Some time ago, I took a trip to Johannesburg, South Africa and had the good fortune to meet a very interesting personality by the name Femi Oshin. Femi is a producer, writer, journalist, pastor and advocate for the cultural preservation and promotion of the Yoruba culture. If you are conversant with the programme ‘Agogo Ayo’ on DSTV then you know who I’m talking about. Femi is also the producer and also the presenter of the programme. While discussing with him, I found him to be very analytical in the way he looked at the world around him, I certainly learned a lot from him in that short time and I trust you will too, when you listen to this interview.
I put him in the Hot Seat and turned the spotlight on him, asking him about a myriad of questions; if the xenophobia is real in SA, why South Africans are xenophobic in the first place, the place of the Yoruba Nation in the world etc. He had several interesting, revealing answers to give me. Listen up!
NWA: Can we meet you please?
FO: My name is Olufemi Oshin. I am a producer and presenter. I also run a Ministry and a philanthropic organization titled …….. I am a husband to Kanyinsola who is also Assistant producer and we are parents to two children.
NWA: So you are based in South Africa? How long have you been in South Africa?
FO: I have been here since 2004.. that means I’ve been here for about 14 years.
NWA: So how has life been in South Africa?
FO: Hmm… I call South Africa a school because it has given me the opportunity to learn a lot. Being a Nigerian, we grew up in an environment with poor infrastructure, ethics and corporate governance etc but SA affords you as an opportunity to be universally relevant in business because of the kind of infrastructure and high level of diversity. South Africa has the highest number of Africans living within its borders; it has Africans from every nation, it has the highest number of Europeans and Asians in this place; the Indians have been here for over 300 years, the Chinese have been here for about 200 years, the Greeks are here, the Germans, the Dutch. the English… it is a mixed culture. So if you’re doing business here it’s like you are doing business with the rest of the world.
NWA: So I take it that life is good in SA?
FO: I have said South Africa is a school. I learnt a lot, I normally tell Nigerians that come here and want to leave after two years, if you havent made it in your country that you spent your whole life and don’t need work permit, how do you think you will make it in South Africa after just two years? Nigerians are the 5th group of people to be considered for opportunities in South Africa which is very challenging. This is because the South African Government will first consider Black South Africans, the White South Africans, Then Indians, then Southern Africans, then other Africans, before Nigerians. It is hard for Nigerians to make it in SA because we don’t have a good image here. They think most of us are fraudsters or drug dealers. What SA does to you is to stretch your capabilities to the peak to make you do what you don’t think you can do. I might not have stretched myself to this point if I was in Nigeria because the odds against me are not many there unlike here. When the odds are against you are forced to be more creative, more innovative and more critical of your situation. It is challenging. You are competing with people with access to loans; you are competing with people that have generational wealth, so the odds are against you but if you are tenacious and you persevere you can eventually break though.
NWA: Like the average Nigerian?
FO; Yes. The average Nigerian is persistent and breaks any resistance.
NWA: I want to ask a bit about the xenophobia in SA. We have been hearing a lot of horror stories about xenophobia in South Africa.. Is it really happening and why are South Africans xenophobic?
FO: Let me address it one by one; first of all what is xenophobia? Xenophobia is the irrational hatred and fear of foreigners. South Africans do not hate all foreigners. In fact there are certain people they will never attack and those are the White people. Rather they attack other Africans like them; Africans from other countries and the reasons are many;
One is what I will call Naija-phobia that is fear and hatred of all things Nigerian. Nigerians are perceived as domineering, vocal, intimidating and loud. The late Prof Ali Mazrui said ‘South Africans see Nigerians as the new Black colonialists subconsciously’, hence the resistance, that is why they can be violent towards you. They think they fought for freedom, and now when the freedom comes. they just see this other group of people, this time African, coming into their nation and trying to take over so they do not like that. The other aspect is hatred; hatred because Nigerians became victims of media manipulation especially around 2005 – 2007. I can say there was a section of the South African media that consciously decided to malign Nigerians. Then every TV programme focused on the negative aspect of Nigeria; In the news they could say things like; ‘three men and one Nigerian defrauded somebody’… so things were really bad then so when all this is being shoved down the throats of the average South African, this brewed hatred and fear of Nigerians. Then Afro-phobia too is strong. That is the fear and hatred of other Africans. There is ignorance of what other African countries did to help end apartheid in South Africa, Mozambicans complained recently that South Africans were ungrateful because many ANC soldiers were trained in Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe but there is negligence on the part of the South African government especially the ANC, to educated the average South African on the contributions of other Africans to their struggle. South African think they fought and dismantled Apartheid themselves but that is not so. Two things were needed to destroy Apartheid which they did not have; the media and the money. They didn’t have that. They were only fighting internally. They were enclosed so they did not have what it took to get the information to the outside. This is because the white controlled government did not want them to let people on the outside know what was happening inside South Africa!
Nigeria started broadcasting on October 1st 1959. South Africa just got television in 1976 not because they couldnt afford to earlier but they did not want the Black South Africans to broadcast what was going on in SA! So it was other African nations such as Nigeria that started alerting the world about what was really happening in South Africa, especially after the Sharpville Massacre. Some other countries even supported them with ammunition! They were just the people inside receiving the resources provide by other Africans outside because really Western nations like Britain and U.S then didn’t do much but rather, favoured the White-controlled South African government. They did not help initially until people started lobbying and boycotting their companies and Games. Nigeria donated 61 Billion dollars to South Africa to help dismantle apartheid. Nigeria issued 300 passports to South Africans, Nigeria boycott the Commonwealth Games because they were protesting, Nigeria nationalized British petroleum and made it African Petroleum, Nigeria nationalized British Airways and made it Nigerian Airways, but I do not blame the average South African because many of them were not told. They do not know. There is generation of South Africans born after Apartheid, we call them the ‘Born Free’; they do not know many of these things, how much more the ignorant South African that did not go to school and did not read much. They do not know many of these things. They just wake up and say ‘what are these people doing in our country?’ and they start fighting but if the Government really want to work they should educate them and tell them that these were the brothers who stood for you when the days were dark so you should more accommodating.
Mr & Mrs Femi Oshin
So they are just venting their grievances against other Africans who are trying to survive too, those trying to make ends meet. This is not good. It negates the whole issue of African unity and should be addressed. Then the truth is told, though there may be destruction of property during xenophobic attacks, I don’t think any Nigerian has actually been killed as a result of this. South Africans are also careful when they are doing these attacks not to do this to Nigerians because Nigerians too are ready, to defend themselves. It however affects us more in the area of business; people don’t want to do business with you if they know you are a Nigerian. It is more a socio-cultural and economic xenophobia. A house was declined to be rented to me because I was a Nigerian. We are suspects to everybody.
NWA: So you produce this programme called ‘Agogo Ayo’, can you tell me briefly what it’s about?
FO: Agogo Ayo which means ‘Bell of Joy’ is a flagship programme on Africa Magic that started about 7 years ago. Primarily it is for the advancement and socio-cultural advancement of the Yoruba people. It is infotainment and edutainment and is the most popular Yoruba show in the world. In terms of impact, reach and how long it has been there. Like KWAM 1 said when my crew met him in Abeokuta, ‘Many Yoruba people bought Africa Magic decoder because of Agogo Ayo.. we were not watching it DSTV then, until we saw Agogo Ayo on Africa Magic’. It is very, very big deal. Very soon we will have Agogo Ayo tv where people can watch us on demand online very soon. I really thanking the fans for being with us from day one till date.
NWA: What are some high points of running the programme :
FO: I have been told by people that they set their timer to watch this show, they put fuel in their generator and tell their children not to touch it until after the show… that is very touching to me because as a TV producer you know you have hit a home run when your fans tell you I get home on time so I can watch your show. Another high point for me that I have been told, is that when I praise God; someone said he rolls on the ground till I have finished, many say they cry … also KWAM 1 called me ( I don’t know how he got my number) to thank me as he said for taking the Yoruba programme to another level. I also received a text message from Dr Adewale Ayuba just showing appreciation and thanking me. Yet another high point is that I discovered Agogo Ayo, apart from Nigeria, has its largest fan base in Cote d’voire! In the last three years, the most fan mail and calls are from there. This programme opened my eyes to that. Apparently there were a lot of economic migrants that left Nigeria and went to Cote d’voire years ago and are still there till date.
NWA: (incredulous) So what language do they speak to you in?
FO: They speak to me in Yoruba! There is a huge community of Yorubas in Abidjan. Though there is a generation that have grown up in Ivory Coast and have never been to Nigeria and speak French but their parents let them know they are originally Yorubas. One called and said; You are very motivational and inspirational if you were not a presenter you would have been a pastor! And I just smiled.
Yet another high point was when I had the pleasure to interview Evangelist Mrs Bola Are. She was so thrilled with the interview I did with her that she put in one of her albums. I also had the opportunity to interview her again, later and she said in her forty years of Music ministry no one has asked her that question.
NWA: Which is?
FO: She said no one had given her the opportunity to thank the fathers that nutured her in the Music ministry when she first started and she almost cried.
NWA: And what been the low points?
FO: There was a point I was not able to pay my rent, at the beginning things were so really tough. I would also load up the camera myself, film, interview and present by myself. People would recognize me as the presenter and be surprised but there was nothing I could do. I could not afford then to pay for extra hands. At a point I had to even rent out a part of my place to a lesbian because I had to pay my bills! So those were really tough times. Another low point is with celebrities.
NWA: (Laughter) Celebrities?
FO: Yes… many were offended with me because of what they might have heard on the programme but I’m just doing my business as a journalist as they are doing their business too as celebs. But with all these things happening I make bold to say that the high points swallow the low points.
NWA: So what legacy do you want this programme to to leave behind?
FO: What this programme will be remembered for is that it is set to restore the dignity of the Yoruba man. Universally as we speak the Yoruba are 80 millon world wide and are one of the most celebrated, enviable and enduring cultures in the world. I am very privileged to seat on a most glorious seat; so the legacy of Agogo Ayo will be for the the promotion, restoration and preservation of the Yoruba glory, culture, language and history.
NWA: What next for Femi?
FO: Well, in this next phase I will be going into film production; Acting, producting and also music. Then I will be starting Agogo Ayo TV very soon…. This is a permanent online presence so ome can watch the programme and also watch Yoruba movies online. We have to cater to the 80 million Yorubas world wide. We are actually self sufficient so can cater to them. So watch out.
NWA: Any parting words;
FO: First of all I thank my fans, then I have been asked several times if I am a Pastor and I have always avoided the question because I do not want it to clash with my entertainment business but I will answer that question now. Well, I’m a presenter then I’m also prophet by calling. I hope I have answered that question. Then if you are Yoruba person, walk with pride and walk with your head held up high. The culture that will beat or be greater than ours is yet to be created.
NWA: Wow! Thank you so much for your time.
FO; The pleasure is all mine.