The Balmoral Event Centre, Federal Palace Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos, was locked down on Friday, November 22, as the crème de la crème of the Nigerian social circle gathered to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Bisi Olatilo Show (BOS), one of the oldest surviving TV programmes in the country.For Prince Bisi Olatilo, who has been in the forefront of celebrating others, the massive turnout for his event didn’t come to many as a surprise; the man has paid his dues in the field of broadcasting. From practitioners from the media to family members, captains of industries and highflyers in both political and business class, it was a gathering of who is who.
Being an evening of winning and dinning, spiced with electrifying performances, holding down the Prince of Broadcasting for a chat was a tough task; his hands were full with guests all seeking his attention. At some point, it became obvious that a decent interview with Olatilo is a task for another day.There are few people in Nigeria you could call up for an interview appointment and still be able to get it done same day; Prince Bisi Olatilo belongs to that rare group. Just a phone call that lasted for less than two minutes, the appointment was sealed, same day.
“You can come over if you want, I practically live here,” he said with that voice that reminds one of his days on radio.He was in company of two ladies, one being Oge Kimono, daughter of late reggae music icon Ras Kimono, when his office assistant led the way into his expansive office. Of course, there’s no better way to start than to talk about what went down at the anniversary gig.“Well, let me use this medium to congratulate your publisher Lady Maiden Alex-Ibru, who also turned 70 last week. That’s the woman they called the most influential and most powerful lady in the Nigerian media,” he noted.
If you are among Nigerians, who believe Prince Olatilo has made fame and fortune from broadcasting, you may have to have a rethink; the Mass Communication graduate of the University of Lagos only live on goodwill. “I remember in one of the interviews I granted earlier, one of the interviewers actually put it to me that I’ve made so much money; that I’ve amassed wealth. I quickly corrected him and said I’ve made goodwill. I have an unending goodwill account that I’m enjoying everyday from different aspect of my friends that I’ve made over the years. If you attended the 20th anniversary of Bisi Olatilo Show (BOS), you would have seen all of that; the kind of people that came and the expression of goodwill.”
In a humble show of appreciation, he said, “I must thank everybody for bending over backwards to come and rejoice with me; I must thank God for that. But all it just reminds me is that whatever I’ve been doing before, I should up it. I want to tell of them that my relationship with them will get a lot better because they’ve shown me that they love me; I cannot thank them enough.”But for the anchor of most major shows in the country, hosting his own anniversary event was a bit awkward for the seasoned master of ceremony.
“When we started, we inaugurated the committees that helped us to drive the project; close to 50 people. In fact, all they did to me was ask me to come and listen to them; they were the ones that planned everything. The likes of Prof. Toyin Ashiru, Ernest Onabanjo, Otunba Bimbo Ashiru, Donald Duke… the list is very long; people of high caliber. They were the ones that planned everything for me; so, this is an opportunity for me to also thank all of them. They made sure that I should just come and be a guest. The programme went the way they wanted it in terms of attendance and organisation; it went very well,” he enthused.
However, there’s just one regret, which the broadcaster still rues till date. That’s his inability to receive His Royal Majesty, King Dandison Douglas Jaja, Jekki V, Amanyanabo of Opobo Kingdom, who traveled all the way just to celebrate him in Lagos. “I just want to thank him for considering me important enough to do what he did and I’m really sorry for what happened; I don’t even know how to talk to him now. We had chosen November 22, a Friday; we got the hall sorted. Because people say I don’t inform them of my events in advance, this time around, I started telling everybody with letters and word of mouth almost four months. But somehow, when the date was getting closer, I began to see the sign that my event would clash with some other big events, one of which was the 70th birthday of the Obong of Calabar, which happened a day after my event. Along the line, there was also a NEC meeting of APC in Abuja on the same day; I knew it was going to cost me a few of my high profile guests that were going to come.”
He continued: “But the one that I must say something about with a lot of apology is the Amanyanabo of Opobo Kingdom. He had given me his words that he was coming for the anniversary, but he didn’t know it was going to clash with the event of the Obong of Calabar. Notwithstanding, he called me and said, though the Obong is having his event on Saturday, he would come on Thursday and leave on Friday, but will not stay for the event. He had already arrived in Lagos before he called me and we had an arrangement with the Federal Palace Hotel people, especially the Balmoral Hall. My friend, who runs the place, Ezekiel Adamu, said it’s not a problem.”
Unfortunately, the lady, who was supposed to work with the organisers to secure accommodation for the Jaja of Opobo, messed things up, forcing His majesty to leave without seeing the celebrant.“She kept insisting we had to pay before he can be allowed into his room; they kept him waiting for almost an hour. So, when they couldn’t sort it out, he left. I spoke with him later and promised I was going to see him before he leaves, but because of the crazy traffic on that day, I couldn’t see him. So, I’m using this medium to say I’m sorry and I will never forget the sacrifices he made for my sake. He said he would have been able to wait till Saturday after my event, but the earliest flight to Calabar was at 2.00p.m, which may not be certain. That’s why he decided to leave on Friday and we agreed that I will see him, but I didn’t see him; in addition to all these other problems that the hotel caused,” he said remorsefully.
Twenty years ago when the veteran broadcaster started the Bisi Olatilo Show, little did he know the show would turn out to be the longest running TV programmes in the country, with rich followership home and abroad. Today, Olatilo has dined and wined with Presidents, Prime Ministers, Governors, Senators, Ministers, Commissioners and other dignitaries as he met with them on the show.“Before I decided to set it up, I had been like a PR person myself. That’s what I’ve been doing even while I was on radio; I only just built on that when I left radio. I was a lot younger then as a master of ceremonies; they preferred me because I speak all the languages. It was like a new thing then, that one man would come and speak the whole languages. They were worming up to it at that time, so, I cashed in on it.”
Initially, the show was all about passion for the versatile broadcaster, until his friend Eddie Emesiri came into the picture.“Honestly, I never saw the business side of it; all I was just doing was enjoying myself. But my friend Emesiri from Bayelsa looked at me and said, ‘Bisi, the passion, yes! But you’ve emceed everywhere, why don’t you look at this from another angle? Get a cameraman, get a camera and you go take all these events that you emcee; package them in form of social diary and put it on TV.’ It worked like magic; we tried it first, second and third time, before you knew it, it became the hottest show.”
At a time, even when people know that established TV stations could do live broadcast of their event, many still preferred to have BOS cover their social events.“They preferred BOS because we were doing the right thing; we were doing the real documentary. I practically put all the things I learned on radio into it and it helped a great deal. We do research into the names of whoever it is that is involved, where are they doing it and we put up a very good script properly delivered. This caught the attention of the people, that’s why we became the talk of the town and the most preferred programme at the time,” he noted.
On how he has sustained the show in the last 20 years, he explained, “Number one is the passion; I’m very passionate about it. Thank God for the people I’ve been working with; some, who didn’t have the passion for it, I forced them to start imbibing that culture of hardwork and having passion for whatever you are doing. Those, who have had the singular privilege of coming onboard to work with us, know that I’m a man, who never takes no for an answer; you have to get it done.”
While thanking God for the wisdom, knowledge and health to be able to carry on, Olatilo singled out the funder of AIT Chief Raymond Dokpesi, for special appreciation. “We operated more on AIT and he gave us a very good arrangement; he wasn’t forcing us with payment. He gave us a lifeline that we can pay by installment; he made it easier for us to operate. If he had decided to stop it at that time, we would all have been history by now. But thank God that God used him to keep the programme going,” he remarked.
At 66, Prince Olatilo is still very much in touch with the industry and the new technologies that are currently changing the face of broadcasting in Nigeria, a credit he gave to late broadcaster Ikenna Ndaguba.“God bless his soul; he’s my all time mentor. I spoke with his wife, Caroline just yesterday and I said, ‘Ah, your husband ear go don dey bite am; I don call him name tire.’ It was the late Ndaguba that said broadcasters must dominate their environment. But how do you dominate the environment if you are not knowledgeable? And he also said, ‘you have to be a cut above.’ So, whatever is emerging or whatever is going to happen later, you have to be abreast for it; that has always been my mantra,” he said.
Today, his 24 hours platform, Biscon Television, which is on GoTV, has got a mobile version, with an application that can be downloaded all over the world.“The same thing you have on Biscon, you have it on mobile all over the world. We do news, sports, politics, entertainment, but we are very strong on lifetime and entertainment. We are using that to kind of jumpstart preparations towards getting our own television station; that’s the ultimate now,” he said, as he demonstrated with the app on his mobile phone.
Recalling his challenges with securing a TV license, the broadcaster said, “In 2003, they called us and intimated us with the fact that we have a TV license, but I don’t know what has happened. Later on, they said they gave us an analogue licensee instead of digital; they did that in error. Now that we have gone digital, they’ve not been able to correct it. The ultimate is for us to have our own television station and it will pay government; it’s better to give a broadcaster that kind of thing. I mean, look at what John Momoh is doing with Channels TV because he’s a professional.”He frowned at the challenges professionals go through in their quest to secure operational license, adding, “They’ve turned it to a tool for political patronage. We are really great assets to the government, if they give it to us; they will not regret it.”
Anybody, who knows Olatilo well, will surely testify to his love for bowler hats; he has them in different shades and colours. In fact, it has become is trademark. “I must say that my friend forever… when I’m old enough, when I live for another 50 years and I go to join Diepreye Alamieyeseigha. He was the one, who took me to the Niger Delta and I fell in love with their culture and tradition. One of the many things that I took away from there is their hat; he made me like it and even dress in their way. Having done that, I began to experiment with it; I have different types of designs of the hat,” he enthused.
At the recent launch of the Biscon TV app in London, a kind hearted Nigerian gifted Olatilo with 15 blower hats. “He came there publicly and gave me 15 new hats. He said he knows my style that he’s just giving them to me as a special present.”Year before that, another Nigerian, Tony Oguike, who recently marked his 50th birthday, also gifted Olatilo with 25 hats.
“When I was celebrating my 60th birthday six years ago, he invited me to his office somewhere in Lekki. He didn’t give me any cash, all he did was just pack these hats of different sizes. He said he knows even if he gives me one billion naira, I wouldn’t appreciate it the way I would appreciate the hats. People have studied and seen that I love hats,” he said.Asked if he could recall how many hats in his possession as of today, he said, “I have about 60 to 65 hats; not up to 100 though. But I’m hoping someone would make it up to 100,” he said jokingly.
Though born in Kano to a Yoruba couple, the first language Price Bisi Olatilo picked was Igbo language, and then followed by Hausa.“Kano is in the north, but the closest pals that I had were Igbos and Hausas. We lived in a place called Sabon Gari, which is dominated by the Igbos. We say out of 10 houses in Sabon Gari, Igbos had 11 even; you know they are very egalitarian in the way they do things. I learned Hausa because I had to help my mother in selling things; I used to sell bread at some point. That’s how I picked Hausa language,” he said.
Whereas he could speak both languages fluently, young Bisi struggled with his native language, Yoruba.“My father said the only way I could help myself with this language is to go to school in my village. That was how I went to Kiriji Memorial College, Igbajo, Osun State; that helped me a great deal. I was not just able to learn my language, but I was able to grasp my dialect and the culture. Even in my WAEC, I got A in Yoruba language,” he enthused.
A strong advocate for the promotion of indigenous languages, Olatilo is not doing badly with his grandchildren.“Two of my children are married; one got married 11 years ago. I’ve been made grandfather twice, a boy and a girl. They live in Cambridge and the husband is an IT expert. The young man speaks English most of the time and I said to them, ‘fine, there’s nothing wrong with your children speaking English, but please try to infuse a bit of your mother tongue; let them begin to get used to it.’ I think they take that serious now. I have another daughter, who got married six years ago; I also sold the same thing to her. In fact, when the daughter comes here, I talk to her mostly in Yoruba and she’s adjusting to it. But it’s good you start it early,” he noted.
On the frosty relationship between the north and south today, Olatilo said, “It hurts me a lot to see the point we are now; that’s so sad. It wasn’t like that in our days. You know I’m a Christians and you know that northerners are predominantly Muslims, but it didn’t stop anything. During their own festivals, we went to hinterland to join them in celebration. During our own, they came to celebrate with us. We never knew who was who; we didn’t discriminate on the strength of ethnicity or religion. But all of that, they’ve turned it around negatively today, which is very sad. Can we get back to the glory days when nobody minded where you came from? Humanity was what everybody was celebrating at the time. I’m hoping that God will do his magic for us to reclaim those good old days, but I didn’t know; that’s the sad aspect of the whole thing,” he regretted.
Inside Olatilo’s office, there are three visible portraits; his own, that of his lovely wife and his late mother.“Oh, my mother died in my hands at St Nicolas Hospital on May 9, 1980, about a year to my wedding,” he said, as he reclined into the sofa, obviously still missing her. “I was her last child; she had three of us. The eldest is about 82 now, then the one following him is 68 and I’m next to the 68-years-old man.”
On his fond memories of his late mother, he said, “Oh God, people said, and I want to believe them, that at age 13, she was still breastfeeding me. She would take me to everywhere; I was like her handbag. Wherever she went, I had to go with her.”
Again, she loved Awolowo with all her hearts.“ She was somebody, who has not set her eyes on Awolowo, but she adored him; she revered Awolowo and she looked at him as a small god. There was a time they said that Awolowo was going to appear; we didn’t sleep for days because she was waiting to see Awolowo. Incidentally, she shared the same death date with Awolowo; both passed on May 9. But she loved Awolowo like no man’s business; he was like a small god to her.”
As for relaxation, he said, “Do I relax at all? I relax working. My friend Mike Ozekhome (SAN) said I’m the only one he knows, who will be working and be enjoying himself and be drinking and working at the same time. But someone was quick to correct him that I don’t drink; I only take water. I stopped drinking many years ago.”
After cheating death for four times, Olatilo resolved to quite drinking and that has remain till date.“I didn’t have a driver at the time, so, I would drive myself. Four good times, God saved me from fatal accident. I mean, the car would have got damaged beyond repairs and anybody that saw it would be like, ‘no, the driver couldn’t survive.’ And then, they would see me. God has been extremely kind to me, so, on my own, I just decided to stop drinking. In those days, I would get drunk on a daily basis; then I will have a problem getting myself to the next destination because I was the one driving.”
On the obvious lack of professionalism in the broadcast industry in Nigeria, which has affected standards, he said, “Everyday, we talk about it; it’s something people of my era, those who started this business, feel very bad about. We are just saying to them, there’s no reason why you should be sounding the way you are sounding; you are not sounding proper. There’s a lot of pride in you sounding natural than sounding unnatural. Most of them are trying to be unnatural, I don’t know who they are trying to impress; they cannot impress anybody that way. Unfortunately, most of them think they’ve arrived; they don’t want to listen to anybody. We’ve done our best and we will continue to do it just to see if they can actually change. Broadcasting is broadcasting,” he harped.
At this point, he picked his phone, scrolled it down and said, “the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) has just approved what we called the Broadcasters Guild of Nigeria; it’s a new one. Now, they will be dealing with the conditions and the types of things that people need to do so that we are not throwing things in the dustbins. In our days, we tried to do things right; we didn’t circumvent it. But today, they do what they like, especially those who own these private radios and TV stations. That’s not the way it should be; we should be very proud, we should guard it with a lot of pride. But we are losing it with all these private radio and TV stations; the guys who work their just do whatever they like because, those who own them are not broadcasters; they are not professionals. You need to know to be able to put things right. I’m hoping that the establishment of the guild should be able to put some level of sanity in the industry; things are getting out of hand now,” he cautioned.