Monday, 20 January 2014

(88): Komla Dumour: Tribute to a natural broadcaster

Broadcasting is a natural talent, and those who have it easily become household names. For anyone who listens to radio or watches television, there is tendency he would develop professional affection to certain broadcasters, because they can give delicious taste to a boring story.

For anyone who worked in the broadcasting business would tell you that no matter how good a story is, and no matter the editorial effort invested in producing the story, if you don’t have an excellent and talented presenter to sell it, that story will be dead.

One person who possesses such natural talent and ability to sell a story to complex audiences is our former colleague at the BBC World Service, Komla Dumour. Komla Dumour joined the BBC World Service a year before me, and while I was working at the BBC Hausa Service, we normally cross ways in or out of Bush House, the then headquarters of the World Service, but we were neither close nor working in the same hub.

Early in 2010, I was briefly transferred from the BBC Hausa Service for an attachment at the now rested flagship programme, the World Today, which has been fused with BBC Network Africa, where Komla was a presenter, to what is now called Newsday. Komla was one of the leading presenters in World Today, and one of the most appreciated by his colleagues, because he is reliable, will come to duty on time, and has the ability to grill interviewees, when there is need to do so, and can be as humorous as you would expect a lively presenter to be.

On a number of occasions I was assigned as one of the producers of the interviews he would conduct, and that was how I began to understand this gentleman who died of cardiac arrest on 18 January, 2014, according reports on various news outlets.  It was then I knew that Komla Dumour actually grew up in Kano, my home town, and his father was a lecturer at the Bayero University, Kano, the institution I graduated from.

At the time the British general election was approaching, the World Today decided to commission a special programme that will focus on British identity and how that will affect voting behavior. At the time, and I believe up to now, there was a serious debate about immigration, and what it means to be English/British, looking at how people from different cultures have settled and made Britain their home. A development that many voters were not happy with, and all the main parties were trying to exploit this feeling to gain electoral advantage.

Beyond that, Peter Horrocks, the Director of the BBC World Service wants a different brand of journalism, one that maintains the traditional form of reporting, and at the same time integrating the changes in technology, social media, and diverse nature of audiences. In fact Peter was interested in integrating the various services at the BBC to work as a team benefiting from the strength of each other.

 So the World Today assembled a team to pursue this task, and one key person who could deliver on these expectations was the Ghanaian among us, Komla Dumour. Under the leadership of Simon Peeks as the editor of the programme, Leo Honark, and my humble self, we embarked on a one week long journey along M1 which is arguably the longest highway in England, reporting from Luton, Peterborough, Leicester, Sheffield and Leeds.

Komla and I reporting for BBC World Today in 2010
Source: BBC Website
During the journey, the liveliness of Komla, his jokes and sense of friendship made the trip more interesting. But the strength of Komla is when it comes to work. Komla was not only reporting and presenting for World Today, which was a radio programme transmitting at night, he was also reporting for BBC World TV, writing for the BBC News website on the same trip, and at the same time engaging with listeners on Facebook about our experiences in the trip. I could still visualise Komla presenting live at 4am, at the heart of a freezing winter from the empty Luton stadium.

So it was not surprising to me when I saw the kind of meteoric rise in his broadcasting career which culminates in becoming one of the main faces of BBC World TV. One thing which many people do not know was that at least two former presidents of Ghana had offered Komla a ministerial appointment, and on both occasions he politely declined, and instead decided to focus on his journalism.

Komla Dumour has a strong fan base in Ghana due to his popularity while he was working for Joy FM, and later the BBC World Service, and many youths in Ghana see him as a potential future president. He once showed me the Facebook page promoting his presidential campaign established by his fans, and I teased him by saying that I looked forward to the time he would be sworn in as the president of his country. Certainly, Komla Dumour is the president Ghana would never have, but in his journalism career he had a presidential control of the television screen. Ghana had lost a son, and journalism has missed an icon.

I join his family, the people of Ghana, former colleagues at the BBC World Service and his entire admirers in extending my condolences over the death of this natural broadcaster who has inspired many youths in Africa and beyond.


Monday, 13 January 2014

(87): MINT: Reality or digression?

In mid-July 2008, the late President Umaru Musa ‘Yaradua went to London on an official visit. Just about a year after he took office, but still battling to improve the image of his government because of the unprecedented rigging that took place in the 2007 elections. 

While many Nigerians were still angry with the outcome of the election which some analysts described as the worst in the history of elections anywhere in the world. Others were willing to give him the benefit of doubt because of the humility he exhibited in his inaugural address, by acknowledging that the election that brought him to power was imperfect. A diplomatic way of saying that the election was “rigged”, and he promised to do something about it. 

The late President never lived to see his promise come to fruition, but at the time he took some steps to address the situation by constituting the Uwais committee on electoral reform, and his non-intervention in the Anambra debacle that showed the way out for Andy Uba, and the reinstatement of Peter Obi of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA). Sorry for the digression, but you know election fever has caught up with Nigeria as 2015 approaches, so it is difficult to avoid talking about elections.

As part of the visit by the late president, a presentation was organized by Chatham House. The event did take place, but not at the headquarters of Chatham House, instead it was hosted at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), a building that at the time was undergoing renovation. I could hear Nigerians murmuring that our president was hosted in a building under renovation with the DANGER sign clearly written at the entrance. Sorry this is another digression, but sometimes you need to digress in order to make a point.

You know journalists are not popular with politicians especially if they ask the uncomfortable questions. So the journalists were given the back seats at the (RIBA) hall. Let me digress again with a short story.   One day my wife was on her way to Nigeria, as she sat at the lounge waiting for the connecting flight at Amsterdam Airport, the person sitting next was a onetime Chairman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), so he picked my little daughter as elderly people do with children, but on discovering that the father of this little baby is a journalist, he quickly dropped her, changed his sit and left without saying goodbye. Another digression.

Back to late Malam Umaru Musa ‘Yaradua. As the President walked into the hall and took his sit, he delivered a nice speech about the effort of his government. I think his speech writers did a good job, though they could have done better on his proposed development agenda. It was clear to many that ‘Yaradua understands where he was going, but there was doubt whether the cabinet he selected has the capability and the vision to effectively deliver on those elephant promises. The most striking part of the speech to me was when he mentioned that he wants Nigeria to join the league of the 20 Developed/Developing economies (G20) by the year 2020. Very ambitious vision. But the critical question is which of the G20 countries will Nigeria replace?
So it was time for the unpopular guys at the back seat, the journalists, to ask questions. I was hoping the chairman will not give me the same treatment the former PDP chairman gave my little daughter, and so I was lucky to have a chance to ask the president one simple question.

“Mr President, we had so many development plans and visions in the past, and many analysts believe that Vision 2010 drafted during the regime of late General Sani Abacha contains all the plans required for the development of Nigeria, why not implement it instead of starting another vision?”

I don’t think vision 2010 will address our development challenges, said the President. In fact the late General Abacha just brought a collection of people to produce the document. The President politely dismissed the question. Poor me, a bad student history, I should have reminded myself the nature of the relationship between the Abachas and ‘Yaraduwas before asking that question.

But that is what most administrations do in Nigeria, dismissing what their predecessors initiated. Ask Professor Pat Utomi about his experience when he suggested to Obasanjo to implement Vision 2010 immediately after Obasanjo was elected in 1999. Another digression. 

So while we are yet to have a proper development plan which defines the direction of our country, Jim O'Neill, the gentleman who in 2001 coined the term  BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) as the next economic power house, has another excellent idea. He has a new terminology called MINT (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey) as the next global economic powerhouses. I think Jim O’Neill does not follow Nigerian politics very well; otherwise he would have waited until May 29th 2015 before coming up with this new terminology. Watch out, MINT will   feature as an achievement during the 2015 electioneering campaign by Nigerian politicians, perhaps he might even be invited to Nigeria to deliver a lecture about the MINT miracle.

There is no doubt that Nigeria has the potential to be an economic powerhouse, and we hope it does become one. But is this prediction in tune with reality when Nigeria is compared with Mexico, Indonesia and Turkey, or is it an elusive confidence that is hanging on the balance, which may or may not be realized? Let’s have a debate before I digress again.



Tuesday, 7 January 2014

(86): Will there be Nigeria in the next 100 years?

At least for Nigerians of my generation, the 1990s was one of the most exciting times. It was the decade of the June 12 struggle. Ethnicity, regionalism, nepotism and naked propaganda between sections of the country have reached their peak. This was further complicated by the harsh economic reality caused by the austerity measures which made it easier for the Nigerian elites to dribble their fellow countrymen in search of influence and political authority.

A common site after the annulment of June 12 elections at Sabon Gari and Unguwa Uku in Kano was the web of people migrating either side of the country, northerners from south arriving in troops, and southerners living in the northern part of the country finding their way back to the south. For those of us who did not experience the sad experience of the civil war in the 1960s, it was the age of uncertainty. International media organisations, from CNN to BBC, Voice of America etc, Nigeria was the subject of ridicule and sometimes unsubstantiated propaganda. Many thought the country could not survive, yet twenty years after that, we still have a country bearing the same name given to it by the British colonialists.

From the uncertainly of the transition towards independence in the 1950s, to the 1960s when ethnic and regional politics define the psyche of Nigeria, down to the civil war, the austerity measures of the 1980s, the ethno-religious crises of the late 1980s, military intervention in politics, lack of maturity of politicians, endemic corruption in the polity, have all characterized this colonial concoction, yet Nigeria still survives.

Since the creation of this unlikely union, one would like to ask, what are the negatives and the positives? In my opinion there are at least three key positive things about Nigeria. First is the fact that the country has survived in the last hundred years, surmounting great challenges that saw other nations disappear. Few countries will survive the corruption that Nigeria contends with, ethnic and religious tensions, and leadership that is lacking in patriotism and sense of direction.

The second positive thing about Nigeria is that its strength amidst these challenges provides hope for the African continent and the black people in general. The position of Nigeria is nowhere near its potential, despite these challenges on a number of occasions fellow Africans will tell you that, your country is moving in the wrong direction, but the future of Africa would largely depend on Nigeria getting its acts right. The recent account narrated on how the late Nelson Mandela feels about the mismanagement of Nigeria, and how it fails Africa is a case in point. With all the challenge and the failure of its leadership to live to expectation, yet some Africans still hope that Nigeria could provide the necessary leadership that Africa needs.

In December 2012, when we were busy debating in the British House of Commons on Chinua Achebe’s book, There was a country; a fellow African stood and said, while you are busy tearing yourselves apart, do you think of what it means for Africa without Nigeria?

The third positive thing, which to me is the most important, is the human capital and the enterprising nature of Nigerians. Within and outside Nigeria, there are people who are as qualified as any serious person you will find anywhere in the world. This human capital is perhaps the saving grace for Nigeria. You only need a purposeful leadership to harness its potential and utilize it for economic development.

As for the negatives, we always discuss and write about them. Of course, others will disagree with me, and I respect their right to do so, but there are three key historical issues that lead Nigeria to its present sorry state. The first is the 1966 coup which eliminated the most patriotic generation of Nigerian leaders, solidified ethnic and regional hatred, and sow the seed of the civil war. This historical mistake has deprived Nigeria of its potential for greatness. The scar of this unfortunate event is yet to heal. When the pain of this sad experience begins to heal, another event is created by the political class to revive it.

The second historical event that changed Nigeria were the harsh austerity measures of the 1980s and 1990s such as the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP). This has changed the psyche of Nigerians, deprived it of its talents, created a huge economic vacuum between the rich and the poor. The governments that followed to date have not departed from this philosophy. They only make few ‘adjustments’, even when it’s clear that the policies that helped countries like Malaysia, Singapore, China and South Korea where the exact opposite of the policies our country imbibed.

Finally the third negative and the worst is the failure of leadership. Unless the question of leadership is resolved, and purposeful and right minded individuals lead the country. It is difficult to see the end of this mess. So what is the solution? Our senior colleague in journalism, and a veteran in his own right, Malam Mahmud Jega has provided a blueprint in his Monday Column in the Daily Trust newspaper of 6th January, 2014.

Before dropping my pen, one question keeps recurring in my mind; it is a question for all of us, but the consequences of its answer is for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. In the next 100 years will there be a country called Nigeria?