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50 years of television in Nigeria: So far, so good?

Television broadcasting in Nigeria, nay Africa, will be 50 years old on October 31.  On that day in 1959, the Western Nigerian Television, WNTV, the brainchild of the Obafemi Awolowo government, took off in Ibadan, the then capital of Western Region. Two veteran broadcasters, Yemi Farounbi and Ambassador Segun Olusola, spoke to Sunday Vanguard on the journey so far, the achievements and challenges of the industry.

By Ola Ajayi & Benjamin Njoku

It’s been five decades of tremendous growth,  says Farounbi

HOW do you feel being part of the success story of the first television station in Africa?
I feel excited, thrilled and fulfilled. I was the twelfth chief executive of Ibadan. As a matter of fact, I was the chief executive who celebrated the 30th anniversary of television. When I look back at what Ibadan was and where it has been and when I recalled the prophetic mission given to Ibadan television by Chief Obafemi Awolowo, I feel fulfilled.

On the 31st October, 1959, Chief Awolowo said television should be used as a teacher and an educator and then for the information of the people. In which case, he said television in Nigeria should be used for information and education. And that was well thought out for a developing country. He wanted to use television as part of his free education programme. If you recall what was primary in his time was educational television. When I look back at how far we have gone, I feel proud to be part of that story.

How would you describe the difference in the quality of television programming now and then?
Tremendous. Let me start from technology. The technology now is something we couldn’t have imagined then. I recall now that in August 1960 when the first television drama in Africa was broadcast, we had no recording capacity that we have now.

The play was written by Wole Soyinka and was produced by the very first television producer in Africa, Segun Olusola, one of the creative and greatest men in television industry. There was no capacity to record and the cameras were so moved up that we almost needed a ladder to climb. So, the technology has changed.

Even in my days as the chief executive, we still had to use celluloid films to cover events which means if you cover an event today, you won’t be able to use it till the second day. It was during my tenure that we started aggressive video recording. So, technology has galloped and we are on the verge of going digital in 2012.

Apart from technology, the staff situation has changed. Then, television primarily was a show industry, they were looking for good boys who had good microphone voice, handsome looking boys and photogenic faces, but now, you are looking for the intellects.

Ambassador Segun Olusaola and Elder Yemi Farounbi
Ambassador Segun Olusaola and Elder Yemi Farounbi

In times past, most of the early broadcasters just left secondary schools, but now you have doctors, double masters. They are so well-educated and I can tell you they can compete with anyone anywhere in the world.

Even in my days, I left about 29 years ago as general manager, my staff could compete with others then. I had people like Fabio Lanipekun, Biodun Aladekomo. They could compete any day with what you have now on CNN and the NTA International, AIT and Channels have outgrown what we had then as WNTV. NTA, if you like, has become an octopus.

Thirdly is the variety of programmes. We have gone beyond what we used to call radio, music, picture. We have television news, great interviews, discussion programmes, investigation, in-depth stories analysis. In terms of programming, we have enriched the broadcasting. The area where we are having some drawbacks is training.
Granted that the staff now are better in terms of academic qualifications, but they don’t have the on-hands training. We used to send a lot of people to  BBC Training School, engineering school, the Thompson Foundation College, the Radio Netherlands Training Centre. All these, we are unable to do now.

Unfortunately, we don’t have a domestic training capacity. We have only NTA college for television. We have over 200 TV stations and we depend on only one training centre. That is a serious drawback. We still need to put in place many more practical, professional broadcasting training centres so that all these university people in the industry can now get adapted as they were.

Another major criticism against the television industry is that it promotes cultural imperialism, and that it relies more on foreign programmes at the expense of indigenous ones. What is your comment about this?
Many years ago, I did a work on what I called the notorious one way traffic of films from foreign countries to Nigeria. The reason for it is that the foreign films are very cheap because the films would have been circulated over so many stations all over the world. So, the cost of the film to a station is very low.

Whereas if it happens to be a local production, when I do it, it is only for one station and it is that station that would carry the entire cost of production. If the local ones are extremely costly, there is that easier tendency for people to patronize the American spirit, Mexican spirit, the English soap operas than Nigerians ones.

Of course, if you don’t have sponsors for your films, you can’t produce them. And there are not many sponsors. You therefore could conveniently talk of media or cultural imperialism. But, TV stations are many now. People sit in their homes and have access to about 70 TV stations on satellite. You can’t compare it.

So, to blame the local stations for it is to miss the point. The globalization in the world has made it for people to access TV stations in Arab, Europe, America and so on. And some of them are pornographic. Do you blame that on the local stations? It is what the technology has imposed on the world and there is no way you can build a barrier against it. All you can hope for is when a nation holds authentic cultural value that they would be able to resist it. Take India for example, in spite of their long years of independence, they have one of the biggest film industries. Most of their film productions are in Indian language.

There are certain things you won’t find on their films. You won’t find people kissing or find people who engage in covert sex advances or escapades because it has become part of their culture. They hold to their cultural values. But in Nigeria, we think modernization means an abandonment of your culture. So, that is not the problem of the television industry but the problem of a nation. Of course, television may begin to assist to re-value the society but the society must accept that certain things have been lost.

What is your advice to the television     industry. After all, it can still do    better than its current standard.
Two things to do. The first one is training. If possible, government could help them so that quite a lot of people most especially the freelancers, independent producers can get properly trained in the art of broadcasting.

Some of these values that are authentic to Nigeria can be part of their training and these can be reflected in their programmes. If you take an American film, you know that the good will always win. We also need to devote more money to programme making. Nine years ago, we watched a film, Ruth in this country. Programmes like that cost a lot of money. you would certainly find in American films.

We need more of such programmes. Not only soap opera or dramas that are based in contemporary little problems of romance, man and a woman, we need some epic that even in 50years, people would love to watch. Take sound of music for example, people still watch it and the film is more than 40 years old. We need to devote money if we want good programmes like news, interviews, in-depth analysis, news-behind the news, we need the time.
Third thing I love to see is enhancement and upliftment of our own authentic values. Sometimes, when you see the dress pattern in some of the programmes, they are not encouraging. It might be the latest craze in the world, but broadcasting must not rely on passing fashion because they would pass away. But, there are certain things we need. You find out that in the last 20 years, the dress pattern is gone. You find dressings that tend to debase our humanity. Dressings that are almost naked. We should seek to uphold the African, Nigerian culture and when we do entertainment, it should be entertainment that is wholesome. Not entertainment that breaks our value. So, that is what I still want to see and I also want to see more of reporting of events from a Nigerian’s point of view rather than from a foreigner’s point of view.

When a reporter from     BBC or CNN comes here, he can afford to report whichever way,  Nigeria collapses, breaks or burns, it is none of his business because he goes back to his country. Buhari used to say that we have no other country but Nigeria. We have to do things that such country must stay because a country that burns cannot improve. Some things that call for patriotism, we sometimes don’t do.

It doesn’t mean that we should bureaucratize things that we distort reality because the people see the reality. But it means that you report the reality with a view to engender improvement, not with a view to engender destruction. I believe that in another ten years, there would be more networks that would require more broadcasters.

Without technology, our television broadcasting hasn’t achieved much .
Amb. Olusola

TELEVISION  broadcasting after 50 years, has come a long way.  As a  veteran broadcaster, what is your assessment or visioned television broadcasting in Nigeria?
I started off as a producer in a television station that was owned by the Western regional government. That was in 1959 and I was just lucky to be one of  the first broadcasters to be recruited. Now, they call me the foremost television broadcaster and producer in Africa, because the Western Nigeria Television, WNTV, was the first television station established in any African country as at that time. One of my guiding colleagues then, who was not even in the broadcasting industry, was the late Cyprian Ekwensi.

I had left radio as features producer for televison and did not like it. I recall his advice to me then, that one never got into television broadcasting and come out of it so easily, that it would kill my disposition within the literary and art circle. From becoming a features producer in radio, I became the first television producer at that time.

I spent the first five years in the industry attempting to introduce drama to television. I worked with people like the  late Kola Ogunmola, the late Duro Ladipo and, by 1964, some of my friends had already moved to Lagos to join the NBTV. Later I joined the Nigerian Television Services located in Victoria Island in 1964.

The first challenge to me then was justifying my new appointment with a federal television station. And it took me sometime, but gradually, I was able to introduce the popular Village Headmaster. And when the Village Headmaster came on screen, the people that hired me felt that they did not make any mistake in my appointment.

The Village Headmaster later became the first television drama series to run on any Nigerian television station. My earliest collaborators then were people like Sanya Dosumu, who is now the Olowu of Owu, the  late Wole Amele, who also was a traditional ruler, Jab Adu, a great actor who later joined us, and my late wife, Mrs. Olusola.

My late wife was with the Ibadan television and when I moved to Lagos, she joined and was part of  Village Headmaster. She played Sisi Clara in the Village Headmaster in those days. That is  how televison grew  in Nigeria. And I remained with NBTV, now  NTA, until 1987 when I retired and that was the year I was appointed Ambassador of Nigeria to Ethiopia. Village Headmaster was a good programme people associate me with but the most popular show I remember participating was the one we called “Take a Trip”, a very ordinary, simple quiz programme, where you have the competitors from Calabar to Lagos and Kano providing  answers to questions  from the coordinator.

From your narration, would you say what we have today is a departure from yesteryears’ television broadcasting in the country?
Certainly not the same as yesteryears television broadcasting. Television has expanded to the point that every state in Nigeria has either set up its own television station or planning to do so. But what is more important about television development is that the first privately owned television station in Nigeria, DAAR Communications, owners of AIT and RayPower 100.5, emerged and has, in the last ten years, succeeded in convincing the public that both government and private sector can make contributions to television development. I supported the coming on screen of  DAAR  Communications. Whatever little I got from my pension I used to buy some shares in the company. And today, I’m a director of the company.

I contribute ideas towards the betterment of the company. After the emergence of AIT, several other private television stations followed suit: Channels, Galaxy Television, Murhi Television, TVC,  etc. which perhaps, is a proof that television service is an expanding broadcasting system that can admit as many practitioners as possible.

That means that the deregulation of 1992, that saw the emergence of AIT, was the  beginning of the revolution that we have witnessed in the last decade in the broadcasting industry.
No, but, on the contrary, I would say the laws of this country  enabled the government of the Western Region then to introduce television and radio as a regional organization and to enable the first station to expand to Lagos, because the WNTV’s transmitter was mounted somewhere near Ikorodu area of Lagos. And from there, we were broadcasting to the then  federal capital territory. That far-sightedness should be commended. That WNTV was not banned from broadcasting to Lagos was another breakthrough in television development in Nigeria.

Thereafter, the Enugu television station sprang up, with a slogan “Second to None” and some of our colleagues  moved over to Enugu. Even after the civil war, the standard of broadcasting in Nigeria did not drop. I would say that it’s as if, the television  brought the spirit of deregulation into Nigeria. It is not a recent thing because the Western Regional government using constitutional means brought television broadcasting and radio as a regional government endeavour.

Would you also say that, in the last 50 years, television broadcasting has been able to surmount some of the limiting factors of government ownership, monitoring, undue regulation and socio-political influences?
Deregulation, yes, it survived that, but, unfortunately, it has not survived in the area of technological development. Designing our own equipment, and ensuring that the technology of television broadcasting has been home grown. Let me mention to you some of the achievements of television broadcasting; without  technology, it didn’t look as if we achieved much. In 1973, we had what we called the second All African Games hosted by Nigeria, and the idea was to broadcast all the games from the National Stadium. It was the event that officially opened the National Stadium. But we said to all the broadcasting stations all over the world that we were ready to produce programmes from the National Stadium and offer them to the rest of the world.

Unfortunately, the world turned its back on Nigeria, because they never believed we were competent enough to cover the second All African Games. As a result, some of them went behind our back to create sporting programmes around the National Stadium just to know that Nigerians were not capable of producing good sports programmes.

On our part, we did not allow them to enter the main-bowl of the National Stadium. We formed, for the first time, what was called the Broadcasting Organization of Nigeria comprising all the television stations all over the country, including the federal owned television stations. And that was the organization that covered the second All African Games in 1973.

Was it part of the problem of acquiring global technology of colour broadcasting that until the 60s, broadcasting in Nigeria was in black and white?
It was part of the development process. A child must learn to crawl before he can walk.. Colour broadcasting in television is one level of development after the ordinary black and white. We started television broadcasting in Nigeria when there was no colour anywhere around the world.

We used black and white, and when the time came for the engineers to develop and design colour production, it took time to join the trend. The first station in Nigeria to introduce colour television was in Jos, Plateau State. And I remember very well the engineer who was in charge of that production.


Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.