I Publish Tozali To Promote Northerners – Maimuna

Maimuna Y. Abubakar, the publisher of Tozali magazine, is an outgoing entrepreneur wading into the hazardous waters of magazine publishing in the North. But she has focus and verve – just some of the credentials anyone would need to triumph in the difficult terrain

She displays a knack for invention and initiative. A lawyer by profession, she has just come into the field of journalism. In order to bridge the wide gap between the South and the North in the media industry, she has taken up the challenge and pioneered a soft-sale monthly magazine titled Tozali (i.e. Eyeliner). For style, Tozali is published in the mold of True Love, the Lagos-based monthly magazine devoted to women’s affairs – fashion, relationships, food, entertainment, achievers, etc. In an interview I had with her recently Maimuna Y. Abubakar, a single lady, spoke about what motivated her into the venture and her writing career.

She was a civil servant until recently, having worked with the Corporate Affairs Commission in Abuja for three years. She resigned in order to start legal practice and publication.

“I will be thirty by 28th December, this year,” she said with a smile. The humble looking publisher says she likes making friends, meeting people, and writing. “I love new discoveries, I love reading newspapers and I love humanity.”

Maimuna hails from Gombe town. She had her primary education in Bauchi and attended Government Girls’ College, Bauchi. From there she proceeded to the Bayero University, Kano, and read law.

“Actually, while I was growing up, I had different thoughts on whether I should read journalism or to be a lawyer, or to be a pilot,” she said. “In fact, it was confusing. So, when I went to BUK and got admitted, I applied for mass communication and law but I was given law.”

When she graduated in 2000, she did her National Youth Service Corps between 2001-2002 before proceeding to the Nigerian Law School in 2003. In December 2003, almost immediately after the law school, she got a job with the CAC and started work in January 2004. She quit two months ago.

What inspired the young publisher to begin to pursue her dreams in publishing a lifestyle magazine?

“Well, I think it’s a dream,” she answered after a hesitation. “People have passion for things. I have always had passion for write-ups, for magazines, you know, for knowing about people, for bringing people out. It’s not necessarily me, but bringing other people out, things like culture, like tourism and what have you. I think my going into publishing a magazine is like living my dream. Law is my career but magazine is my dream.”

But she wouldn’t see herself as a writer per se even though she had tried her hand at writing some pieces in the past – some few stories, sometimes tragedy, love stories and so on. “When I was growing up, I liked writing so much. Whenever I was offended or something, I’d rather write you a letter than call you and tell you that you offended me.”

This was what actually inspired her to go into publication – to express her mind. Maimuna loves reading magazines and had wished that she had her own, especially the down market types. But then which type of publication did she have in mind? Culture came to her mind easily – her background, where she comes from. “Whenever I pick up a magazine, I feel sad that it doesn’t reflect the Northern culture, our values, our way of life; it doesn’t even reflect our people, especially the entertainment magazines.” That was another motivation to go into the field and be different.

“I am addicted to magazines like Ebony, Cosmopolitan and others. I can say maybe they inspired me in a way I don’t know. But what actually inspired me were those southern (Nigerian) magazines that have fashion and style and true love stories.

“Whenever I looked at these magazines I felt the need to bridge the gap. The people, the style, the fashion and everything they portray in their magazines was Southern. Hardly would you see them featuring Northerners, so I just felt there was a need to bridge that gap.”

The North, she felt, was a huge reservoir of cultural stuff that needed to be tapped. Other magazines wouldn’t do it.

“We have a lot of things in the North. We have our artistes who are left behind. We have our women that are also not mentioned, and what have you. So, I just felt there was a need to bridge this gap. There was need to celebrate Northern people.”

Tozali is just that. The maiden issue is a 62-page glossy affair and printed on high quality art paper. Right from the cover it is the female face of a Northerner that looks back at you. Inside, there are features and interviews on weddings, fashion, beauty, food, books, politics, movies, health, royalty, travel and sports – all with a distinctive Northern touch. But for a women’s magazine (but probably with a reason), the men are not left out entirely; in fact, whereas only one photograph of a woman appears on the cover, there are two photographs of male politicians on the same cover.

The Abuja-based magazine is written in a friendly, down to earth diction that makes for easy reading. But the printing, layout and editing need improvement if it is to compete favourably with other magazines even in its area of coverage. Also, less-text-more-photos would help.

Any problem with being sectional, that is Northern? The barrister-publisher justifies her editorial focus very well.

“If you look at my editorial,” she said, “I stated that the main aim of my magazine is to celebrate Northern women, and lots more, so that they will be able to inspire others, like the younger ones coming up. I want to divert the attention of growing up Northerners from the Southern way of dressing, which is almost like dressing half naked and what have you, that is, over-exposing their body – all in the name of being fashionable. I want them to know that in our own Northern way, you can still wear the normal Northern clothes, the normal veil, and still look very fashionable.

“And again, in the Northern profile you could see that when you read people’s profiles you find out that they started from somewhere and it’s not as if they woke up one morning and became who they are. You know everything started somewhere. It starts from the scratch before you can bring it out to limelight so that people can start appreciating them.”

The maiden issue contains a revealing interview with Dr Ibrahim Tahir in which he exposes a lot about his upbringing and the background to some of his subsequent accomplishments. Such interviews are engaging and interesting, but they would be nicer if it is the women that are profiled, unless of course it is also meant to be a unisex publication.

Publishing in the North can be hazardous, what with the pathetic reading culture and poor response of advertisers. Nevertheless, Barrister Abubakar seems to be satisfied with the reaction of her readers.

“Whenever I try to find out from people, some of them would call from places like Bauchi, especially those who know me, and they are like, ‘Ah! I saw your magazine!’ It’s encouraging, because this is something new in the society.

“I think people find it amazing and great that somebody can actually do something like that for the North. Probably a lot of people wanted to do it but they just didn’t feel they were capable. That’s one funny thing about us Northerners: sometimes we just don’t feel as if we are capable of something until we start, but when we start, we find out that we are capable of doing it.”

There are at least three challenges that are very peculiar to Northern publishers of magazines and newspapers. One is the challenge of distribution and sales. Second is the challenge of getting advertisements to support the business venture, and the third is the poor reading culture in the region. A newcomer in this terrain must have a plan to overcome these.

“Well, before I went into this, I did my homework. I did some market survey,” Maimuna said confidently.

What kind of editorial focus does Tozali have? Is it going to be focused on ceremonies, like Ovation, or is it going to focus on developmental issues such as women in politics or personality profiles?

Maimuna answered, “I cannot deviate from politics because when you are celebrating a Northern career woman, you find out there is somebody else in politics celebrating them. And I don’t want to celebrate Northern women alone but also Northern men. In my magazine, I have a profile for men. Actually, what I want to do is to put the North in the limelight. My focus is the woman and her life generally in the North; as a career woman, as a family woman…

“You could see that women have several roles to play in the society. You may be a career person but you can also show people that you can also make it work at the home front.

“I would like to bring out women developmental projects like HIV/AIDS, child developmental projects, etc. I would also have a profile of people who have made it. We can have some event pictures. I am not saying events are my main focus but maybe there is an event and someone wants us to cover it, I would like to do it fast. So there are going to be fashion pages, beauty pages, a lot of events pages, cooking, and so on.”

Chewing too much? Trying to pack so much into one magazine? Are there chances that she could lose focus? To answer these triple questions, the publisher replied, “I don’t think I can lose focus. The only thing is that I am trying to be objective about my vision so that whenever you grab a copy of the magazine, you will find something that will interest you, whether you are a woman or a man.”

Does that mean she has a policy such as she wouldn’t want her reporters to touch Southern issues?

“I would rather concentrate on Northern women,” came the reply. “I am not saying that I will not bring a Southerner into my paper, or bring a profile of a Southerner into my magazine, but my major concern is a Northern person. When I say that, I mean North irrespective of the area you come from. It is just a soft story about you.”

Finally, Maimuna was asked to make an appeal, if any, to Northern women vis-à-vis her magazine.

“I want to appeal for their support, their recognition, because I can’t do this thing alone without them. It is not as if I am doing it for my own self. I am doing it because I am a fellow Northerner; I am doing it because I want the North to go places so that everybody can see the North in a different perspective. I want people to see North in Nigeria and that there are Northerners in Nigeria and they have a special culture and a way of doing things which should be appreciated.”

So help her God.

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