I QUIT THE BRITISH ARMY FOR A GIRL WHO LATER JILTED ME –REMI OGUNPITAN
Managing Director of Storm Vision, Remi Ogunpitan is the brain behind three of the biggest TV reality shows ever held in Nigeria, namely Big Brother Nigeria, Amstel Malta Box Office and Apprentice Africa. But an important aspect of his life remains hidden from many. He sheds light on this, in this interview with ‘NONYE IWUAGWU.
You have produced several reality shows, but not many people seem to know you.
I think it is a matter of style. It is about how you want to live your life and the kind of image you want to carve for yourself.
I have two personalities. With my friends, I am an extrovert; I bubble and I crack jokes all the time.
On the other hand, I am also very shy whem I am with people that I don’t know. That tends to extend to my public image in the sense that I get too shy about people knowing too much about me.
Sometimes, I feel I lack confidence in trying to let people know who I am. But it is not that, really. I don’t think I lack confidence. I think that over the years, I have been satisfied with the way things have been. I have not needed undue publicity.
I have also been satisfied with the fact that the people within my industry, the film and television industry, the marketing industry, within all these sectors, I think I am relatively known, and I am okay with that.
What informed your interest in TV production?
I think it started right from school. I studied Film and Television. I also studied Mass Communication. I have always wanted to be in television. The only time I have worked outside television was way back in the 80s, I found a job working under Tony Iredia, the former Director General of the Nigerian Television Authority, who at that time was the corporate affairs director of the National Electoral Commission.
I worked there for a couple of hours. I resumed at 8am and when I was closing at 3pm, I dropped my resignation letter.
I just couldn’t see myself working in a government establishment. I came in the morning and I saw the way things were done and I knew it wasn’t possible for me to work there.
And then you went back to TV…
Oh yes. The main reason I got into TV production was to make a change. I felt television was a powerful medium, which you can use to change peoples’ perception, educate them and change the way Nigeria is. I feel I have not been very successful in achieving that.
Are there challenges involved in what you do?
The challenges are numerous. I think they are still the same challenges that all businessmen in Nigeria face, whether you are running a TV company or you are running a factory.
The biggest challenge I have today is the fact that there are not enough people with the right kind of skills in the industry. There is the issue of human resource, and this issue goes through all the spheres of the business from the technical to the creative and to the administrative staff.
We are sitting down in this office, and I tell you we have not had light in this place since November last year, and we are running a TV production company, which is equipment intensive. If we ever have power, the current is not enough to carry the equipment.
Another issue is that the financial sector is not very helpful. I don’t know whose fault it is anyway. Access to finance and investment come at a very high cost. This is what is stifling growth.
How come you only do reality shows? Don’t you have any intention of doing home movies and soaps?
To be honest with you, if you go back way in time, you would find that the work we have done actually covers every imaginable thing you could think of. You have to understand that in the industry too, there are certain trends that happen. It is just like fashion. When there is a particular trend, you see everybody going for it.
That is what is happening in TV. Reality show is the trend now.
But don’t forget we have done music programming like Benson and Hedges Golden Tones, Rothmans Mega Groove, and we developed and produced Y’ello music programme for MTN.
And don’t forget that we have done drama as well. We produced Doctors Quarters for Mnet way back.
Reality programming is what we have been doing, and it is what people know us for. That does not mean that we cannot do any other thing. We will continue to do those things as events unfold.
The last show you did was Apprentice Africa. What is next?
Right now we are doing Dragon’s Den. It is another business reality show. We are also working on a daily soap, which we intend to air in October. We have been developing it now for about two and a half years. We had actually written the soap for Mnet, but there were some political issues, so we decided to put it out on terrestrial television.
We are also working on a pilot for Sesame Street. We intend to bring the Nigerian version of the programme. We are very interested in children’s programmes.
Why do you like working with international brands?
The brands are tested and people know them. They already come with the formula that has worked all over the world. What we basically do is to adapt it to local television.
Away from your career now, tell us a bit about yourself…
I studied at Leeds University, United Kingdom. In short, I went to school in the UK.
I left Nigeria when I was six. I had to go and join my parents who were struggling students. My father was studying to be an accountant and my mother was studying to be a dietician.
I was very small and we were living in the rundown area of the UK. Things were very hard for us. There was no money. At the age of 11, I got a scholarship to go to a private school. I was there till I was about 17 and then I did my O’ levels and A’ levels before I joined the army.
When did you go to the university?
It was still schooling while I was in the army. It was the army that sponsored my university education. I did two tours in Northern Island when there was a problem there.
I resigned from the army after six years.
What did you do after you resigned?
I started working with CBS Records in London as a new release coordinator.
By that time, my father had become a big time accountant and he came back to Nigeria to set up a company called Raleigh Bicycles in Kano. I decided to come and visit them in Nigeria. Before then, I hadn’t been to Nigeria for about 19 years. So when I came on the visit, I never went back to the UK. I only went back about seven months later to go and move my things and come back fully to Nigeria.
Why did you come back home finally?
Nigeria was too sweet then. This was in the early 80s. This country was sweet! It was fun. Things could be done. The economy was good and people had jobs.
Was it easy to adapt when you came back, after spending 19 years in the UK?
It was very easy for me to adapt. I didn’t have a problem whatsoever.
I think a lot has to do with your mindset at a particular time. When I came back, I ran into certain people. We used to live on Race Course Road in Kano. In those days, the area was a beehive of activities in the evenings. People used to come there and play polo, rugby and football. My dad was very much into sport then.
I met so many people. It was a very cosmopolitan crowd and I fitted in easily.
My mindset was that I wanted to come back home and make something out of my coming back home.
What did you do when you came back?
I spent a year travelling around Nigeria. That is one of the most wonderful experiences I have had in my entire life. I had been out of Nigeria for so long, so I had to get to know Nigeria. There was no state I didn’t travel to.
I look at this country today and I marvel. There is really so much for us here, yet we are making little or nothing from what we have.
After one year, I came back and I started working. I worked in Kano, then left for Zaria and worked there for a while. Then I moved to Kaduna. I was just doing petty jobs to keep body and soul together.
I finally came to Lagos and that was where everything took off in terms of TV production.
Do you regret coming back home from the UK?
No. I don’t regret it even for a single minute. Each time I’m going through some tough times I would just say, ‘men, if I sell all the things I have in Nigeria and go back to the UK, I will be a rich man.’ But still I can’t say I regret coming home. Though there are moments I feel despondent, there is nowhere I would go and run away from challenges.
I love being here and I enjoy the work that I do. I love Nigerian women. They are very beautiful and very hardworking.
Was it the love you have for Nigerian women that made you not to get married in the UK despite the length of time you spent there?
In all the years I spent abroad, I only dated a white girl once. All the other women I dated were black. I love black women because I am black.
I wouldn’t have married a white woman, even when I hadn’t made up my mind to come back home. I couldn’t have done that. I am not attracted to them.
Tell us more about life in the army.
I think people don’t understand what it means to be a soldier in a developed country. Your standard of living is beyond what you would believe. They provide their soldiers with the best of the best. The barracks are immaculate. Everything is subsidised for the soldiers. If a soldier is travelling by air, his ticket is subsidised. They make life really good for their soldiers.
At the same time, it is very hard. You have to train. They do not joke with their standards. You are constantly doing military exercises. Then again, although you are a soldier, you are also trained in other skills. Once you finish your military training, you go back to the office and do your normal nine to five job. This is what you do to keep the army running. I wished I hadn’t left so early. I wished I had stayed longer.
So why did you leave the army then?
One summer holiday, I took off with my friends. We were all at school together.
That holiday was so fine. We had such a good time. I met one girl and I thought I was in love. When I was going back from the holidays, tears were falling from my eyes. I didn’t know how I was going to leave the chic.
I felt that if I didn’t leave the army, I would lose the babe.
When I got back, I quickly put in my resignation so as to go and meet the girl. Unfortunately, when I went back to meet the girl, she had moved on with another guy.
I had to go and look for another job.
So, you actually left the army because of a girl?
Yes. I caught up with the girl but she had caught up with someone else.
Do you regret leaving the army then?
Looking back, I don’t think I regret it. I had a wonderful time. If you ask me the best moment of my life, I would say the time I was in school, the years I was in the army and the years I spent with my wife.
You are no longer with your wife?
She is late. She passed on last April.
But you don’t sound like someone who lost his wife a few months ago…
The thing is that life is where your mind is. I could choose to be sad. She died very young. She was 40.
But I have realised that I need to live my life and celebrate all the good things that we had together. I have two kids and they are still going to school. One is in the university.
I cannot live my life in the way that those children will feel they are not getting the best. I cannot bring them up in a miserable environment. We got to be happy.
We all miss her. To make myself happy, I think of all the good things we shared. That is basically what keeps me going.
How did you meet her?
I went to LUTH. Then, I was still doing my TV production and doing some side deals. I had X-ray films to sell. I went to see one man who was the director of administration in LUTH to see if they would buy the X-ray films. She was the director’s Personal Assistant.
As I saw her, I started ‘eyeing’ her. The babe was so tall and fine. That period, there was a concert organised by some people.
I bought tickets for the concert and I asked her if she wanted to go and she agreed.
From there, we started dating. I got married to her when she was 20 and I was 24. we were married for 20 years before she died.
You got married at the age of 24?
Oh yes. I was ready for it. Life is what you want.
It was not easy initially. We didn’t have a car. We were leaving in one small two bedroom flat. We were jumping molue and buses.
It wasn’t until much later that my father sent me one 505 car that we had a car.
We started from scratch. When you start from the scratch with a particular woman, you then get to appreciate the person.
Do you have dreams that you are yet to achieve?
Oh yes. I have been in this industry for quite a long time. I want to go back to what I have always wanted to do. I want to do TV programmes that can actually make a difference in peoples’ lives.
Onyeka Onwenu did a documentary in the 80s which she called Squandering the Riches. She talked about how those in government were taking money meant for the society and squandering it.
She talked about the ills in the society. If we play back that documentary today, it is sad to say that everything Onyeka said in that documentary is relevant today. This was a programme that spoke about some issues in the 80s and 19 years after, those issues are still here. It is so sad.
I want to associate myself with filmmakers who have realised that the direction we are going in this country is the wrong one. We need to think of how we can use the medium of television to try and create some changes in the society. Even if it is a tiny change, it is a progress.
It may be too early to ask, but now that you are almost 50, do you think you will ever remarry?
You can never say never. One thing is sure, the thing I consider the good qualities of a Nigerian woman, I tend to find it in the older women. I work every day and I see young women. I always ask my self if these ladies have home training. Do they respect their bodies? Do they understand what it means to build a home and to hold on to a relationship?
My experience has not been good. I am not impressed. I feel that people that have seen life are the ones that tend to understand me.
What I really need are friends who are consistent. No matter what happens, you can vouch for them. I need people, no matter what happens, always have my back.
I have not seen such qualities in our young girls of today.