Funke Egbemode, President of Nigerian Guild of Editors, is the Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief of New Telegraph Newspaper. In this interview by TAYO GESINDE, she speaks on the price she had to pay to get to the peak of her career and the kind of restructuring that Nigeria needs.
I won’t say I had a childhood fantasy but as I got exposed to books and reading, I started imagining myself writing and I wanted to be a writer at that point, though I had other thoughts of what I wanted to be. And fortunately, I was good in all subjects, both sciences and social sciences. Making a choice to be a writer happened first at an early stage, later on, I wanted to be a doctor because I was good in sciences but I fell out of love with Mathematics, so that put the dream to be a doctor on a shaky ground. I went back to my first love of being a writer with the guidance of my father, who said I was not very strong in Mathematics, so, I followed that path and went to read English.
Choice of career
Journalism was what I stumbled upon. I wanted to be a writer not a reporter. I didn’t know what form the writing would be but my English teacher, who was a writer, told me that if I wanted to have A1 in English, I must write an essay a day and I did consistently and I made the A1. Even after I passed West African Examination Council (WAEC) exam, I still continued writing an essay a day until I went to the university. During my national youth service programme, I came to Lagos and decided to visit my cousin, who was the production manager of old Prime People Magazine. I went there and he introduced me to the general manager, who asked if I would like to join them and I said why not? I was asked to go to the editor, who gave me an assignment and a deadline. I met the deadline and though I was serving in Ilorin and was doing stories for them and was getting paid good money. That was why I started freelancing and when I finished my service, they absorbed me and in no time at all, I was rising. That was how I got into journalism.
The price I paid to get to the top
It was a huge price because you can’t be a total woman, you can’t be the woman you want to be, the mother you want to be, the Christian you want to be, when you want to stay steady in journalism. The hours are punishing, you need to have the staying power to continue to do what it takes to stay in the newsroom. Journalism took away a lot of leisure time, a lot of ‘womanity’ from me. You can’t do all those woman things. You can’t be the one who drives your children to school or go to pick them, I wasn’t at home to do homework a lot of time, I tried but it wasn’t easy being able to do the inter-house sports and PTA stuffs. When I was launching my first book, I think I made reference to it. My children were in the crowd and I thanked them for letting me steal a part of their childhood to furnish my dreams. You can’t be the total mother, wife and Christian, you can’t go to all the church activities and sometimes, you wake up on Sunday morning and your head is like it’s about to explode. Or you struggle to church and couldn’t even stand on your feet to shout Halleluiah. There was a Sunday morning while I was the Sunday Editor of the Sun newspaper, that I drove straight to church from office because I was on duty all night because we had the general elections the previous day. I struggled to church for the first service but after an hour I was soundly asleep. I just said God you knew I tried; I am just going home to sleep now. The balancing act is tough.
Combining home with career
It was just like juggling a dozen balls at the same time and trying to ensure that none falls. I had good support system from my family and I was determined not to let those two areas of my life suffer too much, but of course, it is not something that you can do with your human power, God has been very kind to me. I will say the kind of favour that I received from my career, I am not sure God gives it to a lot of women or people. So, I have learnt to thank God for treating me like His only child because He has really pampered me. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t have to take a break to reassess my life and to do what needed to be done. There was a time my husband fell ill, he was in Abuja while the children and I were in Lagos. I took a civil service job in Abuja for two years to take care of him. I began to work on my marriage, work on my family and it was good to be able to close at 4:00 p.m. and observed public holidays. It was a good bonding. I think God was on my side because when I returned to the newsroom I returned big. It was like God was rewarding me for doing what I did. There were also times that I needed to do something extra for the job and when I needed to take time off for the family I did. I had my daughter on a Saturday but when the newspaper came out the following day in Sunday Punch, my column was still there. The thing was that I had difficult pregnancies and I had editors who understood. I was admitted five days before the baby came and I was given a room where I converted the bed opposite me to a desk, so I wrote my column before I fell into labour. I never lost sight of the fact that my family would always be there so I made time for family.
On if I ever thought I would be an MD of a newspaper house one day
I never thought I would be a managing director. I only wanted to be good at what I was doing and to be the best. I wanted to make a point that hard work pays. I didn’t make any conscious effort to be anything, I only felt bad once in a while when I missed a promotion. I just wanted to be a force to reckon with in the news room. I wanted to be known for what I was doing, I didn’t want to get lost in the crowd.
Intimidation and harassment
I have enjoyed God’s favour. I have been around the newsroom for so long that sometimes, I forget that I am a woman. I have had great male colleagues and editors who were more mentors than terrors. I was never intimidated. I don’t think I would have fared better under female bosses.
Most defining moment of my career
What I am doing right now is the most challenging and it has brought out what I didn’t know was inside of me. Being able to run a young organisation like this and we are still on the street. Being the director of New Telegraph has shown me that God on my side, there is nothing I cannot do. It is the toughest assignment and there is so much trust from my publisher and there is still that trust that Funke can do it and I still have to prove the naysayers wrong that it can’t be done. Being appointed MD/ EIC of New Telegraph even I was scared when Mr Femi Adesina told me the news in his office after a management meeting. I said oga; you are not being nice, you know that is tough and that the place was young. I asked him how I was going to sustain it but he said it was the decision of the publisher. I was really scared, I didn’t think I could do it but I told myself I would give it my best shot. I worked very hard and it is paying off, I would say that is my defining moment.
How I became President of the Guild of Editors
I was groomed for it. Like I said, I had enjoyed male presence in the newsroom and so also in the Guild. Mallam Baba Dantiye, a former president insisted I joined the Guild and I must contest. I was also groomed from the time of late Mrs Remi Oyo, I was part of her campaign structure, I saw the way it was being done, and it was real politicking. I learnt from her, my first position in the Guild was Vice President, South. I had served and I was loyal, so, it just happened. I had the support of everybody I needed to have and so it was easy because I ran unopposed, so, I will say the guys always pampered me.
My take on Nigeria’s restructuring
The restructuring we need is not about Odua, Arewa or Biafra Republic because the people that are stealing when it is time to steal, they forget the languages they speak and speak pidgin and do whatever they want to do and the money they share has no ethnic colouration. Breaking into pieces, we will all go home with our thieves and kidnappers, when we restructure along geographical lines. Nigeria needs to stay together. What we need to restructure are; the way we think; where we want to go; the vehicle that will take us there and sacrifices we need to make to where we want to get to. It is restructuring the way we do things that is very important. We also need to restructure our education and our image of what we want. If we can consistently do what is right, Nigeria will be a much better place.
Advice to young women
Stay focused, don’t be intimidated by the muscular men around you. A lot of times, the muscular men need the delicate women so don’t let the men around you intimidate you, they need you, forget their muscles. Specifically for female journalists; you need to take a decision whether you need to go all the way up or journalism is just a job. If it is a career then you must be ready for the sacrifice and it is just for some times, the harvest when it comes, you will be very happy with it. Don’t sacrifice your family because your family is your nest, your fallback position. It is your family that nothing will take from you if you don’t trade it or sacrifice it for your career, they can make you build a big career and a colourful life. And never marry a man who is not heading in the same direction as you, it is like boarding a bus with someone not going to the same destination, you will have to part ways. So choose carefully your partner especially in journalism. The choice of your partner will determine how far you can go.
The post Your choice of spouse ’ll determine how far you ’ll go—Funke Egbemode, President, Nigeria Guild of Editors appeared first on Tribune.