On that sunny Friday afternoon on April 15th I drove into the Parkview, Ikoyi offices of Alex Okosi SVP and CEO Viacom Africa, an incredibly accomplished Onitsha prince and grand son of Obi Okosi. Alex Okosi is reputed to be the man that brought global entertainment giant MTV Base to Africa opening up the continent to the global community of world class entertainment which today has expanded into comedy and movies as well. The towering, yet soft spoken leader speaks with a fiery combo of passion, finesse, deep knowledge and a global perspective that is empowering in itself. Excerpts:
InlandTown: A lot of young Onitsha indigenes are hooked on the content your company provides, without knowing a son of the soil is the one at the helm.Can we meet you afresh for this purpose?
Alex Okosi: Yes , I am Ogbuefi Akunne Alex Uche Okosi, from Ogbeabu Onicha Ado. Obi Okosi I is my grand father, and I am the Senior Vice President and CEO of Viacom in Africa. Viacom encompasses 10 different channels we have launched into Africa since I started the business in 2005, channels like MTVbase, Comedy Central, BET and VH1 make up parts of the media platforms and TV channels that we have.
InlandTown: What about your educational background and Enugu connection?
Alex Okosi: I was born in Enugu because my father was a civil servant in Enugu before he retired to move back to Onitsha and developed some of his properties. So I went to the Zik avenue Primary School in Enugu until the age of 12 then to CIC for a year. When I joined my parents on a holiday to America when I was 12, I decided I was not coming back. (Laughs)
InlandTown: 90 million people access the media content on MTVbase, how did you achieve that?
Alex Okosi: Our content is not just on pay tv, its important to understand that. Everyone still associates my work and my career with just MTVbase, and there other channels that are doing well. Particularly on MTVbase, which is not only on pay tv like DSTV or Startimes. We do branded blocs of MTVbase with an hour or two in free to air. We have had partnerships with AIT, Silverbird and others and put our content on TV stations, in Tanzania , Kenya , Uganda, Ghana. This means that across the continent at any given time you can access our content and if you look at the potentials there are about 90 to 100 million people who see our content across Africa.
Whether its our Award shows like MAMA, or we able to do pro social programming for instance SHUGA which is a drama series, that deals and tackles issues of HIV/AIDS and sexual health in general amongst young people , we are able to kind of create that content and distribute to different African stations for free. The aim is to use the content to change young people’s behaviours. What they do with their lives and the actions they take have impacts on their well being; so that kind of content we distribute to our different partners across Africa who air it on their free to air terrestrial stations. Our aim is to live beyond pay TV and also be on free to air platform so we can access the masses; we know that there are a lot of people with access to free to air than pay TV.
InlandTown: How can Onicha Youth benefit from the growing content base?
Alex Okosi: The options are endless, but the key is obviously to understand and learn what opportunities exist within the content and media space. For instance, it is not about being an artiste or an actor, to be able to get this content to a platform, there a lot bunch of people that work on every aspect of it, there are people that work as producers, directors, script writers. There are people that work on regular functions like finance to put together the budget to be able to create this content. In the media business, every function is represented from entertainment lawyers to finance people to administrators, there is a wide array of opportunities within the content or media media space for people to aspire to be, beyond being creative yourself.
I take pride in the fact that gone are the days, (before we launched MTVbase in Africa) everyone was listening to music from other places. We changed the landscape, focused on the Pan African proposition and Nigeria was a key market for us. When we launched into the market we wanted to raise the quality of the content; we created workshops and master classes to educate our young producers who are sometimes artistes themselves, how to create better content. Often times, it wasn’t the money that was the issue, they just didn’t know how to make the sound or the picture right. We gave them technical training like making video workshop, we actually produced free musical videos and held master classes with international directors on how to create good content. This we did, not only in Nigeria, but in Ghana, Gabon, Kenya, Uganda and other places. Those things are the catalysts of what you see today.
People thought I was selling out Nigeria but we needed to raise the standard. Typically for Nigerians, if you show them how to do it, they exceed it. Today Nigeria has the highest quality videos in Africa. We want to use our brand to empower Nigerian youth and any Onitsha youth that aspires to be in the media space. We are using Comedy Central to promote upcoming comedians, BET to promote local content, we have Top Actor for aspiring movie actors, because today, parents encourage their children to be entertainers, unlike before the idea will be discarded with the phrase ‘INAAKAFIALI’ (they are being useless). If an Onicha youth has a creative talent he is welcome aboard, because all glitz and glamour comes with a lot of hardwork.
With Obi Asika and friends in Onitsha
InlandTown: How was your Ozo title experience?
Alex Okosi: One thing I love about Onicha is of course the heritage that we have. Even when I was in Enugu, every weekend I would be in Onitsha, every holiday. All the tradition, the music I loved, the food…Onicha has a very colorful culture. Infact, all my five brothers are titled men, our father sponsored our membership into the prestigious Agbalanze society; not as if we couldn’t afford it, but based on principle he decided to bestow the ozo title on us his male children.
InlandTown: Your advice for Onicha youth?
Alex Okosi: Education is the key, Onicha people are regarded as intellectually sound, education is our pride… Whatever journey you want take, make education your foundation, the best you can get, even when you are not in the best school be the best student. Secondly love what your are doing.
InlandTown: There is this saying OKWU ONICHA ADIKA EKWU ( not keeping to agreement) there is a paradigm shift now saying OKWU ONICHA GADI KA ESI KWUE (keeping to agreement)
Alex Okosi: For that paradigm shift to be a reality , we need to build a stronger network, that wants to help the progress of our people, not isolating ourselves from rest of Nigeria but trying to elevate ourselves. It does have to rely on well meaning individual who are not selfish, who don’t want to be stars , who believe that the collective good is better than the individual good. We need to put a foundation in place on what needs to be done Onicha and its people to grow and rise. Secondly, every Onicha person should know there is a responsibility that they fill. In any capacity or position they find themselves, they are to be able to shine a positive light in our Onicha experience and background.
InlandTown: You are known to say that Onitsha is the only place you relax, can you tell us why?
Alex Okosi: When I am in Onitsha , I feel at home relaxed, coming home to enjoy a home cooked meal, coming home to relate with your family… I have a home there. Being in touch with my true identity, no one can chase me out because I rightfully belong there and there is a sense of peace and calm and strength when you are standing on the land that created you.
InlandTown: How do you unwind?
Alex Okosi: I love to consume good content, whether its reading , watching film, not being a critic but to be inspired by peoples creativity. Reaching out to my friends and families.
InlandTown: How spiritual are you?
Alex Okosi : I am a Catholic , I believe that all my success are made possible by God Almighty. As he is directing my steps, I realize that hardwork is required to achieve success. I believe that God is the key and I thank him for all his blessings