by Ayotunde Bababunmi
Ola Balogun in his opinion piece in The Guardian of January 15, called the appointment of media mogul, Ben Murray-Bruce, as chairman of the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) “an absolutely disastrous idea”. Some might argue that one should ignore such an absolutely ludicrous opinion, and that responding to it gives the opinion a hint of credibility. But sometimes you need to respond to an absolutely ludicrous opinion, even if to show how ridiculous. And the basic premise of Balogun’s opinion is downright laughable to anyone with the slightest bit of common sense.
What does Donald Trump know about hosting a television show? Plenty it seems, based on his pageant sponsoring activities, because the real estate mogul and co-owner of the Miss Universe Organisation was the host of the hit NBC reality series, The Apprentice. Do you need to be a builder or architect to construct your house? No. Common sense says you hire a builder and an architect. Do you have to be a DJ to operate a Radio station or a TV presenter to operate a TV station? No. The mark of a good organisational leader is how he or she retains professionals to do the work of the organisation, and Murray-Bruce has proved himself as an organisational leader. The success of Silverbird Group is ample proof of Murray-Bruce’s organisational leadership.
Based on Murray-Bruce’s success globally in the entertainment world, the FRCN is lucky to be able to turn to a person like Murray-Bruce as its chairman. Murray-Bruce definitely earned the media mogul tag that often precedes his name. He is chairman and founder of Silverbird Group, a diverse media and entertainment company with holdings in Radio, TV, Malls (real estate) and Cinemas, and Silverbird Group, led by Ben Murray-Bruce, revolutionised FM Radio in Nigeria when Silverbird’s Rhythm 93.7 FM was set up in 1997.
In attacking Murray-Bruce’s credentials to serve as FRCN chairman, Balogun attempted to back his opinion up by laying out his own supposed credentials. To evaluate Balogun’s opinion, let’s review those credentials, those he listed and those he hasn’t listed. Balogun states he has had a long and possibly distinguished career in Nigeria and various parts of the world in mass media affairs (specialising in film and music production) for over four decades now. Working backward, let’s consider
Balogun’s credentials that allow him to state he has had a possibly distinguished career “in various parts of the world” in mass media affairs. Balogun wants us to believe his service in the late 1960s as an embassy information officer, a job that involves managing, supplying or distributing information, qualifies him as a “possibly distinguished career” abroad.
One has to disagree. An embassy information officer hardly qualifies as a job of distinction, and Balogun hardly spent sufficient time to develop any expertise in that job, a job he held from 1969 to 1971. Balogun got the job as a press attaché with the Nigerian Embassy in Paris on the basis of his one-year experience as a scriptwriter for the Federal Film Unit where he worked from 1968 to 1969. The question that comes to mind is what qualified a film scriptwriter with one year’s experience to even become an embassy information officer? Other questions come to mind in regards to Balogun’s entire career: what qualified Balogun to later serve on the Governing Council of Ilorin University, and what qualified him for the job to set up an Audio-Visual Department in the Nigerian Museum? In fact, Balogun’s career appears rife with appointments for which he was unqualified. No wonder Balogun believes all other appointees must be as unqualified as he was for all his appointments.
In contrast to Balogun’s credentials, Murray-Bruce is a pioneer in the Radio, TV and entertainment industry in Nigeria. Murray-Bruce also single-handedly replanted the cinema culture on the Nigerian landscape in spite of numerous challenges, not the least of which was convincing film distributors to send their products to Nigeria despite the widespread piracy in the country.
Silverbird Group’s interests in the entertainment industry include the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria Beauty Pageant, Radio, TV, Cinema holdings and Film Distribution networks. Murray-Bruce’s Rhythm 93.7 FM, which was established in Lagos in 1997 and has spread to other states in the country including the capital, Abuja, has gained a cult-like following because the station was one of the first in the country to emphasise quality and entertainment in radio broadcasting. It was the success of Rhythm FM that spurred the creation of Silverbird Television.
Murray-Bruce used his passion for entertainment to make showbiz a thriving and lucrative industry in spite of Nigeria’s challenges such as problems with power supply. The Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria (MBGN), for instance, competed with and then engulfed the former Miss Nigeria Pageant (sponsored by The Daily Times of Nigeria). By 2001, MBGN became the first pageant in Nigeria and indeed Africa to produce a Nigerian (and African) winner of the Miss World Pageant, Agbani Darego. The next year, 2002, Murray-Bruce thrilled Nigerians by bringing the Miss World Pageant here for the first time.
Balogun says he has some ideas about how Nigeria’s interests can best be served in public bodies because he served the nation as an information officer in the Nigerian Embassy in Paris during the civil war years. He must not have paid attention to happenings around him after the 1960s. If he had, he would have known Murray-Bruce was made Director General of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) because of his wealth of experience in the media and in show business. Murray-Bruce’s wealth of experience improved NTA, then Africa’s premier Television station, which was beset by many factors, including bad management and bureaucracy. During his time at NTA, the station expanded immensely as did NTA staff salaries and programming.
There were many challenges in the pioneer days of film in Nigeria, and luckily, the future of film was not left to the ilk of Balogun, who faced those challenges and gave up. Balogun went from being a film-maker to being an Iroko highlife musician. Today, Ola Balogun the film-maker, is a sentence in the history of film in Nigeria, and Ola Balogun the Iroko highlife musician, is not even worth mentioning in the history of music in Nigeria. This is the Ola Balogun who writes that Murray-Bruce, worth chapters in any book on the history of entertainment in Nigeria, is not qualified to serve as chairman of FRCN. That’s like saying Donald Trump, the real estate mogul, is unqualified to host a television show, the hit NBC reality series, The Apprentice, notwithstanding.
– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Ayotunde Bababunmi