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Unpublished confession of Larry Izamoje

‘We’re No 1. Sports Radio Station in Nigeria’

• Station, first to introduce indigenous language in the East
• BBC, Russian Radio, Dutch Radio, Others identify with Brilla FM on 24 hrs broadcasting
• Laments high Import Tax Duty by FG
* Says: “As at the time we began, US had 194 private Sports Radio”
* Confesses: “Life has taught me to be very humble”

In this 90minutes exclusive interview with Larry Izamoje at Brilla House, Victoria Island, Lagos, this ‘encyclopedia’ of Sports in Nigeria takes us through the memory lane, particularly his vision for Brilla FM, why the station is regarded the ‘best brand’ for sports’ broadcasting by Researches/Advertising firms and why it introduced indigenous languages to its style of sports presentation which has garnered a large audience for the station, even in the grassroots. These and many more revelations, he narrated to
GEORGE ELIJAH OTUMU/Editor-in-Chief. Enjoy!

How have you been able to turn around Sports broadcasting industry in Nigeria?
My journey into Sports broadcasting has been ‘sweet & sour’. We won’t say quit. Like they say in boxing “throwing punches and also receiving punches,” that has been the story so far because we have thrown more punches that we received.

Can you take us through the sweet side?
On the sweet side, people have come to accept our kind of stories and there is no greater joy than going out there and being encouraged by people who tell you they enjoy what you do. That has been very encouraging. Also, it’s been sweet on the side of National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), giving us more licenses. Before now, it was only Sports Radio, Lagos in the year 2002. Five years later, the NBC were impressed by our feat, and they gave us licenses to Abuja. And by 2011, we were directed to take Brilla FM to Port Harcourt and Onitsha, Anambra State. By the side, we were able to get partners in global broadcasting bodies who shared in our dreams and visions. We have the Tim-Talk of England giving us quality

Sports stories. We’ve an on-going relationship with Sky Sports Radio, UK, Voice of America (VOA); Sports Audio Sports Dutchevella. Certainly, a lot has happened on the sweet side, but above everything, administrators-people who are in Sports like Sports personalities, men/women, boys/girls who are not doing Sports give us kudos. That has been a form of appreciation from the public.

How about the sour side of Brilla FM?
It is very difficult to pioneer anything in Nigeria. And it is like been in boxing; it could be a bit tough. Pioneering effort requires a lot of training and re-training because most often when you think you’re done with the training, you will see yourself go back to start all over again. By then, acceptability becomes a problem since in the early years when we began, it was very tough. Being a pioneering effort, as we keep opening new stations, we keep training people. Even this morning I have coached again. Also, people who came through radio into broadcasting believing that FM is about music and rest, had to go through a change of Sports training to re-direct their minds and energy. We have a very package in place for our staff and the cost of running this business is on the high side. Since 24 hours broadcasting is electric based, we had to face the challenge in a country where power is a major issue. If you look at it: NEPA is our third source of power supply because we have generator one, generator two. So, when our staff say” ‘go to power source three,’ it, means go to PHCN. This is how we run generators in our four stations. You can imagine how much it cost us to maintain these generators. We buy diesel and having to pay high taxes for imported equipments. Not long ago, we imported some microphones into the country; we bought them say about N500, 000 and paid about N200, 000 to clear them in Nigeria. Those are the challenges we’ve faced. You will discover that if you bring into this country broadcast cables, you will have to pay 20 percent of the product as ‘Import Duty Tax.’ Government is not helping private broadcasters, except when you receive phone calls from high places, to do things for National Service. And because you are a patriot, you will have to carry your own burden and still help in National Matters at no cost.

What are some other challenges you had to overcome to arrive at this level?
We have had to overcome our challenges by being pushed by our passion, paid greater pain, break the mark because behind every mark, there is a countenance of joy. We had to look for people overseas that believe in what we are doing. And then become suppliers of stories, recruit stringers. We have correspondents almost everywhere in Nigeria. Here, we practice standard journalism-hit the story the way it should be, without caring whose ox is gored. For that reason, we have not been friends of many administrators. Being a-24 hour Sports Station, everyone in Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Sports Ministry expects us to be friends, such that we should look elsewhere when unpalatable stories concerning them reaches our desk-we don’t do that, but follow strictly the ethics of journalism. Since we have become the real member of the Fourth Estate of the Realm by looking at the mistakes of these people in Sports administration, criticizing them and picking holes in their daily affair, they see us as ‘enemies.’ But in the eyes of our audience and NBC, we are seeing as a Sports Station with high integrity. In less than two months, Onitsha is already accepting Brilla FM as the most authentic radio station.

What inspires Brilla FM into this 24 hours Sports broadcasting being the first in Nigeria?
We’ve always being Sports people because I was a Sports man myself but injury led me to become a commentator while in the University. Since I could not do pro-foot baling the way I wanted, I had to do freelancing with FRCN under Ernest Okonkwo. When I left Okonkwo, I moved to Concord newspaper as a Sports reporter. From there to Mail newspaper as Sports reporter, to DBN as Sports manager and you could see that Sports had been in the vision. So, when I left DBN, the only idea that came to my mind was to start a Sports Company. That was how we started Brilla Sports. The big break came during ‘Bournvita Brilla Sports,’ which took off in Ogun State Broadcasting Corporation (OGBC) FM. And from that Brilla Sports, it culminated into Brilla FM. Since we began operation, as the first Sports station in Nigeria, we have inspired a lot of generations and countries. Today, someone else has begun the first Sports station in Kenya by copying from what we have done.

In the next five years from now, how do you see Sports broadcasting in Nigeria?
We expect it to be better. We expect that pretenders who are now giving ways for contenders would have quit the stage. Sports practitioners are not making money well to enjoy the satisfaction that comes with Sports fraternity. Our writers who are pretenders by going to people to collect brown envelopes and writing what is untrue are not doing the right thing. Everybody is becoming real professional-the Super Eagles are not doing well. Our people are becoming much more professional because the truth is now in the open for everybody to see. I expect to see first grade writers then than the present writers we have in the country.

What is your view on the appointment of Stephen Keshi as Coach of the Super Eagles?
There will be light at the end of the tunnel if those who are to carry the touch know where to point it. Keshi may be pointing north, and Sports administrators cum ministries pointing south. But, if everybody is pointing in the same direction, that will be good. It’s like a man who needs a cook: the question is, what type of food is he cooking and where will he be cooking? Those are much more fundamental issues than giving him a uniform and tagging his name. We want to believe that if those people that tagged and gave Keshi uniform will provide the right tools for him in the kitchen, after making the kitchen clean enough; he will perform.

What are your requests to the Federal Government in view of the challenges faced by privately-owned broadcast stations?
Basically, the issue I’d like to talk about is the one everybody is talking about: Nigeria should not be in the dark because we are too gifted for what we are passing through. The government must ensure all resources are put together to light up the nation, since we have all what it takes. Our private broadcasters are readily available to assist the government. In essence, FG must light up Nigeria and make Nigerians happy. We (private broadcasters) don’t get any kind of subsidy to survive. We employ people by contributing our own quota through educating, entertaining and informing the people. Government should lower taxes on broadcast facilities. At times, due to poor power supply which is epileptic. At times, you want to change from generator one to diesel, and NEPA takes their light again. In all these, you keep loosing contractors, connectors and transistors, which spoil your equipment or blow up your system. Unfortunately, nobody in Nigeria produces any of these things because we don’t have an engineering company who specialize in this. There is no where in Nigeria where any part of the transistor can be bought. It costs between 15,000 euros to 150,000 euros. Sometime ago, we ordered something from Europe at a cost of 300 euro. The firm did not want to send it earlier, until they saw the money. Government must look at this issue and start looking in that direction. Apart from lowering taxes, more broadcast stations are actually coming soon. I expect Nigerians to go into massive production of broadcast equipments. As at today, there 30 radio stations broadcasting in Lagos alone, the government should open a training school aside FRCN, to help train the people. People should be encouraged to come up with colleges for broadcasters, such that people will know how to pronounce words and names because these are the factors that make broadcasting, so interesting. Many people to day will jump into the studio to pretend they know the nitty-gritty of broadcasting, whereas it’s a lie.

Are there plans in place for you to have Brilla Television Station with time?
I have been asked this question many times over. I will answer you the way I had answered same question in the past. We need God to direct our steps because the Bible I read says “the steps of the righteous are ordered by God.” We want to remain righteous because God has called us to do Sports; we want to remain grateful to Him for keeping us till this hour for being righteous for Him for Sports broadcasting on radio now. If by someday we decide to veer into television, you will hear from us.

What sort of personality is Larry Izamoje?
I’m a man who believes that everybody should be driven by passion, who believes that God has called you to impact your generation. And whatsoever talent God has given you is a blessing because it is by His grace, you are who you are. Therefore, don’t be proud or see yourself as ‘Almighty’, since it is just by God’s grace, you are who you are.

What lessons has life taught you?
Life has taught me to be very humble. In spite of every achievement, life itself can be very cruel. Life has taught me that ovation will not last. So, when people start hailing you, work harder. You’ve got to move a step higher than where you are. You could see that when you got in, I was already researching for my next programme.

What is your philosophy of life?
You are not here by accident, but by the will of God-high up there for you to prosper and the man next door to you to prosper. Be good to everyone because in that way, you are good to the one who brought you here.

As a 24/7 broadcast station, what surprises should people expect from Brilla FM and message to Nigerians in the Diaspora?
My message to Nigerians in the Diaspora is for them never to forget home because there is enough for all of them to do. Thank God the President has directed any Nigerian with good idea to reach him. Whether he replies or not, kindly reach him through any avenue. It is amazing that Brilla FM which Nigerians got magnetized was an idea God put in my mind, only because it was a style being practiced in the United States. As at the time we began this idea, US had 194 private Sports Radio and one in the whole of Africa, until we started. So, the Americans are blessed to enjoy those stations over there. Nigerians abroad should look at those ideas and projects that can help develop Nigeria and send them back home to plant them, because when the harvest time comes, the country will be better for it. Nigeria is enjoying urbanization because we are still backward in so many areas. Those ideas abroad would have to be colored in Nigeria, like we have done in Brilla FM, taking Sports in Ibo, Hausa and English languages.