Azuh Arinze’s name became synonymous with Encomium Magazine where he worked for about two decades, and was an editor of the magazine for over half of the period. Now, the Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of YES INTERNATIONAL!, one of the leading soft sell journals, in this interview, he talks about how he has been able to have a career in journalism among other sundry issues. Excerpts…
Can you tell us about how you came into journalism?
Yeah! The truth is I never wanted to be a journalist. My fascination has always tilted towards Law. But somehow, I found myself in journalism and so far, no regrets. Journalism has been so good to me, I must confess. I think I was lured first into journalism by one Mr. Azuka Jebose-Molokwu, then entertainment writer with The Punch. But Mr. Femi Akintunde-Johnson (FAJ) who took over from him held me down and Mr. Kunle Bakare brought out the ‘Michael Jackson’ in me. I know this might interest you – all my life, I’ve never applied for any job. I only went to then FAME Weekly to do my I.T; I met Mr. FAJ who said I could start after looking at the letter I brought from my school (OSISATECH Polytechnic, Enugu). The first 5 stories I wrote as an I.T student were on the cover of the magazine and that was how I was offered automatic employment by Mr. Bakare. I think I can still remember some of the stories. The first one was ‘Ezeife, former Anambra governor carries N500,000 in car booth’. He came to buy land in Ajah then, near my house and I unearthed the story. The second one was ‘10 most beautiful houses in Lekki’ then and their owners and the third one, how former NDLEA boss, Musa Bamayi raided Lagos socialite, Alesh’s hotel and so on. And see where we are today.
You are one of the finest writers in the soft-sell genre, and also in the habit of conducting celebrity interviews. What are your work ethics?
Thanks! Like we say in Nigeria, na God. But on a serious note, to conduct good interviews or to write well, you have to constantly read. I am always reading. I’m also always learning. My daughter, Nmesoma was telling me the other day: ‘Daddy is always reading, reading…’ And I took time to explain the benefits of reading to her. Readers are leaders. Those who read will continue to lead those who don’t. The more you read, the more you know. On the interviews I conduct for my column, YES! DIALOGUE in YES INTERNATIONAL!, they are always painstakingly done and transcribed by me. I conduct and transcribe my interviews myself. I learnt that from my oga, Mr. KB. And before I go for any interview, first, I read up on the person, then draw up my questions, prepare well, get there on time and so on. Conducting interviews is serious business – which is why you can always tell the good ones from the bad ones. In conducting interviews, when you ask stupid questions, you get stupid answers and when you ask intelligent questions, you get intelligent answers. I’m still learning, I’m not an expert yet. As a person, I enjoy reading fantastic interviews, I also enjoy conducting fantastic interviews.
YES INTERNATIONAL! will be 3 on Thursday, June 19, 2014. What is happening that day?
How time flies! As usual, we shall be having a lecture/cocktail to commemorate it. The venue is NIIA, Kofo Abayomi Street, Victoria Island, Lagos and the kick off time is 11am. Our Guest Speaker this year is Mr. Bismarck Rewane, a renowned economist and MD, Financial Derivatives Company Limited; the Guest of Honour is Barrister Taiwo Adeoluowa, Secretary to the Ogun State Government and the Chairman is advertising great, Sir Steve Omojafor, Chairman of Zenith Bank Plc. Gbenga Adeyinka, the ace comedian will be the anchor while Wellu-Wellu crooner, Sammie Okposo will be on the band stand. There will be other high points like the unveiling of YES CLASSICS! – our annual publication which parades the best of YES INTERNATIONAL! for that year. It’s a collector’s item which no one should leave the venue without picking a copy of.
How do you normally arrive at the choice of your speakers?
First is God and second, the board, management and staff of YES INTERNATIONAL! We always try to go for the best in different fields. The maiden edition had Mr. Udeme Ufot, an advertising top shot and MD of S0 & U Advertising; the second one had Dr. Leo Stan Ekeh, owner of Zinox Computers and I.T guru and this year, we are having Mr. Bismarck Rewane, a renowned economist. Next year will also present another interesting and respected speaker whom only God knows for now (Laughs). But the three key things we normally consider are impact, relevance and integrity.
YES INTERNATIONAL! has not done badly at 3. What will you attribute the success to?
It’s God! All the glory goes to God. However, if I’m permitted to expand the list, I will include our readers – for patronizing us every fortnight; our advertisers – for their unquantifiable support and our staffers – for their unflinching loyalty and dedication. But above everything else is God. Because without Him, we would have amounted to nothing. So, all glory, like I said earlier on, goes to Him.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m Azuh Arinze, which you already know. I’m in my early 40s. A native of Azia in Ihiala LGA of Anambra State. Happily married to Nkoli and we are blessed with two children, Nmesomachukwu and Nekenechukwu. My first degree is in Mass Communication and the second one, Public Administration. I’m the MD/CEO of Honours Communications Limited as well as the Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of YES INTERNATIONAL! magazine. Before that, I was the Editor of Encomium Weekly and Reel Stars magazine. I enjoy reading, writing and singing. I love touching and changing lives. I belong to some reputable bodies and clubs – Order of the Knights of Saint Mulumba, Rotary Club, AES Excellence Club, Nigerian Guild of Editors, etc. I also play ambassadorial roles for FRSC, NDLEA and Lagos State Ministry of the Environment. That’s me or rather those or the ones I can remember.
Why did you resign as the Editor of Encomium Weekly?
I will go straight to the point – because it was about time. I edited Encomium Weekly for almost 10 years and after that I felt I needed a new challenge. It may also interest you to know that I remain the longest serving Editor of the paper – and the legacies I left there are still very, very visible. My two predecessors, their tenure combined, is not up to 10 years. I worked for Mr. Kunle Bakare for 17 years; 10, out of which I was his Editor. Again, I didn’t want to become a sit-tight Editor. I felt that having done about two terms, I should give way to others to also show what they can do.
Currently, what is your relationship with your former boss and mentor, Mr. Kunle Bakare like?
Point of correction – Mr. Kunle Bakare is still my boss and my oga at the top. My relationship with him is fantastic and will continue to remain so. As a matter of fact, I never get tired of saying this – all I have for Mr. Bakare is appreciation. Do you know what it means to entrust a young man of 26 with the editorship of your paper? Like I always say, I will be eternally grateful to him. I also thank God that when I clocked 40, he attended the surprise birthday party my wife organized for me, with this sweet wife, Madam Desola, where he said I didn’t do anything wrong and that he was only emotional about my exit because of his likeness for me. I truly thank and appreciate him.
What exactly prompted YES INTERNATIONAL! magazine?
First, the desire to do a magazine that will be the first choice of readers and advertisers and second, the strong desire to do a magazine that will make the day of the readers in terms of the quality of stories, interviews, tips, quotes, ideas and coverage of events we publish. I wanted a magazine that form page 1 to the last, you can’t put it down; a magazine that will be error-free; a generally good and interesting magazine and if you ask me, I think every fortnight, we have done that. A credible, interesting, different and error-free magazine.
So far, how would you describe the journey?
Sweet and sour. Sweet, because you cannot mention the top 5 soft sell journals in the country today without mentioning YES INTERNATIONAL! Sweet, because in the past three years, there’s no fortnight that we’ve missed being on the stands and also sweet because in the past three years, we’ve never owed salaries in spite of the difficult business terrain that we operate in. Of course, we have the Almighty God and our dedicated staff, readers and advertisers to thank for that. It’s not by my power or my might. Then, sour; it’s sour because only few people advertise now, only few people also buy papers now. Thus, revenue from those two major sources continue to decline and depreciate; but we pray and continue to pray that it gets better. More people now read their stories online and that is why you can also read us now online. Just log onto www.yesinternationalmagazine.com and you will see how good we are also doing there.