By Ikem Okuhu
“Honourable Minister Sir, you said this project is about Nigeria and how we can change our attitude. If this is so, how come a South African is the one leading this presentation?”
I am not sure I remember his exact words on this day, but this was the context of a question that Nigerian rap artiste, MI Abaga had asked the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed at Southern Sun Hotel, Ikoyi Lagos last year.
The meeting was at the instance of the Minister. The guests were top Nigerian musicians and Nollywood actors and actresses. The purpose of the meeting was to get their buy-in on what was then, the ministry’s plan for a national reorientation campaign for national attitudinal change. We later saw the campaign theme as “Change Begins with Me.”
Since then, the campaign has been kicking up more controversy than the change it was designed to achieve, the first being the intellectual dishonesty challenge posed by Akin Fadeyi’s “Not in My Country” project of similar end.
I am aware that at this buy-in with Nollywood and Nigerian musical artistes, veteran musician, Sunny Ade, who attended in Proudly Nigerian colours, was not too happy that the Minister dressed in jeans and T-shirt to the presentation.
Industry players, especially those in advertising had at the time grumbled that it was improper for a project of such stature to go on without the input of the Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN).
There was no pitch for the project.
The industry was not invited to even be witnesses.
But for Centrespread, an advertising agency said to be very close to the Minister, no other agency had an official invitation to the event. And as this was going on, rumour mills became rife with talk that a South African agency had been handed the job to do the bulk of the creative work.
I understand that Centrespread had made spirited denials of this, but no one had been able to explain the role of the agency represented by the white guy that handled that presentation. What has been heard was Centrespread’s claim that it handled the project end-to-end, including receiving the brief before purported shoots in five locations in Lagos that took only five days for recording, post production and delivery!
For a national reorientation campaign?
But even with this, the industry still claim the bulk of the creative work on the “Change Begins with Me” campaign was done in South Africa with a South African agency in the creative lead.
Fast-forward to January 2017 and Multichoice Nigeria decided to present the Big Brother Naija show. With worsening electricity generation and intractable infrastructure challenges, the owners of the programme decided it did not make business sense producing the programme in Nigeria.
Social media anger welled up as soon as the programme began to air and the location of the event became known. Those that are angry have their good reasons. First, it is huge national shame for such to happen. Second, it is huge loss of revenue for the country.
And that was when the Information Minister, Lai Mohammed, decided to add his voice to the conversation.
A press statement issues from his office and which was widely published in national media and blogs showed the minister was very angry that such was the situation and recommended that the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) investigate the matter.
”As a country of laws, only the outcome of the investigation will determine our next line of action,” the statement signed by Segun Adeyemi, Special Assistant to the Hon Minister said in part.
Why the Minister should not be seen talking about this.
Exported national orientation campaign vs exported national entertainment production
Long before the launch of the “Change Begins with Me” national reorientation campaign, we had scooped that such a project was in the offing. We were also informed by our sources that a South African agency was involved. We were also aware that the Ministry did not carry the wider marketing communications industry along on the project.
Now assuming Multichoice had no good reason for taking the recording of its Big Brother Naija show to South Africa, what could have been the reason for taking the production of a national orientation campaign to the same country? As I stated earlier, there have been spirited denials of this. But the fact that a South African led the presentation for the project leaves so much to be desired. Is a South African better placed to explain attitudinal change of Nigerians to Nigerians? Even if his task began and ended at this presentation (that irked MI Abaga), was this man better placed to engage Nigerians (even if that was a focus group consisting of musicians and actors/actresses)?
Between business decisions and national pride?
I understand where the Minister wants to be seen to be coming from. I appreciate what he wants to be seen to be protecting. But wait a minute, does anybody in this country understand the infrastructure deficit we have here and how it affects businesses?
I run a small business in Nigeria. I have lived in Lagos close to 20 years. But never have my energy bills been this huge. Since I returned from my Christmas holiday on January 9, 2016, I have had electricity supply in my home for less than 30 minutes. My office has been a bit better but we still average 1 hour 30 minutes every day in terms of public power supply.
What this means is that for me to stay at home in this sweltering heat, I have to run generators almost round the clock. I cannot do anything in the office without electricity so as government has failed in providing this, I have to generate my own power somehow.
A show like Big Brother will face worse challenge here. It requires round the clock power supply and will suffer if they have to face the fits and starts involved in switching on and off from the public power providers and their generating sets.
Imagine the cost of diesel. Imagine that they also have to find a way to minimize noise intrusions into their recording of external scenes. Does anyone thing about this?
I am not sure that given the choice and all factors being equal, Multichoice would decide to shoot its show in South Africa merely to spite Nigeria. It just does not make business sense and someone should please explain this bit to the Minister.
If we had electricity suppy in adequate terms in this country; if we had quality production companies and manpower here; if we had other needed infrastructure, I am certain Multichoice and other companies, domestic and multinational would domesticate a lot more of their activities here. It makes business sense that way. And I think this is what should worry anyone at any level of government in Nigeria.
Nigerian musicians have been shooting most of their music videos in South Africa and other countries and this has not worried anyone. They even use models that are not Nigerian. Should this not have worried the Minister especially because of the cultural content/influence in these music videos?
Priorities and what should matter
I was under the impression that programmes such as Big Brother run contrary to the kind of moral fibre Nigeria wants to discourage. So how come this programme, most popular for its lewd “Shower Hour” sessions attract such high-end attention?
Why is the minister not worried that any Nigeria content provider who thinks his project is good would rather air it on the various channels on DSTV than on Nigerian terrestrial channels? Is this not a problem to us? Or is the minister not aware that television in Nigeria has almost totally been exported with NTA (supervised by the Information Ministry) doing disservice to creativity and only Channels Television, struggling to keep the country’s name on the industry’s maps.
There are far too many things that should bother the minister than where Multichoice decides to take some young people looking for shortcuts to fame for the recording of their vanities and frailties.
I hope someone understands me.