By Christian Agadibe
The grandfather of all newspapers in Nigeria, Daily Times, is preparing to mark its 100th anniversary. The epochal event will be used to celebrate former managing directors and editors who had at one time or the other been at the helm of the paper, which is clearly a repository of Nigeria’s political and social history.
In the run up to the forthcoming event, Chief Executive of Folio Holdings, Dr. Fidelis Anosike, whose company acquired Daily Times Newspaper in 2004, sat down for a chat on activities to honour heroes of the newspaper as part of activities designed to mark the100th anniversary of the newspaper company. The astute media entrepreneur, who founded Folio Communications Limited at 24, reflects on his journey into the media industry.
You have come a long way from setting up Folio Communications at 24. How did it all start?
I will say that I started life rather early. I got into the university drawing portraits, so I am a graphic and creative artist. I graduated from the University of Benin. I still tell people that the creative industry is not just my passion, it is my job. I also did loads of self-development. I got enrolled at Harvard Business School for the Owner President Management course (OPM 39). So, to that extent I am a Harvard alumnus, and being at Harvard made me understand how to run businesses properly.
Yes, at 24, I established Folio Communications in 1991, which went on to acquire Daily Times of Nigeria, the oldest surviving newspaper and noteworthy media organization in Nigeria. Since then, I have been trying to see the much I can do with the resources available to me, both access to capital and knowledge, to expand the frontiers. Besides the media, I also have investments in other areas such as water resources and renewable energy, and I am also financing some global companies on major research on mobility and renewable energy space.
Regarding how I was able to set up a company at 24, I think it’s important for us as human beings to pray for God to give us consciousness. You can get consciousness at 10, you can get consciousness at 30, and you can get consciousness at 70. I think I was lucky to get consciousness early and more importantly, an opportunity. There is an uncle of mine who worked with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). He introduced me to the Head of Communication at the bank, a certain Mr. Bolarinwa of blessed memory, and one Mr. Amobi. They allowed me to bid for CBN creative jobs. At that time, if they wanted to make Christmas or Sallah cards, or something like that, they would make the bid open and whoever won the design contest would be commissioned to do the work. I won on three occasions, and the price for each was N14,500. With that, I was able to get my office, and went on to create an ecosystem of my friends that studied graphics. Whenever a company needed design services, we all made design submissions and as fate often had it, one of us always won. Together we won on many occasions and got contracts from institutions like First Bank, NNPC and CBN.
That was how I was able to build up capital to go into the communication business. I created a standard for myself and my friends and became a relationship manager for them because they were all on paid jobs. Whoever made a design that was successful shared the proceeds with others. It was a case of all for one and one for all. We designed, restructured and produced all the diaries of NNPC for two years running through open and competitive bid process. We introduced Nigerian idioms into those diaries rather than white labeled ones from FT and so on, which gave it local content. This is because we felt that we should promote our own country. I am full Nigerian. I am proud of my ethnicity as an Igbo man, but this is Nigeria, our country. None of us chose to be here, but we are here all the same, and we must make our country work.
How did you get involved with Daily Times?
In 2004, Daily Times was put up for sale. Before then, they had tried to sell the shares through public offer via the stock exchange. But it failed, so BPE resorted to Core Investor Sale which refers to a situation where whoever buys it, takes full management control. Folio Communications was already a thriving communication company, and we felt that we needed a media voice and had to create a media company. Long before then, I was already involved in some creative work for ThisDay, and that was how I met Chief Dele Momodu. I had a lot of background knowledge. I reasoned that if I had to make my dream known, I needed a media voice. Therefore, I entered the bid as the singular company involved, others were consultants and consortia. We were pre-qualified, and made a deposit of $10,000 and put in our technical bid. We were number one. We actually scored 81 per cent. The terrain was known to me. I learnt under Dele Momodu and Nduka Obaigbena; these are men who are far ahead of their time.
I’m sure that until Dele celebrated his 60th birthday, people may have thought he was 90, same as Nduka. They are my pillars, including Okagbue Aduba. About how I was able to understand Nigeria and how it works, I connected with their energy which was infectious. At that point I already had $1 million for the bid bond. This is a security for your integrity, and so no bank will lend you money for a bid bond. You can only finance it with equity. It is money you lose if at the end of the day, you did not pay the bid price. Daily Times Bid Bond then was N100 million. Like I said, they had tried selling it via shares, hoping that people will buy and someone will acquire the majority share, but nobody came in. This was because the media industry in Nigeria is not bankable; it has not been restructured so it doesn’t have capital flowing into it. We bid and attracted N1.25 billion into the media industry as far back as 2004. Our first bid was, I think N327 million. Our competitor, bid N800million in their first bid. That was N500 million above us. But we knew the bid was in two rounds. Our second-round bid was N1.25 billion, while our competitor’s second round bid was N1.05 billion, so we won.
When we bought and took over Daily Times, its liability was N1.9 billion. The assets were N2.3 billion. The enterprise value was N700 million or slightly above that. We bought Daily Times at almost twice the price the government was hoping to get. It is on record, and I was about 35 years old then. Nobody would have given an ‘Igbo boy’ a chance to buy Daily Times. I am a testimony that things can work in Nigeria if you believe. I had no godfather, only by faith and audacity of hope.
The Folio Media Group (FMG) has come a long way. Today, it has access to the technology space and we are also doing consolidated media offering to clients. The Folio Investment and Trading Company (FITC) is an investment company focused on media, creative and cultural industry investment and innovation. We also have as part of the group, Folio Media and Creative Academy (FMCA), which is working in tandem with relevant authorities to train journalists and creative industry practitioners. The aim is to train 50,000 in those key fields in five years.
Does the Creative African eXchange perform the same function?
No, that is done by Folio Media and creative Academy. The Creative African eXchange is part of the Folio Media Group. It is part of the initiative we are trying to use to consolidate the continental space of the creative and cultural industry.
What attracted you to the Daily Times and what has been your experience running the company?
Daily Times has huge pedigree. The company was created by Adeyemo Alakija and the London Mirror Group. It went on to have Dr. Ernest Ikoli, Alhaji Babatunde Jose, Amb. Dele Cole, Aremu Segun Osoba, Chief Tunji Oseni, Prince Tony Momoh, Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi, Chief Innocent Oparadike, Dr. Onyema Ugochukwu and Chief Sam Amuka Pemu, among others. The Daily Times was the biggest mouthpiece in the country. At one time, Alhaji Jose was asked if he would run for president, and he said he was already chairman of Daily Times.
That was how big the Daily Times was. It was indeed the fourth estate of the realm. Because I did appreciate the enormity of what I took upon my shoulder when I took it over, the commercial problems arising from property didn’t weigh me down. I am not a property person, the only personal property I own in Abuja was bought with my money. No government or minister can claim to have given me any land.
When we took over Daily Times, there were about 400 staff in the company. Money from the government was not coming anymore, so we had to restructure. We had to downsize, and fought with the union for two years. During the fight, the business was closed down. Then Hallmark Bank, which loaned us the money, took over the company. We didn’t recover the company through legal means until September 2007. So, I acquired the company in 2004, it was hijacked by Hallmark Bank. Everyone was interested in the assets, but no one was thinking about the liabilities. We had to go to court. There was this man, Mr Adrian Wood, one time CEO at MTN who joined us at Folio Communications. His mandate was to revive Daily Times, and put it on the same pedestal as the New York Times. He employed people from all walks of life; both Nigerians and other Africans to make it a model. We knew that without a dominant and strong media organization in Nigeria, the issues of national development will fail. That is why in America they have Fox, CNN, etc., based on their ideological beliefs, and tied to politics.
Without a strong media, there will be fragmentation, and that explains why the masses don’t have a voice. We wanted to make Daily Times what it used to be. Thereafter, all sorts of people started taking us to court. All these people came from third parties because Folio acquired Daily Times alone. In the typical Nigerian context, everything is contentious, not to talk of when you acquire a national asset. We adapted to many things, in the course of all these. We have continued to push. The first Times Heroes Awards [email protected] in 2017 was massively supported. We interacted with many governors in the process. See what Nyesom Wike of Rivers State is doing today. We are proud of him. We saw the character the man brought with him to the office from day one, and gave him an award. We gave award to people like Yahaya Bello of Kogi State. You know, sometimes you have to encourage people with potential or you lose them.
Why did you retain the name Daily Times after acquiring it? Is it because of its influence?
No, it is not because of the influence. Daily Times owns the largest archives. It is 95 years now, and will be 100 years in five years. How many media companies in Nigeria are 100 years old? Daily Times is beyond a newspaper company. It was here before Nigeria. It created the Nigeria Stock Exchange. It has produced two or three state governors. It is a national development company.
Daily Times will mark 100 years in five years. You have lined up events to mark the anniversary. Can you tell us about that?
Yes, in the run up to our 100th anniversary, we have created an event to celebrate icons of Daily Times – our heroes; Times Heroes. The first one that we have designed is for Ambassador Dele Cole. We are hoping to do these in their states of origin. He created the legacy of The Guardian and revived the legacy of Daily Times, and when the government was becoming overbearing, he created a new legacy at The Guardian. Ambassador Cole’s event will be held in Port Harcourt. It will be a two-day event. On day one, we are going to train about 500 journalists in the area. On day two, there will be a proper lecture where the likes of Dr. Mrs Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Dr Adewunmi Adeshina and other distinguished scholars and technocrats of Nigerian origin will be invited as keynote speakers. There is nothing like making impact in your home state. We have lined up about 15 of our former heroes. We don’t want to keep celebrating people when they are dead; we want to celebrate them while they are alive, and learn something from them. We will talk about national development and the role the media play.
Secondly, we are developing a book, which Dr. Onyema Ugochukwu will co-edit with Chief Tunji Okegbola, DTN librarian of over 40 years, to be launched at our 100th celebration. We are also planning for the First Onyema Ugochukwu Lecture, which will hold on November 9, 2021. We will celebrate Ernest Ikoli, the first ever indigenous and founding editor of the Daily Times. We are also looking at celebrating Alhaji Babatunde Jose, Aremu Segun Osoba, Dr Yemi Ogunbiyi, Chief Sam Amuka-Pemu, Mrs Grace Oyelude – first Miss Nigeria, Prince Tony Momoh, among others. Our goal between now and the next five years, is to institute a minimum of 10 lectures. Each of them will be in respective home states of the icon, most of them and their governors have accepted. Indeed, they are all excited about it. We will send a letter to Governor Wike believing he will be gracious enough to accept and host the 1st Amb Patrick Dele Cole lecture.