Power of the radio
To the gangling man of words, the temporary closure of OGBC 2 was quite unexpected. “But you know the elite were used to seeing the radio operate in a particular way, which is doing the bidding of the government of the day. The newspapers earned their freedom being combative, right from the colonial days. And again, you have to be able to read in order for you to benefit from any information contained in newspapers. Radio doesn’t require that. So because of the awesome power of the radio, the British refused to have private radio in any of their colonies. And that situation persisted until Babangida came to break the jinx. To start a radio, all we need is little equipment and from where we are sitting now, we will be broadcasting to all the corners of the earth. Television requires much more human and material resources.”
Ekisola later quit his job at OGBC to become the pioneer GM of Ray Power radio, a brainchild of wealthy businessman, Dr Raymond Dokpesi who he met through Kenny Ogungbe.
“Kenny is Chief Dokpesi’s brother in-law. Kenny and I have been very close for a long time. When Kenny was living in the US, whenever he came to Nigeria, within 24 hours, he would be in Abeokuta to see me. Kenny is also part of the OGBC story. Even at that time, Kenny loved music so much, so I’m not surprised that he later set up Kennis music. As I said, when you love doing something, you no longer regard that thing as work. It becomes fun. So, there’s been some rumour that Babangida was trying to open up the space to allow private radio. And I think Kenny has been talking to Chief Dokpesi about it. So I was in Abeokuta when Kenny came to see me. He said, egbon, that thing we’ve been talking about, I think we will start soon. So come and meet Dr Raymond. I met Dr Dokpesi, we discussed and I went back to Abeokuta and got my people together. We wanted to do what no radio station had done before. We started brainstorming realizing that no radio station was running 24 hours. So I told him, Chairman, can we get a transmitter to run 24 hours? And he said, sure. That was how Ray Power started.”
Which of those places would he consider the most challenging? “Ray Power”, he promptly replies, dropping a grape into his mouth. “In fact, of all the places where I worked, it was the most challenging. When we started Ray Power, I think a lot of people did not expect us to survive. They were just waiting to see what would happen.”
Indeed, not long after the radio started, something did happen. Late dictator, General Sani Abacha had the station shut down for some time, dubbing it “illegal”. The management was however able to resolve the matter and the radio station came back on eight months later.
According to Ekisola, the team was passionately committed to the success of Ray Power. “We all carried blocks, including Dr. Dokpesi. Yes, this may surprise you. But Dr Dokpesi actually carried blocks. He is an unusual person. Having worked closely with him, I know he’s a visionary. An intuitive person. He has foresight. He saw the opportunity and took it. I learnt a lot working with him. And I don’t think it’s the money. I don’t think he’s making that much money from the place. So, at that time, all through the night, we would be there with those contractors doing the construction. We were passionate about the place. It was the first of its kind in Nigeria and we all regarded it as our baby. But you have to give Dokpesi the credit. If we have many Nigerians thinking like him, the country will start witnessing a big transformation.”
If Ekisola is this fond of Dokpesi, you wonder why he eventually dumped Ray Power. He pauses for a while, gazing at a place far beyond the present, a distant look on his face. From the barbecue grill where his two sons, Fela and Feyisola, tend the meat, a thick smoke curls up and evaporates into space as the pungent smell of roast beef assails the nose.
“At that point I had to leave Ray Power”, he says eventually. “At the time, I realized that certain things were not going as I thought. But we have since put all that behind us. We are very close now” he pauses a little. “Well, with the benefit of hindsight, now, at that time maybe I was just a little impatient and might have responded poorly. Maybe all that was needed was just for both of us to sit down and talk.”
Any regrets then? “Oh no! No regrets at all. If I had stayed, who knows what would have happened? Maybe I would have been dead by now. No, there are no regrets. I believe that I left Ray Power when it was time for me to leave.” And waxing philosophical, he adds: “For everybody in life, at some point, a man gets to his bus stop. And when you get to your bus stop, you have to leave.”
Thoughts on Nigerian media
Ekisola doesn’t anticipate much camaraderie between the Nigerian elite and the press in the foreseeable future. “As long as you have a good story, the press will always step on somebody’s toes. And the elite will be irritated”. But he says the situation is getting better now than in his days as a broadcaster. He also believes there’s press freedom in Nigeria to a reasonable extent. “We used to think the American press is free. But when you come here and listen to sanitized news, the news that they want you to hear, then you will discover the press is not as truly free as you had imagined.”
From the doorway, Ekisola’s wife, Adenike, who he introduces as “your fellow Ekiti-kete, a former high school vice Principal in Abeokuta, now a registered nurse”, beckons to the broadcaster to wrap up the discussion, as more guests arrive. He studies his watch and nods, his looks telling you to hurry up.
Some label the Nigerian press as “too combative”. Would he agree? “If they say the press is too combative, have they sat down to look at the circumstances of its birth? The Nigerian press was born as an insurgent, and that is how it’s going to be. And indeed, the press is not combative. But you see, when you see somebody holding a red cup, and you are told not to say it, then you will want to ask, why shouldn’t I say it?”
How would he react to the sedition charges slammed on two reporters by the federal government? “I have been reading the news, but I don’t really know the details. I believe the government is just trying to flex some muscles. I believe they will do away with that case at the right time.”