Interview: Few Can Argue With His Record In Nigeria’s Men’s Mags. Abubakar Olusegun Tafawa-Balewa, Editor-In-Chief At Mode Men, Talks As He Celebrates His Birthday And Another Year In The Hot Seat

Abubakar Olusegun Tafawa-Balewa (AT) celebrated his thirty something year birthday on the 5th July, though he is not a ‘celebrate birthdays’ kinda guy these days, so this year he went to work only to be surprised by his staff with a set-up of cake, drinks and food. After work he had a quiet evening reading and reflecting. For him, what is important is to thank God for another year and reflect on the year gone by, “next year will be different though!! Watch this space”, he adds with a smile…

AT, an eligible single guy is from Bauchi State, the Northern part of Nigeria but his mother is Yoruba by tribe. He grew up in Lagos and London though he spent quite a lot of time schooling in Zaria.

While in England, he attended a public school in Blackpool and returned to Nigeria for secondary education at St Jude’s in the Festac part of Lagos because he had to do a year in a Nigerian school, he then went on to Nigerian Military School Zaria for six years. After this, he proceeded to Ahmadu Bello University also in Zaria where he bagged an LLB, this took ages because of the then notorious university strikes. For law school, he went to Enugu and was called to the bar in 2003.

After his education, he practiced law for a while before taking a year hiatus and returned to launch MODE MEN magazine, “I didn’t feel fulfilled as a lawyer, I lost the passion.

This job keeps me up till 3am and I’m still happy!”. For those of you that may not know, Mode Men is a leading men’s fashion and lifestyle magazine, call it the GQ of Nigeria. The magazine brings young popular celebrities and older successful personalities on its front covers thereby capturing the attention of most Nigerians, though more focused on the male gender, there is something for everyone.

AT actually co-owns the magazine with a friend (he owns 20%), his business partner a farmer based in Kaduna and Abuja helped with funds when he was getting the magazine started and shies from the limelight, so AT is the front runner and face of the magazine. Mode Men has continued to remain relevant as it is the only men’s lifestyle magazine in the Nigerian market today. According to AT, “I have a passion for what I do and I’m blessed with a great team who share my vision”. puts AT on the hot seat and we get him to talk as he celebrated his birthday just last week (5th of July) and another year in the hot seat as Editor-in-Chief of Mode Men. Happy birthday AT and as they say, “more grease to your elbow”. Enjoy!

OB: Why focus on men with your magazine when women are more appealing to both men and women?
AT: I think men need to have something that’s ‘their own’. Nigerian women have so many magazines so I’m providing something for the men.

OB: The Mode Men brand has been expanded to include a well-attended award ceremony, what made you feel the need to start up an award ceremony?
AT: I’m a great fan of GQ and they hold an annual award and I felt to set our brand apart we should also have an award exclusively for men. Johnnie Walker believed in that brand/vision and last year sponsored the event. Plans are ongoing for this year’s sixth edition coming up December.

OB: The past decade has brought to Nigerians delightsome magazine standards, how have you been able to keep up your magazine quality?
AT: I’ve always had high standards and believe in excellence. I see international magazines and I tell myself we can do this!! We may not be there yet but we are working at it.

OB: Year by year, event after event the Mode Magazine Annual awards seem to be growing in leaps & bounds, what has been the financial implication?
AT: For the first four years we did it on our own; very tough. The third and fourth got little support from Essenza (the fragrance chain) and MTN but last year’s fifth edition was a great feat thanks to Johnnie Walker and this year’s promises to be better. Funds are a major challenge but I think we have pulled through that stage now as we are seen as a serious and reputable brand.

OB: What are some of the challenges you have faced running Mode Men?
AT: Funding has been the major challenge, getting adequate advertising and mostly circulations/distribution. Because we have no distribution structure here in Nigeria, it’s a nightmare, but we have found a way around that.

OB: Where would you like to be in your career five years from now?
AT: I would like to own a few publications, a successful record label, a TV channel or a few shows as well as my clothing line (Disciples) to have grown to a well known brand.

OB: What is the most satisfying aspect of owning a popular male lifestyle magazine?
AT: Seeing people read my magazine and smile or seeing people holding copies at airports or public places. The fact that it touches lives gives me joy.

OB: You studied Law, but you earn from being something else. What is responsible for the change from being a practicing lawyer into an entrepreneur in entertainment & style?
AT: I didn’t feel fulfilled as a lawyer, I lost the passion.. This job keeps me up till 3am and I’m still happy!

OB: Do you have plans to expand the brand in the future?
AT: We had a clothing store in Abuja  (MODE Elements), which we closed due to logistics but I’m looking at reopening in Victoria Island in a few months and we hope to launch ‘MODE Teens’- a free magazine for boys to mentor them. MODE Women may come up some day…

OB: What advice would you give up-and-coming entrepreneurs, especially in light of the world’s present economic state?
AT: Start small and grow, have a plan and get funding to launch from friends and family. Grow organically, learn every step of the business and intern before you launch yours.

OB: You are a handsome and successful man in your late 30s, why are you not married, do you have any kids?
AT: Well, no kids yet until marriage, am still single as I have spent the last few years focused on work. I however lost a very special lady and learnt a lesson from that.

OB: How do you spend your leisure time?
AT: I love to travel, listen to music and spend quality time with family and friends. I also swim often to relax and as a form of exercise.

OB: As a man running a lifestyle magazine, who are your favourite designers?
AT: Big question,.. Gucci, Botegga Veneta and Prada. Locally Tayor Gabriel and James Johnson. I love Tom Ford but cant really afford much but I do have a few pieces.

OB: Do you have a beauty routine? If so, what is it?
AT: None I’m afraid. I’m thinking of one soon, got an Elemis Men’s set for Father’s day’ so I may start moisturising and exfoliating soon. (laughs).

OB: What are some of your favourite stores to shop?
AT: Selfridges and Harrods (I’m a London boy), you get everything you want under one roof and contrary to most people’s thoughts, you can get great deals during the sales. I’m a fragrance freak so I stock up at Essenza here, it cheaper than shopping overseas and you don’t have to carry excess luggage.

OB: What does the Mode Men brand have in store in the coming years?
AT: The best of men’s lifestyle information; great exclusive interviews, fashion reports, sports etc.

OB: What fashion trend would you not be caught wearing ever?
AT: I once said coloured pants and I now own a pair of red khakis… Never say never!!

OB: What is the one thing the world would be surprised to learn about you?
AT: That I’m a tongue speaking, spirit filled born-again Christian that doesn’t smoke nor drink and very homely as well as shy.

OB: If you were to raid a celebrity’s closet, who would be your target?
Hmm.. Gerald Azonobo (the man has wicked Tom Ford suits, Angelo Galasso gear..), he’s not really a celeb but his wardrobe is amazing. DBanj dresses well too..

Previous copies of Mode Men magazine covers

For more information on Mode Men magazine, visit: Website


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