FEATURE ARTICLE

Michael NnebeMonday, May 12, 2014
mnfargo@gmail.com


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MO ABUDU …NIGERIA'S OPRAH WINFREY


Mosunmola ‘Mo’ Abudu
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quick glance at the Forbes list of the richest billionaires reveal that Oprah Winfrey, with a networth of $2.9 billion, is ranked number 608 in the world. Within the United States, she falls outside the top 100 richest people on the Forbes 400 list. She however remains the only African American billionaire on this exclusive list of the richest Americans. But money is not everything, there is something even more valuable than money, and that is influence. For a period of nearly twenty years Oprah Winfrey was arguably the most influential person in America, and this she achieved by using her talk show platform. She has since moved on to launch her own television network, satellite radio network, the O Magazine, and a host of other media outlets that now transmit worldwide. I still vividly remember when Oprah launched her talk show, and how she over the years gradually gained on the supreme talk show leaders like Phil Donahue, until eventually becoming the supreme talk show queen herself.

Nigeria now has her own Oprah. Her name is Mosunmola Abudu, popularly called Mo Abudu. The first time I remember seeing her was when I once visited Nigeria, switched on the television at my hotel room in Lagos, and saw the show "Moments with Mo." I thought, "Interesting! A talk show like Oprah in Nigeria." I paid attention, but was not necessarily engaged by the subject matter being discussed that day. I have seen the show several times since and watched many Nigerians with compelling stories as well as great interviews of people like President Obasanjo, President Babangida, and Hillary Clinton. Moments with Mo became the first syndicated daily talk show on African regional television, and she went on to produce shows like "The Debaters." To be honest, Moments with Mo was not quite the Oprah Winfrey Show. Perhaps the television viewing habits of Nigerians, or more specifically the Nigerian women is not comparable to that of their American counterparts. It is possible that the show lacked that very special something that only Oprah can bring to the table. Whatever the case, Ms. Abudu failed to muster the sort of influence that Oprah wielded through her show.

Then about ten months ago Mo Abudu did something rather interesting. One that I believe have not been done by anyone in Africa before. She launched "Ebony Life Television" Africa's first global black multi-broadcast entertainment network. I watched their roll out lavish party with very little interest. After all, who can blame me for expecting very little. I have grown tired of relying on all our local television channels for any quality shows. It is true that Channels television is good with mostly news just like watching a domestic CNN or BBC, but it, too, was guilty just like AIT, NTA, and Silverbird who often spend the bulk of their time covering political rallies, paid funerals and other parties that offer no value to the viewer. In Ebonylife Television I found for the first time in Africa and certainly in Nigeria a television station with many original programming that offer world-class production values. What is even more interesting is that most or possibly all their shows are created and produced here in Nigeria by Nigerians and elsewhere in the world by Africans. A couple of our girls have a cooking show somewhere in the US, some of their shows originate in England by Nigerians and Africans.

They now have too many home grown shows to mention, all world class production standards, and even their commercials are not the same old run off the mill. Just the other day I was dying with laughter watching "The Fattening Room" A show that features six beautiful young girls selected from across Africa, based somewhere in the Southsouth of Nigeria where the girls are fattened in the Efik traditional way for young brides to be. Shows like Screen Divas, EL Vibes, Love Lounge, Sistaz, Banky and Tiwa show, and many more titles come to mind, all authentically done in the African original way. Suddenly Africana cool and Nigeriana cool have become a catch phrase. They cover a few entertainment news shows, original movies, reality shows, and of course Moments with Mo. But for me, my favorite show is really a show about nothing, called "The Spot" It features the adorable Zainab Balogun, the intelligent Lamide Akintobi, and the brilliant Ebuka Uchendu. These three young presenters provide a little bit of sanity for me every evening, and I must confess that I am hooked on it. What is even more important is that they are telling our own story, and in the process changing the norm.

Mo Abudu and her team of producers came up with a catch phrase that caught my attention. "Everything you think you know about Africa is about to change forever" They actually went out to achieve that, and they are truly achieving that by the day. In an article I wrote sometime last year "Nigerian professionals in Diaspora…start coming home" I urged Nigerians all over the world who have something to offer to take advantage of these unprecedented opportunities and start coming home. I noticed that most of the personalities on the Ebonylife television programs are Nigerians who have actually spent some time in Europe or the US. It makes sense to me. Imagine if all you know about television is from NTA, how can you offer anything different or better. These folks are now using their knowledge and experience of how good quality shows are presented, to in essence take over Nigeria and Africa. Even Mo Abudu herself was born in London, spent her early years in Nigeria, and returned to England for studies and early career before returning to Nigeria. She has now been in this game for long and she is not yet 50 years old so the sky is still her limit. How can Nigerians learn how to do these things right if those in the Diaspora don't come back to show them in all fields.

If Nigeria becomes a top ten economy twenty years from now it will be largely due to the efforts of people like Mo Abudu. She is not quite Oprah yet, she is probably worth less than 10% of Oprah's money though I don't claim to know her bank balance or networth. But she is a dreamer, a trailblazer, and a game changer, and no doubt the money will pile up over time. Ultimately it may not even be about the money for her, but by building such a first rate television network Mo Abudu will undoubtedly wield unprecedented influence across the African media world. I have never had the privilege of meeting her or visiting her studios in Lagos or Calabar, but I have enjoyed the numerous fruits of her labor from the comfort of my living room, and I'm grateful for that. And I believe that many years from now when the current Boko Haram headlines have long receded to the back of our memory, the bold and courageous efforts of people like Mo Abudu will continue to provide us with great Africana cool shows that makes us proud to be Nigerians. Kudos to her and many more like her in various sectors of our economy.

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