Entertainment czar, Obi Asika, was recently appointed as the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Social Media. The founder and CEO of Storm 360, an indigenous music label that spotlighted successful acts like Naeto C, Sasha, Ikechukwu, Tosin Martins, General Pype, among others, spoke with ORUKPE NELSON on his appointment, entertainment industry and sundry issues…
You were appointed a few weeks back as the Senior Special Adviser to the president on social media; to what do you attribute this because it came towards the very end of an administration?
First of all, as a Nigerian, it’s a privilege to be appointed by the president and I’m humbled. I think as a Nigerian and someone who has spent my entire life representing my country unpaid, that’s one of the highest honours I could possibly have.
How exactly have you been representing Nigeria unpaid?
In my personal company, I’ve promoted Nigeria all my life. You can check my record. This isn’t an idea anyone can impose or sell to me. I’ve sold Nigeria since I was born and will do the same till I die whether you give me a public position or not. I’ve done this across many sectors and touched the lives of people who had nothing to do with me personally. I don’t have to be paid to represent my country neither do I have to play for the Super Eagles to support this country.
Barely one month in office, what have you been doing differently?
The first is that I must appreciate the cabinet level recognition of the social media and it points to innovation of Mr. President. Remember that he declared his candidacy in 2011 on Facebook, he had always used the new media and social media for engagement. In terms of policy, yes I’m in a position where I have control of certain government policies and how to approach the social media from the Federal Government of Nigeria perspective. The primary tools of social media are to be utilised through some form of engagement for public information and for people to gain access to government services and information easily from time to time. It’s also to validate those information and to know how to go somewhere, how to know something and how to do something; the government social media handle should be able to help you do that. The second thing is to begin to do some internal training and set social media guidelines for public sector agencies and the presidency to communicate with their audience who are all Nigerians. It’s an opportunity for you to interact with your own focus groups whether you’re from the ministry of health where they happen to own teaching hospitals, media organisations, the ministry of aviation and the rest of other bodies. If you use these tools properly, you’d be able to explain to the people what you do to those who require your services and be able to get feedbacks. That’s the primary objective of the social media and it’s what we will be driving across all levels of governance starting from the federal government down.
Recently, President Goodluck Jonathan had a 45-minute interactive session with the youths from various work communities and majority of the social media practitioners complained they never got invitation to the forum. How does this make you feel?
For people who think they’ve been working and missed that privilege, first of all, I apologise. The second thing is that the event wasn’t one that I produced and I didn’t even produce the guest list and wasn’t part of the team that organised the event. All that happened because the organisers are people that I know professionally and because I know them, I highlighted the need to engage some of these people to interact with the president.
They already have their own guests and we just gave them a list of about 50 people. The room for the session accommodated 200 people. It’s a pity because some of the aggrieved practitioners haven’t been engaged over a period of time.
For me, media is media; the print, broadcast, outdoor, mobile and the rest. That I work with the president as the SSA on social media doesn’t negate that fact. That the social media is a breaking point for the media doesn’t mean that’s where the media ends. The reason you find the biggest followers on the social media; the print, broadcast and other media organizations have their audiences and it’s symbiotic, people want to follow them online. However, in the process of governance, a person from the print media works at media adviser office of the president. There are hundreds of thousands of people on the social media space and I’m calling on all of them – the creative writers, photographers, graphic artists, cartoonists and the rest of us that anybody who has any positive content on Nigeria should please reach the nation’s social media handle. We must promote Nigeria till we die because we have nowhere else to promote. Beyond any election cycle, we are all Nigerians. That’s what we promote and that’s our agenda. In terms of the electoral cycle, they use the new media technology tools that aggregate the works of these platforms to one place and deploy it back across through Messenger, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google and several others so that you can discuss it. Of course, we didn’t do the work; we create an access to the people to validate their claims.
Didn’t you feel that it was too late to bring you on board given the sensitivity of the time?
As a human being, you study everything happening in your environment and you have to determine for yourself what you believe is real. I’m privileged to have had access to all the works that this government had done over a period of time and I know they’re real. I’m also aware of a lot of works done which haven’t been communicated to the people of Nigeria.
I therefore accepted that position not just for electoral process but for what I can do to help open up governance between the government and her citizens because the reality is that this government signed the Freedom of Information act which allows everybody to be able to access all the information and be able to criticize policies in all kinds of ways. We’re all old enough to know that it has never been so in this country. That to me is something that should be significantly understood as a major point of strength. This gives me confidence to stand and represent my country under his government because it’s quite easy to point accusing fingers, but to stand and take these challenges require a great deal of bravery. I may disagree with you politically but you don’t have more rights to be more Nigerian than me. So, you cannot say that I’m taking a negative choice by representing my country. Personalization of these issues doesn’t help anybody. There are two options: either to be an observer on the side lines or to be a part of history.
The social media looks like a no-man’s-land where truths, half truths and falsehoods congregate and this is the community you’re engaged to interface with. How do you hope to deal with this?
Well, the social media can be a no man’s land in the sense that if you’re a professional journalist, it’s easy to be disrupted by someone who calls him or herself a blogger if you don’t make your works go through a considerable amount of research, education and all those things. Social media had just disrupted so many industries. Technology has also disrupted a lot of things yet it has become a significant tool in modern world. And that’s the reality of life. There are many different spaces. The same way you have people who do purely politics on the social media, entertainment, health, finance, academic, etc on social media platforms. We’re all Nigerians and just because what you do every day is politics doesn’t make it more important that what the other man does. They’re aspects of the complex Nigerian characters and identities. The important thing for me is to give a faithful representation of what Nigeria is talking about. In some place one would have to appeal to all Nigerians to tone down their language because of the access to the space. Sometimes when you have total freedom, you take it for granted. I think a lot of people just hit the space to say anything because nobody is afraid of anything. In the old days, you’d use fake names, addresses and so on because you knew that there were consequences for these things. We’re connected by the social networks everywhere around the world and we should use this to do the right thing. There’s actually nothing some Nigerians would agree with you; they’d talk it to death and I’m glad about that. Let’s increase the conversation without marooning the facts. Let’s talk about the contents because it’s not a one-time document, it’s an interactive digital archive of contents across platforms to bring to you on your phone, TV, radios and wherever we can bring it.
Considering the work volume coming with your new place in the government, will your personal businesses not suffer for lack of adequate attention?
That’s one of the challenges we have. But I’m very happy and comfortable with the team I work with. I’m in the process of removing myself from the personal businesses I have. For example, I didn’t participate in the Social Media Week this year. I did that because I felt this thing should be open and connected in case you’re not on the same page with Mr. President, you should also have a platform to discuss your position.
If you’re in support of him, it’s the same thing. I’m not the one who’d say talk or don’t talk. That’s the job of someone else.
Away from your new appointment, you’d practically scampered off the entertainment radar to function perhaps only from the background. What exactly was your role in making Tuface Idibia the first Nigerian artiste to perform on Channel O, a feat mostly credited to Kennis Music?
Kennis Music had done a great job. It was well over 10 years ago and so I can’t remember everything at the moment. At a time, I was lobbying MTV heavily to launch in Nigeria when they were launching MTV Africa programme because I’ve had some network with them from London and New York.
This is what we’re saying; there is change in Nigeria. Because of the reputation Nigeria had at a time, no fund coming from any company and we just spoke to the Nigerian Breweries. MTV actually didn’t have anyone from Nigeria when they were berthing the programme.
So, we resolved to have an event in Lagos, but it didn’t work. Let’s do a small one in Abuja, that didn’t see the light of the day as well. It was supposed to be at the Nicon Hilton. I went mad and insisted that they got to do something in Nigeria. So, when they went live, I said even if it’s for the sake of the feelings we Nigerians have, the first time your show goes on air on Tuesday, March 1, 2004, you must pick a Nigerian artiste. In 2004 Nigerians actually broke a record with multiple rotations, not only because of energy, but because of our creativity, attitude and all that makes Nigerians unique as we have taken entertainment global not just in music, comedy, fashion, lifestyle, blogs and the rest intertwined. We ended up choosing Tuface because I sat with two other people and played 10 Nigerian music videos we could find. There was quite a few you could find then and Tuface Idibia’s African Queen caught the most attention. And you’d also find it quite interesting that Tuface is one of the most humble humans I’ve ever met and about the biggest star to hail from this clime. I think he’s a great inspiration to Nigerians.
His songs continue to inspire me because when you watch people come from nothing to something and retain the same level of humility and decency, they earn your admiration. I didn’t know Tuface personally then and Jimmy Jatt was the one in the public eye. And Dare Art Alade didn’t have a video yet, maybe if he did, I would have pushed his work.
What was your relationship with Reno Omokri before you were appointed?
I met him professionally once or twice. I didn’t know him beyond that time.
Is it true that he was sacked? What’s the true story?
He was neither sacked nor demoted. He doesn’t report to me in any form. That impression was shaped by other media. As a matter of fact, he works in the office of Mr. Oronto Douglas, the Special Adviser to the President on Research, Documentation and Strategy and he’s a Special Assistant in that office. My office is totally a new office.
Is it true that you now have a fresh entertainment outfit after Storm Records was rested?
People don’t know the name yet because it hasn’t been launched. At the end of the day, it would just be a private enterprise which I don’t want to talk about now as a public official. I have a team that would handle all of that and will be like a non-executive director and I won’t be interfering in what they do.
What’s your earliest influence into communications?
Honestly, for me, talking about oneself isn’t so easy. I’ve spent my life unlocking many opportunities from sports to reality shows, music, digital, social media and I tend to be one of the guys who pioneered the force in the beginning of these things.
What I’m trying to perfect now is toget the money as well because the fact that you blaze the trail doesn’t mean you end up being the one with the money. I’m into collaboration and I’ve always been and I’ve shown respect to everybody because at the end of the day, nothing is permanent.
Do I just say that I can no longer receive phone calls of people I’ve always talked to my whole life because I got an appointment? Public appointment means I’m in service to anybody who is in the social media space. The communication part of me must have evolved because my parents made us read every single day of our lives. I’ve always loved literature, strategy and I’ve always been a strong communicator. So I’ve always understood the intrigues where advertising, PR and strategies come to use. Funny enough, because of the kinds of work I’ve done, you find me garnering experiences from all of them. I represented FIFA Marketing 15 years ago; that’s what we did with the global best practice which wasn’t just theoretical. I ran the Black Stars in 1990 and 2002 duringthe nation’s Under-21 Cup and that’s still one of the biggest events in this country. It had over two million spectators. We delivered it, we did it across the country. All these experiences add up to a ground swelling knowledge received over the years.