Jun. 3, 2015

Martins Oloja


Martins Oloja

Managing Editor, The Guardian

"The advent of social media and citizen journalism means quick fixes."


Martins Oloja graduated from the University of Lagos. He came to Abuja in the early 1990s confident in the potential of the then-developing capital city. He subsequently edited the federal capital city’s first newspaper, Abuja Newsday. Thereafter, he became the bureau chief of The Source news magazine, where he authored How Abuja Works, a must-read for every newcomer. He was subsequently appointed The Guardian’s Abuja chief, before assuming his current position in 2014.

How is the Guardian positioned in the national media landscape?

The Guardian was set up in 1983 and is generally regarded in the country as the flagship newspaper. It was conceived as an intellectual title, geared at the social elite, academia, and the educated classes; as such it is not a mass-circulation title. Thanks to patronage from advertisers, and sales revenues, we have the solid capitalization required in order to be competitive. This affords us a comprehensive and independent publishing remit, and our journalistic integrity and strong editorial underpin our status as an impartial and influential newspaper.

How have you structured your coverage of the recent elections in Nigeria?

Covering Nigeria is complex. Generally, in the West, newspapers are free to endorse a diversity of candidates. We are not quite free to do so here because of the complex national diversity. According to stereotyping by some western media outlets, we have a Muslim north and a Christian south, but this evaluation is untrue. For instance, the Islamic population in Lagos is remarkable. The outgoing governor is a Muslim, and yet his wife is a Christian, which is common. In the southwest, the influence of Islam is significant, determining the local cultural landscape. And yet, the southwest is also divided between Muslims and Christians. In Nigeria, newspapers have to balance the fundamental objective and policy of the newspaper with the complexity that shapes the diversity I mentioned. In that same vein, if a presidential candidate emerges from the south, newspapers based elsewhere should deliver balanced coverage.

“The advent of social media and citizen journalism means quick fixes."

How do you plan to adapt to online media?

We have no choice but to adapt. The advent of social media and citizen journalism means quick fixes. This in turn has compelled the industry to look inward and adapt to technology that can make people pay attention to digital editions of newspapers. We could emulate the transition of the New York Times, for example, which went to the UK, headhunted, and hired the former BBC Director General as its new chief executive. It found in him the ability and the skill to get people to migrate to the digital platforms and read digital editions of the New York Times. We have studied its model and we know that this is the way to go. If you go to our website, we have just overhauled it to ensure that we migrate our readers to our new digital platforms. Even if the revenue is lower than for hard copies, the pace of internet penetration leaves us with no other option. At The Guardian, we are working at full speed to migrate readers and generate revenue online.

What are the key policy issues when it comes to business for the new government?

One of the most important policy issues for businesses is to integrate Nigeria into the emerging market in Africa. South Africa is the only African member of the BRICS countries and is a large emerging market. We know that in the new world, the business model of governance is important. That is the kind of agenda that we would like to set. Big government and bloated expenditure are no longer viable models, and government is about people, and this must be reflected in government models for sustainable growth capable, too, of reducing poverty. We have to establish a policy, even in the newspaper, to ensure that we emphasize reporting on the business aspects of politics. People depend on The Guardian for intelligence on governance issues.

What are your expectations for the country in the year ahead?

Our expectation is for a tangible change, the very platform on which the new government ran. Now we expect to see changes in orientation and thinking, where people gain confidence in government through transparency, controlled spending, and prudent governance. At the same time, people cannot expect all solutions to be fielded by the government alone. We now need to invest in quality education, which is the greatest tool of national or global competitiveness. Nigeria used to be part of the best university system in the world, but over the years the quality has declined, and research orientation is severely lacking. Quality is the benchmark of desired change. The government should pay attention to reforming the curriculum, teacher training, and research funding to set the national destiny on a solid course. Without quality education, you cannot develop a skilled civil service or bureaucracy capable of driving the change that the people need.

© The Business Year - June 2015