Omotayo Omotosho… seasoned broadcaster, tourism boss
Omotayo Omotosho (MFR) is a seasoned professional in broadcast media, culture, tourism, information and social development. She was appointed Chairman, Governing Board of the Lagos State Broadcasting Corporation (LSBC) during the administration of Mohammed Buba Marwa. In 2000, she became Director General of the Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), where she pioneered public/private sector partnership for tourism development. Under her watch, the Presidential Council on Tourism (PCT) was birthed, which gave a boost to the sector. Her hardwork and dedication to service earned her a National Honour in 2006 as Member of the Federal Republic (MFR). Currently, Omotosho is the Chief Executive Officer of Pacesetters Communications, Wealthstrings Limited, a human capital development firm, Tourism-edge Consultants, as well as Towards A Greater Nigeria Foundation, an off-shoot of her TV programme, Towards A Greater Nigeria. In this interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA, the multi-faceted professional shares her experiences and journey into broadcasting, heading the tourism board, as well as post-COVID-19 opportunities for the industry.
Tell us about your journey into broadcasting?
It’s been quite a journey. I all along wanted to be a media professional, so, I assume I needed to study Mass Communication. But when the admission came out, I was given Psychology. One of my lecturers enlightened me that no matter the course I was given, I can still be a television broadcaster. That all I need was a first degree that would ground me well; when I get to the television station, I would be coached on the nitty gritty of practical broadcasting. So, I put in my best and to be frank, I enjoyed studying Psychology. By the time I finished my first year, I didn’t want to go back to Mass Communication. But I never lost sight of my goal; my eyes were on the ball. By the time I finished school in 1986, I was posted to the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Ibadan for my National Youth Service. For me, that was God factor. Later, I moved to the Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State still as a corps member and was retained afterwards. It was there that I cut my teeth in broadcasting before moving to Lagos to continue my TV presentation. I join NTA as a freelance producer and presented Pacesetter Variety, which focused on children. From there, I started producing Towards A Better Nigeria for about 10 years, where we spotlight various sectors, invite government officials to make them accountable.
We, however, metamorphosed into Towards A Greater Nigeria, as there were remarkable progresses running the show. In between, the Lagos State Government at that time, appointed me as Chairman, Governing Board of the Lagos State Broadcasting Corporation (LSBC). At that time, the then governor, Buba Marwa, gave me the challenge of completing the Eko FM project, and with a very formidable team, we achieved it. Afterwards, I went back to my first love, which is running my television production house and soon had our head office in Abuja. Early in year 2000, I was appointed as the Director General Nigerian Tourism Corporation, which was a four-year tenure. My knowledge as a Psychologist helped me a lot; I was able to cope with being a broadcaster, a professional and an art/culture lover. My knowledge as a media professional was brought to bear because tourism is all about marketing a nation’s resources, attractions, and of course, there is no way you can market your tourism assets without deploying full paraphernalia of the media. That was the way I found myself doing media, public relations, tourism, arts & culture and administration.
With 34 years in the broadcast industry, what has it taught you?
First, I have learnt to be very confident and bold. As a TV or print journalist, one must be very bold to get the attention of others. I will say it is easy for me because, since I was young, I always represented my school – Christ School, Ado-Ekiti – in literary and debating competitions. Back then, whenever they seek a representative, everyone will point at me saying, ‘There’s something about her voice, which grasp attention.’ The professional media celebrities I met along the line, such as Anike Agbaje-Williams, who is the first successful female TV broadcaster in Africa, helped. Aunty Anike, like we all call her, is almost 90 years old now. She would tell me, ‘I can go for the heights if you are focused, confident and bold – fear no foe, respect all.’ My father would say, ‘Respect to all, malice to none.’ With these words, I knew I would be able to surmount all challenges.
What exact challenges did you face working as a broadcaster?
The very first challenge is being a lady, especially when you are young and pretty. When you want to interview an important personality in a chosen field, the operative would want to psyche you even before meeting their boss. What does that have to do with how professional you are? That was the challenge when one started because you are learning the ropes. But for someone, who is confident and bold, I never let that get at me. Hence, a young lady journalist has to work twice as hard because most of the people in higher authority are of the opposite sex.
Did you feel like stepping back at any point because women weren’t given much credence at the time?
No! I recall that when I started, I would move around from one company to another with my TV crew; I didn’t even have enough funds to buy equipment, so, I rent. By the time they see me with my crew in my small car, they see someone, who is confident, fairly comfortable and isn’t desperate. When they know you are not desperate, they respect you. By the time a CEO sees you well dressed, not in a mini skirt or breasts exposed, they know that you are not advertising anything. That’s why I always tell ladies today about their presentation; it’s very important. For me, I will always be in my jeans, big top and face cap due to the nature of production. So, I’ve realised that men respect you not for your looks or figure, but for what you have in your brain and level of intellect.
Having served in several boards, how did it feel like being a woman especially as there are few women up the ladder?
I recall that when I was the Chairman of the Board of LSBC, I had board members, who were well educated and travelled. On the board was also Abike Dabiri, so, we were the only two ladies on the board with about 12 men. Therefore, we knew that the government did their homework before giving us that assignment. At that time, there was no social media (1995/96). The entire women fold gave kudos to the governor; they actually wrote a letter to Marwa for choosing a lady to head a male-dominated board. Though the governor was a military administrator, he was gender sensitive. That he did with the support of his wife, who pursued the cause of women greatly. The men on the board didn’t feel, ‘Why should a woman be the head?’ In fact, they used to call me ‘She-man.’
What in your opinion is the reason for we not still having enough women up the ladder?
If you look at it politically, I think the problem is the fact that the kind of politics played in the world today is money politics. You get to see lots of ladies with brilliant ideas, smart, intelligent, bold, confident, but for them to be made member of the National Assembly, you must have money to throw around. How many women will be able to gather hundreds of millions? It’s easier for the men to gather these funds because they support one another. But when a woman wants to contest, the men will make jest of you and saying, ‘don’t waste the little change you have. When Nigeria gets to the level of having female governors, we will tell you.’ But we shouldn’t take that, if only our moneybags can start investing in ladies.
What has been the impact of your show Towards A Greater Nigeria over the years?
I would say it’s been quite impactful looking at the issues we deal with on what our nation builders are doing. Through the programme, we criticize the sectors that we feel are not really doing well. We know that when it comes to achievement, it must be a continuous thing, so, if we say the present-day government have invested good money on basic infrastructures, where are the infrastructures? What are the projects on-going? Where are the good roads and where are the basic services? Even with the current bill passed, on my TV show, my sing-song has always been that we cannot be spending so much money on recurrent expenditure and less money on capital projects. It took me almost 15 years on hammering on this for the government to say, ‘let the chunk of money be on capital projects that affects the lives of the citizens.’ I’m happy to say that the last and present budgets have paid attention to the capital projects. Even as a tourism boss, I noticed that not much funds were earmarked for tourism and culture, but the infrastructure that it requires to succeed have been invested on. I was one of the journalists invited on the panel to ask questions to the presidency and I realised that, if the roads are bad for tourists and there is no security, there cannot be an effective transportation mode; tourists will not come again. So, I am happy that the focus is being correctly attended to.
What others activities are you involved with currently?
The TV programme, Towards A Greater Nigeria, metamorphosed into a foundation because, I realised that God has been good in the pursuit of what I do and I wanted to pay back to the society. The foundation takes care of the less privileged among us, who cannot pay school fees. I realised that for the privileged few, we must be sensitive to the plight of others. In addition, I also do trainings on human capital development for public servants and I have clients, which cuts across various sectors. I still do tourism in the private sector and consult for a few state governments.
What in your opinion is the fate of the tourism industry post COVID-19 and what are your suggestions regarding recovery?
Yes, the tourism industry has been badly hit; there are colossal losses. The tourism industry covers every facet; the air travels, arts, educational tourism. Children cannot go to school; everyone is at home. There’s environmental tourism, commence/business tourism, so, every aspect of our life as a people have been affected by the pandemic. You can imagine how much revenue has been lost, even from those generated every day. Knowing that tourism is life, it is not just dances, music, culture and sightseeing; it goes beyond that. The definition of tourism is whatever that attracts people, including mega fashion shows, Nollywood, Dubai trips, sports, music festivals and things like that. But then, there’s light at the flip side. Now, we are compelled to develop local tourism aggressively. There has to be a synergy and collaboration between the government and private sector to develop and promote our big fiestas and events that we hold; we must create some tourism programmes that will draw people to it. I can see our hotels bouncing back because we use them for most events. Instead of people preparing to travel to locations outside the country for holidays, they can visit our Obudu cattle ranch, travel up north to witness festivals in different states; there’s Yankari National Park, Osun-Oshogbo Festival and others. This is the blessing of COVID-19; our travel agents will start marketing and moving Nigerians around different part of the country.
We need to develop our local tourism; enough of Nigerians travelling abroad for summer breaks. There are beauties around this county our children should explore; they need to about this country.
As a wife and mother, how did balance that with building a career?
I’m blessed with a supportive husband, just like my mum was blessed with a supportive husband. My husband would always tell me he wants me to get to the height of my career because he knows I’m very passionate with what I do. I did all that without lagging behind at home; I never joked with my children. I don’t go for social outings even when people assume I will be at every happening party as a TV personality. As young couple, I had my first two children; one was three, the other one. I needed to go to the field, production and all that and my husband suggested we get my mother-in-law to take care of our babies for a while; she was wonderful. Even though I had my mum, my mother-in-law and house help with me, I still didn’t choose to attend a party when I needed to be home with my children and go through their homework. I have four children by God’s grace; three are adults and doing well in various fields, while the last child came almost twenty years after; he came while I was almost 50. I’m almost aware that a lot of women don’t have a good relationship with their mother-in-law. But I believe love begets love; if you are pretentious, sooner or later, it will show. Hence, the role we mothers play in the lives of our children is very important.
What’s your advise to a young woman aiming for greatness?
My advise is for the person to embrace the kind of strategy that I embraced and that is, you must see success in life as a partnership between you and your God. I’m not saying this as a minister of God or pastor’s wife, but because it has worked for me. What I mean by partnership is that, if we do what we are supposed to do and rest it on the laps of God in prayers, we will get there. By the time I was growing up, I had the opportunity to be taught by my parents that the key to success is not by fighting, blackmailing, competing and backbiting your opponent, but to do your own homework by telling yourself to be hardworking, diligent and not compromising. That way, your boss won’t see any faults from you. Most importantly, ensure you enjoy whatever you do. If you don’t, go and look for what you enjoy. Whatever you are good at doing, do it. My appointment as the board chair of the LSBC was nothing but pure hardwork. While I was doing my show, interviewing different government functionaries, I was told that the wife of the governor then told her husband about me. Therefore, one needs to be focused, creative and do something different from what is obtainable.