The former National president of FIBAN, Mr Yemi Sonde popularly known as Jigan Akala in this exclusive interview with OLANREWAJU BUKOLA and OLUWASEUN SONDE on how he was able to scale through different challenges in the broadcasting industry. He also speaks on how his tenure lifted and rebranded the face of FIBAN nationwide.
Tell us about FIBAN and its role in National Develop-ment.
FIBAN is the Freelance Independence Broadcaster Association of Nigeria established in 2001. The idea of its formation was initially raised by Late Gbenga Adeboye, who suggested that independent broadcasters should have a formidable and nationally recognized association.
I am privileged to be one of the pioneer members. I was made the first state chairman of Oyo State and the National Auditor at the same time.
In its 17 years of existence, I am the fourth National President. I came on board in 2014 and left the office on January 19, 2017, although members insisted I should serve another term unopposed after the completion of my first tenure but I honourably declined because I had promised to serve just a term before I came into the office.
Within my three years as the National President, I was determined to accomplish my set mission. Now we have the fifth National President on broad.
During your term as the National President, were you able to accomplish your four-point cam-paign promises? What are your contributions and achievements?
My coming on board was God’s Grace and I knew what I wanted to achieve as the National President within the space of three years.
First, I felt we needed a befitting National Secretariat and on the day of my swearing in, we were able to secure four plots of land (Two plots Ibadan and the other two is in Abeokuta) for the National Secretariat. They were gifts from my sponsors. After which I went further to secure more funds from my sponsors which we used for the building of the Secretariat. The foundation of which was laid by the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi exactly three months of my emergence (April 19, 2014) and by January 19, 2018 the Secretariat was completed.
With that accomplished, I moved on to the professional development and training of our members. As a strong believer in human capacity development, we sent some selected members from every state for trainings and workshops, fully sponsored by the association.
I changed the face of FIBAN. I started the rebranding exercise by first changing the logo of the association and the members’ perception of themselves and the association. I made sure we were having workshops at both National and State levels.
Through this, the orientation of our members changed totally, their self esteem was developed and restored. They started to feel and carry the knowledge that they are a vital part of the media and broadcasting industry. They become more aware that they are not pushovers, because these changes start from one’s mindset. As a matter of fact, one can be a messenger and be respected or one can be a Director, not respected. It all depends on one’s build up and perception of oneself. It’s all about who you think you are.
We stop some unprofessional acts of broadcasters at outdoor occasions, such as begging for money and the like. We focus on repackaging and rebranding of our members. We insisted every members charge for their programmes and not to beg.
Although the move was resisted by some members but I stopped all that, apology to those who do it.
I also encouraged members to get more engaged educationally, do more research and studies because education is important. One can have best of talent, without education, one is limited. Yes, they were so happy about it.
As a result of rebranding, the perception of the public change towards us. Initially, before I came on board, they were seeing us as not-too-good people, beggars and poverty ridden people. Of course, after my emergence as the President, we put class to it.
I also sponsored some of my members to AFRICAST (Conference of Africa Broadcasters), of which another one is happening this week. I made sure my members were there represented because it is very important.
Also, we amended our constitution during my tenure in order to legitimize the change and not make it look like “using Veto Power”. Accountability and transparency was greatly encouraged up to the stage of mandating the bank to print out the statement of account to any member of the association upon request. We made that a right during my tenure. Statement of Account was also presented to everyone at every congress for questions and suggestions.
I made sure we instill discipline. Ordinarily, we are proud of what we did and do. We are successfully broadcasters. We lifted the face of FIBAN by partnering National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to have series of workshops, public lectures and seminars. I love Human Capacity Development a lot, and that was so evident in my tenure.
Speaking of Training of freelance broadcasters, do you think they can survive “No Salary” without comprising the professional ethics of the profession?
There was something I wrote sometimes on that (Between Professionalism and Commercialism; the challenges facing Independent Broad-casters) when I had my first master’s degree. Well, it depends on who you are. I’ve never received salary in my entire life, although it takes tenacity, determination, dog-gedness, discipline, diligence to survive what you just asked. This is because at a point, one might be tempted with financial and parental responsibilities, there and then be tempted to bend the rules.
What I know and preached to them is that, once you bend the rules, you are bending your life. You may not know, but people are watching and forming their perception about you. So, when you bend the rules, it will still catch up with you. As a broadcaster, we are gate keepers, mind molders keepers and opinion builders. This tends to affect our professionalism, the earlier we realize that, the better for us.
There is a limit to how one can control that because they don’t know at what point money are exchanging hands and the exact point one is bending the rule, e4xcept when you listen to him on radio or television.
We can only encourage them to be more professional and not to engage in such acts. This is more reason why we had several workshops, trainings and seminars during my presidential administration. This really help, a lot of them are thanking and praying for me now. Some of them said, they did not know they can be this successful without the begging and bending the rules aspect. Some of them that actually followed my path are thanking God today for the level they are now. Sometimes, some call me up in the dead of the night to pray for me.
Looking back to 30 years ago, why do you choose to become a freelance broadcaster?
I am a very restless person, I don’t like sitting at a place doing one particular thing for so long. I love moving and doing different things and that’s my nature. I think this actually informed the vision, a great deal. Again, I get very bored with repetition and unchallenging acts.
Infact, broadcasting had being my life even as a little kid. I knew where I was going and what I wanted.
If I was a permanent staff, there is a limit to what I can do. Programs and departments can be changed unexpectedly. When I become underutilized or unutilized, you kill my creativity. I want to face programming all through my life and that’s what I actually desire. And the best avenue for me to show that is to be independent. I know this is what I want and that’s what I am doing.
As a paid staff, my talent might suffer because I can suffer the risk of being pulled away from my comfort zone. Even if am stationed in the program, the boss might have to take the best of my programs away. “We need to recognize that people are good at different things using their different talent”. As an Independent freelancer, I’ve got the liberty to determine my program, what I do and how I execute it, which on the other hand, the bosses determine this as a permanent staff. And I don’t like that.
Do you think there is a chance of survival for upcoming freelance broadcasters in the industry now?
Yes, there is. There is a lot. This time is even much better than our days. It’s a digital era now, multiplicity of channels. When we were coming up, there’s just OGBC, Radio Lagos.
But now 45 channels, 45 radio stations in Lagos and they are even getting more now, very soon it will reach 60 in about three, four months now. DsTv channels are endless and there are over 25 Stations in Ibadan now, with mine coming soon by God’s Grace.
Except, they are lazy there are several media for them practise and fly, unlike our days when it was very limited with space so tight. We struggled in during our days.
They can make it, but if you are not talented or called for it, that’s a very big problem. But if you are talented and educated, the sky is your beginning.
What are some of the challenges you’ve gone through?
I was not a permanent staff, there was no salary, and there was no steady financial inflow. Even though, I was offered to be a permanent staff in the place I did my NYSC, I declined. Then, part of the challenges was where will I be getting money and the funds every day, every week, every month?
It was very rough, it was very tough.
I needed to work hard on my content so that I can attract commercials. You know, if one does not have commercial viable content, then one is in trouble.
I needed to put my thinking cap on, almost every second. That actually brings the creative part of me, I want to do something different from what people are used to, so as to stand out. If I stand out, a lot of questions will come that will yield positive results.
Once people are attracted and are asking questions, they get interested. Once they are interested, then they can buy into it. That’s where they come in terms with what am doing.
That was one of the greatest challenges I had. But Yes, I scaled through.
There were times I don’t even have money to transport myself to stations. I had to trek. I actually started with Ogun State Broadcasting Corporation (OGBC). I spent about six years there before moving to Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State (BCOS).
When I started in BCOS was when I really faced the challenges because when I was in OGBC, I was still a student in University of Ibadan (UI) with little change coming in which I normally use to transport myself to Abeokuta.
But when I came to BCOS in Ibadan, I had already become a graduate and a serving youth corps member collecting a stipend of N750 with no more money coming in again. I think, BCOS then was paying corps member N500 OR N600. The money pull together is about N1300, which is not enough for a month after tax deductions.
After two weeks, the money is gone leaving me with two weeks without money, so I had to trek everyday for the rest of those two weeks from Bashorun to Mapo. During those days, I use to have about 9 programs. Sometimes I won’t even eat and I will be laughing on air with no one knowing am hungry. I would trek to the station and trek back. Sometimes after my night show, I won’t be able to come home; I had to sleep in the studio room on the bare floor not minding the mosquitoes. But reaching one’s goal takes perseverance so I focus on the goal.
The turning Point?
The story began to change in 1998 on a fateful Monday morning. Although hungry after trekking to the station, I was on air doing my program (Miliki Express) while a man walked in requesting to see me. He introduced himself as Alhaji Aremu Sunny Arewa. We don’t know each other, but he listens to my programs according to him.
The man told me he will like to sponsor my program. He then requested for the price for three months, without thinking I just told him N78,000 hoping he will negotiate. But to my surprise, he gave the cheque. I thought I was dreaming because the money was huge that time. And that was the turning point.
From that point, I knew this is promising. That really encourages me to be crazily creative. If anybody can just walk in and commended my efforts without canvassing him, then I told myself I can do this and make N78 million. Sincerely, that was the turning point.
With all these, do you think you’ve gotten there?
No, I am not there yet. I am never a satisfied person at any level; I love to challenge myself with huge tasks and goals. But, I thank God for He has been faithful to me.
I still want to do more than I have been doing. I want to make more impact in the media industry. I want to really write my name in Gold.
By God’s Grace, you would soon hear of my radio station; but even at that level, I will still love to do more and tell you that am not yet done.
What are your words of Advice for upcoming Broadcasters, either freelance or Permanent Staff?
Freelancing depends on individual interest. Broadcasting is broadcasting. As I said, it depends on what you want.
Let me clarify something here, one can be a permanent staff and be very successful. I am not saying it’s wrong to be a permanent staff or a freelancer. To say the truth, independent freelancer cannot operate without them because they are the custodians of that station.
With that said, my advice for upcoming broadcasters is that, they should really be patient. Young people nowadays are so in a hurry now that they wish to have it all very fast. Patience and hard work are really needed here.
Upcoming broadcasters need to learn from role models. Let them have a mentor. As a matter of fact, I learnt under Late Chief Toba Opaleye. He showed me broadcasting and taught me like a carpenter will teach his apprentice how to hit the nail and not bend. I am a thorough breed broadcaster. They need somebody to put them through, coupled with education and professional training.
Let them remember that as a broadcaster, your best performance was the best you had yesterday.
Perseverance and prayers are needed in this industry. The Passion should drive you, later the money will come. Of course, there will be diverse challenges even if you are born with silver spoon in your mouth.
What is your take on the social media bill?
The truth is, there are a lot of anomalies on social media but one can’t throw it out because it helps the society. But even with its numerous advantages, social media needs to be regulated. Information on national interest should be controlled and other things that have to do with the peaceful co-existence of the nation.
I think, the government should actually empower the National Broadcasting Commission as much as possible to control the information that has national interest intonation.
The social media bill is not to be seen as a way to curb freedom of expression. The same way expression is controlled on television and radio, let what goes on air on social media be controlled. Giving the right of expression is good, but it has to be done meticulously.
We really don’t have to be defensive unnecessarily. Information is very powerful, so the need for regulation on social media.