly told, one would readily observe the author’s significant display of recollection of time and place, and almost everything in between. Apart from giving an account of the birth and demise of FAME, the book also almost chronologically highlighted the rise to prominence of FAJ himself, as a journalist of repute in the entertainment and lifestyle genre.
From Chapter Three, Punching Ahead Of Climax, the book flowed down to capturing the author’s test of loyalty and ability to negotiate. From being poached by Climax magazine from The Punch to assuming higher responsibilities and recognition (while keeping the dream of FAME very much alive), the author dropped some of the biggest names in journalism at that time (many still around now)… Sunny Obazu-Ojeagbase, Dele Momodu, Moji Danisa, Ehi Braimah, Mumuni Alao, Al Humphery, and Yetunde Fosudo were some of the names, which shaped the gradual build up to the central idea of the book.
Some of the interesting features of the book are the inherent messages and lessons embedded in its narrative. For instance, FAJ had given his word to two of his former colleagues – Tony and Joshua – at The Punch that they would join him at FAME. He couldn’t keep that promise. “For Tony,” he wrote, “We planned to upgrade the production process of the new magazine – we were one of the first to computerise pre-press functions – and therefore, there would be no room for a paste-up artist, however gifted.”
The ambition to get FAME afloat got bumpy and the three friends almost gave up their dream before help came from an unusual source. Again, there were more lessons: this time about naivety, managing expectations and not getting carried away. Naivety and desperation were particular flaws, which proved to be costly at the end. For instance, when their sponsor decided to jack up his investment from less than N2m to N3.5m, in exchange for a 55 per cent stake in the company (against 40 per cent initially offered), the friends jumped at the offer.
When the signs of impending cracks, and eventual collapse, started showing over the partners’ foundational failure to clearly define their partnership, the author wrote that he was forewarned.
Much of the later chapters were dedicated to the famous FAME sojourn; the successes, intrigues, power play, financial tussles and underground moves, with archival photos.
Without the insensitivity of jumping into a conclusion, having not heard the accounts of the other co-founders of FAME, the magazine was a brainchild of three ambitious and brilliant friends, and its interment could also be traced to the naivety, desperation and internal strife of its founders. “…A compendium of facts, figures and failings that can translate into winnable lessons for some; an opportunity for others to apply themselves more successfully in building businesses.”
Truth changes, but fact doesn’t. This book, FAME: Untold Story Of Its Rise And Fall, will be tested against changing truths and constant facts in the years to come. But its richness, depth, lessons and messages are testament to the wealth and gift of its famous author.