This is the first in a series of conversations with personalities making real change in Nigeria.


In this one hour interview, Funmi Iyanda, TV producer, writer, entrepreneur and the host of New Dawn with Funmi, shares her views on the state of the media in Nigeria, the sedition law, the African Leadership Initiative, leadership challenges in Nigeria, her political aspirations, her views on a female president for Nigeria, and the challenges facing Nigeria's tourism industry. Funmi was recently in Aspen, Colorado to an elite group of thinkers, academics, media executives and IT executives at the Forum on Communications and Society organized by the Aspen Institute. A fellow of the African Leadership initiative, I spoke to her in London, where she is on holiday with her daughter. A downloadable audio version of this interview is also available.


Background: Funmi Iyanda's gradual climb into Nigeria's television hall of fame started in the middle 90's as the producer of Good Morning Nigeria. In 2000, she started an independently produced morning program on NTA 10 called New Dawn at 10. The show has since been renamed New Dawn with Funmi and it airs nationwide on the NTA network as well as in neighboring West African countries on the satellite station, DSTV's platform. Details about Funmi and her work are available at www.newdawnwithfunmi.com

 

"We need to move from a power economy to a people economy. I want Nigerians to stop talking and start doing. And we need to stop pointing fingers. We waste so much time pointing fingers when we can actually begin to develop ingenious ways of solving our problems. I want us to shut up, go into ourselves, think, be ingenious and find new ways of solving our same old problems. The problems have been with us for a long time and the people who hold us down have used the same systems and processes. They have not been ingenious; we are the ones who have just not found ways of doing something about them." – Funmi Iyanda

  • As the host of a talk show which has been running for over six years now, please share with us your views about the state of the media in Nigeria.

The media in Nigeria, like every other institution in Nigeria, sometimes give you incredible hope and sometimes despair. The Nigerian media is on one hand brave vibrant and self renewing nut on the other hand can be inept and prone to corruption, sort of like the Nigerian entity. However I must say that in the past two to three years, there have been some positive changes, especially in the electronic media One of which is that NTA, which is the biggest network in Nigeria, is going to be broadcast through its own satellite feed. By year end, we can see NTA in America, UK, and Europe. That on its own is fair enough. What will be brilliant will be for the content to be great. Don't know if that will happen but that's what will work.

Also that Nigeria does have some presence internationally – AIT has been running for a while, Ben TV is running, the channels are there. Once again, it's the content. I've always said that television is first and foremost about content. And the kind of world we live in today, where content does not necessarily have come from the station. In fact, it's wise for the content not to come from the station only, you know talking about push and pull media. It would have made sense to be able to get materials from all over the world, particularly since Nigerians are everywhere. I just went to a church recently in London and the stories that were being told are the stories of Nigerians everywhere and it would have made great television as far as I'm concerned. So those are the positives.

The negative of course we know them – infrastructural and technological challenges. Even though technology is on our side because technology is getting cheaper and easier but it's still expensive for the average Nigerian producer or media practitioner to set up the necessary infrastructure. One of the biggest challenges is that there is no standard television recording studio in Nigeria. And I mean where you can record mini-series, sitcoms, talk shows, etc. It's a major challenge I'm hoping someone will take that up soon. It's one I was trying to take on trying to persuade those venture capitalists to see the merit of it. But as in all things in our environment, if it's not something you can turn around quickly. They don't understand our business and may not see where the money is coming from, but it will change; I'm positive about that.

My dream is that we get to a point in Nigeria where when one asks questions, it is seen that the questions are not about the person but about the issue; asking questions about stories that one has heard, especially in an environment where information is not freely accessible is legitimate journalism. Arresting a journalist is not a very wise decision; it sets worrying precedence about times we thought were long gone and forgotten. And the way Nigerians reacted to it show that Nigerians will not be so tolerant of those kinds of action in the future. If there was a problem, it should have been taken up with the media organization itself that employed the journalists but hopefully as I said earlier, we will get to a point where when questions are asked, it won't be seen as an attack on the person.

  • Before New Dawn at 10, what were you doing? In what direction was life taking you?

Before New Dawn at 10, I had already started working in television and journalism. When I came out of university, like a lot of young people, I had no idea what I was going to do with myself but I spent most of my youth writing an incredible journal, mostly angst. I was angry as a young person about so many things and I still remain angry but I've learnt to be wise and become more functional and productive in my anger so that I don't blow up everything around me.

Immediately I came out of university, I walked into Segun Odegbami's office. There was a conversation going on and I tend to have strong opinions and I express them. Then everyone was asking me if I could articulate it on paper. Definitely I could. By the next day, I had written what I consider to be an idea for a television program but that particular program couldn't get off the ground. The other one they were working on at that time was a breakfast show called Good Morning Nigeria and they needed an "idiot" to take on the production of the show then, because you had to be an idiot to take on that kind of work.

I had no idea how incredibly challenging it was going to be. Perhaps if I knew, I wouldn't have joined them. But I was young, strong headed and I thought I could conquer the world. I did that for two years. It was an incredible starting lesson as they threw me right in the middle of the sea, l had to learn to swim and fast. It was a brilliant experience although the start was hilarious as I would ask questions and answer them myself because I was an impatient person. I also got the opportunity to travel around Nigeria. I love traveling. I got to talk to lots of Nigerians because two segments on that show, Street Life and Heroes were life-changing for me.

In Street Life, I was documenting the lives of people on the street, especially children whom l ended up grabbing off the street to return to their families. With Heroes, I was looking for ordinary Nigerians who had done extra-ordinary things. I was interviewing ordinary Nigerians like you and I who have gone through so many things. I did find a lot of such people and that it just reinforced my belief that majority of Nigerians are really, decent hard-working people. The few people who give us a bad name are just loud. I also worked on a documentary for the 1996 Nations Cup, which was cancelled thereafter by Abacha. There were 16 countries and I had gone around a number of those countries before Abacha cancelled our participation in the Nations Cup. In each country, I had spoken to so many people, from the Presidents, to the Sports Administrators as well as the people on the street. I learnt on the job, l leant a lot and fast especially in Nigeria where there is no industry to support the talent. L leant from reading, research, seminars, and people like Segun and Tunde Kelani, who had seen something I did earlier and couldn't believe I had just started in television.

I remember he gave me the name "Aje," which to him meant that I was just good at this thing; that it came naturally to me. That became controversial because people were questioning why I would accept to be called Aje. I responded that I didn't see anything wrong in being called Aje; the concept of Aje in its purity is not evil besides I take pride in the fact that I'm good at what I do.

Segun Odegbami, Tunde Kelani, and myself also started a group of programs with MITV when it opened newly. We took a set of programs to them, including one called MITV Live, which I began to present. That was my debut in front of the camera. I had always been behind the camera, where I was very comfortable. I was also writing a column with Tempo magazine and through my friend and Editor Femi, Ojudu, I met Bola Tinubu and they had asked me to join their inaugural committee as the youngest and only female member. After serving on that committee, I designed the idea of a breakfast show that will not be hard and not mindlessly soft, something that in particular people who are usually home in the morning will like.

  • You just recently returned from a conference in Aspen, Colorado – please tell us about that conference and your meeting with Madeleine Albright

I designed a project that I was going to do next year and I was going to include Madeleine Albright and a few other incredible women around the world, including Condoleezza Rice. I got a confirmation that I was on the right path. Madeleine is a gorgeous woman; frightfully intelligent, sharp as a nail. She's a woman's woman. If you under-estimate her, you do it at your own peril.

The African Leadership Initiative by Aspen is just a brilliant idea. The idea is to identify, stimulate network and groom a whole type of connected, informed, creative and effective leaders in different regions of the world. It is replicated in India, South America and other places. For the recent FOCAS conference by Aspen Institute Myself and Kwaku Addo who is also a fellow from Ghana joined the likes of TIME magazine's editor James Kelly, Arthur Sulzberger, chairman of NEW YORK TIMES group, crag Newmark of Craigslist, Madeleine Albright and a stellar host of others to discuss how technology is changing media content and how these changes can be effectively or otherwise used in areas of development, democracy commerce and good governance. Unlike traditional media, the future we are going into is where the audience will control what they see because all the technology that is available now just makes that possible. We are getting to a point where the media houses are not just pushing contents at you but they are pulling contents from you. We discussed the pros and cons, the technology that makes that possible, and how we can prepare for it.

  • There are leadership challenges in Nigeria today and this seems to be affecting our youth especially. You have recently commenced a mentorship program. Please tell us about this program and how effective it is.

By my nature, I relate with young people very well because I refuse to age beyond 30. I'm going to be forever 30. I like 30. I've worked with a lot of young people and it became obvious to me that what they need is someone who understands them, who won't be unduly judgmental and who will listen to them and might help to shape them; someone who will walk with them on the very difficult part of finding themselves. One thing that continues to amaze me about Nigerians is our complete helplessness. I as a human being do not like to be helpless.

A young Indian man in Zimbabwe asked me once, during the Abacha dictatorship: "how could you people allow Abacha?" That question had always engaged me. How could we allow a lot of the things that happen in Nigeria? My belief has always been that if you accept who you are and understand your role where you are, you might begin to find ingenious ways to solve your own problems. One of the ways to get there is to connect with that entity and understand that you are a part of it. Our lives are not worth much if we don't identify with this.

It doesn't matter how much we know, we are still going to be defined by this Nigerian identity. That's how the idea started for me. That if we have young people who understands this much, when they get into positions of authority, and they will deliberately seek to get there, because they understand that we should not leave things to the worst and the least gifted amongst us, which is the thing about Nigerians; we generally leave our lives to the least able amongst us. So let's begin to raise a whole new generation who thinks differently. This not only in governance but also in every facet of our lives, we after all create the type of government we have.

The Mentorship program was just a natural step in the direction of what I've always done. We do this through an incredible young lady, Temitayo Etomi. She's just 24 but she's just awesome. She's the one who runs practically all the aspects of the mentorship program. She finds young people, prunes them down, then we send them to different people and different offices to work with. Eventually, I will find an elite group of 40 every year and find mentors for them around the world.

  • That would be considered community involvement. Will you consider that your way of giving back to the community?

What community? I'm strongly against labels. Sometimes we need labels as human beings to understand things better, but what community? What has Nigeria done for me? I love Nigeria because that's who I am and you must love who you are but I come from a background where Nigeria has beaten me down every step of the way. My earliest experience of Nigeria was an era when they completely devalued the naira and my father didn't have any money. He couldn't send us to school, he couldn't feed us. It meant that I started working at age 14 and feeding and taking care of myself. But if it was for Nigeria, Nigeria didn't do anything for me.

And I say this with all sense of seriousness so that people who feel that because Nigeria didn't do anything for them, they can't do anything for Nigeria can learn something. I don't want that to be repeated in other generations so it's important to do the things we're doing now. It's the right thing to do; this is how we can bring value to who we are. I believe in community because I was raised a Jehovah's Witness. I understand how people work together in groups and volunteering. In Nigeria, we are just beginning to build communities now.

  • Kindly share with us briefly about your educational and family background.

Most of my education was in Lagos. There was free education in the western region, which was a good thing. I'm glad I got free education. But one of my most enduring memories is of me carrying my chair and desk on my head and walking from Loko in Yaba all the way to Adekunle with all our teachers and all the children. We were 11 or 12 years old at that time. We went to this site where our school was supposed to be and it was a rubbish dump; there were human faeces, there was urine everywhere. I remember the smell which never seems to leave that school. We cleaned it up with our own hands and we built the schools by ourselves and we didn't have enough teachers. I remember that I taught myself geography because I didn't want to fail geography.

One of the things I remember very well from that school was our teacher, Mr. Ajila, who was our government teacher; he was always saying that: "if you came to a school like this and you fail, double jeopardy because it's punishment enough to be in this school and punishment that you've failed." It was a unique way of looking at it and I believed him and I was determined not to come out of that school a failure.

I came out of that school with six distinctions but I didn't pass JAMB. I wanted to study medicine but thank God I didn't pass JAMB. I went to the University of Ibadan to study Geography because my brother dared me to do it. I didn't really care anymore by the time I got there. I knew in my mind that I was going back to what I had always wanted to do. When I was five, I wrote down that I wanted to write; wanted to be a journalist.

  • You are deeply involved in sports and also give a sizeable share of your show's air time to sports coverage – how long does this date back, why is it so, and what major sports tournaments have you covered?

May be I'm a failed athlete. Growing up, everybody told me that I should be an athlete. But I didn't do it because they were also telling me that if I did, I would develop muscles and nobody will marry me. And when I started television, a large chunk of the show we produced where l worked then was sports programs. It afforded me the opportunity to really interact with athletes and to go to international tournaments and I just caught the bug.

I love the atmosphere around sports, the camaraderie, and the adrenalin – to see human bodies driven to its very best; the heights you can arrive at and the lows. I've been to two World Cup finals, two Olympics finals, three Nations Cup finals, and two Grand Pries. But l don't do a lot of sports programs on the show anymore. We now concentrate on lifestyle, interviews, stories, entertainment, women, development, leadership, and youth though I personally still follow sports and I do a travel journal for news magazines. I love sport. I think every human being should take an interest in sports, especially the youth. I'm teaching my daughter from this age. What it does is to give them team spirit, the will to win, and the ability to stick with it and to respect processes.

  • As a talk show host who has been likened to Oprah Winfrey, including being called the Queen of morning television, do you feel like you're sometimes walking in her shadows? Have you ever met her or do you desire to meet her?

I used to hate it and it just seemed to me that they were trying to say that I'm trying to be Oprah and I never desire to be anybody but myself. If you look at the way I describe my own journey in television, it's my own personal evolution. Recently I was telling them at the Aspen conference that when I started doing my show, I had never seen an Oprah show. I had heard about her but I had never seen her show. But later on I started seeing it as a compliment because she is doing a really wonderful thing in her country and it must be that they see parallels between what we are doing, therefore I no longer see it as a disadvantage.

She's a wonderful, wonderful woman. Incidentally everybody keeps saying that I have to meet her. Even at the conference in Colorado, everybody was saying that I have to meet her, she would love me, and so we've now set the process in motion to meet her. You know, just to meet her close up and see what makes her tick. The thing I'm doing next year actually will involve her because I would like to talk to Condoleezza Rice, Oprah, Toni Morrison, Hillary Clinton, and Madeleine Albright; just show to young girls that it's doable. When they see those who are doing it, then they know that they can do it too. It's about bold positive female images around the world.

 

  • Do you do product endorsements? If so, how does this interfere with your assumed neutrality as a talk show host?

In Nigeria, we have not got to that point. Television is mass media but the television that those who make decisions for corporate organizations in Nigeria are watching is international television. For me I always laugh. I can just walk into a company now and everybody l meet on the way from the policeman on the street to the doorman to the secretary would have been greeting me and asking me questions related to that morning's show.

I will walk into the office of the boss and he would ask you what you do exactly because he doesn't watch Nigerian television; he has refused to connect with the Nigerian identity. There are people in Nigeria who didn't know when that house collapsed in lbadan street in Lagos. I went to my gym in VI Proflex and would you believe that eight out of the 10 people I was talking to did not know that a building had collapsed in Lagos a day before and killed over 100 people? I remember one lady actually asked me where is Ebute Meta. There are people who know my name, they know that I do television, but they don't know the essence really. I realized long ago that I'm walking an uncharted path and that eventually, it's going to be easier for those who are walking behind me.

 

Do you have any plans for online streaming of New Dawn with Funmi, especially for Nigerians abroad?

Yes, we started working on that last year including plans for pod casting, blogging and intereactive video images exchange. The technological challenges are there. Between last year and now, a lot of things have changed. We couldn't even get enough bandwidth to do some of the things we wanted to do. We couldn't secure a broadband access. Those are the problems we have just begun to solve now. I know that should be done in the next few months. I also want to make the website a lot more interactive; I want to begin to pull rather than push and some of these are challenges that are peculiar to Nigeria.

The amount of work that I've done in London in the past three days, I wouldn't have been able to do it in three weeks in Lagos. That's the fact of it but those are also the things which make us the people we are because we find ingenious ways to do these things. New Dawn will be streamed. It's incredible because we have five years worth of materials. We will start streaming the show in the next six months.

As I said earlier, when I travel and I see Nigerians, I keep thinking we need to tell our stories ourselves, we need to tell our stories collectively as a group. We need to be able to push our own causes, sell our own products. For example, the shoe that I was wearing in Aspen, everybody loved it, including Madeleine Albright. That shoe was made by my friend Temi in Lagos. I can't begin to tell you the sweat and blood, which she uses to make each pair of those shoes, which I wear with a lot of pride. The dress I was wearing was made by another girl in Lagos and they all loved it. Imagine if Nigerians all over the world could see it and they could buy it. And some of these things are what will solve our problems because we will move from a power economy to a people economy; driven by commerce, not by a big man.

  • Do you have any political aspirations? You seem to be strongly involved with the Lagos state government and you sometimes work on a lot of projects with them. Do you have any plans to go into politics in the near future?

The Lagos State governor, Bola Tinubu is my friend. I put everything into all that I do. I worked on his inaugural committee in 1999 where even they were calling me aje too. I became very friendly with Governor Tinubu and I'm loyal to my friends. The Lagos state governor has been kind to me. I have these fifty children on scholarship and he has been paying out of his pocket to put my children in school for those years. For me that's enough, so whatever they call me to do, as long as it's within my values, I do it.

I don't do contracts with Lagos state; I don't get money from Lagos state. I just do the change a life scholarship scheme. I consider the governor my friend because of what he's done for my children.

Until recently I didn't have political aspirations. I felt that you can use whatever medium you have to make a change. Nigeria is developing and sometimes you need to be in a position to do something. And recently I've been asking myself "what do some of these politicians know that I don't know." I'll do whatever is necessary to play my role in this country. I don't want to just lie down and die or just sit down and complain. I want to do something about the entity called Nigeria.

 

  • What are your views on the possibility of a female president being elected in Nigeria soon? I noticed that you recently interviewed Dora Akunyili. In your views, is she a Presidential material? And you may want to touch on the woman, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as well. A lot of people have been tipping them up and saying both of them will be a good ticket in 2007. What are your views on that?

I think that Nigeria needs a good President, whatever the gender is. I don't care where the President comes from, whether it's Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, or South-South, male, female. Usually, that would have been my academic position but I have seen recently that Nigerian women are sterling when they step into their own roles; when they get over that I can't do this or I can't do that chant. And this government in particular has thrown up some tremendous women.

I think that Nigeria needs a good President, whatever the gender is. I don't care where the President comes from, whether it's Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, or South-South, male, female. Usually, that would have been my academic position but I have seen recently that Nigerian women are sterling when they step into their own roles; when they get over that I can't do this or I can't do that chant. And this government in particular has thrown up some tremendous women.

I've interviewed Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. She reminds me of Madeleine Albright. They're both small in the same way and mischievous. They have this child-like thing about them and they're fiercely intelligent. I do not see any reason why Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala can not be President of Nigeria. I have spoken to many people who want to be President of Nigeria and I tell you, on a scale of one to ten, she is nine.

Dora Akunyili is also disarmingly child-like. She had said herself that when she went to take the NAFDAC job, she didn't know what she was walking into. And that's where you can see her power, because sometimes a leader needs to get into a position where she sees something, knows that the thing needs to be done and does it. She also will make a good material. There are a lot of wonderful women in government or in great positions right now – Obi Ezekwesili is another one and she is warm, she doesn't suffer fools, she respects processes, she's intelligent, and she's committed.

Nigeria right now as we speak has women who can be President in that country. I think often times the reason why they don't step forward is because it's money politics. And you see what's happening – where are they going to get that kind of money from, where are they going to get that kind of support from? And that's where I come in because I would like in 10 years to have built a community of people who will be interested in leadership in Nigeria and are able to mobilize other people to support those who are qualified for leadership positions, not because they have the money or come from the same part of the country and all that. Hopefully, we would have gone past that level of our politics by then.

I'm so glad that these particular women were thrown up. A lot of young girls have taken inspiration from them.

  • You are away from home on holiday right now; home being Nigeria. How close do you think Nigeria is to attracting tourists to the country on summer vacations, especially with the Tinapa project that's being championed by Governor Donald Duke? I also noticed that the project has been tipped to be a major tourism pull for the country so what's your views on that?

What Donald Duke is doing in his state is just fantastic. I like the idea of someone saying we are going to do this and just getting it done. Donald Duke is a really talented leader and I admire him. Now as for tourism in Nigeria, I think we should be practical. To start with, we should begin to do intra-tourism. We have 120 million people and counting. Imagine if we are able to feed all Nigerians; if we are able to cloth Nigerians; if we are able to entertain Nigerians; we will replicate America like success because that's what America is doing.

America is very insular because when America takes care of Americans, other people want their lifestyle and they begin to buy into that lifestyle and what happens is that America also makes money from other people, especially those who can't even afford that lifestyle, so I'm of the opinion that Nigeria should first take care of Nigerians. As it stands now, we should not fool ourselves. Why would anybody want to come to Nigeria, aside from people who are just emotional or business pirates? The things that make for a good vacation, the ability to spend e-money, the ability to get from one place to another, that is not available in Nigeria. How do you get around? We don't have enough hotels in Nigeria. Tinapa is a brilliant place that a few people can just fly directly to that place but you can not therefore say Nigeria is a major tourism destination.

Recently I was in Marrakech in Morocco, a place that has cultural similarities to Kano. In the highest part of the Atlas Mountain, amongst the Berbers the phone was working, they had satellite television; there was electricity – that is what brings about tourism. It's the infrastructure first. We have to fix the infrastructure. We can not get away from making sure we provide the electricity, transportation, water, and healthcare. Those things are basics. Once you have done that, your home will be more pleasant for people to come to. We don't have to build any great, big structures; we need to fix the infrastructures first. But I admire the courage of Governor Duke and people will go there because what he has done there is tremendous however the ripple effect of Tinapa will be restricted to that area, without infrastructures in place.

I say this with a lot of pain because I prefer to vacation in Africa, especially because of my daughter. I would like her to vacation in Africa because I don't want her to think that everything that works is white. We go to Accra, go to Togo; just drive to Togo and there's light; everywhere is lit, even little children notice. We go to South Africa, go to Kenya, and go to other parts of Africa. And Africa is beautiful. I hardly ever come to vacation in London. I'm here because I had to go to Aspen and London is a good stopover on my way back home.

  • I remember you started your talk show hosting career dancing on television in the morning at 7 a.m. You were even at that time attracting about 10 million viewers. Now the show has gone from New Dawn at 10 to New Dawn with Funmi and now there is a new tagline New Dawn, the movement, the spirit. Can you tell us what kind of transitioning took place there and where you're at now?

I've grown before everybody. I remember at that time, I had to do something to cheer myself up. I would have driven all the way from Festac to Yaba. I used to wake up at 5 a.m. and usually I would have listened to Dan Foster in the morning and he would be so upbeat and would have played some great music, so I'm singing in my head. And by the time I come on set, I'm still singing in my head and I'm child-like in that matter. If I feel like dancing, I start dancing. And I've always loved dancing. And I see that these things make people happy. Happiness is infectious. When you're happy, other people are happy.

Imagine all those people watching at home. My father used to say that it was eerie; he would be walking down the street and he would hear my voice from every home. It was a tremendous opportunity and I just did what made me happy. And if my being happy made other people happy, then I'm satisfied. And all the things that were happening live on television – people will bring children who had been abandoned, we would cry, it became not just a television program but a way of being, a movement, a spirit. It's something that you just feel. And that's what we mean by the new tagline that New Dawn is a movement, it's a spirit. And that's why we are going into all those things about leadership because it's the dawn of a new thing, a new way of doing things. I'm sick and tired of things being the way they are.

  • There was an incident about two years ago when you were crying on television because the show had to take a break. Why was there a need for that break and what made you cry, considering that you are the happy-go-lucky kind of person?

I just got tired, you know, it's such a struggle – to convince advertisers to bring the money, to direct the show. We had challenges in NTA where we would build the set and we almost had to bring the microphone and bring everything by ourselves. Sometimes people are hard on you and they make you stronger. I remember singing that song by Christina Aguilera in which she says thank you for making me stronger on TV.

At that point, it was a weak point. I was just physically and mentally exhausted. I was tired of struggling and trying and I thought to go and get a nice, cushy job in some corporate environment and be pushing some papers and be miserable but at least I will be making a steady income.

However, I surround myself with amazing people. And my friend, Jide Bello, who is my lawyer, and my friend, Bose Afolabi, they wouldn't hear of it. They suggested I should take a short break to get my spirit back and then return to the show. And we came back stronger and better. We didn't even take a break. What I did was we re ran old episodes of the show for a couple of weeks and I just dropped out to recharge my spirit and I was back stronger. And I will never let anyone or anything push me to that point again where I make decisions not based on reason. I never will give up again.

  • The Life Class segment of your show seems to have developed a life of its own. Can you tell us a little bit more about that segment and do you have any plans to float it as an independent show?

Life Class was just an experiment. I went to Matthew Ashimolowo's church in Maryland one day. I learn from everywhere. They had a session which they called Life Class in which people make presentations about different things. And I thought why not do something like this? So we started asking people to come on the show. We have all kinds of resource people – Mike Murdoch came on when he was in Nigeria for a conference.

It's just tremendous to see the changes. We've put it to the test of reason and information – what is known as of now – and then put it to the test of does it work, and then you actually see people when the realization dawn on them that what they've just accepted all along does not necessarily work that way. I learn from the life class every day and I'm glad to do it.

The show itself is an independent show. We produce it on the NTA platform which airs it but we own the show itself. I'm still trying to raise the finances to build a studio, not just for myself but for other people to use as well. You can never go wrong in building infrastructure. I don't know why we have to convince people about that – build a road there, people will use it; build the train tracks, people will use it. Don't make excuses about doing the right thing. We can not all be building luxury flats in Ikoyi and overpopulating the place and charging a fortune and thinking that is how to do commerce.

I intend to do a show that we can put up to 200 people in the studio at the same time and tell uniquely Nigerian stories. I want to build a show that you will be watching in Canada, somebody will be watching in Europe, and you can bring people into Nigeria from Canada, talk to Nigerians in every part of the world and form our own community to understand that we are in this together, sort of like what other people have done. When they release a good film in Nigeria, we premier it in London, you know about it already in Canada, Athens, Ukraine, and all the Nigerians there are buying it; we have an effective distribution system in place so that piracy is reduced. Do you know how we will begin to generate commerce? I don't know why other people don't see it but I see it clearly and it is the belief that drives me everyday.

  • Now one of the aims of this set of interviews I'm conducting is basically to document stories of Nigerians and their walk through life, and I see that you've come from practically nothing to something and so much more. Now as somebody who has a platform through which you reach millions of people on a daily basis, now what will be your suggestion to Nigerians who have similar aspirations as yourself?

What I would say is let's work together; let's do this together. There are too many stories to be told. We don't even need new television stations, we have enough. We need those ones to become more able, stronger in their ability to reach more places, but more importantly, we need the content so you can imagine how many programs we need to be producing everything, which is why when young girls and boys come to me and say that they want to be like me, I say let's go, let's do it. I encourage them because we've got to tell our own stories, we need our own sitcoms, our own drama series, our own films, our own talk shows, our own documentaries, and our own news programs, and they must have independent means. As long as they are produced by government parastatals or need government support, they can not be completely independent.

For them to be independent, corporate Nigeria, both at home and beyond the shores of Nigeria, must buy into it so that those that know what they're doing can grow stronger and much more powerful and that's why we must knit together. Whoever wants to start, should just start and then connect others who are interested. Let's exchange information, exchange ideas, exchange materials, and grow together. Someone was asking me recently at the American embassy in Nigeria that won't I do better in America, and I said Nigeria is virgin territory – I only have to do a little to make a difference in the lives of so many people.

It has to be done and some people must choose to do it. It doesn't matter where you are. For example you are in Canada. Some of the problems of technology we have in Nigeria, can't we outsource it to you? That's one thing we need to learn to do as Nigerians, to work together, to build stronger, more powerful units instead of the little, little things we do that at the end of the day we just die with a little bit of challenge. I'm interested in building something that's enduring.

  • And your parting word?

My parting word is that I want Nigerians to stop talking and start doing. And we need to stop pointing fingers. We waste so much time pointing fingers when we can actually begin to develop ingenious ways of solving our problems. I want to answer that question one day and say that "we didn't take it, we stopped taking it." To do that, I want us to shut up and go into ourselves and think and be ingenious and find new ways of solving our same old problems. The problem has been with us for a long time and the people who hold us down have used the same system. They have not been ingenious; we are the ones who have just not found ways of doing something about them.

*** This piece is part of One hour with Jumoke, a life-walk series. ***

The author can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., www.jumokegiwafoundation.org



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