Mo Abudu: Africa’s Foremost Storyteller
In the course of history, Africa has been viewed from the perspective of the West, whose lens is focused mostly on the problems in the continent; poverty, famine and corruption. It was this subjective view that the late Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe hinted at when he said, “until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”
Enter Mosunmola Abudu.
Nine years before Forbes named her “Africa’s Most Successful Woman” in 2015, Mosunmola Abudu, with no prior TV experience, started Moments With Mo, the first Pan-African talk show born out of the desire to change the global perspective on Africa.
“I knew that we had a responsibility for telling those stories and sharing our stories. With a talk show, I was able to cover a plethora of topics and engage with a variety of stakeholders across the continent,” she told The Guardian Life.
With topics ranging from lifestyle, through politics, culture, health, entertainment, tradition, to music and inter-racial marriages, Abudu’s talk show became a voice for Africa by Africans.
The show attracted high profile guests such as African Presidents and leaders like President of Nigeria Mohammadu Buhari, President of Rwanda Dr Paul Kagame, former First lady and US Secretary of State Mrs Hilary Rodham-Clinton, former Managing Director of IMF Christine Lagarde, former Nigerian Presidents and Heads of State Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, General Ibrahim Babangida, African Business mogul and Philanthropist Mr Mo Ibrahim, Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka amongst many other notable icons.
Not many people would quit a prestigious high paying job to pursue a dream, which is why not many people are Mo Abudu. After moving to Nigeria from the United Kingdom in 1992, Abudu became the head of human resources and training at ExxonMobil but she decided to quit after nearly a decade, in order to pursue her dream of being a fulltime entrepreneur.
“Scary thought at the time, but I knew instinctively that I wanted to do more. On reflection now, I understand why some friends and family were worried about my decision. I had a great job, [was] paid well, the sky was the limit and I walked away from it all.”
In 2000, she started Vic Lawrence & Associates Limited (VLA), a privately-owned HR development company followed by the opening of Protea Hotel Oakwood Park. At the age of 40, she ventured into media with the start of Moments With Mo.
But that was just the beginning.
A Bigger Platform
Pressed by the need to produce more contents in furtherance of the African story, Mo Abudu launched EbonyLife TV, Africa’s first global black entertainment and lifestyle network on June 30, 2013.
The channel was producing over 1000 hours of original programming each year as it aired in more than 49 countries across Africa, as well as in the UK and the Caribbean. Less than a year into operations, EbonyLife TV, was ranking among the top 25% of most-watched channels on DStv platform.
“I just wanted to do a good job, excel at it,” Abudu said when asked if she had envisioned EbonyLife to be where it is today.
“We have been fortunate for many reasons: setting out a clear vision, building a great team, producing quality content, investing in IP and story development, attending global industry events, continually pitching ideas globally, never taking no for an answer and of course loads of prayers and fasting along the way.”
The following year, Abudu moved into film production with the creation of EbonyLife Films. The production company has produced titles such as Fifty, The Wedding Party which shattered box office records to become the highest-grossing Nigerian film of all time. Other films also executive-produced or co-produced by EbonyLife are: The Wedding Party 2, The Royal Hibiscus Hotel, Chief Daddy, Your Excellency and Òlòtūré. The three highest-grossing Nigerian films of all time are all EbonyLife productions.
“It has been an incredible journey producing films that resonate with our audiences at home and abroad. Our box office success demonstrates that audiences enjoy relevant storytelling that reflects their everyday lives,” Abudu says as she gives the secret behind the multiple success of her films at the box office.
“I believe having the right cast mix, infusing high production value, working with the right teams, marketing, and personally for me, prayer and fasting have all contributed to our success.”
The World Is Listening
Born in London to Nigerian parents, Abudu spent her early years between the UK and Nigeria. The major recurring theme in her goal is the need to change the narrative about Africa and tell stories that resonate with every African, irrespective of their orientation, gender, belief or geography. And the world is listening.
Abudu spoke on the booming global interest in Nigerian and African stories: “I have said it time and time again the continent (Africa) has remained creatively silent for centuries, our stories are never told. Meanwhile, there is too much of the same in global storytelling. The world wants more, and because we are now able to provide a variety of stories told against a backdrop never seen before, we now have a seat at the table. Our stories are being accepted because they are authentic and relevant. Of course, most recent is the clarion call for Black Lives Matter and Black Stories Matter.”
In 2018, Sony Pictures Television announced it had struck a deal with EbonyLife to co-develop three TV projects, including a series based on the all-female army of the ancient West African kingdom of Dahomey.
“The action-packed series, inspired by true events that took place in the West African Kingdom of Dahomey, will show the ultimate strength of women coming together, fighting to protect and honor their people. We are thrilled with this unique opportunity and look forward to bringing this story to audiences around the world,” she said.
The deal was a first-time collaboration between an American TV production studio and a Nigerian production company.
In January 2020, American entertainment company AMC Networks announced its partnership with EbonyLife to produce Nigeria 2099, an afrofuturistic crime-drama.
Most recently, American streaming giant Netflix signed a multi-title deal with Mo Abudu’s EbonyLife to create two original series along with multiple branded films. Two among the multiple projects deal with Netflix include, a film adaptation of “Death and the King’s Horseman,” a play by Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka, and a series based on Lola Shoneyin’s best-selling debut novel, “The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives.”
“We are so excited about our partnership with Netflix, totally unprecedented, this is the first multiple deal to be done with an African and Nigerian production company. It’s historical and groundbreaking.” Abudu told The Guardian Life.
“For Nollywood, it’s the first-of-its-kind partnership that will bring some of Nigeria’s most iconic storytelling to a global audience. This partnership will help grow the Nigerian creative industry and get our stories out there.”
The media mogul said the most important decision she made when she started this journey was “to invest in people, in stories, and thinking big about changing the narrative.” Armed with this strategic intent, she has produced over 5,000 hours of original television shows and seven feature films that reflect a multidimensional African reality that is pioneering, cosmopolitan, and progressive.
One of her latest projects is EbonyLife Place, a luxurious lifestyle and entertainment resort, with a boutique hotel, restaurants, 5 luxury cinema screens, event hall and meeting rooms which she opened in December 2019 in the heart of Victoria Island, Lagos.
Abudu is already on to the next thing: to redefine the future of entertainment in Nigeria and Africa. By the end of July, EbonyLife TV would be exiting DSTV. To watch EbonyLife TV, you would have to download the app, EBONYLIFE ON.
Appointment viewing on linear TV for popular scripted and unscripted programming is fast becoming a relic of an old era.
“When was the last time you had an appointment with your TV?” She asked.
The 55-year-old mother of two, became a grandmother in February after her daughter, Temidayo, got delivered of a baby boy. Abudu is a “great multi-tasker” who is super hyper with loads of energy sometimes working through the night. However, she prioritizes her well-being with self-care. “I pray, I exercise, and I eat right,” she said.
For Mo Abudu, the secret to it all is what she calls “the G factor”: the God factor. “I never miss my conversations with God,” she said.
Reminiscing on how her journey to success began, she said, “I took a gamble, but I heard God whispering to me, Mosunmola, go out there and live your dreams and so I did.”