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Patrick Oke: Broadcasting in Nigeria needs surgery

The Daily Report’s Ify Onyegbule with Dr. Patrick Oke, after the interview

Dr. Patrick Oke remembers his early days as a young broadcaster in Lagos and the conditions under which he and his colleagues worked.

“Everything you said was critically listened to and assessed in places you would never believe. Your bosses took their radios with them everywhere, so they could listen to make sure the announcers and presenters didn’t make mistakes or put the station into disrepute,” he told The Daily Report during the Candid Conversations interview, conducted by Ify Onyegbule.

Old School, high standards

At that time, he added, standards were a top consideration. It was sought after and encouraged, and news and programming were not as internationalised as they have become them today, in the sense that presenters realised that they were talking to Nigerians listening to a radio station in Nigeria.

“You could get sacked for the slightest mistakes. If you mispronounced the words and your bosses heard, you were in deep trouble. Standards then were very high and people were always on your back and you couldn’t get away with it.

“We were conscious always of the fact that we have native names, cultures and native ways of addressing people’s concerns, so you as a broadcaster had to be aware of this. You didn’t go on air talking down on the culture, mispronouncing names or general disregard for those things that were ours. You could get sacked those days for mispronouncing a name.  One of the things that scared us as trainee announcers was mispronouncing names. It was like a primary test.”

Oke joined Radio Nigeria in his late teens as a Junior Presentation Assistant/ Officer, after going through the mandatory 12-week training, learning at the feet of some of the most tried and tested trainers, including Stella Bassey and Stella Awani.  

“Those days it was a gruesome process to actually go on air and say something. After your training you did what they called ‘double banking’; it meant you stayed with an experienced announcer, you said nothing and observed everything he or she was doing. Then after three months, if you proved to be keenly interested, you were allowed to say a word (written). SO for the first three weeks all you said was ‘The time is 3 O’clock’ or ‘This is Radio Nigeria’. Or if they find that your voice is steady enough, they may now allow you to announce a whole programme, like: ‘This is radio Nigeria. The time is 3 O’clock. It’s time for musical echoes, a selection of…, presented by …”

No more quality control

Double-banking, Oke stressed, was very essential. He equated it with the internship a medical student would do after graduating from medical school. And the studio atmosphere could be daunting for even the best broadcasters, when all the lights were on and you are aware that the eyes of 30m people were focused on you.

“You can read all you want, but that is theory – the practice is different. We went to get degrees in mass communication, but what you learned in the classroom you could hardly put into practice on the field,” he pointed out. “But in practicing, you pick up so much. You adapt; you gauge where the general thinking is; you adjust, and by the time you come out, you come out with knowledge of the people, of what you’re doing and of yourself.”

Oke, who now runs a consultancy, is unimpressed with what broadcasting has now become today.  He puts a chunk of the blame on the doorstep of the regulatory bodies, who have clearly failed in their responsibilities to enforce the necessary guidelines. It is the reason why most radio stations in the country have presenters with false and sometimes forced foreign accents whose main interests are self promotion and seeking celebrity status and corporate endorsements.

“A lot of the broadcasters now are really not conscious of any standards. They just want to do what they want to do; and there is a lot of support for that kind of thing, which is ‘This is me, myself and I; this is what I want to do,” Oke described the scenario. “Normally, the regulators and standard keepers who are supposed to ensure that there are standards, there are no deterrents to that nowadays. It wasn’t so before.

“There is no more quality control, and I just look at it as part of the Nigerian general malaise; because nationally, there is no control, sorry to say. Those days, there were standards everywhere – in the ministries, in the parastatals, in structures. There were controls.

The Daily Report team with Dr Patrick Oke, after the interview

More and more stations, less attention to detail

“In those days in Radio Nigeria, if you wanted to play any music on air, you had a form that you filled—the artiste, the publisher, the minutes of that record you’re going to play, because the writer or the publisher must get royalty. You did this a day before broadcast, took it to the library – the librarian took your list and fetched the songs from where they are stored – everything was planned and in order.” 

Other causative factors have to do with the explosion of private radio and television stations and the nature of the stations’ ownership.

“People own radio stations for different reasons and owners have varying interest, some political – they want an avenue to projects certain ideas and grow audiences.  But the disappointing thing is that now everybody wants to sound American. You listen to one and it’s like you have listened to the others,” Oke argued.

“Having said that, we must also realise that it is the audience we are trying to reach. So the question is: the Nigerian audience, how well has it done? What happened to the Nigerian audience? [If you ask me, I would say] the Nigerian audience has also moved. It is now standard-less as well. So what you see is a reflection of the Nigerian audience as well. It is not as discerning as before—anything goes. This trend is also evident in the in the movies and music videos—everything is all noise and rough.”

Broadcasting is a talent

“So where did we lose it,” Onyegbule, the interviewer, asked at some point. “Can the situation be redeemed?”

“If anyone is to change the system as it is, they will have to perform a surgery – a surgery of the ideas and of the personnel. The private stations are trying; the national stations can do the same, if they change their thinking,” Oke answered, addressing some of his concerns to the state-owned broadcasters. “As a Nigerian and as a broadcaster, and someone who is keenly interested in the progress of my country, the national stations have not moved a step. Sometimes, you wonder if they are in this world, because the standard is so terrible, treating broadcasting as normal Nigerian business. Don’t these people watch international stations to see how things are done?”   

Oke made the transition from radio and joined the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) as a 22-year-old; he also had the pleasure of reading the national network news at such a young age. When asked if his generation of broadcasters groomed younger colleagues who took over from them, so that the high standards could be maintained over time, Oke had this to say:

“You would have done that and forces of society would have swept them apart. When we were young and growing, we had so many followers. Young people were interested in the profession and we mentored and taught and did lots of stuff.  Nowadays, people go into broadcasting because of who they know. They just get a note and they are on air – they don’t care. You can do all the training you want, orientate as much as you want, but the general pervasive spirit of the whole place doesn’t favour consistent quality consciousness as it were.”

Broadcasting, Oke said, is a talent. He had this advice for young broadcasters: “The thing about broadcasting is just be natural – be yourself. It actually detracts from your credibility when people see you trying to sound unnatural because you want to sound foreign.”

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