#TheYNaijaInterview: I am feminist, but we need to redefine that word – Adesuwa Onyenokwe

by Wilfred Okiche

Adesuwa Onyenokwe, journalist, publisher, media mogul and all round superwoman recently celebrated TW magazine’s 7 year anniversary in grand style.

We spoke with her about the tough, lonely world of magazine publishing, her dazzling return to television in the new talk show, Seriously Speaking and her thoughts on the whole feminist movement.

Enjoy excerpts from the hard hitting session

Congratulations on the TW’s 7th anniversary celebrations. In the publishing industry, 7 years might as well be 7 decades. What has been the biggest reward for you all these years?

That you are not dead. That you are still publishing even though the numbers can never really be perfect. The numbers may not be perfect but the platform can be. This platform is perfect to the extent that women who want to develop themselves, who want to understand what it is to be a woman, women who are thinking, who want to contribute their bit to society, knowing that first they have got to be complete themselves. That for me is the absolute icing on the cake. Where even though I am not smiling to the bank, a millionaire, the person who reads TW is getting the message. When a woman tells me that this is the only magazine she knows in Nigeria that has content, I am happy. So for me that I am still communicating the message that I set out to communicate from the beginning; that the woman is the visionary but a visionary can only be as good as how formed she is. If she is formed, she can nurture her children.

But aren’t there other more expedient ways to communicate this message better than a high end glossy?

The thing is, a magazine is not an essential commodity, but it isn’t high luxury either. You have to eat before thinking of buying a magazine. If it is not in your face, you may not think of going to buy one. Nobody has to advertise bread and groundnut to you; maybe the types but the magazine has to be in your face constantly.

So I’ll ask you what your biggest challenges have been.

There is just one major one and it is distribution. In Nigeria the only way this can be done is through the vendors who are out in the elements with just 2 arms. There is a limit to how many they can carry and there are tons of magazine titles out there now, tons more will still come. Most times the actual vendors may not be educated people but those who earn between 150 and 200 Naira on each copy, this is after the agent has gotten it for say 650Naira from us, the retail price is 1000Naira. But how many copies can you sell like this for a magazine that comes out once every 3-4weeks and is competing with other titles. It is only in certain areas in Lagos that you’ll even see these vendors. Anywhere else in Nigeria, you distribute through outlets. Now these outlets, we send to them and they are not returning money to us because I am not there to monitor. Even when I am there, the money I spend to be there is more than the returns I’ll be making. My dream is a time when all the magazine publishers would come together and own magazine outlets across the country, we spread the costs to start and maintain the outlets because the truth is people who can afford to buy 1 magazine can buy 10 because no 2 magazines are the same.

What about subscriptions?

Let me paint the picture for you. You buy a magazine at 1000 Naira and the publisher removes that cost of delivery and posts it to you at no extra cost. Sometimes there is a delay along the route and the customer is dissatisfied because he cannot get it when he wants it, there is a problem. He cancels his subscription and goes out to buy it himself when he wants it. How many people can take up infrastructure to distribute magazines in 26 states of the country? Me I just took up our core areas; Port Harcourt, Abuja and Lagos and I am working hard at cracking distribution in these areas. The truth is many publishers just settle for Lagos or other states where they can compete. It is hard. But thankfully, there are online options now and we are exploring that area too.

Are you able to break through monthly?

Absolutely. It took us 6 years to do that and it is only this year we started to break even which is in keeping with what I read about the business before I started. No one breaks even in the first 6 years and this is a worldwide rule, not just here in Nigeria. And the reasons are not far-fetched really. It takes time for people to know you exist, to get that brand recognition. Advertisers need to trust that you are able to reach the numbers you claim you are. The first 6 months we were coming out bimonthly but the problem with that is you are struggling to play catch up with every issue and people forget you before the next issue. And you are paying salaries every month irrespective. So we said let us do monthly but let us do it more smartly by planning 3months ahead so that the pressure is not overwhelming.

You recently returned to television with Seriously Speaking which airs on Channels TV. What is the idea behind the show and why return to tv now?

Seriously Speaking is about development. Every episode that we record is more or less what my whole work has been about. From Today’s Woman, to One on One which I did for NTA. The interview is one of the most effective ways of getting information out of people and people need information continuously. What I try to do is extract this information from people such that at the end of the day viewers who are watching can understand the issue or person better and go out to make a change. That is my gift from God and I am grateful for it. It is serious ut it is fun.

What makes a good interview for you?

Being able to make the person comfortable. I imagine what my listeners want and I want they, and the subject to put down every preconceived notion. I want the subject to be comfortable enough to tell you the kind of things he wouldn’t tell anyone else because he trusts that you wouldn’t use it in a sensational way. It isn’t about how bad or good this person is but who the person is, what drives them.

So it is these same set of skills and manner of approach you bring whether it is a Babatunde Fashola or a Cossy Orjiakor you are speaking with?

Exactly. I want to know what drives them to do the things that they do. Do they even understand themselves? For Cossy, the idea is not to take her and hammer her or judge he just because she is controversial, no. I want the real person that makes her tick and makes her unique. I want to know if they understand themselves in the first place and I want to make it interesting as possible. Fashola for example, we hear of his achievements but what motivates him to go where others wouldn’t dare? Some young person may happen on the interview and be inspired by his story.

You have spoken with thousands of people in the course of your career. Who are the most interesting people for you to sit down with?

This question is tough because it has been so many years and at different times, there have been different people and you have forgotten some of them.  But I will say this one person. There is this lady who controls traffic and she was totally in love with her work. when I found her she wasn’t that popular but even after she had gotten attention and was promoted, years later I saw her on the road again and when we spoke, she said to me that even if they make her commissioner of police, she would never stop doing this because she felt alive bringing order to the roads. I was stunned and inspired by her work ethic and attitude. Till this day, I never forget her.

Is there any role for the man in your empire?

Absolutely. Because if a man understands his woman, the way he behaves is in tune with her. We have a column for men in the magazine and we have published issues that are strictly for men because the man is most likely to be a better man if he has a woman; mother, sister, wife- who is totally developed. My daughter’s classmate told her it is her father who buys TW in the house.

Are you feminist?

Yes but I like to redefine it as this; a feminist is a humanist and that is the way God has made it. The woman is a natural nurturer and has been endowed with the physical and emotional attributes to do so. A feminist is no more restricted to the suffragist movement where you burn your bra because you can burn your bra but the breast remains there and it is there for a purpose, you cant burn it off. Burning your bra means that because I am female does not mean that I am less than you. It does not mean that I am not female. I am. Let us not get confused here. I am the best person to look after a child because I can carry that child and nurture him but if circumstances have made it that I am also working to provide just like my husband, then he has to help me here so we can meet in the middle. He cannot breastfeed the child but he can carry them, he can make the formula, he can change the diaper, he can prepare dinner because it is the same 2 hands I have that he has. But there are things he cannot do no matter how much I say it. I believe women have roles and responsibilities but in the past the woman used to sit at home to meet all those demands. Now the woman does not sit at home anymore so why shouldn’t the man help out with domestic chores? I am an unabashed feminist but we must redefine that word.

So the world has evolved and the concept of feminism should evolve too

It has evolved and should evolve.

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