DR. EMMANUEL SUNNY OJEAGBASE @ 70: Soldier, Journalist, Publisher, Entrepreneur, Author, Life Coach and Humanist
By Dr. Mumini Alao, Group Managing Director, Complete Communications Limited
Dr. Emmanuel Sunny Ojeagbase, Executive Chairman of Complete Communications Limited, publishers of Complete Sports newspapers, is your quintessential self-made man who attained success by the bootstraps, dint of hard work and unshakable faith in God. Even as he clocks 70 years today, 31st December, 2020, he is not about to slow down as he leads his company’s transformation into a fully digital media conglomerate.
Sunny was born on 31 December, 1950 into the family of Obazu-Ojeagbase of Uzebba in Owan West Local Government area, Edo State. His father, Pa Johnson Ojeagbase, was a soldier who fought in the Second World War while his mother, Mama Janet Emilomo Ojeagbase, was a housewife and petty trader.
Sunny was actually born in Osogbo, capital of Osun State. He, therefore, was also given the Yoruba name, Abiodun, having been born on the eve of a New Year’s day.
After his primary education, young Sunny could not proceed to secondary school because his mother fell ill at the time and his father had exhausted his meager earnings on treating his mother.
His application for a region-wide scholarship for students in the Western Region, fell through and he had to settle for vocational trainings first as a shorthand and typing trainee and an apprentice mechanic for two days, before settling later as an apprentice printer for five years.
But due to his urge to start earning a steady income to support his father (his mother had passed on then) and his siblings whom he saw as his personal responsibility, Sunny enlisted in the Nigerian Army.
Joining the army did not initially solve his financial problems as he slipped into the habit of borrowing money for pools betting. He also got married and started a family early, meaning that his 19 pounds monthly salary as an Army private was never going to be enough.
Sunny‘s first break in life came when he practically stumbled on a book titled Seven Laws of Success by W. Herbert Armstrong. After reading the book, his outlook to life changed completely as he started to visualize himself as a successful man and he was determined to adopt the principles enunciated in the book.
His second break came when the Nigerian Government paid jumbo salaries to workers in 1972, under the famous Udoji Awards. After paying off his debts and buying a few chickens to celebrate, Sunny wisely paid for a correspondence course with “Exam Success” which elevated his education to secondary level. He later sat for the GCE examination as a private candidate and passed. The building blocks for a new life started falling into place. He decided he was going to be a sports journalist.
While still in the Nigerian Army Engineers in 1976, Sunny began writing unsolicited sports articles for Nigerian newspapers as a freelancer. He started with the Nigerian Herald newspaper in Ilorin, Kwara State; then New Nigerian newspaper based in Kaduna; and then finally the Daily Times which was the largest selling newspaper in Nigeria at the time. The Daily Times sports editor, Solomon Babatunde Oshuntolu who went by the pen name, “Esbee“, quickly took a liking to this soldier who wrote flawless English from New Bussa, in Kwara State, where Corporal Sunny was posted at the time.
Oshuntolu regularly published Sunny‘s articles, and when he discharged from the Nigerian army in 1978, he (Sunny) was engaged by the Daily Times as a freelance reporter and was earning so much more than some reporters on full employment at the Daily Times could only dream about. It was only a matter of time before Oshuntolu offered him employment at the Daily Times in 1979. And so, Sunny‘s dream career in journalism began.
Under Oshuntolu‘s tutelage, Sunny‘s talent blossomed quickly. His previous vocational trainings in shorthand, typing and printing all came in handy and he became quickly noticed in the media industry. Therefore, when the National Concord newspapers was launched in 1980, Sunny left the Daily Times to join Sunday Concord in June 1980 as a reporter and rose rapidly to become the Group Sports Editor in 1982.
Sunny Ojeagbase revolutionized the presentation of sports pages in Nigerian newspapers. His reporting had such depth and his page layouts such beauty as had never been seen before in Nigerian newspapering. Mr. Fabio Lanipekun, former Director of Sports at the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) and sports media veteran and historian, had this to say about Sunny‘s impact at the National Concord: “For the first time, Nigerians were feasted with imaginative display of sports stories from the front page to the center spread, embellished with bold captivating pictures that seemed to leap out of the pages.”
It was no surprise therefore that when the The Guardian newspapers was launched in 1983, the founders also head-hunted Sunny from National Concord to become their pioneer sports editor. He was simply the best around and every publisher wanted him. Sunny performed his magic again on The Guardian sports pages. But he wouldn’t stay long at Rutam House, headquarters of the Flagship as the newspaper was called.
The Publisher & Entrepreneur
While at The Guardian, Sunny had elevated his education further by obtaining a Diploma in Journalism (Mass Communication) from the University of Lagos. Finally, he had the formal qualification to back his talent for journalism and the sky was not going to be his limit. He had “stumbled” yet again on another book, this time, Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. After reading the book, he started nursing the idea of being an entrepreneur and setting up as his own employer.
Sunny was biding his time to break out when The Guardian management announced a 25% reduction in staff salaries to cushion the business. Sunny seized that occasion to go solo, reasoning that it was time for him to try his hand at entrepreneurship that he had been dreaming about. With little or nothing in his personal savings account, but support and encouragement from his wife, Esther, he took the risk and resigned from the The Guardian to go and start his own business in November 1984. From being a near hopeless primary school certificate holder, a publisher was born!
Sunny started his publishing business, Obazu Company Limited with Sports Souvenir, a pioneer all-sports weekly publication which struggled to survive the early years of its establishment. Sales were poor, unsold copies were heavy and advertising support was lacking.
In a bid to save the fledging business, Sunny dropped his family name, Obazu, from his business name and registered Complete Communications Limited. In November 1985, he then introduced Complete Football, a monthly colour magazine which, after some initial setbacks as well, finally turned the corner and became a household name in Nigeria. Complete Football magazine would go on to play pivotal roles in some of the major achievements by the Nigerian senior football team, the Super Eagles, including qualification for the 1994 FIFA World Cup (Nigeria’s first) and winning the Olympic Gold medal in football at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games.
Several other titles followed from the Complete Communications stable such as Complete Football International which was printed in the United Kingdom and circulated in the USA, UK, Japan and several African countries. Other titles included Complete Football Extra and International Soccer Review. All these football periodicals eventually culminated in the introduction of Complete Sports daily newspaper in December, 1995 as the flagship publication of the company.
At some stage during its 25 years of its existence, Complete Sports rose to become the largest selling newspaper of any kind in Nigeria. Not a bad accomplishment by Sunny, the modest soldier-journalist from Uzebba.
The Business Coach
With his sports publishing operations firmly established and flourishing, Sunny decided to explore his other area of interest which is knowledge sharing. While building his business, he had experienced several setbacks some of which he felt could have been avoided if he had access to the right information and knowledge. Having learned things the hard way from where he fondly describes as the “University of Hard Knocks,” he wanted to mitigate the hard knocks for upcoming young Nigerian entrepreneurs.
To achieve that objective, Sunny set up an NGO, Success Attitude Development Center (SADC) in 1995 with his wife, Esther, as co-founder. The stated aim of the NGO was to “raise and nurture successful entrepreneurs in the data-driven global digital economy whose success in business is based on fear of God, a burning desire to care for their families and unquenchable thirst to give back to their communities.” SADC published Success Digest magazine, organized workshops and seminars to teach young people the art of making money in legitimate ways. It also organized the annual Success Digest Enterprise Awards, where successful Nigerians were recognized to motivate and inspire others.
Millions of young Nigerians have been beneficiaries of the knowledge shared by Sunny through Success Digest and SADC. Many of them went on to set up their own businesses through the mentoring that they received and quite a number of them have become very successful. Considering the way Sunny‘s face brightens and how his voice resonates each time he talks about SADC, you can’t mistake the deep pride that he feels about the successes of his mentees.
In recognition of his selfless work at SADC, Sunny received an honorary doctorate degree amongst tons of other national and international awards.
Dr. Emmanuel Sunny-Ojeagbase is a devoted Christian and God-fearing man. He and his wife were ordained as Pastors by Holy Victory Apostolic Church, Ota. Beyond preaching the word of God, however, his major modus operandi for spreading the message is his exemplary character. Sunny is a man of great values. He is honest, reliable and trustworthy. His word is his bond. He is also very generous, compassionate and tolerant; he does not discriminate. Religion for Sunny is all about total faith in God and complete love for your neighbour, irrespective of their own inclinations or beliefs. During his 60th birthday anniversary in 2010, most of Sunny‘s friends and business associates who wrote tributes to him described him as a “humanist.” That says it all.
Apart from his prolific articles on sports and business development, Dr. Ojeagbase has published several books. Some of these include How to Make it in Nigeria Building Your Wealth from Ground Floor Up; Ideas! – The Starting Point of All Riches; What They Don’t Teach You At Lagos Business School; Bullet Proof From Poverty; Seven Laws Of Success That Turned My Life Around, among others. Needless to mention, Sunny himself is a voracious reader, especially of business and motivational writers.
The Family Man
Sunny, blessed with six successful children and many grandchildren, is a family man in the true sense of the expression. Right from his youth, he had felt and demonstrated a sense of personal responsibility towards his parents and siblings. And when he got married and started having his own children, the family was always a key consideration in his decisions.
Not surprisingly, he started out with a “family business” incorporating his close relatives before inviting others as the business expanded. He fondly remembers how he was the reporter, page planner, editor and vendor of his first publication, Sports Souvenir, while his wife, Esther, was a distributor and vendor; his sister Lydia Oyekanmi (nee Ojeagbase) was the advertising executive; his cousin, Frank Ilaboya, was the production assistant while another cousin, Ayodeji Oiseomaoje, was the circulation driver.
Talking about his wife, Pastor Esther Ojeagbase, the manner in which he wooed her in 1982 when they both worked at the National Concord newspapers in the early 1980s will make a thrilling Nollywood romance script. When she wanted to play hard to get, Sunny employed his Military training to “outflank” her. When Esther found she had been “surrounded”, she surrendered. And since they got married by traditional marriage on July 22, 1982, they’ve been inseparable. Sunny is completely devoted to Esther. He would not embark on any venture without obtaining her consent and carrying her along. He describes her as his most reliable ally and business partner and she reciprocates in like manner.
The Faithful Ally
One major attribute that this writer admires the most about Dr. Emmanuel Sunny Ojeagbase is his sense of gratitude. Having been the closest business partner to him outside his immediate family, I am a witness to the great lengths that S.O. (that’s what we call him within the sports fraternity) goes to appreciate his benefactors. Therefore, it will be a great disservice to him if I don’t accord those people the type of recognition that he would have accorded them himself on this occasion of his 70th birthday anniversary.
The late Alhaji Raheem Adejumo, former President of the Nigerian Olympic Committee (NOC) was Sunny‘s business mentor and first major investor in his person and his vision; the late Chief Femi Olukanmi, former Chairman of Shooting Stars Football Club of Ibadan provided part of the seed capital and personal guarantees for the business to take off; Mr. Elijah Adebowale (Jah Adson Limited) printed the first edition of Sports Souvenir without a down payment; Alhaji Latif Adejumo, currently the Chairman of Adejumo Fam Limited, Chief Segun Odegbami, Chief Ben Nwafor, Chief Ralph Osayemeh, late Air Commodore Tony Ikazoboh, Souleyman Foudjah and Archbishop George Amu have all stood by Sunny right from the very beginning.
Some of the first columnists to write for Sunny gratis were ex-Nigerian football captain Segun Odegbami who remains a director in the company, retired referee Linus Mba, ex-international Patrick Ekeji, the late Nigerian CAF Vice President Oyo Orok Oyo and the late broadcaster Yinka Craig of the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA). At every opportunity, Sunny does not fail to acknowledge and appreciate his benefactors and helpers. He is a faithful ally indeed.
The Future is Digital
As Executive Chairman of Complete Communications Limited, Sunny is knocking on the door of a well deserved retirement from business. But he says he wouldn’t open that door fully until he has completed his current assignment of transforming the organization into a full digital media conglomerate.
Through his well attended Success Digest Internet Bootcamp, Sunny was the first to open the eyes of his mentees to the endless possibilities of the Internet when the greatest invention of this century fully hit the Nigerian shores. And the digital journey by CCL began in earnest with the formal launch of www.nigeriansportsonline.com, arguably the first prominent Nigerian all-sports website. That site has now transformed into www.completesports.com, which is the foremost local sports website in Nigeria today.
CCL’s digital journey has since gathered pace. The company now publishes a slew of websites covering diverse subjects including sports, entrepreneurship, business development, healthy living, entertainment, gaming, home-making, etcetera. Some of the websites include www.completesports.com, www.allsportspredictions.com, www.naijasuperfans.com and www.uncommonsuccesssecrettips.com.
In the words of Dr. Ojeagbase, CCL is set for another conquest in the digital media space just as it did in the past with several pioneering print publications.
He said: “Our 36-year journey as a publishing business started with Sports Souvenir in 1984, and we thank the Almighty God for the successes that we have recorded as an organization since then. As we celebrate 25 years of Complete Sports newspaper this year, we are firmly focused on the future with our new digital platforms. With God on our side, Complete Communications Limited is confident of achieving even greater success as we transform fully into a digital media group. We invite our numerous readers to join us on the journey.”
Congratulations on your 70th birthday anniversary, Pastor (Dr.) Emmanuel Sunny Ojeagbase. This is wishing you many more years spent in good health. May the Almighty God continue to bless and protect you, amen.