Tell us about yourself
I am a journalist, first and foremost. I was born in Lagos. I studied Law at the University of Lagos and went to Nigerian Law School, Abuja. I have been working in the media since 2000, starting with ‘The Sunday Show’ (on NTA) with Livi Ajuonuma. Right now, I run Red Media Africa which is primarily focused on the youth market. What we are passionate about is using the media as a tool to propel young people to act for themselves and for their countries across Africa. It is broken into three organisations: the first is all about web communication; a PR and data marketing company.
We also have Y Naija.com which has the TV Show, the magazine and the website. And then there is the Future Project which is an NGO for young people. Right now, our twin focus is citizenship and enterprise.
Why did you deviate from legal practice?
I was in the media before I became a lawyer. I wrote a book when I was in secondary school. I left secondary school in 2000. The title of the book is His Father’s Knickers. At that time, I was trying to gain admission into the University of Lagos to study Law. I’m not exactly sure which came first. It was while trying to publicise the book that I went to ‘The Sunday Show’ with Livi Ajuonuma (on NTA) that he offered me a job to be a presenter on the show. Initially, I had wanted to study Mass Communication. Basically, I started my journey into the media and legal studies at the same time in 2000.
At what point did you go fully into media entrepreneurship?
In 2004, I met my friend, Adebola and other partners. I was working on New Dawn with Funmi Iyanda at the time. They were producing Youth Talk on the NTA (Nigerian Television Authority) network at the time. We became friends and I realised that we had a common vision and passion. And we said ‘How can we form an organisation that can impact basically young people in Nigeria and across Africa with the kind of value that we thought was important – enterprise, integrity?’ So, we decided to do the Future Awards which is our first property as a company. So, we formed a company called the Redstrat.
Redstrat was only supposed to do the Future Awards. However, while trying to market the Future Awards, we found out that people didn’t want to give us sponsorship. They wanted us to help them reach the youth market. And we realised
that they have a strength that the market needs. At that time the youth market was just getting established as a demographic for marketing communication. Then (in 2004), the concept of youth segment manager was novel in the market. We thought of the advantage we had in the sector; so Redstrat began to work for clients like Airtel, and some agencies that would outsource work to us.
You have come under the tutelage of a number of big media personalities, like Funmi Iyanda, the late Livi Ajuonuma and Jahman Anikulapo. How did that help in shaping your career?
Actually, I credit Funmi Iyanda as the biggest influence in my life and career. It is because of my relationship with Funmi that I began to love the media. Funmi loved the media. She understood the limitless possibilities in the media. She understood that the media is very powerful; that it’s not just about news and interview; it can change people’s lives. You can use it to talk about a lot of issues. I became infected with that sense of purpose.
Of course, it wasn’t just Funmi. I also worked with Agatha Amata for a few years on Inside Out which was meant to address social issues. Livi Ajuonuma was also one of the influential people in my life. His programmes – The Nation Today, The Sunday Show and The Open House Party were avenues to digest what the people had to say about national issues. Those were the foundations of my work.
That is the misconception that people have. I think they do because I am a young person. Okay, I have spent 14 years in the media, but I never used the new media until 2004. My foundation was the traditional media – TV and the print media. However, I always tell people that I don’t have one particular platform. I ask clients ‘What is the solution you need to advance your message?
I’m in love with the media as a possibility. It just happened that I came at a time when the new media became a defining innovation of our age. So, automatically, because I’m in the media and because I’m young and in that demography, the new media becomes a huge component of what we are doing and I now have that competitive advantage. I know instinctively what older agencies and media entrepreneurs have to learn, because I grew up on that. So, when we set up the Future Awards, we thought of how to get our message out with the limited funds that we had.
We were one of the pioneers to use the new media to push agendas and to push brands. Automatically, that has now become an important part of our work.
At a young age you have won a number of laurels among them the CNBC Africa All Africa Business Leaders Awards 2014. How did you receive this special announcement?
I was gratified because the work that we do is incredibly hard. I enjoy what I do. Sometimes, you don’t even know where the next money will come from; you just keep moving. We don’t have rich parents or godfathers; we didn’t have rich investors. We had to cater for ourselves. And it’s not easy in a country like this where there’s no institutional support for small businesses. Not only that, government wants to kill you with taxes and other levies. I feel elated that the CNBC thought that what we are doing is worth being recognised continentally. So, the prize was a recognition that we are doing well. I feel really glad about that, because I didn’t come out of an agency and we don’t have any of these traditional associations, affiliations or networks that people traditionally have in our sector. Same way, I felt delighted when someone told me that Mr. Biodun Shobanjo during a function at the Pan Atlantic University as a keynote speaker mentioned me and Debola as one of the young people leading in the media.
You’ve been investing so much energy on sensitizing the youth on the need to embrace great leadership qualities. Do you think leadership is where the solution to the problem of the country lies?
There are two answers to that question. First, my focus is not just leadership. My focus is citizenship. I believe we live among a generation of empowered and aware citizens who are actively involved in nation building. However, I don’t believe that one thing is Nigeria’s sole problem. Leadership is part of the problem; value is part of it, lack of institutions is part of it; so also are education and joblessness. We have a multitude of problems that we need to solve. So, we need an empowered set of citizens who understand the scale and urgency of the problem and are ready to act to solve them.
Do you have collaborators outside Nigeria for your youth-focused Future Project?
In 10 years of our running The Future Project we have visited 26 states in the country, and in all of them, we have typically worked with the network of young people who are representing us in different states. Of course, over the years, we’ve partnered with all kinds of institutions and NGOs in the country. But we have also physically gone to many of these states to find out what the issues of these young people are and to be able to understand how to apply the things that we are passionate about.
How can the youth be made to be more involved in politics?
The truth is that nobody cedes power to anybody. And it’s not just in politics, but in business, entertainment etc. All the top businesses in the world are run by old men. Usually, when young people start they go and form their own industries entirely. So, if we young people wait for old people to relinquish power to us it will never happen. I am not really concerned about young people going into politics but in them affecting political outcomes, by protecting their votes, by exercising their democratic muscles through protests and other activities when you feel that government needs to act right, by writing letters to representatives and forcing them to do debate.
I’m more concerned with young people being part of the process to make decisions about the candidates that those political parties produce. But the deception is that we think that young people cannot have their voice. Because we have come through several years of military rule, we have an immediate mental block as to how much change we can effect. Therefore, it is the job of those who call themselves leaders to keep reminding and equipping young people with the knowledge and information they need to make a difference in our political process.
You talked about young people compelling politicians to participate in political debate; how can the media help in driving this?
Let me give you an example. In 2011, I and others organised a debate that was aired on Channels TV. It was anchored by Chimamanda Adichie. We invited President Jonathan and General Muhammadu Buhari, Nuhu Ribadu, Mallam Shekarau and Dele Momodu – five candidates in all. President Jonathan and Buhari didn’t show up. The backlash was immediate from young people. Later the President agreed to be interviewed by D’Banj on a national television. But the important thing is that we used the media to embarrass them into paying attention. So, they thought ‘may be to get young people’s attention we should just use a popular musician,’ but the entire thing backfired. That is not an example of how you can use the media to get people to act. This year they will think twice.