The inspiring story of Complete Football: How I started Nigeria’s first football all-colour magazine – Sunny Obazu Ojeagbase
BY the middle of August 1985, I was beginning to dream again.
We were 10 months into producing Sports Souvenir, the weekly all sport paper we launched on November 3, 1984. And we didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. Sales curve wasn’t growing upward on the graph. And advertisers weren’t exactly enamored with our weekly offering.
In those 10 months, my wife Esther, and I had tried everything we knew which didn’t amount to much anyway. While she went after the distribution agents to find out why our sales weren’t picking up as we had expected, I toured advertising agencies to discover what was stopping them from patronizing the magazine (Sports Souvenir).
At home later in the night, with both of us tired, we would sit huddled in one corner of the room to exchange notes. She would tell me how the agents had explained the problem of lack of colour among so many other things in the paper. “Make una add colour,” she said one of the agents told her.
And I would go over what the ad agency guys had said, which wasn’t pretty different from what we had heard since the beginning: “We are still studying your magazine. You will have to operate for sometime more before we can begin to support you. There are so many publications that folded as quickly as they were launched, wasting the advertiser’s money invested in them,” and so on and so on.
These were not cheering news. They usually left us depressed. But we were sure there was a way out and we were determined to find it. But what was the way out? This thought got me dreaming…
Towards the end of August 1985, an idea was crystallizing in my mind. The more I thought about it, the more I liked it. The idea was about a monthly, football all-colour magazine. It will be well packaged; something that had the potential of appealing to the football-dominated population of sports fans in the country. It would also appeal to advertisers.
My wife liked the idea too when I told her. So did Lydia, my younger sister who was our advert executive, and my first cousin, Frank llaboya, who was working with me as a trainee sports reporter. Once this closest team of advisers agreed that the project was worthwhile, I found the impetus to go and discuss with people whom I believed might be interested in investing in it.
Of all the people I discussed the project with, it was only Alhaji R. A. Adejumo (who later became President of the Nigeria Olympic Committee, NOC) who made the sum of 27,500 naira available. My printer, Mr. Elijah Adebowale, who owns JahAdson Limited, also embraced the idea but refused to buy into the company, saying his interest was to see my company grow and not to co-own it. However, what he provided by way of extended credit was much more than what we would have expected from him if he had a stake in the business.
Things began to happen fast once the decision had been made to start the football monthly. I made contact with Mr. Oyo Orok Oyo, Segun Odegbami, Yinka Craig, Linus Mba and Patrick Ekeji to write columns for the magazine. They all agreed. I also spoke to John Chiedozie, when he came to play for the national team, that he would be writing for me and he agreed too.
Finding a name for the magazine wasn’t difficult. What the magazine wanted to do was report football in its entirety. The first name that came to my mind was Total Football. I reasoned that the name would easily be remembered by every football fan, having been popularized by the great Dutch side led by Johan Cryuff that reached the final of the 1974 World Cup in West Germany. The Dutch team was said to have played total football and this magazine was going to write ‘total football’. In the end, I decided I wanted to be original. So I changed ‘total’ to ‘complete,’ and I had Complete Football. The name has stuck ever since.
To produce the first issue of Complete Football, I had to travel to London for the separation of the cover. At that time, there were very few colour separation companies around. Advertising agencies, keen on quality jobs, were doing their separation abroad. Complete Football was going to be a top quality magazine, therefore, the front cover must be separated abroad. And off to London I went, travelling via Kenya to watch Leventis United play against KFC Leopards in Nairobi.
I thought I had gathered enough information about colour separation before I left Lagos for London. But as soon as I sat to discuss details of the separation with the guy who was going to handle it, I realized that whatever information I might have gathered were just not enough. The guy asked if the photograph I came with would be blown to cover the front page. I answered in the affirmative. If that was the case, he said, then the name of the magazine, called masthead in the trade, would cover the face of the players in the photograph. If we decided to leave it that way, no one would identify the players. Should we choose to allow their faces to show, then the name of the magazine would not be readable and since this was the maiden issue of the magazine, it was not advisable.
I contemplated the issue briefly and realized that I had no other choice than to accept his plan to blow the photograph up to a point where the “masthead” would reach and make a different background for the areas the photograph would not cover. And that was how the cover of the first issue of Complete Football came out the way it did.
The launching of the magazine was planned for the first week of November 1985. But as we approached the date, news came that another all-colour all-sport magazine was going to be launched about the same time. True enough, both the print and electronic media were to herald the news of Sportsweek in the last week of October. As we couldn’t compete for media space to make the necessary noise about our own product, we decided we would postpone our launch date.
The following two weeks were the longest in my life. I almost died in anticipation of the magazine that was coming. Perhaps I would have been able to cope on my own. But what about those I called Concerned Citizens who, although meant well, made life miserable for me with their questions and fears for my survival in the face of competition from Sportsweek.
“We understand that the man behind the magazine Sportsweek has a lot of money. The man owns his printing press, we hear. They say he has enough stock of newsprint to last him more than a year. And we understand that the magazine will be covering all sports while yours is going to be covering just football and only once a month.” And they went on.
Sportsweek hit the newsstands before the middle of November. When it did, it brought me a lot of relief. Right on the cover of the debut issue was the photograph of late S.B.J. Oschoffa, the spiritual head of Celestial Church Worldwide, who died the previous month after a motor accident. I first saw a copy of the magazine in the press box of the National Stadium, Surulere, where a reporter who came to cover the football match on that Saturday had brought it.
Many of us were eager to see the magazine. As one reporter to another saw the magazine and remarked that the publishers had made a mistake introducing Oschoffa’s story into a sports magazine, I heaved a sigh of relief. Even though I was still a rookie in the publishing field back then, I was not so green as not to know that you could not afford to enter the market with a new product putting a wrong foot forward.
The coast was now clear for Complete Football to make its expected entry into the market in the last week of November 1985. Unlike when we launched Sports Souvenir a year earlier, this time we invited advertising agencies to Sheraton Hotel, Ikeja for a luncheon and introduced the magazine to them. We also organized a get-together for distribution agents in Lagos and sought their co-operation.
The magazine was received enthusiastically by football fans throughout the country as readers’ letters, which came later, and the sales figures, were to confirm. We sold more than 70 per cent of the first print run of 10,000 copies. Industry analysts considered this to be a very good performance for a new product.
However, our joy about the magazine’s reception was short-lived. This was because we couldn’t raise the money to produce the next edition. And without the new issue, we could not get paid for the maiden issue. We were up against the wall and it was a solid concrete wall.
December 1985 was a trying period for our publishing business. As the time approached for us to go to press with the second issue of Complete Football, pressure mounted on us. We were expecting to get more money from Alhaji Adejumo who had been extremely sympathetic to the project. But he had requested that we present a cash flow projection for the project. And to make sure we came up with a viable one, he introduced Mr. Jide Eko of Jide Eko & Co., a firm of chartered accountants, to our company.
Despite Mr. Eko working with us, we had a lot of problems doing the cash flow projection. This wasn’t because Mr. Eko didn’t know what to do. Rather, it was because I didn’t know how to provide all the information he needed to prepare a cash flow. And because he hadn’t any experience of the publishing industry to fall back on, he always got misled by me.
Each time Mr. Eko and I went to see Alhaji Adejumo with a new set of cash projections, it would take him just a brief glance before he spotted an error and threw it back at us or, to put it correctly, threw it back at Mr. Eko. And then he would order us to go back to the drawing board after telling us what was missing.
Returning from Alhaji Adejumo’s house after one such frustrating visit, I confessed to Mr. Eko that I hadn’t much time left. The whole business would crash and all the money we had invested would be lost if I couldn’t raise the money to produce the next edition. Considering all the trouble Mr. Eko had gone through since he was invited to handle the account of Obazu Company Limited which was then the publishers of Sports Souvenir and Complete Football, nothing, I suspected, would have made Mr. Eko happier if I showed up the following morning and told him I had decided to pack in the whole thing.
Whether such thought ever passed through Mr. Eko‘s mind, I would never know. Instead he gave me an advice which, looking back, is one of the major reasons Complete Communications Limited is still alive and kicking today. “If you are that pressed for money, why don’t you approach Lati to give you a loan?” he suggested before asking: “Like how much do you think you need to meet your immediate commitment?”
I said N10,000. “Lati should be able to give you that,” he assured.
Lati whose full name is Latif Adejumo, is the son of Alhaji R. A. Adejumo. He had just taken over as the Managing Director of Adejumo FAM Limited when Alhaji Adejumo decided to cut back his schedule and live his life away from the day-to-day running of his business empire. Although I used to run into him on some occasions when I went to see Alhaji Adejumo before he stopped coming to the office, it was Ayo Ositelu who first told me about Mr. Adejumo. “If you think Alhaji Adejumo is kind and humble, you need to meet Lati his son,” Ayo had said during a discussion.
Mr. Latif Adejumo is everything Ayo Ositelu had said. And Mr. Eko was dead on target about his assumption that Mr. Adejumo would give me a loan of N10.000. The money was a lifeline to our business which arrived just on time. With it, we went to work on the second issue which was now well behind schedule. But any illusion that the loan would keep us afloat for any length of time soon disappeared. The sales money we thought would flow in as soon as we produced the second issue was not forthcoming. Instead, agents told us they were still collecting money from their vendors and that we had to exercise patience.
We were now in the month of February 1986. The end of the month was approaching fast. And I was beginning to feel the dull headache I used to get once it was twenty-something of the month. Soon it would be time to pay staff salaries. The staff were not many. They were made up of family members and close relations and a few others. Although, paying their salaries had always been a struggle, somehow, we used to meet our commitment to them. But it appeared that we would not be able to make it this month. There seemed to be no relief in sight.
Things remained pretty tough until the last few days of February. My printerElijah Adebowale (we call him Jah Adson) who had become my confidant and business advisor was kept fully briefed about our precarious situation. We had been in the publishing business for a little over a year and he stood by me all along.
How I came to know him was an interesting story. We were behind our production deadline while working on the maiden edition of the four-page Sports Souvenir in 1984. We were so late that by the time we finished, it was well after 7.00pm. The printer that was originally going to print for us had closed and I had no clue where else we could have the printing done.
I told Franklin llaboya that the printing had to be shelved. He was stunned. “Do you mean all the work we had done would come to naught?” he asked incredulously! “Well, what could we do?” I asked him as a matter of fact. At that time, there was this graphic artist chap named Akin who handled the paste-up of the artworks. He was about to leave when Franklin spoke to him about our dilemma and he said he knew a printer at Somolu who could do the job. I didn’t believe that was possible. But I allowed them to go with the artworks all the same.
Before 8am the following morning, Franklin brought the printed job to me. I was amazed. The printer without seeing me took the job off their hands and did it. Later JahAdson was to tell me that he had been reading my write-ups in the Sunday Concord and in The Guardian and that he followed all the development at The Guardian up until the time I resigned my appointment. “As soon as I was told the job was from you, all I wanted to do was offer whatever assistance I could,” he said.
Jah Adson earned my loyalty as a result of this act of kindness. And that was how he became my printer and confidant. It became our custom to meet at his house on Sundays to map out strategies that would scale me over my business problems. During one such meetings in February 1986, Jah Adson suggested that I approach Segun Odegbami to put money into the business. “Segun is your friend,” he had said almost casually. “Why don’t you approach him to invest? Segun has money.”
I didn’t know if Segun had money to invest or whether he would even want to invest his money in this business. But as the last days of February closed in and the likelihood of our not being in a position to pay that month’s salary started to haunt me, I told my wife what Jah Adson had suggested concerning Segun Odegbami and asked what she thought about it. She said she didn’t mind my approaching him if that would provide the solution to our predicament.
Segun Odegbami was the team manager of IICC Shooting Stars Football Club (now 3SC) of Ibadan at the time. Not knowing how he would react to my request, I set out for Ibadan to have a meeting with him. My heart was beating fast as I told him my mission and then it stopped beating in the brief seconds while I waited for him to respond.
Segun didn’t take much time before he answered. He said he had been involved in several business with people in which he was let down but because it was me he would put in N5,000 and he gave me the money. Accepting the money from him, I promised that I would do whatever was within my power to protect his investment. I assured him that by the grace of God, he would not have cause to regret in investing in my company. Once again, someone had thrown a lifeline to us. With the N5,000, we were able to pay that month’s salaries and kept our production going.
Our problems didn’t disappear with this cash inflow. Sometime around April that year, I was finally able to persuade Alhaji Adejumo to go with me to the UBA to guarantee a loan of N50,000 for me. The injection of this cash, more than fifty per cent of which went towards paying accumulated debt, gave us the required break. But it wasn’t for long. We were still unable to keep our good men because we couldn’t meet industry’s standard in terms of pay.
Of all the staff that left us at the time, the memories of one stuck to me till this day. His name was Ben Edokpayi, an excellent writer. Ben had agreed what he would love to be earning with me and I was prepared to make sure he received it unfailingly and as at when due even if that meant my going without food. Ben was going to be that useful to the organization.
But just as I was getting used to having him around, he popped up one morning to say he was leaving. I couldn’t believe it. We had got on so fine that I was beginning to relax. The burden of having to run nearly 80 percent of all the company operations (I was involved in virtually every aspect of the business) was starting to wear me down. And to think that this young man whom I had thought would give me a helping hand was about to leave gave me a hard shake.
In truth, Ben had told me he had written several applications when he signed up with me. But I was hoping that, having written his own wages himself, he would stick with me. I was mistaken. He left for Newswatch magazine, leaving me behind with a broken spirit.
Our company always had people coming and going. But none of the arrivals matched that of Segun Odegbami in terms of the excitement it created around our premises. About May 1986, IICC Shooting Stars were floundering in the national league. It looked as if they were heading for the second division from the poor results they were chalking up from their league games. If they dropped, it would be IICC’s first relegation.
My friend, Segun Odegbami, being the team manager, was under severe pressure. The local papers in Ibadan always had unfavourable things to say about Shooting Stars and some of their barbs were also directed at my friend. I was feeling pretty uncomfortable by this turn of events. Eventually, when I started hearing that his life was being threatened, I decided to discuss the issue with him.
Taking a trip to Ibadan when IICC had a home game, I was able to sit my friend down and told him what I felt about the fiasco in his club. Why couldn’t he quit his job as team manager with all the hazards it portended for him and his family and join me? The business might not be able to pay his full wages immediately but I believed that if we pulled our talents together we would get by.
Segun said he would consider my proposal and I left. Early in June 1986 just as I was preparing to jet out to Mexico to cover the FIFA World Cup finals, Segun informed me that he was through with the Shooting Stars and that he would join me.
The news that Segun Odegbami was joining us went round the whole of our premises in a jiffy and you could see pleasant surprise written all over the faces of our people. “Is it true?” I had more than five staff members ask me in quick succession. I confirmed that it was. Lydia and Franklin were by far the most excited. They believed that the arrival of Segun Odegbami would make a lot of things happen. I hoped so too.
To understand the way people felt about Segun, you need to be a football fan and have had the privilege of watching him play. Segun (most of his friends called him Big Seg, but I don’t), was one of the most intelligent footballers to have played at the outside right position for Nigeria. And he was a scorer of great goals, too. My late friend Ernest Okonkwo called him Mathematical Odegbami. When he had the ball on his feet and was making those dribble runs down the right flank of the field, you could not but agree that there was something mathematical about them.
Because of his reputation as a footballer and a former captain of the national team, Segun could hardly walk down a street without having someone stop him for a chat or wave at him. Having a man like this in a football business was a coup.
There was a very short time for full briefing before I travelled to Mexico. But I gave Segun enough details about the business before I jetted out. He was full of enthusiasm. Although he had spent most of his adult life in football both as a player and in management, he was always doing one business or the other on the side and he brought the experience he had gained doing this along with him.
When I returned from Mexico, I got down to working on some of the new ideas Segun Odegbami wanted us to introduce into our operational system which couldn’t take off before I travelled. The Daily Times was handling the distribution of our magazine nationwide before Segun joined us. The arrangement was that we could deliver our product to them and they would sell it. This would guarantee that our magazine is sold in all the places that Daily Times newspapers and all their other products were sold. The arrangement was considered to be of tremendous benefit to our fledging company which hadn’t the means to reach all these places.
But there was a snag. Payment for magazine sold would not be made until after 90 days. For a company that was constantly struggling to find the money to produce, this demand placed a lot of strain on our working capital. By the time Segun came, we were yet to receive our first payment. “Sunny,” he said, “I don’t think this system will work. There must be other ways.”
Then, Segun came up with a brilliant idea. We would hire our own people and send them to different parts of the country to do direct sales for us. I bought this idea instantly and implemented it and after some fine-turning it worked like magic. Cash started flowing more freely into the business than before.
At this stage of the business growth, it was becoming obvious that Jah Adson was finding it difficult to cope with the volume of our job. My friend, Jah Adson and I couldn’t seem to agree on this. He said it was because of our irregular payments that made it difficult for him to meet our production schedule. But I could see that even if we were paying him in advance, there was no way he could cope.
We were printing two titles at his press, both the weekly Sports Souvenir and the monthly Complete Football. In addition to these, the printing press was also engaged in printing many time-bound jobs for equally priority customers and these jobs were not only bringing in more profit for his business, payment for them was also more certain than in our own case.
To me, it made sense for Jah Adson to pay more attention to these other jobs than mine. After all, I didn’t own Jah Adson Limited. But each time I broached the idea of splitting the jobs, Jah Adson would not want to hear it. And the publishing business was suffering more as a result of lateness to the newsstands and irregular appearance in the market.
Right inside me, I knew what to do. I ought to move the magazines away from Jah Adson and seek life for them elsewhere. But I hadn’t the will to do it. I was indebted to Jah Adson and his press not just financially but also by way of gratitude. This man had helped to sustain me, how could I abandon him just like that? And at a time when the magazines were beginning to find their feet, I would appear to be an ingrate if I did that, I reasoned. And for this season, more than anything else, I always stepped back from doing what I knew was in the interest of my business.
Just before Segun joined me, we had gone to the press with the preview issue for the 1986 World Cup finals. We had ordered 40,000 copies of the issue. But with less than four days to the kick-off, not a single copy of the magazine was ready. In fact, I travelled to Mexico without a copy of the magazine. It was from some Nigerian journalists who arrived at the World Cup venue later that I saw a copy.
Segun Odegbami couldn’t believe this was happening. “How could you survive if your printing was being done hapharzadly like this?” he asked. I had no logical answer but to explain the ties between me and the printer which made it impractical for me to leave his press. “We will have to do something about it,” Segun said. I agreed.
At one of our management meetings shortly after I returned from Mexico, the three of us in the management: Segun, Souleman Foudja and I agreed that we should look for another printer to handle our jobs and we set a time table to effect the change.
The press after my heart then was Academy Press. But I always felt our magazine was not up to the standard they would like to handle or that our financial resources would not live up to their payment demands. So I turned to Mr. Joe Eyeowa the contract printer who was originally going to do the printing of Sports Souvenir. Joe took up the challenge of printing both the weekly and the monthly, introducing us to Negro Industrial Press in Mushin, Lagos where the magazine was printed for sometime before we finally took Complete Football to Academy Press in early 1987.
Leaving Jah Adson created a lot of problems for me emotionally as was to be expected. I had grown accustomed to him. He had been a friend in need irrespective of his human flaws which is a trait we all wear like our second skin. Saying good-bye to him was not easy at all.
When I told him I was taking the magazine away he didn’t believe I meant it. Nor did he think we had the financial muscle to do so. There was a reason why he thought so. In January 1986, when things became very rough for us as earlier related, I got Mr. Adejumo to introduce me to Irede Printers so that they could be handling the printing of Sports Souvenir. Irede accepted our job and after printing about four issues and payment wasn’t regular, they kicked us out. We had to crawl back to Jah Adson to take us back.
So on this second occasion when I said I was going away, he certainly thought I was joking. But having learnt from the first experience, I was prepared this time. When it became apparent that I wasn’t going to come back, Jah Adson was livid. It was a natural reaction from a man whom as at that time we were still owing nearly 80,000 naira.
By sheer coincidence rather than design, Segun Odegbami and Souleman Foudja were out of the country when the time we set to take the printing of the magazine away from Jah Adson came. So Jah Adson thought it was a unilateral decision taken by me. When the two of them returned, they continued relating with Jah Adson as before, making it appear as if I acted on my own, taking the job away from his press which of course would have made me feel not just like an ungrateful person, but a heel if that was the case. Although I felt stung by the turn of events, I nevertheless stuck to our collective decision about the printing of our products. Not only was I the Chief Executive Officer who has the responsibility to carry out such action, the decision also made business sense.
It took several months later before we finished paying off the debt we owed Jah Adson and although our relationship wasn’t close as it used to be, time had healed the wounds of frustration he felt over what happened in the latter part of 1986. My own feelings of gratitude to him, instead of diminishing, kept increasing each time I thought of what might have been if he wasn’t there for me at the beginning.
The things that preoccupied our minds as we entered 1987 was how to realize money to fund the business. Obazu Company Limited under whose name we were trading was under-capitalised. For most of 1987, we went from one meeting to another talking to the people we knew in sports and in government to come to our assistance. On some occasions we would have a lot of high hopes following promises that one of the people we had contacted would do something. Then our hopes would crash when this was not forthcoming.
At one point we started thinking that the name of the company had something to do with the lack of interest we were drawing from potential investors. Obazu, which the company drew its name from, was my middle name. And the business from the outset was a family business. Could this be the reason why no one wanted to put money in it apart from the Adejumos who in all ways were now treating me like a member of their extended family?
Perhaps it was, we reasoned. And we decided to change the name of the business to Complete Communications Limited (CCL) transferring all the assets and liabilities of Obazu Company Limited to the newly incorporated company.
But what is in a name? Apparently in the case of this publishing business, nothing, because not a single new investor put their money in the business even after the name was changed. None, that is, except one. But he was not a new investor per se. His name is Chief Olufemi Olukanmi who was the chairman of CCL.
Chief Olukanmi wasn’t new to the business. Before I opened my shop in 1984, he was among my small selected group of Committee of Elders whom I always sought advice from and who were first to learn about my plans to set up a publishing business. On quitting The Guardian newspapers as their pioneer sports editor in October 1984, I approached Chief Olukanmi for a loan of 2,500 naira which I added to my initial capital of 6,500 naira. I was not in a position to pay this money back until sometime in 1988 when I again needed his assistance.
We were about to launch Climax magazine and we wanted to take a loan from the UBA. They asked us to provide collateral security. We didn’t have anything to pledge. Chief Olukanmi came in at this time and offered the collateral in bonds, fixed deposit and shares as well as personal guarantee.
While briefing Segun and Foudja about how I was able to raise the fund we required from the bank in one of our management meetings, I suggested to them that in view of the assistance that Chief Olukanmi had been rendering, he should be appointed our company’s chairman. The two of them agreed. I communicated the decision to Alhaji Adejumo and he was in support of it and when finally Chief Olukanmi was told of our decision, he accepted too.
In December 1987, it became pretty obvious to me that there had to be a change in direction for our business in the following year. What informed this decision was the failure of that month’s issue to record financial success. 1987 had witnessed the Nigerian football league being rocked by its worst bribery scandal. Accusations were flying forth and back that referees were receiving money to rob Peter to pay Paul. Throughout that year, our men were in the field, monitoring what was going on. What we unearthed was simply unbelievable. This was scandal that could shake our football to its very foundations.
Assembling all the facts together and with the then NFA chairman Air Commodore Tony Ikhazoboh confirming in an exclusive interview with our magazine that his association was aware of the incident of bribery and the steps they had taken to check it, I was confident that we had an edition that could sell in its thousands on our hands.
But something quite unfortunate happened before we could go to town. We couldn’t raise the money to collect the magazine from Academy Press on time. We had applied for a bridge loan from our bank to produce what we had described as a special edition. But by the time the approval arrived from the head office to our branch, it was too late for us to withdraw the money.
In the meantime, we had placed adverts in the newspaper, highlighting the topic we were coming out with. The promo was so powerful that it instantly aroused interest in what was happening in the game. Some of our colleagues in other newspapers sought to find out if indeed we had referees confessing to receiving bribe, and if Air Commodore Ikazoboh had been quoted correctly. We told them to hold their peace until they saw the blockbuster we were coming out with. Then it happened the bank wouldn’t give us money until the day after we were supposed to be on the newsstands in Lagos, and Academy Press wouldn’t release the magazine to us on trust.
If it were possible to measure the disappointment felt by our people on that occasion, I reckon it would weigh the same as all the buildings in Lagos put together. By the second day when we took delivery of the magazines and circulated them, readers’ interest had waned and we couldn’t sell as much as we should had we entered the market on time.
The poor sales recorded by that December 1987 issue of Complete Football got me dreaming again in the last week of that month as 1988 beckoned. I was wondering what else we would do to get a breakthrough in publishing business. Arising from the December issue that crashed was how to meet the repayment of bridge loan taken to produce it. The poor sales had only added to our financial predicament. So what else could we do?
For the last three days in December 1987, I was indoors. I wasn’t sick. I just decided to take a step back from the business and take stock. During this reflection, it occurred to me that we might have been doing what bankers call over-trading – that is: we were biting more than we could chew. The market for sports publications, it appeared to me, was limited in scope then and there were two titles in our stable – the weekly and the monthly. But for Cadbury’s Bournvita who advertised in our magazine regularly and a few others, revenue from advertisement wasn’t anything to depend on.
The way forward, I argued within myself, was to drop one of our two titles. As appealing as this was to me, I had a dilemma. The problem was that if we scrapped one of the two titles, and the one to go was obvious – it was the weekly, then our organisation would be top heavy. With three executive directors and some unretrenchable staffers – those immediate and distant family members with whom we started the business still with me and asking them to go look for something else to do after slaving with me for this long – was definitely not good. I was certain that the revenue we would be generating from our sole title could not sustain the company.
At this time in the history of the business, what the directors were receiving couldn’t be described as salaries or allowances. We were all slaving to build the business and I wasn’t too keen on allowing the status quo to continue. The strain was getting too much and it was beginning to show. Whatever solutions I had in mind must take our welfare into account.
Driven by this desire, I went on dreaming. The result was the decision to diversify into another area of publishing. I opted for soft-sell magazine, preferring it as an effective medium to sell my possibility thinking ideas. And so was born the idea to do Climax magazine, which was eventually launched in August 1988.
Despite the setback in December 1987, the end-of-year stock taking which I did and the new goals which I had set for our business renewed my desire and I was raring to go when January 1988 arrived. As our people were returning to work after the end of the year break, I was bubbling and eager to let then know the direction we would be going. But I wanted to discuss my thoughts with Segun Odegbami before I let the rest members of our workforce into it.
But Segun did not get back from the trip he took outside Lagos for several weeks after he was due back. There was no way I could communicate with him because I didn’t know exactly where he was. For Segun Odegbami, this was usual. Initially when he joined me, I was always pissed off. When we would agree on a time-table for his frequent trips, some of which were official and others private, I would wait and wait for him to arrive without his showing up or even getting me informed about his present location.
There was a particular incident I wasn’t likely to forget. It happened within the first four months of his joining me. Segun had told me he was travelling to Jos and that he would be back before the weekend. While he was away, there were urgent business decisions that I wanted to consult him on before I took action. I delayed action on the issue, waiting for his arrival. Two days after he was supposed to have arrived, Segun was nowhere in sight.
My wife and I drove to his sister’s place to find out if she had heard from him and she hadn’t. But she assured me that nothing had happened to him and that he would soon show up. I almost drove myself crazy mentally during those few days when I didn’t see Segun. It got so bad that I had to get hold of myself after confronting myself with the question: suppose Segun turns up tomorrow and says he is no longer keen on working with me, would I give up the business? I knew there was no way I would do that. From that moment onwards, I decided that I would have to soldier on whether or not Segun was around.
When I got tired of waiting for Segun, I went ahead to brief our workforce about the new course the company would be charting. Eventually when Segun returned he voiced his reservations about my initiating these moves in his absence. I explained why it had to be so. And after we ironed out our differences on the matter, we went about pursuing the new goals together.
Samm Audu, whom I liked instantly from the contents of his first letter which he wrote to me from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka where he was a journalism student, had completed his degree programme and was working with me full time after serving his one year youth service in Kano. He was made editor of Sports Souvenir and when the decision was taken to suspend its production, he was charged with the responsibility of repackaging Complete Football and incorporate certain aspects of the weekly into it.
Assisted ably by Franklin llaboya, Samm did a terrific job. The first issue they came up with in February 1988 which had Peter Rufai on the cover was sold out. From this point onwards, Complete Football never looked back. It continued to march from strength to strength. Samm, unable to cope with life in Lagos then, was to return to Kaduna and took up another appointment. Franklin had to continue from where he left.
In 1989, after the unfortunate incident that happened in the month of August that year which forced me to announce my resignation from the company, thus causing a dislocation in our organisation, many things took place as a ripple effect of that event.
One of the fallouts of the unhappy event was the resignation of Franklin llaboya. Segun Odegbami also left later to establish his own organisation – Worldwide Sports Limited although he is still a director in Complete Communications Limited.
Mumini Alao had joined the company a little less than a year at this time. He was already editing Complete Football under my supervision when Franklin, whom he was understudying, was taken off the magazine to work on Climax magazine as the production editor.
Under Mumini Alao, Complete Football was to reach its highest levels. From a very modest beginning as editor, the magazine began to reassert itself gradually as Mumini learned the ropes, gained confidence and began to soar along with the magazine. Mumini Alao is today the Group Managing Director cum managing editor of the magazine – a position he merited as a result of his devotion to duty and loyalty.
Way back in 1985 when the magazine was launched, one of my aims was that Complete Football would do all it could to contribute to the progress and development of football in Nigeria. It was a lofty goal and the magazine has never for once changed its course.
In 1993 when the national team, the Super Eagles for the first time ever qualified for the FIFA World Cup finals in USA, our readers inundated us with letters praising the magazine for what it contributed towards the qualification. On reading those letters, I felt tears welling in my eyes. It had been a struggle to get the magazine to the point where it could achieve this goal for which every reader of the magazine was appreciative.
On bended knees, I thank God for making it possible and my gratitude goes to everyone who has touched this project in any form since the beginning, be you a staff, distributor, a vendor, printer, an advertiser or the king of them all, the readers. Everybody without exception, I thank you all and may God continue to reward you abundantly for what each and everyone of you did, is doing, and will do for Complete Football. Amen.
*Dr. Emmanuel Sunny Ojeagbase wrote this historical narrative on the 20th anniversary of Complete Communications Limited in 2004.