– The Sun News

The Eric Osagie interview: The Sun blasted out with mission to redefine journalism

• Resilience, team spirit, exclusive stories our cutting edge

Cosmas Omegoh

The Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief of The Sun Publishing Ltd, Mr Eric Osagie, has reflected on the humble beginning of the paper 15 years after it shot its first set of rays, and its subsequent phenomenal rise to the top. He also highlights the key elements that launched and sustained it in the top flight.

In this encounter, Osagie pays deserving tribute to all stakeholders who have contributed assiduously to the paper’s success, predicting that The Sun is an institution that will outlive its founders.

Publishing for 15 unbroken years a milestone       

For The Sun, hitting 15 is a milestone. It is so because a lot of papers in Nigeria never survived the infancy stage. Some came and died at one, some at two years.

To have published a newspaper in Nigeria for 15 unbroken years is no mean feat, given the slippery newspaper terrain in Nigeria. For The Sun to have survived these years tells a lot about its resilience.

We give kudos to our publisher, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, a good publisher, who has done everything possible to ensure that he provided the leadership and direction for the paper. Kudos must also go to the pioneer managing director, Mr. Mike Awoyinfa and the pioneer deputy managing director, the late Pastor Dimgba Igwe, for putting together a crack team that gave birth to The Sun.

As the sitting Managing Director supervising this The [email protected] anniversary, I salute my predecessors, Mr. Awoyinfa the pioneer MD, who alongside his deputy Igwe, breathed life into The Sun; Mr. Tony Onyima, who consolidated on the achievements of Awoyinfa; Mr. Femi Adesina, who played a significant part as the paper’s pioneer editor and third managing director. They all did their best as it were. I am right now doing my bit with my team. We pray to God for wisdom and courage to lead the company in the right direction.

Key elements going for the company

With all modesty, one has been  part of the success story  of The Sun, which I joined in 2002.  Management sent me to Abuja as pioneer editor, and a management staff,  where I recruited staff for the Abuja bureau. And once every month, I returned to Lagos for meetings and other duties.

Yes, we have always had a good team spirit.  But what has largely been going for us is the type of exclusive stories we do. Exclusive interviews were the cutting edge of the paper. Even though it was a tabloid, it was the exclusive stories, human interest stories, that really set the paper apart. Femi(the editor) and his reporters in Lagos, were doing exploits in human angle stories, while we were firing big interviews from every corner in Abuja and the North.

From Abuja at that early stage, one travelled  to Zamfara State, Sokoto State. I took flights to Enugu, to Lagos, everywhere. Perhaps, those who read the paper then would remember the Gen. Victor Malu interview, the Shehu Shagari interview, Ibrahim Babangida, Jerry Rawlings, Muhammadu Buhari, Jesse Jackson, the then Zamfara State governor interview, the Borno Deputy governor’s wife story – so many of them that one can’t count. So the cutting edge that defined the Sun was the hot, exclusive interviews, and of course, the human interest stories.Stories that blew the minds of Nigerians.

There was this Gen. TY Danjuma interview, which I did when Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s third term agenda was at its height. Then, Gen Danjuma said: ‘We did not fight the civil war and build this country for one man.’ And he said that Obasanjo was actually angling not for the third term, but the fourth term. That he was military head of state from 1976 to 1979 – that was first term. That he was civilian president from 1999, that was his second term. That he came back again in 2003; that was third term. And what he was going for was his fourth term. He said that they did not fight and build this country for the Aremu of Ota.

Such were the kind of stories that defined our paper. And we had, and still have a solid team.

I see every staff of The Sun as winners. Every staff of the company, past and present. Those who have played big or what you may call minor roles. Past editors, reporters, managers, senior and junior staff. They have all been fantastic. That’s what makes The Sun what it is. Even great columnists, past and present have been wonderful. The Sun remains eternally grateful to them.

So, I sincerely  believe that it is team work that has sustained the brand.

Again, we must give a lot of kudos to our publisher for providing the right atmosphere. If the right atmosphere wasn’t there, if the finances were not there, chances are that the creative aspect of our offering could not have manifested. And if you brought all the resources and there was no creative management from the pioneer managing director and the deputy managing director or the finances were mismanaged, we couldn’t have been where we are at the moment. And then, others built on the successes.

So, talking about The Sun’s success story, the feeling that I have is this: we should not deemphasise anyone’s contributions. We must never say if I didn’t do this or that, it could not have happened. That was why I started by paying tributes to Mr. Awoyinfa and the late Dimgba Igwe and the leadership of Onyima, which we were all part of, as well as the leadership of Adesina which we all were also part of. Whatever we achieved was done as a team. It was The Sun family, built through team spirit.

New things that sustain the paper

We are in the digital age. So, we are becoming very strong online. We realised that one cannot do things the old way and expect maximum benefits. So, we are trying to keep the pace with our online presence.

Secondly, we realised the needs of the present generation. So we are trying to do a paper that appeals to them. That means having various segments in the paper that will catch the attention of the younger generation.

If one looks back to The Sun of those days, they would realise that it is no longer The Sun of today. It is no longer the paper in which people saw blood, gory pictures and all that. It is no longer that. So, we are responding to the changing times. We have a huge online presence; we have Page 2 Business, Business Report, weekly reports on various business sectors so as to command more appeal in the business community.

We are stronger on politics. We are trying to strengthen our online and entertainment presence. And we are thinking seriously about setting up a style publication, because people and style  news will always trend. We have completed work on it, but for logistics reasons we would have since hit the streets.We rebranded our sports paper, the Soccer Star. We have made it all sports inclusive; it is now the Sporting Sun.

We have continued to keep pace in terms of prompt response to the news because ours is a newspaper; so it is news- driven. More importantly, in the past 15 years, we have remained non-partisan, non-political and non-religious, a paper for all Nigerians. That is the tradition of The Sun which we have sustained in the last 15 years.

At no time has our proprietorial linings dictated or determined the slant of our news. Whether our proprietor belongs to a different camp or not does not affect us. And he has been magnanimous enough; he has told us that no matter which camp he belongs, that should not determine the content of our news.

A newspaper is a public trust; once it is established by somebody, it becomes a public trust in terms of responsibility to the public. Our loyalty always is to Nigerians, to the people. Our loyalty is never to the government in power, never to entrenched interest groups, no.

I pray that God gives us the strength to sustain that tradition, that courage to stand by the principles that informed the setting up of the paper.  From the beginning, it was clearly stated that we must remain non-political, non-partisan and non-religious. And we shall wave no flag other than the Nigerian flag. We have remained faithful to all these.

Where The Sun will stand in years ahead

The Sun started as a company.  We are now an organisation. We are inching towards becoming  an institution. I look forward to seeing an institution that will outlive all of us. It doesn’t matter who becomes the managing director because already, some basic principles have been entrenched.

Let’s be honest to ourselves, there is no community you get to without seeing The Sun shining there. The Sun has a strong brand presence.  So, I see a Sun that is bigger in terms of its readership, whether it is digital presence or traditional media. 

We have weathered storms. In the past 15 years, we have not failed to pay salaries despite all the challenges we have faced. We must not gloss over that fact. We have kept the welfare of our staff sacrosanct; it has become an article of faith.

In the next few years, I see a The Sun that is bigger, shining far brighter – an organisation that will be an institution. In the next five years, The Sun will be 20 and then 25. By that time, we will be doing our  silver jubilee; it will not be the same The Sun that people will be seeing because our greatest asset is our human resource – those who have been there from the start, in the past 15 years, as reporters, planners etc. We may not have all the money to provide everything; but overall, we have managed to retain our key staff and we have soldiered on.     

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