We are the future of television in Nigeria

Tayo Adewusi was right at the heart of the democratic struggle to validate the annulled presidential mandate of Bashorun MKO Abiola after his 1993 presidential election was annulled by the military government of then military president Ibrahim Babangida. But today, he is a wave making TV-preneur, the owner of a TV satellite channel.


In this interview with GOKE OLUWOLE, Tayo recounts his days in the struggle and how that exposure ultimately attracted him to broadcasting.

What prompted you into becoming a TV-Preneur?

Because of my inclination, influence and motivation from the likes of my big brother, Mr. Niyi Akinsiju, whom I met in my formative years and who was always there to encourage me with all his heart; Mr. Niyi Akinsiju is one of Nigeria’s most articulate journalists, who, today, publishes FORTUNE & CLASS magazines, Nigeria’s most authentic and authoritative business journal, and the likes of Mr. Segun Banjo, who also writes for Fortune & Class and Mr. Femi Davies, who currently manages the White House Hotel, Ikeja, Lagos.

But among all these friends, I have in the entertainment and showbiz world, the man, whom I can call my mentor, Bob Dee [Mr. Dele Momodu] the publisher of Ovation, I can’t forget these people. They were there in my trying periods, their words were energizers that kept me going until I arrived here. You know, having been to most of these TV and radio stations for MAVED programme, I was exposed to the power of television which I realized is the most powerful media tool.

But really, it was my brother in-law who introduced me to mainstream broadcasting, he was the one who called me and told me to come and relief him in presenting his Information Technology focused IT TV programme while he was away for just one month as he was relocating his family to Europe then. Can you believe that that one month had become six years as I’ve been producing, directing and presenting the programme since then and I’ve even elevated it to become ICT WATCH on MITV, and MINAJ and some other stations.

However, in the course of doing some ICT public relations jobs for Engineer Banjo, the Chairman and CEO of DISC Communications Ltd. we became very close because he was one of the pioneers of indigenous TV in Nigeria and, of course, I also aired my programme on the platform.

It was in the middle of a discussion with Femi Davies who called me at MITV and said “Tayo, you are very close to Uncle Banjo, why don’t you tell him you want to have a TV channel on his platform,” I said, ‘fine,’ it was this statement that spurred me into the adventure you all are seeing today as FOCUS TV.

I remember that it was in July, 2006 that I first came to see him (Engr. Banjo) and told him my intension to have my own TV channel. Engr. Banjo’s response was, “my friend, do you know what it takes to have a channel?” I said, ‘yes, I’m prepared.’ He then asked if I had the money; naturally, that question was popular with him. He loved to ask anybody who made such a request on him, if they have the money to manage a cable station.

I responded that I was capable, so, I went to the drawing board and between that July in 2006 and April 2007, when we were given the nod to start, we commenced operations inside a very small cubicle, where we started our test transmission that April ending in 2007. Because I knew that every new station that comes up the first thing that they always do to attract viewing is to have a lot of entertainment programmes like film and musicals.

We just had it behind our minds that we were not going to do what other people were already doing, so we remained FOCUSed just like our name and our plan then was to be the channel to beat on this platform in six months, but in just two months of our operations, we became the channel to beat and that again threw up challenges of remaining on top for us.

Was that really your biggest challenge as TV- preneur ?

I would say no, it was just one of the challenges but because we don’t have any bank to support us. Nigerian banks don’t help small customers grow; they prefer to go and sponsor blue chip companies with billions of naira whereas there are entrepreneurs who need only N50,000 to survive. My brother, just like any other business owner in Nigeria today, I still believe power is one of our biggest problems.

If I tell you how much it is costing us to fuel our three stand-by generators in a month, now, if that same amount is injected into our operations, our production quality will be better and tighter and that means more income for us. Despite the fact that we are in an industrial neighbourhood, we at times, don’t have power from NEPA or PHCN as they call them, for hundreds of hours in a month. It is annoying when they prefer to supply power in the thick of the night while everyone was asleep and then switch it off before day break. If government can listen to me, let them forget other infrastructure and face power supply, every other thing will fall in place.

How have you been able to manage your business related challenges?

Till date I cannot tell you I’ve conquered my challenges because they are still there. There are some I cannot conquer, so what I did was to find a means of living with them like the alternative power supply. These are some of the challenges that as an individual I cannot conquer. We are barely floating, I tell you, since the day we commissioned our live studio in October 2008, if I show you the bill we’ve paid on fuel alone you’ll marvel, but I can tell you we are still not close to our target. The dream is big, we are not even close yet. It is just a dream coming true, but we are not yet there.

How would you describe the impact of regulations in your industry of choice compared to other sectors?

What I can say about the ICT sector of the economy is that we once clapped our hands for increasing telephone subscriber base from NITEL’s 400,000 to the 62 million lines we have now. But looking at it critically, a lot of people carry an average of two to three phones, so don’t let us look at the specific number but the service delivered. It would have been okay if we all carry one phone and we are satisfied with the services. The issue is that I want to call Mr. A and I want to reach him on time and spend my normal time but you’ll see that before I can reach him I will have to spend some additional time and when you even make the calls, they are not going and you have drop them.

Even at that, the GSM service providers are better than the CDMA phone service providers. The moment you started dialing their computer will start counting on your charges between the time you started dialing and the time your receiver picked up his phone, you are already being charged for time spent calling. Why can’t they configure their lines just like the GSM service providers, the quality of services rendered by all the networks are very poor and that had been our campaign for a very long time; the regulators, in fairness to them, one should say they’ve done a good job, but when we look at the quality of services by these providers, it leaves much to be concerned about.

Does this have direct negative or positive impact on your operations?

Yes, because we are still under the same ministry, the current challenges those of us in the broadcast sector are having with the National Communication Commission is that while we are trying to better the quality of our services, the frequency we transmit from, the NCC is planning to auction it. We are talking of people who had secured their licences for the past 15 years; the frequency had been allocated in the past 15 years, why are you now opting to sell it while these people have their renewal in the last five years still in tact.

I think that there are duplications of roles by the regulators; we are under BON [Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria] and if there is any erring broadcaster or operator, he should be disciplined by the NBC [Nigerian Broadcasting Commission] but the NCC is usurping that role of overseeing the frequency band. According to Engr. Banjo, the power of broadcasting cannot be compared to the power of communications, the two are far apart, the industry needs more regulatory framework that will help drive and develop the sector.

How would you compare the impact of the new minister on the sector with that of the former minister?

I think the background of the new Information Minister, Prof. Dora Akunyili as a renowned regulator has certain implications. Being in the kind of the country we are, she should be in the real sense of it the Minister of Information and Communications and not the Minister of NCC as she is now inclined to be. I say this because there has been a tendency in Nigeria’s government where ministers appointed to oversee different aspects of a ministry ended up just concentrating on one aspects of the responsibility of the ministry.

We have had sports ministers that performed more or less as ministers for football, while ministers for mines and power have only concerned themselves with electric power, leaving the mines aspect of the ministry. Now, since Prof. Akunyili does her things with passion, we are expecting her to use the same passion to drive the general information sector.

For now it will be unfair for me to start comparing her with her predecessors, all I know is that the sector needs someone who will help nurture and tend it.

What is the capital base or worth of FOCUS TV?

Well, I may not be able to tell you how big we are or how rich we are, but I know we are still acquiring equipment and expanding our frontiers, so the only thing I know is that to have a local channel on our platform, you’ll need to build your own studio from the scratch like I did, costing you millions of naira; but what I know is that you must be a millionaire to run or own a TV station in Nigeria, because we have over head very close to what obtain in banks, because we burn our generators 24/7, so when you add that alone to the cost, it is very heavy. What I’ve learnt over the years, running this business, is that every business has a gestation period and it must be clearly defined at the inception. What we are doing now is to plough back all our returns to the business, and to remain focused.

What are the future expectations of focus TV?

By the special grace of God we know that FOCUS CABLE Channel will be transforming to terrestrial television, but we are also looking at the possibility of kicking off with our own private owned radio station and our area of coverage is Lagos zone though we have our footprints in all the South West states of Nigeria, at times we stray into the Midwestern states.

You know, the Federal Government has declared that by 2011 every broadcast establishment must go digital that means that AIT, GALAXY, MITV,etc; will be satellite stations and you can only watch them via cable network system, that is the future of television broadcasting.

We hope advertisers can see the quality of our programmes, like some of our superb programmes that can stand shoulder to shoulder with some premium TV programmes on our local stations. We have a popular breakfast talk-show running from Monday through Saturday, ICT programme runs from Monday to Saturday, Lalale Friday is an entertainment programme that showcases spots for fun seeking viewers to know what is happening around town and where they are happening. Our presenters are seasoned professionals with track records in the industry.

Our Celebrities Hangout programme over the last three months had showcased and featured top celebrities including the likes of Evangelist Ebenezer Obey, Sammie Okposo, Adewale Ayuba, Wale Thompson while we have lined up artistes of the likes of KWAM 1, Lanre Teriba Atorise, Evag. Dunni Olanrewaju Opelope Annointing, as our next set of guests.

We have a review of 10 top movies in English and Yoruba home videos; there are a lot of programmes on the terrestrial TV that are also on our channel, both local and foreign. Really, FOCUS TV is a must watch channel for everyone.

What does it take to get FOCUS TV to our homes?

All you need to do if you reside in Lagos State or its neighbouring towns or cities, is to buy the old antenna and a decoder, this will cost you about N300, but if you preferred the bundle, it is going to cost you N11,500 plus one month free subscription. And you are likely to watch about 60 channels, you are even permitted to watch about 16 foreign channels, and 20 indigenous channels including FOCUS TV when you are not able to pay your monthly subscription. The bundle subscription is family channel including CNN, Al jazerah, Christian Channel, Cartoon Tv, Sports, Music Channel, Movie Channel and many more. You cannot compare FOCUS TV with all these regular TV stations, our programmes are packaged with the niche viewers in mind and the maturity in our production is of world class standard.

Who is Tayo Adewusi?

I was born 40 years ago in Ilorin, Kwara State to Owu parents, which means I’m an Owu person. I started my primary education in Ile-Ife, Osun State, but I completed it in Lagos, I was at the Methodist Boys High School, Lagos and thereafter at the Lagos State School of Basic Studies, on Agidingbi Road, Ikeja, now converted to the Lagos State Technical College, Ikeja.

After my studies at the Lagos State School of Basic Studies, I did not get into a higher institution straight away because I wasn’t able to secure admission for the course of my interest so this delayed me a bit because I told myself that once I did not secure admission for the course of my interest I will not go for any other course. My intention then was to study Computer Science but I invariably went into the Lagos State Polytechnic to study accounting.

Again, though I had the goal to get to the top of my accounting career, to be a Chattered Accountant, due to my inclination for the democratic struggle in Nigeria during the heady days of the military era, I was more or less distracted.

I started out my democratic struggle while in school as a student activist, I was the public relations officer of the Student Union Government – Lagos State Polytechnic, and later, the Director of Travels & Exchange of the National Association of Nigerian Students [NANS] Under Dennis leadership. These were some of the things I engaged in between 1992-1996,and thereafter, by the time I was probably leaving the school, my encounter with the likes of Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Olisa Agbakoba, Ayo Obe, Femi Falana, Festus Keyamo had influenced my decision to go into a full time activism which made me to pitch my tenth with the Civil Liberties Organisations [CLO] I use to have my desk at the CLO’s office.

This was at the height of the June 12 crisis, of course, we formed the Moshood Abiola Vanguard For Democracy [MAVFD] I was the founding and still the Secretary General. It was a trying period for all of us in the struggle between 1993-1999, it was evident that we weren’t looking beyond 1999 when we had democracy. Even Baba Abraham Adesanya, the leader of the Afenifere then, now of blessed memory, was not looking beyond 1999.

We were short sighted in the contemplation of what those that struggled for democracy should do when the military returned power to civilians in 1999. That is why, today, most of us that were in the struggle were not really part of the team running the country now. A lot of us were not just prepared for that, none of us was preparing to become even a councillor or hold any political position.

But in the course of our struggles, two organizations really supported and funded us, they gave financial backing to MAVFD programmes, these were the Democratic Department of the United States Embassy, and the Dutch Embassy. They were very supportive of our advocacy programmes. I can recall that we went into a relationship with MITV, RayPower 100.1FM, and MINAJ TV. We aired a programme called “Democratic Values” on all these stations between 1999 and 2001.

In the course of your activism which singular event would you say influenced you greatly?

One of such event as an activist was that I was privileged to be one of the few people that spoke with late Alhaja Kudirat Abiola, wife of the winner of June 12 election, Bashorun MKO Abiola, before she was shot dead. She had a brief meeting with our group, the Moshood Abiola Vanguard For Democracy [MAVFD] which I was the General Secretary at their home before she was shot and killed less than an hour later.

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