Tope Adeboboye; Cosmas Omegoh; Tessy Igonmu; Job Osazuwa
In the beginning, there was no newspaper in Nigeria called The Sun. Those behind The Sun, therefore, saw a void. They thought to themselves: “How do we create a distinct newspaper with impact, one that would serve the Nigerian reading audience long starved of human angle stories? How can we bring into existence a newspaper that would bring something new, something different and refreshing to the newsstands – a newspaper that will stand out from the rest of the crowd in the Nigerian newspaper community?”
At that time, for the ordinary man in the streets, making the headlines of any newspaper was a myth. And if ever he did, it was a feat. Thus, everyone longed for a newspaper they could identify with, a newspaper that would stand in the gap, speaking for them and standing by them – a newspaper they would own.
Then in 2003, the answer came. No doubt, having seemingly listened to the inner yearnings of the people, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, former governor of Abia State, agreeing with the need for a distinct and popular newspaper, came to the rescue. He got Mr. Mike Awoyinfa, pioneer managing director/editor-in-chief and the late Mr. Dimgba Igwe, pioneer deputy managing director/deputy editor-in-chief, for the project, with the view to changing the face of Nigerian journalism. Thus rose The Sun from the crowded media firmament, spreading its bright, illuminating rays far and wide, piercing every heart, setting communities aglow and ultimately giving the Nigerian literate community a rare reading experience they had been missing for ages.
From that point, the narrative changed. On January 18, 2003, The Sun blasted out from the clouds, breaking existing barriers, melting resistant yokes, and throwing up enormous bright opportunities at thirsty Nigerians to begin to savour succinct, human-interest stories they never believed were real, let alone happened. It was simply revolutionary; it was transforming.
It took things distinct to change that old-order journalism hitherto known to many Nigerians. It took grit; it took professionalism; it took diligence to jettison what people were used to and create something unique.
On what they did with The Sun, Awoyinfa said: “The key to winning in this business is differentiation and branding. We knew we couldn’t come into this marketplace and be like any other Nigerian newspaper. We wanted a product that was very different, that was out of this country – a product that would look like a foreign tabloid, like The Sun of London.
“So, The Sun is just a triumph of marketing. It’s a triumph of knowledge, and above all, it was just God’s handiwork. God said, this product must succeed in the market.”
Breathing life into the concept
Of course, one thing is to have a vision and a roadmap; another is to breathe the fresh breath into them. It was at this juncture that those behind The Sun set out on the road to sourcing quality talents whose hands would be placed on deck. They launched their radar to get an editor who was conversant with the core tabloid tradition. And the man chosen as founding editor was Mr. Femi Adesina, who later became the newspaper’s managing director. He is currently the Special Adviser, Media and Publicity to President Muhammadu Buhari. They also got the current Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief of The Sun Publishing Limited, Mr. Eric Osagie, who headed the Abuja bureau as editor. They recruited from This Day Mr. Steve Nwosu and Louis Odion, who edited the Saturday and Sunday editions of the newspaper respectively. They got Mr. Tony Onyima, who headed the operations at first, before rising to become managing director/editor-in-chief.
Speaking on the role he played at the formative stage of The Sun, Adesina said: “In the beginning, there was a vision. The vision came from the publisher and the two pioneer directors – Mike Awoyinfa, the pioneer managing director, and Dimgba Igwe, pioneer deputy managing director. Once they transmuted the vision to me, my own duty was to turn that vision to reality, along with the journalists that I recruited. Our duty was to make the vision a reality because the vision was novel in the Nigerian market. We did that, and then the market accepted it.”
First edition, a bombshell
Having assembled a crack team of reporters and editors, the company hit the ground running. Before the first edition, the newspaper had to produce a prototype with ace actor, Richard Mofe Damijo on the cover: “How I rushed my wife.” That was the story. Awoyinfa says: “The idea was just to fool the competitors. So, when the competitors saw it, they said: ‘so, if this is all they can do, ‘How I rushed my wife,’ then we have nothing to worry about. But we knew we really needed to shake the market like an earthquake.”
An opportunity to get an earth-shaking interview, for the first edition of The Sun came when Awoyinfa and Igwe found themselves on the entourage of Dr. Kalu, during his visit, as Abia governor, to ex-military president, General Ibahrim Babangida. They got a good interview with Babangida.
The first edition of The Sun on Saturday made a gargantuan impact. It was well received. People saw it as a newspaper like no other. Many hadn’t seen such publication anywhere before. So they went for it. Everywhere one went, people were reading The Sun like they read their Bibles and Korans. It was amazing.
First edition sold nearly 100 per cent
Mr. Damola Lajumoke, the company’s General Manager, Operations who was then manager, Sales and Distribution, revealed that The Sun recorded over 99 per cent sales in its maiden edition.
He said out of the 20, 000 copies that were printed, only three copies were returned as unsold, describing the feat as phenomenal. He attributed the remarkable success to the grace of God, not undermining the versatile professionals in various departments of the company who brought their wealth of experience to bear.
He said: ”The Sun was simply lucky right from the inception. From my own experience and findings, there is no newspaper in Nigeria that has recorded such a feat. Some would start with 3, 000 copies, yet vendors would return 2, 000 copies as unsold. But God so much blessed The Sun with every resource, and there was no option than to succeed.”
The distribution wonder
They started with a distribution network that made it possible that the newspaper was everywhere across the country. Tony Onyima was the man, who, working with the distribution team, evolved a model akin to that deployed by top courier businesses.
Onyima said: “We were also lucky to have two fantastic guys in the sales and distribution department, Mr. Damola Lajumoke and the late Perry Ukaegwu. Perry had vast and rich knowledge of the North; so we sat down and created the hub distribution system – designating some cities as our hub, from where we would redistribute.
“We were lucky that we believed in ourselves. We took off with 32 brand-new vehicles; that had never been done before in the history of newspapering in Nigeria. We distributed the vehicles to the hubs. So, Lagos was feeding the hub, and the hub was feeding the outer stations.
“It was not rocket science. There was no magic. It was just that the courage to invest in that plan was there. First of all, we had the grace to sit down and do such template. Then there was the courage and conviction to invest in it. And after we took off and it became a success, other newspapers started trying to do it.”
From weekly to daily
With earthshaking stories turned in by excited and ready-to-work reporters, The Sun soon had its feet on the throttle pedal. Week in week out, its managers reached informed conclusion that the paper could go daily. At first, it seemed daunting. However, when the newspaper went daily in June 2003, its fortunes continued to grow.
Steve Nwosu, deputy managing director/deputy editor-in-chief, believes there is something divine about the Sun, which has kept shining for 15 unbroken years.
“In addition to the God-factor, another thing that helped the newspaper to break into the market was the niche. We identified a need in the market – the hunger of the Nigerian newspaper readers for real human interest stories. We met the need and the readers rewarded us,” he said.
How The Sun won patronage
As the newspaper maintained its steady climb up on the success ladder, it gained fuller and more forceful attention of the business community. It was at the point that a Business Development unit was created to market its exciting titles, with Mrs. Neta Nwosu at the helms.
Speaking on the journey so far, Mrs. Nwosu who has attained the position of General Manager, Marketing and Corporate Services, described The Sun as fruitful.
“In the past 15 years, we have been able to build a reputation as the most influential, fastest and highest selling newspaper in the country. And within this time, all our titles: Daily Sun, Saturday Sun, Sunday Sun, and Sporting Sun, have been well-received by the advertising community for which we are appreciative. We can never forget the clients that have kept faith with us.”
Exciting stories, interviews
Eric Osagie, the current managing director and editor-in-chief, was the newspaper’s pioneer editor in Abuja. He said in an interview: “As the sitting Managing Director supervising this The [email protected], I must give kudos to the visionary publisher, Dr Orji Kalu; my predecessors, Mr. Awoyinfa ; Tony Onyima, who did his best and consolidated on the achievements of Awoyinfa and his deputy, Igwe and Femi Adesina, who also played a significant part as the paper’s pioneer editor and third managing director. They all did their best as it were.
“I have been the managing director for close to three years now, ostensibly at the most difficult times in the economy of our country. With courage and determination, and support of management and staff, we are marching on.”
Osagie has been credited with getting most of the big interviews that defined the essential The Sun in those early days. A consummate interviewer for whom no question is too satanic to ask, Osagie got many controversial personalities to talk to the newspaper, and the editions were sold-out. His big interviews with Ibrahim Babangida, Muhammadu Buhari, Shehu Shagari, Victor Malu, Mohammed Abacha, TY Danjuma, Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, Victor Malu, Ahmed Sani Yarima and others made the newspaper a household name among millions of Nigerians.
The tabloid culture
Current editor, Daily Sun, Mr. Onuoha Ukeh, said The Sun caused a revolution in the newspaper industry. According to him, tabloidism, which some people saw as low market initially, became the corner stone of the country’s newspaper industry.
He said: “When The Sun came, some people said tabloid was low market. The mischievous ones even said it was junk. But The Sun, with its novel tabloid genre, changed the face of Nigeria’s newspaper industry.
“If you noticed, owing to the success of The Sun, other newspaper started adopting the tabloid tradition.
“Check out Nigeria’s newspapers today. They have tilted towards tabloid in content and design. Now most newspaper promo headlines only on front page and run the stories inside. They have screaming headlines. That was not the tradition before. Credit must go to The Sun for bringing about the tabloidisation of Nigerian newspapers.”
After some years of tabloid journalism, The Sun found it expedient to have a blend with conventional genre. Therefore, there was a slight shift, which saw The Sun transforing from “King of Tabloids” to “Voice of the Nation.” With the shift, The Sun successfully serves the interest of those who love human interest stories and the corporate world. Now, the interest of the business community is fully served, as such sections as Banking & Finance, Property Mart, Tech & Gadgets for the information/technology, Maritime, Aviation, Agric business, Motoring, Oil & Gas, etc prominently feature in The Sun.