I don’t have many male friends, but I enjoy the company of women
Ambrose Somide, a popular broadcaster, in this interview with ADEOLA BALOGUN talks about his career, his long association with ace comedian, Baba Gboin, and his journey through broadcasting.
Your programme, Mini jojo, is always infused with a great deal of humour. But people think you are more of a critic than a comedian, do you agree?
Part of what we do as broadcasters or those who present programmes is to mirror the society. And when you 'mirror' the society, you are looking at the government and the governed; and you are looking at those up there and those down here. You have to represent and at times, play the devil's advocate. As a broadcaster, if you see something that is not right, you have to point it out. If you are an entertainer who goes on radio, cracks jokes and makes people laugh, you would still reflect what is happening around you because you are part of that society. Even if you want to make people happy, you should also realise that you still owe them the responsibility to inform them.
Some presenters were hunted during the military era for doing your type of job. Did you have such an experience?
I remember a particular incident that happened in Ibadan then, when some friends of the military (I won't mention names now) were attacked by University of Ibadan students. And so the next day on our programme, we reflected on this and we made some comments, which didn't go down well with some (security) operatives of government. They were all over the place, even in your organisation, they were there but you might not know them. Even in our own organisation then, they were there and we worked and ate with them. And of course, some of them happened to be our friends and they would warn us that Abuja was not happy with us. It got to a point that somebody who I would not ordinarily talk with, or sit down with, now called me and said he had won a PTF contract in Abeokuta, you know I live in Abeokuta. He said his brother was handling the one in Abuja and that he would want me to look for somebody or if I could, to handle the one in Abeokuta. He mentioned the amount and I said I would try and see what I could do. He now said he would like to know my house, that if I could give him my address to come over during the weekend so that we could talk. Something now told me that one Guardian reporter based in Abeokuta was killed at that time and, even up till today, what happened to him has not been unravelled. At that moment, it struck me that this person could be an agent, a mole. I just dribbled him until the military packed their load and left.
I used to anchor a programme on Saturday mornings that was always critical of government. I finished one one day, and I was going back to Abeokuta. That was the day I knew that the guy was trained in Korea as a marksman. I was approaching Sango when he levelled up with me and warned me and said, “What you did this morning, I am just going to allow you to go because of this particular person (I won't mention the name now); ordinarily, Abuja is not happy with you.” That particular person happened to be my friend, he is from the North. And when I looked at this guy's face, what I saw was terror. I immediately turned my car and found my way. I didn't sleep in my house for days. There were days you would drive your car out and you would not want to use the same car home. Those were the days when cars were being bombed and people were disappearing, I remember Bagauda Kaltho from The News. It was terrible working on radio then.
You seem well grounded in both English and Yoruba, which of them did you study?
I didn't study English; neither did I study Yoruba. I did Urban and Regional Planning at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife. But before I went to the university, I had worked in Radio Nigeria. I started my broadcasting career in Radio Nigeria, Abeokuta way back in 1983 and got trained at the FRCN Training School. Thereafter, the Buhari/Idiagbon regime closed down all outstations in 1984. So in 1985, I joined Ogun State Property and Investment Corporation. That was when Agbara Industrial Estate was being established. So, I worked with them in the planning and survey department. I wanted to go to the university to study Mass Communication but Unilag would not take people through JAMB, it was through direct entry. Since I didn't have the qualification to enter through direct entry, the next university that was closer then was the University of Jos. Even the University of Ibadan too had a course in communication but it was through direct entry too. And I didn't want to go to the polytechnic to study mass communication, so the next option for me was to look for a course, which was Urban and Regional Planning. But since I got into broadcasting, I had wanted to remain there to make my name and impact. So, when I left the university that was about the time when OGBC2 was started, it was easy for me to go in there, based on my previous experience. After that, Ray Power came and I moved down to Lagos to work.
But how come you flow so easily on Mini jojo?
I am a Yoruba person and I was raised in the village. I interact with people of the older generation and I learnt some of these things from them. I also listen to the radio a lot. I think that helps. When I was joining the broadcast industry, I didn't join as a Yoruba presenter, I started in the newsroom. Over the years, one had been trained and able to present in both languages.
People marvel at the synergy between you and your partner, Baba Gboin; how did you meet?
I had met Baba Gboin before I left OGBC in 1991 or 1992. I think he recorded an album then, which he brought for publicity. It was the late Gbenga Adeboye that gave him a note to me. He was trained by Gbenga Adeboye. When we started Ray Power, he came again, Adeboye gave him a note to come and meet me. He was already presenting on Radio Lagos and NTA 7 then. So when he came to Ray Power, he wanted to start a Yoruba programme, unfortunately, Mini jojo was the only Yoruba programme then. I started Mini Jojo on Ray Power with a lady called Moji Ademiluyi, but she is no more into radio broadcasting now. She left after a few weeks on the programme and I was left alone. When he came, I asked him what he could do and he said he could crack jokes. I then asked him to join me on the next edition of the programme. He came, did fifteen minutes of jokes and became an instant hit. People were coming around the studio to ask where I got this wonderful person from. I then told him to come the following week to do another fifteen minutes and he came. If the programme had been popular, it became more popular with his coming. I then said he was going to be a regular feature on the programme. Then at about the fourth episode, I said instead of doing fifteen minutes, let's be doing the whole programme together. That was how it started. And in some four or five years now, we are looking forward to celebrating the 20th anniversary of working together. Mini Jojo is one of the longest programmes on air in Nigeria.
People often think that you are childhood friends…
I think what has worked for us is that, as we say in Yorubaland, if you want friendship to work between two persons, one would have to be a sheep while the other would be a goat. So when the sheep misbehaves, the goat remains calm and when the goat misbehaves, the sheep does not react. And one other thing is that I personally believe that money is a means to an end, not an end itself because what can divide people, what can make people fall apart is when money becomes an issue. I am the older partner in terms of age and we have tried to manage our affairs quite well and we have been on air for close to 14 years.
Before you come on air, how much time do you devote to rehearsals?
There are no rehearsals. Maybe for the TV version, we just note what we want to do. On radio, there are no rehearsals. What we do is that we look at the papers and note current issues which we make reference to on our programme. Fortunately, most of the time, we see things from the same angle. We are part of the society and we see what happens in the society. People meet us and talk to us and we get feedback, even from Aso Rock. They will just call and tell us they are listening to us just to harass us. But they will say they are enjoying us whereas we know that they are not comfortable with some of our views and comments.
Are you likely to go into music, just like Baba Gboin?
Well, we have experimented in the past and our first album together is called Oskedemi, the second one was a tribute to MKO Abiola. Thereafter, I stepped back to heed John Maxwell's advice that you should concentrate on your area of strength.
How do you manage popularity?
I must say it is by the glory of God. The glamour comes with pressure. When people see you, they believe you can solve all their problems. They think you are always happy because that is what they see on TV. I don't blame them. If you go on the street, people want to mob you. That is the other side of being popular, especially people on TV. It is not easy but one has been able to manage it to an extent.
Doesn't pressure from ladies affect your marriage?
Well, it depends on your background. There were some things that my mother told me while I was young, which have all become parts of my guiding principles. She would remind me of the foolishness of going about banging my head on the wall, because when it breaks, there is no replacement. Pressure from ladies is part of our business. Entertainment will not be what it is without ladies or women. What you must do is to, with the grace of God, resist those you can resist, befriend those you can befriend but make sure that your wife and family are protected. I am not saying I am fully insulated, no. It is just mere pretence to tell you that when ladies come, I just look at the other side. I am not a saint but I am not a terrible person.
Is it true that popular entertainers can't manage their homes…
Well, it has not been easy because you have situations when for days you may not be with the family because of commitment. I remember that recently, I had functions from a Wednesday to a Sunday and I didn't get back home until Monday evening. Maybe you only communicate with your family on phone, it really tells on the family. It takes a great effort to maintain a balance. We are all Africans, we all know how we reason and what we do. If you say seven out of ten in our own situation find it difficult to manage their homes, I agree with you.
Why did you leave Ray Power?
It is a long story that one would probably want to forget. But if you go to the Bible, you remember that it got to a point that God knew that the situation with the Israelites in Egypt was not normal and He decided to change their location. Maybe at that point, God knew that I needed to move on. He knew that my situation was not proper; that everything was not about general managership. I needed to move on to further explore the world. If there was anything that I learnt from Chief Raymond Dokpesi, it was perseverance and being focussed. He told me the story of how he became a millionaire at 27. I looked at myself some seven years ago and said, gentleman, you are touching your fortieth birthday and you are not a millionaire, you need to move on.
But you went back as contractors and businessmen…
Yes, it is true but I think the organisation and most of us became enriched. We are still part of the family; at times, they want us to have an input into what they are doing.
How successful are independent producers?
Independent producers struggle to pay salaries of staff, struggle to pay rent and struggle to pay for airtime. We are striving, hoping that things will be better. A situation whereby broadcast houses do business with us on cash and carry basis is affecting creativity. We have not got there but we are trying. We know that some of us are lucky but we shall get there. When you look at most broadcast houses, 60 per cent of their airtime are taken by independent producers. This speaks volume of our impact. In some organisations, they appreciate what we do but they can still do more because it is a symbiotic relationship.
Don't you think you can still be tempted to marry a second wife?
I keep praying for God's grace in whatever I do. I want God to guide me by His grace. That is how I can react to that. It is not that I play around but I am an African man, I want to be a practical person.
How was growing up like?
I come from an average family, at least by Nigerian standard. Not that I didn't have the opportunity of having three square meals but I didn't have other luxuries. When I lost my dad in 1976, it became a bit difficult. I had to work in order to sustain my education. I worked at construction sites; I moved sand at Ogun River in Abeokuta.
As a man, if you don't smoke, you will drink or womanise…
I don't smoke; I drink sparingly. I am not a heavy drinker. Then womanising, I love women but I don't womanise. I like being around them because in my journey through life, they have really been wonderful. I don't have many male friends but I enjoy the company of women. When I say I enjoy their company, I don't mean in terms of sleeping with them.