“That night the King could not sleep: so he ordered the book of the chronicles, the record of his reign, to be brought in and read to him.” Esther 6: 1 (NIV) In ancient times, before Martin Luther and Gothenburg, there existed a select group of individuals whose duties were to record, dutifully and in painstaking detail, significant events that were taking place. Their writings were called Chronicles or Annals. Those men were called Scribes and they were an essential part of a King’s court. In today’s world, a Scribe would approximate to a personal lawyer who would prepare a man’s last will and testament or a Confidential Secretary who is privy to all that concerns his principal. But above all, in the more democratic times that we live in, the modern day Scribe is the journalist, the man or woman who through his writings, records (almost always in a hurry) for posterity, the doings of the people.
And because the kings and royalty of old have been largely displaced and replaced by a different breed, a breed born not into royalty but who are no stranger to adulation and loyalty on account of their God given talents. This breed we call stars; actors, musicians, artistes and celebrities of different stripes. In the past two decades Nigerians have come to canonize their own special breed of stars and these are young men and women drawn from the common pool and transformed into creatures of adulation, envy and mass appeal. These creatures have been spawned by our blossoming movie and music industries. Before the coming of the seminal “Living in Bondage” and the birth of Nollywood as well as Kennis Music which opened up a fresh new vista in the Nigerian music scene, Nigerian celebrities were practically the well heeled. In those days when you opened the society pages of our newspapers, the stories revolved mostly around people like MKO Abiola and many other rich men and women of his ilk. I recall now how comprehensively the early tabloids chronicled the sexual peccadilloes of MKO Abiola as well as his famed generosity. I still recall stories about Bola Kuforii Olubi and her many husbands or the reams of newsprint wasted reporting on the latest addition to Fred Ajudua, Godwin Anabor or Eze Ego’s fleet. In those days, money was a major factor in determining celebrity and it was easy to see why.
The music and tv stars of those days were ordinary folks who just happened to have talent and their talent never really translated into wealth. I still remember reading a glowing report about Ras Kimono buying a brand new TOKUNBO Datsun, or Orits Williki moving into a 3 bedroom apartment and I still remember, (I hope correctly) that Barabara Soky (who would approximate to today’s Genevieve) didn’t even own a car even at the height of her celebrity. In those days to be an artist almost meant a pact with poverty and privation but all that changed in many ways with the coming of “Living in Bondage” and Nollywood, Kennis Musiv and The Remedies, endorsement deals from telecom companies as well entertainment channels like Channel O, SoundCity, Nigezie, MTV and Trace. Suddenly, people who had talent and who thrilled us on tv or on concert stages were becoming rich to boot. And nothing shines as bright as wealth and fame! In no time, the merely rich had been pushed off the front pages of our tabloids into the gossip columns and the images of young nubile belles and well chiseled hunks were adorning the covers of our magazines. And as the tribe grew, so did the rank of those committed to covering them and one of those is the tabloid, the Nigerian Entertainment Today (NET) founded by Adekunle Ayeni aka Ayeni The Great. I can clearly recall the day I made Ayeni’s acquaintance. It was a lazy Sunday afternoon and I was reading National Encomium. I had read a story he wrote and was blown away by the clean and lucid prose. I was so impressed that I called the number on the page. A soft spoken voice picked up and upon introduction, exclaimed that he had been a fan of mine while I was at Hints and he was studying a science related course at the university. He told me he was at some airport and after that call, we kept in touch but never really met until maybe years later when he had left National Encomium and moved to Thisday or was it Punch.
Ayeni would later leave paid employment to provide employment to others with the launch of Nigerian Entertainment Today (NET) which, as all things 21st century debuted on the internet as a website on November 23, 2009. Their very first big story was “The Tragic End of Dagrin.” By some curious twist of fate, the uber talented Dagrin had elected to die four days before NET made its debut thus providing them with an amazing story to ride on. A curious thing happened before he set up NET. Ayeni acted as image maker for a number of acts most especially Darey Art Alade and I recall a music festival where almost all the acts who came up to pick awards paid glowing tributes to Ayeni The Great. It was an amazing thing to see in an industry where many artistes see entertainment reporters as necessary evils to be tolerated. I think I can say almost without equivocation that no other media person has, in recent times, impacted on the lives and careers of Nigerian artistes the way Ayeni The Great has. The only other exception might be Nanya Diali who is currently MIA. But popularity and fame have never been sole indicators of publishing success. If they did, NEXT would still be on the streets. Other considerations would be quality content, access to funding, sales and returns, ad revenue and solid management. Two years down the line, NET has morphed from a mere online publication into a 16 page weekly publication which hit the streets on April 26, 2010 and quickly became the darling of all those seeking entertainment news. The paper describes itself as “a 360 degrees media company, relying on past, present and future platforms to deliver accurate and up-to-the-minute news, entertainment and information to audiences wherever they are. We have become the most authentic news source for those keen on happenings in the Nigerian entertainment scene. Our website www.thenetng.com has become the country’s fastest entertainment breaking news service, with hundreds of exclusive breaking news to our credit, and several major local and international news outlets regularly picking up leads and news from our site.” Their boast is not an empty one. NET and its team of writers have their fingers right on the entertainment pulse and Ayeni The Great has parlayed his access and industry insight into producing a paper that extends the tradition of tabloids like Right On, which catered to the MTV generation long before there was MTV. NET is presented in newspaper form (because Ayeni, I suppose, has dreams of making it a daily) which distinguishes it from other weekly tabloids like National Encomium, City people, Global Excellence, Yes! International, News of the World etc. As a weekly, sometimes the story you find in NET would have already been published but Ayeni and his team always manage to bring added insight and analysis to sprinkle the story with the ash of novelty.
A regular edition would feature a rash of stories from Nigeria and abroad, one or two celebrity interviews, entertainment trivia in Quick facts, opinion pieces from industry player and head honcho of Now Muzik, Efe Omoregbe and academic/movie maven, Chris Ehindero, happenings in “Notice Board,” tweets from the stars in “Your Favourite Celeb in 140 words,” “Flakes” and a host of other regulars. NET writers are confident and opinionated. Take for example Joy Isi Bewaji or Miss Victoria Ige whose TuFace babymama drama piece “Whose winning now?” (Jan 23 – Feb 6, 2012) had inferred that the scheming Pero Adeniyi was winning the battle for Mrs Idibia with a fresh new baby on the way. Eight days later, before the ink was even dry on the pages, TuFace proposed to Anne, one of the women of whom Miss Ige had written: “My heart goes out to Ms Macauley and Ms Ajaba.” The point here is that NET will sometimes get it wrong, but even when they do their point would still have been made and with panache too. What has happened since April 26, 2010 is that NET has become the book of chronicles which the reigning Kings and Queens of our entertainment industry must read before they can find elusive sleep. To conclude; for a long while I assumed, wrongly, that Osagie Alonge was a pseudonym for Ayeni Adekunle because when you go through the magazine his byline pops up as if they are the page numbers. Let me offer an unsolicited advice: Ayeni and the management of NET should start shopping for a replacement; good hands like Osagie Alonge easily develop wanderlust. Secondly, Ayeni ought to write more often too. Management experts say that if a company survives the critical first 6 months of its existence, then it may very well be set for great things. NET has survived four of those fabled 6 months and we can safely conclude, if reach and print run (10,000 copies weekly and presence in 37 cities/towns) as well as website page views and advertising patronage are anything to go by that Ayeni’s dream of publishing a daily entertainment journal will sooner than later, become reality.