What Dele Olojede owes us next

The respected journalist Olatunji Dare, former chair of the editorial board of Nigeria’s Guardian newspapers, writing in the Nation Newspaper recently, reflected on the promise and frustration that was the  defunct Next newspaper ( What’s next for NEXT?)  For many of us who had worked for Next, Dare’s words were bitter-sweet and caused quite a stir. His observations properly situated Next as a pioneer in 21st century Nigerian journalism:

“When it made its debut in December 2008, NEXT was only as an electronic newspaper.  A paper edition would be introduced in August 2009. Audio and video would come later.  But even as an electronic newspaper, its entry into Nigerian journalism was electrifying. The web design was clean, tidy and well-structured. Colour and space and type meshed to produce a visual delight. The site was fully navigable. The reporting was sharp… The headlines were sober; they did not scream at you nor offend your sensibilities. The writing was clean, crisp and lucid. The editorials were magisterial; thoughtfully and closely argued, they provided insight and leadership on a wide range of issues, national and foreign. Shortly after its debut, NEXT was parading some of the finest writing to have graced Nigeria’s news media in recent memory.”

Dare’s essay was a nice ode to Dele Olojede, the complicated thinker and doer who had dreamed of Next and implemented one of the most exciting runs in the history of Nigerian journalism. Olojede’s place in Nigeria’s history is assured, thanks to respected icons like Dare, history will be kind to him. Indeed Olojede was able to bring to fruition his pioneering dreams and those of quiet and largely unsung leaders like Ekundayo Ogunyemi (Naijanet)  Muhtar Bakare, Sola Osofisan, Philip Adekunle, Nnorom Azuonye and Omoyele Sowore who long ago saw the digital world as an opportunity and a bridge to bring together all our story tellers and stories in one huge digital playground.

I appreciate the kind words Dare had for many of us who were privileged to have been part of that journey that was Next. I will be forever grateful to Next and my editor Molara Wood for the opportunity to exorcise my demons and practice my craft and for the exposure to a wide reading audience well beyond my wildest imagination. In the beginning of my tenure as a columnist, Next was generous to me and gave me wide latitude to write about any and everything that suited my fancy.  My three years at Next have been the most productive in my writing life and I give Olojede and Next full credit for allowing all that to happen.

Having said all that, many of us were treated poorly as employees of Next. There were clearly management issues, many of them so egregious, in a real country, they would have landed Next’s owners in big trouble. It is easy to google and come up with evidence such as this, this and this  Dare’s article confirmed in me that for yet another Nigerian leader, the hunter’s version of history was going to whitewash the real history. It is a cultural dysfunction I suppose, one of our weaknesses as a people is to exaggerate the positives in a leader and minimize or gloss over his or her frailties. I am now convinced that the next phase in the struggle for the life and soul of our nation is to hold our intellectual and political elite accountable. They are getting away with murder literally. Without accountability, they have become self-absorbed and tone-deaf to reason.

Back to Olojede, the mystery and the power of the Internet that Olojede tapped into allowed him to harness resources everywhere and in many cases bring some young people home from Europe and America to Nigeria.  In my three years with Next, I never met Olojede, did not need to. My editor Molara Wood handled all my affairs pretty much; she went to great pains to make sure I was comfortable. However, after a few months it became apparent that there were some issues with funding. Wood wrote to me one day to say apologetically that my weekly contract amount was being reduced by management. It was unilateral; there was no offer to renegotiate my contract. I was fine and soldiered on, I really did not care that much even when the long delays in payment became indeterminable; as far as I knew they would pay up eventually. There were never any assurances from management that they were aware that we were not being paid.

After a protracted period of time, I finally contacted management by email to complain about the nonpayment and the silence and to express disappointment that no one had reached out to me to talk about the issues. I never heard from anyone. Instead, Wood informed me with concern that management had decided to stop paying columnists; I was free to continue writing but it would be without pay. To say I was appalled by such unprofessional conduct would be to understate it. By this time, Next was owing me hundreds of thousands of Naira.  At the time, It seemed to reek of arrogance and a callous disregard for the welfare of employees. When my editor left Next, I did not have the heart to continue staying there and so I left. To this day, I cannot brag about getting a single email from Olojede or Next’s management regarding my tenure or the huge sum I am owed. Olojede would not have accepted such irresponsible conduct from his employers in the United States.

I was extremely lucky; many others had taken huge financial risks to go work for Next. And suddenly they were being told unceremoniously to take a hike. I am still haunted by the terror I saw in some of those folks’ eyes when I visited in September, 2011.  What Next did to those young people is unconscionable and Dele Olojede and I know that in the West where we all studied and lived, that would have been beyond acceptable, they would have sent him to the cleaners in a court of law.

Shabby treatment aside, nothing has upset me more than the fact that Olojede has recently allowed Next’s website to shut down. There is an emerging pattern here: Olojede seems to act unilaterally and imperiously; he seems allergic to the term stakeholder or what it means to communicate an action before implementation. The shutting down of Next’s website is unconscionable and unacceptable. Over the years that Next was in existence, the website gathered several pieces of significance nationally and globally, pieces that are now connected to external websites as resources through hyperlinks. All those links are now broken thanks to Olojede’s decision to shut down the website. I shall be blunt; Dele Olojede’s decision to shut down Next’s website is irresponsible; it is not that expensive to keep a website going. More importantly, many of us who had hoped to have access to our column pieces are now struggling mostly in vain to recreate our works. We should have been given ample warning ahead to time to allow us retrieve our column pieces. This is simply unacceptable and I am happy to call Olojede on this this conduct more than any other management deficiencies of his. It is abusive, it is wrong, it is irresponsible. Mr. Olojede, I ask you to bring back the Next website by all means necessary

Olojede’s mistakes, and they are legion have only inspired the West and others to continue to lionize him. Last year he won the prestigious John P. McNulty Award  for “running a 24-hour newsroom on diesel generators.” The prize was a hefty $100,000. African exotica sells in the West. Let me observe ad nauseam that Africa’s political and intellectual elite would benefit from not being held accountable by the masses they purport to serve – and by an avuncular West too eager to give them a pass on even their most egregious acts of misconduct. The next frontier in the struggle for Africa’s emancipation is for us to turn the glare of accountability on our own leaders. It is important to share the great and the unsavory in our leaders. It holds them accountable and serves also as a guiding beacon for those who will come after them. I was not privy to the inner management workings of the newspaper but clearly money was an issue in addition to what many have analyzed as poor management. And so Next’s fate is also a commentary on what should be merely an expense in the interest of a society. I am not a fan of external interventions, but I would have applauded the West if they had helped sustain Next. Memo to the West: The cost of an unmanned drone would have kept Next alive for eternity and propelled Nigeria to a new planet in accountability.  My conclusion? Dele Olojede may be a visionary but he hurt many people and a good start would be for him to apologize to them. He should also restore the Next website as a matter of top priority And Olojede, you do not owe me any money, I have written it all off, don’t worry. Not that you are staying up worrying about it. But this you owe the world; turn on the Next website again. That would be nice.

11 thoughts on “What Dele Olojede owes us next”

  1. Yeah pulling down the NEXT website for whatever reason is an effort to blot out a collective history a generation of Nigerians are proud of. Many of us happily sent pieces to NEXT and how happy I was to get the 1st cheque for a piece I wrote for NEXT. That wealth of knowledge need to be archived rather than pulled down and inaccessible to all of us!

  2. Citizen Ikhide.The story of Next is sad indeed. The lot of the former employees is heart-ripping. I was never on the staff of the newspaper but I did get commissions by Molara Wood acting on behalf of Next with amounts offered as honararia. After months of waiting after these publications she explained to me that Next was not in a good place financially and I should not expect any payments. I shrugged and let it go.

    Anyway, I noticed early this year that the next website has gone down and I have made unsuccessful attempts to get through to Mr Olojede. I wanted to offer a home for the Next website. I have an unlimited webspace and bandwidth that could host the site at no additional cost to me, and I was hoping to eventually galvanise some of our talents to revive the online paper on a cooperative basis.

    1. Unbelievable! What an insult to offer an owner of a defunct newspaper a space on your personal webspace/bandwidth. Only Nigerians would dare to insult someone in such a manner.

      What do you guys want with NEXT website? If you guys are desperate to have a presence online, maybe, y’all should start your own newspaper. This is ridiculous!

      Do you guys know what it entails to host a newspaper online? The issue of liabilitiy, etc. NEXT is no longer in business, and you guys are asking the owner to give you access to his newspaper online. Bunch of morons!

      1. Hey! watch your mouth. They were just expressing themselves. You can correct them without being rude.No one’s insulted you here so why insult others?

      2. Adejumobi, I just saw this today. You are indeed ignorant. I publish online magazines that go back 10 years and yes I know what it takes to host an online newspaper. We have to try to save great ideas from dying off. I have at least offered a space to try and save the newspaper. You that are not a moron, what have you done or offered?

  3. Regarding the issue of turning the website on; I had to laugh. Seriously. To be very objective, it is an owners prerogative—-as Bobby Brown sang it—to do what they like with a domain they paid for. If Dele is to be called irresponsible for shutting the website down, that singular act is not criminal, no matter how many words are written on it. I think journalists who worked for NEXT should have saved their work for their own archives; this is something people do from the days when there was no internet…cutting out paper articles to make your own records. A simple way would have been to turn web pages into pdfs and have them online in a Dropbox account, and link to them in CVs, blogs, etc.
    I worked for NEXT, and did all this and I am still linking to every syllable I wrote for that UNRIVALLED paper because from day 1 I owned and cared about my work enough to bother, even before any signs of a fold were visible. In fact, I helped a few others archive their work towards the end.
    I still believe in solutions, rather than arguments for the sake of it so I will advise anyone who has work with NEXT and internet access to first run to http://archive.org/web/web.php and type in “234next.com” and access the pages to try and see what they can turn into pdfs for their own records. Because truth be told, it’s Mr Olojede’s prerogative.

    1. Thanks. I went to the site you requested, it is of limited use to me. I have all my submissions, that is not my point. I had a very good editor who made substantive edits to the final copy. A few times I got the final copy, but most times I did not. I have lost those. More exasperating is that links to them are broken. I don’t know that what Olojede has done is criminal, it is irresponsible. Part of the reason why his ilk get away with murder is that writers seem incapable or unwilling to fight back. I don’t have that problem. I have learnt my lesson though, there are many things I would do differently if I ever decide to work for a Nigerian outfit.

  4. I must confess that I miss 234next.com, it used to be my first stop for breaking news especially during the Yar’Adua Presidency. As per the collapse of the organisation, it was inevitable as their business model didn’t seem commercially viable. They had a humongous cost profile which also shows that being a good journalist as Dele Olojede is does not equate to being a good business manager. Looking in from the outside, one could see that all that ‘effizzy’ (full colour print version etc) wasn’t sustainable in a clime like ours where advertising patronage is seriously tied to editorial concessions of which the Next management didn’t seem to want to compromise on. Next was starved of the much needed advertising revenue, both the online and paper versions ran mainly on borrowed funds until the cash dried out and creditors swooped in. It is not hard to see why despite the promise and wide readership Next offered, advertisers stayed away. The newspaper’s hardline anti-government stance made them ‘government enemy’ number one in the minds of corporate Nigeria whose operators/patrons depend mainly on government patronage for survival (rent seekers). Who wants to be seen to be supporting through adverts a newspaper that was critical mostly of government wastages, corruption etc? This is also a big lesson for all would-be media owners in Nigeria, do not expect patronage from friends and associates of corrupt government officials. Unfortunately they are in the majority and control media advertising budgets. This makes one also to wonder what the future holds for Nigerian media being that the bright lights such as NN24 and Next that appeared on the media horizon and had given us hope of better things to come have since dimmed and even disappeared. The future may then lie still in communally funded media projects such as nigeriavillagesquare.com founded by Phillip Adekunle and Omoyele Sowore’s saharareporters.com. The challenge however in these types of web-based media organisations is their sustainability. If the founders decide to move on to other things or pass on as we all would one day, the whole catalogue of work including insightful debates published on the websites are at risk of being lost forever which is why perhaps to prevent the problem highlighted by Ikhide in his article those seriously concerned about such potential calamity should begin to think of ways of safeguarding such websites for the next generation.

  5. Hello i have read your article on Next and i must say it’s quite enlightening. First, what brought down Next was the bloated salaries that most staff enjoyed. It was the talk of the town then and amongst mostly journalists that working for Next would made you millionaire in just six months. And everybody wanted to work for the paper. I have friends that worked for next and some of them were in the top posts. I was told that the starting salary of a curb reporter was more than a hundred of thousands naira. And most didn’t have experience in a big newspaper as next before. Oloyede worked in Guardian before he left for abroad and he knew what he was paid as salary then. For him to have gone abroad and made it working in big newspaper such as newsday does not mean he could come back to nigeria and try to replicate what is not possible in the nigeria landscape. Any newspaper that started with such high wages without back-up from either government or foreign investors is usually fraught with problems later. In nigeria have you stop to ask why Guardian, Thisday, Punch , The Nation and the Sun keep functioning up until this day. These are the biggest players in the media industry in nigeria. I recollected when i was in the sun the salary of an editor i know is one hundred and fifty thousand naira and in the guardian it is so. Punch which salary seem to be high among the major media houses retrenched regularly and absorbed equally so there could be a sense in the management style. It’s either you buckle up or you join the long unemployment line. The decision of oloyede to import nigerians from abroad to work in nigeria without taking into consideration the hard economic situation in the nation of paying according to what is obtain outside is wrong. I think next should have started small and grow with the reporters that are willing to take pay cut for the time being. they are aware of the no-how of how to get these news because they are on ground. And there are legions of experience reporters in nigeria that will want to go along with the picture or the vision of where he was going with the paper. The philosophy guiding the paper should constantly be review rather than wanting to come out big to try to beat the existing papers. It’s wrong. Next should have come out with few pages and grow. You don’t grow to be an adult immediately you are born. It’s a common sense. And that is the mistake that most people that have investments to make usually missed. Newspaper is not like that Oloyede and his wife should have known that, even to the fact that his wife, then a former editor at guardian editing few pages of a society paper should have known. For coming to establish a giganctuan project and going under immediately has robbed nigerians of one the opportunities of working in such organization. Two it befuddled many nigerians of witnessing another paper dying and going under; not because of sales but probably because of poor management decision and lack of financial management.
    Moreover, i have also tried to work at next. At a time i sold my generator so that i could have money for transport to the Lagos office. I lost over N30,000 just because i want to come and join that paper because it’s promising and give me wide latitude to do my best. I didn’t try to work for the money but i could see other opportunities as a growing new paper emanating in the course of the paper’s life.
    It seem that oloyede came to taste nigeria investment climate and it became bitter for him in the mouth and quickly throw-up and vamoosh. Even the investors, like a bank i don’t want to mention who loan out such money would be regretting. The question now arises will a bank lend such big money without being involved in the management of it. Even if Wole Soyinka comes along that he wanted to establish something like publishing, is it wise for the bank to say because he won nobel prize, let us give him the money. I am sorry he may just spend the money extravagantly and the publishing company he set -up may crumble because of lack of managerial skills that firm may need even without the person going to school to get.

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