Thursday, January 17, 2008

The World of the Nigerian Soft Sell

The motivation for this post came from a personal experience which I once had with a Nigerian softsell. A story that I unknowingly contributed to was run as a Front page edition for 2 weeks . This resulted in increased sales for the Magazine. Ofcourse, I wasn’t mentioned as the source of the story.
The Nigerian Softsell world has seen the presence of so many magazines such as Hints, Global Excellence,Ovation, Fame , Encomium, City People, Classique , Treasure, Alaroye e.t.c
Hints had a pioneering crew of Toni Kan and Helon Habila. The strong point of Hints magazine was its unbridled love stories which appealed to the wild fantasies of teenagers and other young people. Ovation magazine was started by the quintessential Dele Momodu during the heady days of the military. It started of as a News magazine and later morphed into a photomagazine of the standard of Hello/ Ok magazines. Encomium is largely owned by Kunle Bakare. He is regarded as one of the Doyens of SoftSell journalism in Nigeria. He has managed to survive many years in a business that is associated with a high mortality rate. Classique was the brain child of Late Mee Mofe Damijo. She was able to run it till the time of her departure from this world. Fame and Treasure have a common denominator – Femi Akintunde Johnson (popularly called FAJ). FAJ is regarded as one of the Grandmasters of Soft Sell Journalism. He was the dread of many society women/ men. In one fell swoop, FAJ had the ability to make /mar the public career of any individual. FAJ started at Fame magazine before it went under.
The appellation RMD which Richard Mofe Damijo is known by was coined by Femi Akintunde Johnson of the Fame Era. After a while, things went rough for him, he became born-again and decided to put out Treasure magazine.
Fame Magazine rested on the 3 proverbial stones that did not allow the pot of stew to be overturned (Aro meta ti kin dobenu) – Mayor Akinpelu, FAJ and Kunle Bakare
Global Excellence is owned by Mayor Akinpelu.
City People is published by Seye Kehinde. Seye Kehinde is an amazing journalist who transformed from a Pro-democracy journalist during the Abacha era to a Celebrity News journalist when the Democrats came to town. The stories that surround Seye Kehinde’s exploits in the military era are numerous- Publishing in hideouts, running from SSS officials, jumping over fences and moving around in disguise.
Only a few of the aforementioned magazines are still in circulation. Some of the publishers are still around. Toni Kan is now born again and has given up his favorite past time of helping in the sexual development of youngsters. Helon Habila has won the Caine Prize. Dele Momodu is now a Baba-Isale in Journalism/ Business/Politics.
City People and Encomium remain the front-runners in Soft-sell journalism in Nigeria. City people is said to have the highest circulation figures. In second position is Encomium Magazine. Breasting the tape in 3rd position is Global Excellence.
If there is any thing that can be established from the preceding paragraph, it is the fact that the Nigerian Softsell industry is actually a small world. Most of the major players have worked with each other at some point in time. They mostly operate by the same rules.
The Nigerian Media is plagued by variety of problems. Some of these problems include the high cost of Newsprint, Epileptic Power supply, Ineffective distribution Network, Low circulation figures and Lack of a Freedom of Information act.e is How do they manage to survive in the midst of all these hindrances? What are their business practices? How do they generate the funds that keep them going? The answers are numerous.
Imagine a young, beautiful and sociable woman who has just started out on the party circuit. She manages to get herself invited to the parties that matter. She is seen at various award shows. The softsell photographers have started seeing a reoccurrence of her pictures in their cameras. The Softsell publishers then start to do a background check on her. This is not usually a hard job to do. She has friends that she comes to the parties with. Information about the new girl on the block could be coerced out of her well known friends. Now comes the Baptism of fire. A front page edition is run about the New Party Lady. This front page edition could often contain disparaging stories about her personal life. In order to show the lady that the softsell means business, another story is run about her the following week. The lady sees the story, she is sad at how her image is being tainted. Funny enough, she realizes that everyone now knows who she is. She gets in touch with the Publishers of the Softsell. She pays her dues (financially), and is officially initiated into the circle of Society ladies. The Publisher smiles to the bank.. If after a while, the publisher sees that business is not doing so good, he looks up his long list of society women, he bugs them for a week or so, they come and settle and life moves on.
Then there is the category of Society big girls who have beef with those with whom the soft sells have a cosy relationship. Woe betides such a society lady. Her life secrets are sent to the publishers who them embellish the stories in a readable fashion and print them. As long as the fight lasts, her stories would be run. These are the scenarios which the publishers love. Running such stories would cost money. Stopping them would cost a greater amount of money. They are able to eat their cake and have it.
An aspiring politician whose career needs a boost needs to befriend a Soft-Sell publisher. Such a politician needs to forget all the high-brow marketability of True Love and Genevieve. City People and Encomium run the streets. Only these 2 magazines can provide such an aspiring politician with enough street credibility to win any election.
The Nigerian Softsell is not all about blackmail and extortion. The burgeoning Fashion industry in Nigeria owes it success largely to the spadework done by Softsell magazines.
An aspiring fashion designer who cannot compete in the same class with the Tiffany Ambers, Deola Sagoes, Zizi Cardows could hook up with a softsell magazine and hold his/her show under the auspices of the softsell.
Nigerian softsells also help budding artistes organize musical concerts. The attendance in such a concert guarantees a free appearance in the subsequent edition of the soft-sell magazine. This serves as a motivation for the members of the public to attend such a musical concert.
In conclusion, Nigerian softsells have been here for a long while. They are going no where.

Monday, January 7, 2008


DEC. 24, 2007
I got off from work early. I received a call from a friend in SOD (Spirit of David) inviting me for the season finale of their Reality Show- Celebrity Takes Two. Celebrity takes 2 is a dance competition that is modeled after Dancing with the Stars / So you think you can dance? It featured 10 Nigerian celebrities. Recording of the show was done on Tuesdays while the TV Broadcast was done on Sundays. However, this was not to be the case for the season finale because the final show was to be on Christmas day. They decided to move the show to Christmas Eve for logistic purposes. Planet One in Maryland Lagos played host to the show throughout its duration. I arrived there at 4pm and got my VIP Pass. I got there 2 hours before time because I wanted to see the pre-show activities and preparations
I took special interest in the show when I saw the billboard near Falomo roundabout in Ikoyi. I have close ties with the SOD club in my alma mater. We were able to work together successfully through many shows on campus. Celebrity Takes 2 started as Takes 2 a couple of years ago. Takes 2 was a dance competition between members of SOD nationwide. Members were paired in couples as they competed against each other.
Those were the days of humble beginnings.
The question is – How did they make the transition from the Nursing Auditorium on Afribank Street to Planet One Events hall in Maryland? It took a lot of hardwork, prayers, perseverance and doggedness. I am aware of how many times proposals they submitted were turned down by corporate organizations only to later hear that the corporate entity was sponsoring its own dance show. E.g Close-up Salsa. However, Providence smiled their way, Skye bank accepted their proposal and Celebrity Takes 2 was birthed.
The final show, which was to commence at 6pm, did not start till about 10 pm. This was due to many factors – Christmas Eve traffic, Low Publicity and organizational difficulties. Electricity was taken off around 5pm and was not restored till about 7 pm. Sound and Visual guys came in late. Stage setup was also done pretty late. As expected, the celebrities did not show up on time. After all, that’s why they are called celebrities. In the final round, were Passuma Wonder, Funmi Aofiyebi and Omowunmi Akinnifesi. The show started with a song by some Lil John impersonator. Segz and Sarah Boulos started off as hosts while the usual hosts Ben and his lady counterpart came in as a dance couple and did a few moves to the amazement of the audience. Dayo Liadi and Ijodee Dance Troupe did justice to Olori Oko . He showed the audience the real meaning of Contemporary African Dance and validated all the critical comments he had made during the show. Highlights of all the moves of the finalists were shown to the audience. Then, the time came for the winner to be announced.
Funmi Aofiyebi was declared the winner based on votes received as SMS from members of the public. She was presented with the keys to a Chinese SUV- Hoover.
Looking at the final show critically, it largely fell below international standards despite all the effort put into it by the SOD crew. Logistics proved to be a major nightmare for them. A lot of things which were handled by volunteers need to be outsourced in subsequent shows. Professionals must handle every aspect of the show while SOD concentrates on its core competence- dance.
SOD’s main advantage is its religious background. It is made up of young folks who see dancing as a spiritual ministry. I am sure their members would have done the whole show for free if they had to. This is what gives them an advantage over most dance ensembles in Nigeria. They really don’t care about the money. They have a structure that has lasted almost a decade. I sincerely hope the Instructors would be well paid after the show.
All the years of hard work had paid off eventually. Some of them had poor results in school, some dropped out while others had issues with their parents because they wanted to do dance. The hallmark of the show was when I saw the mother of one of the instructors jumping up for joy and as she spoke to her husband on phone about the final result. I heard another parent reconciled with his son who was a member of the dance crew during the course of the show. For all their tears, pain, sweat and hardwork, I will like to congratulate my SOD folks. Keep the flag flying

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Once Upon 4 Robbers

Dec 23, 2007
At about 2 pm, I headed for the Island. Getting there 30 minutes later, I went down to Terra Kulture to catch Laspapi’s Sunday play. It happened to be a staging of Femi Osofisan’s Once Upon 4 robbers. I approached the back of the building and found my way into the auditorium. I discovered I had to pay the gate fee – N2000. My mind flashed back to my University days. I remember how many shows I was able to enter free of charge based on Personal recognition. For others, we had a way of pretending to be part of the technical crew. The idea was to hold a piece of wire / carry some electrical device as if you were part of the technical crew. If it were a religious musical concert, you just had to wear a white shirt on black trousers in order to look like a choir member. We had all the tricks up our sleeves. If by any chance, I knew any of the stage artistes, it was free entrance. Well, none of my old tricks was going to work at Terra Kulture , so I humbly paid and entered the auditorium. “Once Upon 4 robbers” is a play I had seen twice in my University days. It is a play that is set in the military era speaking of concepts such as trust, betrayal, bravery and social stratification. I will not attempt to critique Laspapi’s production because a critic in this case would be expected to have seen the play a couple of times and know the lines and appropriate dramatizations. It was a good production despite the limitations of the stage. The Terra Kulture stage could not be more than 20ft by 8ft. The UI theatre where it has been fully expressed is almost 4 times that size. Also the auditorium is a flat, plane surface with some elevation for the stage. It is my belief that theatre is best produced in a pit theatre with the audience looking at the stage from on high.
Cast was also limited to those who had to do the talking. Ok, end of Critique
Shortly after I sat down in the auditorium , 2 ladies got in and sat behind me. From the conversation , they sounded like Awon omo Lekki yen ( Lekki folks). Out of the 2, one seemed to have come to Nigeria for holidays. The conversation went thus-

Girl 1: When is the play starting?
Girl 11: The play will start when Mr. Oguntokun decides to show up

Shortly after Mr. Oguntokun shows up and welcomes the audience. He introduces the play and mentions his educational background. He happens to mention that he has a Masters in Law. This is the point where my ears zoom back to the Lekki duo behind. At the point where Mr. Oguntokun mentions having a Masters degree in Law,
Girl II: Hmmmm
I started to imagine the girl’s facial expression. I couldn’t turn back to verify this but I’m sure it was a dramatic expression.
At the end of the production, I hung around a little bit while the Lekki duo disappeared almost immediately. Anyway, I started wondering if these were not part of the ones who Laspapi once used these words for- “those who bay the moon because of me”. Going through his blog, he often paints a picture of a man whom so many females pray that Olorun Esan would visit.
However, I believe that the Theatre absolves its own. “The stage” is where restitution is made for the frailties of human existence. In simple English, No matter how much wrong you do in your life, the stage gives you a rebirth.

From there I proceeded to Nu Metro Bookshop and took part in my yearly ritual. I have a habit of going to the bookshop before the end of any year and picking up some Nigerian Contemporary works that are released or profiled that year. I use this last minute spree to make up for my neglect of such literary works during the year. I picked up
Measuring Time - Helon Habila
Waiting for An Angel - Helon Habila
The Activist- Tanure Ojaide
Half of a Yellow Sun - Chinamanda Adichie
Every Day is for the thief - Teju Cole
Nine Lives- El Nukoya
Yellow Yellow- Kaine Agary
The Phoenix- Chika Unigwe

Most of my Christmas holiday was spent buried in these books