Monalisa Chinda’s and Lanre Nzeribe’s marriage of inconvenience, By Kelvin Keshi
It was Tuesday August 27 and another lifeless day filled with uncertainties, inconsistencies and a shameful lack of direction at Monalisa, the white elephant magazine misadventure of Lanre Nzeribe and Monalisa Chinda. Lisa had suddenly gone AWOL for close to a month from her ceremonial publisher’s seat, staff were being owed two months’ salary and Lanre was stalling. He rarely showed up in the office and whenever he did, he barely spoke with anyone before he would zoom off again in his black Maserati. Outside, he was always conscious to give off a deceptive public image of the hip ‘big boy’ and perfect gentleman to camouflage his real insensitive, aloof and condescending sides.
Back to the farce at 19 Ademola Adetokunbo Street, Victoria Island (Chase Mall). After their publicised breakup, there were whispers Lisa had reconciled with Lanre and was coming back to her ceremonial seat. The ‘news’ cheered up some of the junior staff. It wasn’t surprising because to some degree, she was the life of the party in the company with her chirpy, free-spirited, girl-next-door, almost simpleton nature. Some of the workers wanted to buy coloured cardboard and decorative materials and another one got external speakers from outside the office. The driver had angrily left the company two weeks earlier because he said Lanre paid him N25, 000 as salary instead of N40, 000 they had agreed, so I offered to drive them to the store.
While waiting at the park of the megastore, I glanced at my wristwatch. It was 3pm. The ‘party’ was ready, but no word yet from the ‘red carpet’ guest. I decided to call her.
“Hello Keshi, what’s happening in the office?” she asked.
“Nothing, really,” I replied and hesitated to gauge her mood. “…just that some of the staff are excited you’re coming back and are planning a small welcome for you.”
“Oh, no ooo. Who said I’m coming back? I’m not ooo. I’m not talking with Lanre. I don’t know what they’re talking about,” she answered tongue-in-cheek.
A fading façade
Let me pause here and introduce myself. My name is Kelvin Keshi (pictured above) and, until Thursday August 29, was the Assistant Editor of Monalisa Magazine. Lisa and Lanre had hired me sometime in April, on the recommendation of a mutual friend, to help set up a trendy lifestyle magazine that would in no time set the pace in its genre. Even though it was an onerous task, I was set for the challenge and knew I could draw from my skills and experience to deliver on their request. I earnestly set off for work, most of the time multi-tasking as editor, administrative and human resources manager and working late into the night. Incidentally, I had another offer from an Abuja-based company to be an Assistant Editor and Lagos bureau chief of a political magazine but I turned it down on the excuse that I just got engaged with a similar job and wanted to give it 100 percent.
I remember the several meetings I had with Lanre, Lisa and the mutual friend – sometimes lasting till 10:30 pm – to discuss and deliberate on issues like editorial thrust, philosophy, mission, vision, target demography, templates, sectionalisation, themes, pagination, story ideas, online presence, USPs, advert generation, circulation and distribution and staffing for the magazine. In all of these sessions I noticed almost everyone else was shallow about what they really wanted; but after much prodding, Lisa said she‘d like a lifestyle magazine with a mass appeal. Truth is, they were largely vague about the new magazine concept, but I still tried to decrypt their nebulous ideas, concretised, gave life and substance, documented and presented to them.
But as it would appear eventually, that was all Lanre wanted from me: to use me to set up the magazine and then whip up and amplify inexistent and inconsequential issues along the way as convenient alibis to sever the working relationship. I first suspected when he issued three-month temporary employment to the first batch of staff and arbitrarily fixed salaries without giving room for negotiations. When I questioned it, he said salaries would be reviewed upwardly at the end of the three months and permanent employment letters issued. Lies!
Also in breach of initial discussions before I agreed to resign a job and join him, he affixed the title ‘Assistant Editor’ to my name instead of ‘Editor.’ Curiously, after all editorial work had been concluded, he introduced his sister, Ejine, as ‘Editor’ and requested me to forward all edited materials to her. Another devious stunt by Lanre to sell and credit my intellectual work to someone else. Ingenious! This is the true Lanre. (You’ll wonder why this guy cannot maintain five seconds of eye contact. Psychologists, go figure. And no, he isn’t shy). It was the same manipulative ploy he used against the first Fashion Editor, Margaret that forced her to resign angrily after he paid her N50, 000 less than the agreed sum on the sly excuse that she didn’t write enough articles. Amusingly, his current ‘Fashion Editor’ and ‘Creative Director’ cannot boast of a single story in the magazine!
I only fear for some people. But I guess the saying ‘once bitten, twice shy’ doesn’t ring a bell for everyone. Ejine never showed up in the office once and her editing via e-mails was just so-so, forcing me to re-edit again.
Lanre also asked that since stories for the first edition were completed, my team and I should write for subsequent editions which I obliged him out of trust. As I discovered later, his wily game plan was to get as much intellectual and editorial contents out of me for subsequent editions before he schemes me out of the set-up. (Round of applause dude, but like the Warri man would say, ‘Lanre, this time, u don dive rock.’).
He who pays the piper…
The next day, Lisa was back in the office and to her glorified seat after a month forced hiatus. Lanre too was there, as happy as a lark – or more fittingly, like a little boy whose stolen toy had just been found. They wanted to meet separately with some staff members over some petty non-work related issues Lanre had deliberately sensationalised with willing pawns to create distractions and play out his script of getting rid of me after I’d created a working structure for him.
Lanre repeated those same trivial lines - about some staff having tiffs, being emotionally attached to each other and some people not working enough. …The same worn-out quibbles he had rehashed over and over again and magnified as excuse also not to pay salaries. For the benefit of doubt, all editorial assignments for the first issue had been completed, edited and designed on the template and he had no complaints about that. In assigning stories, editing them or relating with my team, I operated with a spirit of fairness, objectivity and balance; the very sacred principles of ethical journalism.
Only the pictures and images were outstanding. He had hired a flashy and dreadlocked mannequin ‘Creative Director’ with zero media experience or knowledge and side-lined the professional freelance photographer that was initially engaged for magazine images. But it was taking Mr ‘Luxury’ forever to get the job done. He was an overly ambitious, smooth-talking, I-know-it-all-and-should-lead-the-team kind of guy. He understood Lanre’s self-centred language of luxury and elitism and fully explored it to manipulate him to take some drastic decisions, including his breakup with Lisa.
Chuks (the guy’s name) said Lanre had handed over the project to him and he was ecstatic about it. He told me Lanre said he (Chuks) was now ‘in-charge’ of the project and could sack anyone he wanted. He said Lanre had been having private meetings with him and told him he wanted to lay me off. I felt offended and asked why. He was rambling on I ‘not being able to lead the team’ or ‘being incompetent.’ How? What insult! Was the magazine not ready for the first issue, from an editorial point? Were my stories watery and substandard? Like Lanre when I confronted him (with due deference though), Chuks was incoherent.
True to the assertion, Lanre cut off communication with me, and without a cogent justification, gave off a body language that suggested he was done with me. All of these were after I’d laid the foundation that none of them had the knowledge or experience to do.
I knew Lanre’s game plan. He (and his ilk) only sees people as tools; so Chuks blind ambition was a perfect diversion and pawn until he’s filled and needs to go on to the next meal. Chuks kept changing concepts and philosophies at will midway through production and walking through a maze. He was what you might call inefficiently busy (maybe eye service or in Warri lingua, ‘forming activity’). The team was groping in the dark. They had no idea. It was three months and the debut issue was not out, except my team’s editorial contents that were 100 percent complete. Where in the world does a greenhorn photographer-turned-Creative-director-overnight lead a magazine project? Without a single previous experience? It was a cul-de-sac!
Laughably, they want to build the fantasy magazine on the stories my team and I had painstakingly researched and written. But I have my aces up my sleeve. I’ll come to that later. On behalf of his future victims, I want to change Lanre’s (and his ilk) skewed and twisted use-and-dump immoral business beliefs and gimmicks.
But I digress. Back to Lanre’s merry-go-round ‘luxury’ magazine house. Sneakily, he blamed the editorial unit still for the delays. ‘How, sir?’ I asked him exasperatedly. But he kept prevaricating. How dumb did he think everybody was! If he thinks he could buy people’s voice and opinion and maybe love, I wonder what makes him think integrity, intelligence and grit are for sale too.He had obviously schooled Lisa on what he wanted – of course without the underlying motives – and she was already playing the tunes he dictated while putting on a flaky bold face. Classic Lisa! Even when it seems she finally has an opinion of her own, it’s always shaded by Lanre’s ego-fuelled preferences and biases which often border on his crave for a God-like reverence and being ensconced in his little elitist burble world. God help you if Lisa agrees with you on a matter in private and Lanre has a differing opinion later. She’ll deny you flatly.
The lies you didn’t know
She was back on the project and they were suspending the editorial unit, she announced to me in Lanre’s presence. Rather than being miffed, I was amused and felt pity for this stunted project. In the weeks Lisa went missing, Chuks had suggested to Lanre that to publish a ‘luxury magazine for upper class citizens,’ as they myopically re-termed it midway, he doesn’t need the editorial unit on full-time (Huh? Tell me about it. Definitely, another world first!).
Not surprisingly, Lisa did a volte-face and agreed – a sharp contrast to our discussions on phone when she was away on protest, long before it became public.
“I know there’s a problem. You’ve not been in the office for two weeks now. Please what’s happening?” I had enquired.
“It’s a very deep problem, Kelvin. Chuks wanted pictures of naked girls in the magazine and Lanre is on the same page with him, but I don’t want to be part of any of that. He told Lanre to remove me as publisher and face of the magazine and that the magazine project can go on without me, and would you imagine Lanre agreed? He’s changing the magazine at will and spiritually manipulating Lanre. Chuks is illuminati. He’s evil and God will scatter them.”
“But I don’t understand why Mr. Lanre has stopped communicating with me. Does he have any complaints about my work?” I asked, deliberately sidestepping the rash of issues she raised.
“No. Your writings are standard and OK for any standard magazine anywhere,” she replied in measured tones. She paused and then asked, “Are they still planning to use my name as the title of the magazine?”
“I can’t say categorically; Mr. Lanre doesn’t talk with me much. But Monalisa’s still the name on the template.”
‘’I can’t allow them use the name I built as a brand over the years. How can I take it back?”
“Just get it registered with the Copyright Commission and the National Library. And if they still go ahead to publish the magazine with the name, you can report them and the government agencies will take it from there.” I shrugged and paused. I didn’t want to be part of this any longer. It was clear too many things were wrong at once. “But I didn’t bargain for all these…” I complained.
“I’m sooo sorry, Kelvin. I’m really sorry about how everything turned out…” Her voice was tired.
“What are you going to do now?”
“I just want to leave the country to clear my head. Later, I’ll work on my project, a tv talk show.”
“Great. Although I wished you guys would reconcile; it would be great for the magazine. You’re the brand they wanted to leverage on. Most new magazines don’t last beyond a lifespan of six months because certain key elements are missing.”
“No; I’m not coming back. It’s a deep spiritual problem.”
Two weeks later, Lisa was back and giving her nod to Lanre’s baseless grudge against me. But that was OK; the atmosphere was suffocating already. One week later, I sent Lanre an SMS requesting for my salary and that I had other engagements that wouldn’t allow me frequent visit to his office to recover his debt to me. He felt offended. “I advice (sic) that all communication from you should be in writing and directed to the company, please do not use this channel to reach me again,” his reply read in part. I sensed the Nigerian typical case of social class bullying.
It’s half time whistle
Piqued, I called Lisa to complain. But she told me to stop calling her too. She told me she was with him when my message came into his phone. “I don’t even know why I’m dignifying you with a response,” she added cheekily. Such a cocky submission from Madam ‘Celebrity’ and ‘Superior.’ But I knew that attitude: the tame voice of Jacob and the wild, arrogant hand of Esau – as always.
Well, I have a piece of advice for them too: THEY SHOULDN’T BOTHER PUBLISHING THE MAGAZINE WITH THE STORIES IN THE TEMPLATE ALL OF WHICH I EDITED, EXCEPT THEY DON’T MIND PUBLISHING STALE ARTICLES. Rather, Lanre should tell whichever ‘editor’ he plans to name on the masthead to get a new set of writers write new stories for his or her editing for the magazine. I will never allow Lanre credit my intellectual work to another ‘editor.’ It’s a promise because all the stories and articles are with me and I will publish them online and in newspapers and magazines before his magazine goes to press.
Already my lawyers have slammed them with a court notice over the monies they owe me. Lanre (and Lisa too) probably thinks I’ll be cowered by the ‘might’ of his wealth and high-powered connection. They also probably believe that as ‘upper class citizens’ – as they have classified their stillborn magazine – I should beg, grovel and lick their boots in exchange for the ‘favour’ of being given MY OWN MONEY. But they fall into the common trap some people make when relating with ‘unknown’ persons. Asides, an ‘unknown’ cannot be stereotyped.
Lanre and Lisa have had their time in the sun to play, trampling at will on my right, dignity and pride. But the half-time whistle has gone and it’s substitution time. It’s my time to play on the field and I sooo want to score!