Fresh. Entertaining. Intelligent. And damn funny.
Those are words that best describe the hit online series, Ogas At The Top, a satirical take on Nigeria’s political scene, using puppets modeled after the main characters.
The producers, Buni.TV, had already launched The XYZ show in Kenya in 2009 and were confident that a Nigerian version of the show could do as well as The XYZ show which has a fan base of over 10 million viewers and has won an African Magic Viewers Choice Award for Best TV series.
Executive Producers Godfrey Mwampembwa aka Gado and Marie Lora-Mungai said just before they launched Ogas At The Top, that, “Launching OGAS AT THE TOP in Nigeria is a huge, but exciting challenge for our team. The Nigerian political scene is a goldmine for stories: we certainly won’t run out of inspiration any time soon. And we know that Nigerians, just like Kenyans, have a wicked sense of humor, so this promises to be a wild ride!”
True to their prediction, the show which is now in its second season, has been a massive, massive hit. Some of the episodes get hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube alone. Nigerians just can’t seem to get enough of it. So The Scoop’s editor, Stanley Azuakola, decided to speak with Marie Lora-Mungai, the founder and CEO of Buni.tv, who is the co-creator and co-producer of Ogas At The Top.
Lora-Mungai spoke about her expectations for the show, the effectiveness of satire and how a show produced in Kenya manages to get such top marks on its “Nigerianness”.
Read the full interview below:
1. Buni.tv got everyone’s attention in the Nigerian media and content scene when it launched Ogas At The Top, now in its second season, did you ever think that the series would become this successful?
Yes, we knew it would be very successful. This is the second time our team produces that type of political satire show. We started in 2009 in Kenya with The XYZ Show, and it immediately received a lot of attention – even more than Ogas At The Top because The XYZ Show is actually broadcast on national television, whereas Ogas is, for the moment, only online.
We were getting a lot of requests to expand to Nigeria, but we took our time to consider the opportunity very carefully. My partner Gado and I traveled to Nigeria for the first time 2 years ago, and it immediately became very clear to us that Nigeria shared a lot of similarities with Kenya and that our show would do very well there. In both countries people are passionate about politics, and are facing similar issues of corruption, bad governance and lack of transparency. At the same time Nigerians and Kenyans have a great sense of humor. By marrying humor and politics, we were bound to hit a nerve.
2. What were you thinking? What did you hope a satirical political show was going to achieve? And why use puppets?
The goal of Ogas At The Top is to use humor and satire to spark conversations on major political and social issues, and encourage viewers to become more engaged citizens and to demand more accountability from their leaders. The puppets give us the creative leeway to tackle sensitive topics without being too frontal about them, and of course they are very funny. We also find that it is somewhat ridiculous for politicians to complain about puppets, which has helped us in the past!
3. Who or what show influenced Ogas At The Top?
Ogas At The Top and The XYZ Show are inspired by similar puppet shows produced in the UK (Spitting Image) and in France (Les Guignols de l’Info). But we also look at The Daily Show or The Onion as models for the tone that we are trying to achieve.
4. What does satire mean to you?
Satire is the use of humor to expose political or social vice. In the Nigerian context, this specifically means exposing systems or behaviors that benefit a few corrupt individuals to the detriment of the general population. It really comes from a place of wanting the country to grow and succeed while building a just society, because we think Nigeria is a fascinating place with tremendous potential.
5. Considering African and especially Nigerian extra sensitivity about showing ‘respect’ to elders, do you get worried that some might miss the point of your jokes? What safeguards – if any – do you take in protecting against a backlash?
The African culture of showing respect to elders is lovely, when it relates to members of your family or to your friends or neighbors. However, we believe that it should not apply when the person is an elected official, who has made promises in order to access a certain position, and then decides to betray the trust of those who elected him or her for their own personal gain. Citizens are entitled to demand accountability and transparency from their leaders. We know it will take a while for people to accept this cultural shift, but we also know from our experience in Kenya that they will eventually do.
Photo: Executive Producers Gado (Godfrey Mwampembwa) and Marie Lora-Mungai with the Goodluck Jonathan puppet
6. Tell us how this works: You and your production team are in Kenya, how do you manage to get the ‘Nigerianness’ of these Nigerian Ogas so well?
Our production team and our studios are indeed based in Kenya, however Ogas At The Top is written by a team of Nigerian writers and voiced by Nigerian actors, so it is very much a Nigerian show. It’s always been very obvious to us that the show needed to be authentically Nigerian to succeed. We the producers are not influencing the content of the show. What we do is use our expertise with that particular type of format to help our writers craft the best, most impactful, and also funniest stories based on their own assessment of the Nigerian situation.
7. Your videos are free both on your website and on YouTube, so how does Buni.tv make money?
For Season 2, only one video a week is free on YouTube at www.youtube.com/ogasatthetop. The rest (3-4 new videos/week) can be watched for free at www.buni.tv/ogas, but viewers have to register with their email address first. At the moment we are interested in building a strong fan base with the view of monetizing later.
8. For those hearing about you for the first time, tell us a bit about Buni.tv.
Buni.tv is a pan-African video-on-demand platform that is accessible globally online and on mobile. Buni.tv launched in April 2012 and has reached more than 1.5 million unique visitors across Africa and the diaspora. We distribute our own content such as Ogas At The Top or The XYZ Show (which are produced by our production company Buni Media), as well as content that we acquire.
9. Does Buni.tv have other products for the Nigerian market?
We are currently developing various other type of content for the Nigerian market.
10. Does Ogas At The Top have a partisan agenda? Considering what you do, we assume you are somewhat versed in happenings in the Nigerian political scene, does the platform tilt towards any part of the divide?
We absolutely do not have a partisan agenda. The role of the show is to criticize those in power and to keep all leaders in check, no matter who they are. When it comes to the upcoming elections, we are not receiving support from any camp and would not benefit from the victory of one candidate against the other. We’re only interested in people making informed decisions about their preferred candidate and being able to cast their vote in peace in a free and fair process. Ultimately, the only side we’re on is the side of regular Nigerians.