‘We need to tie a festival to Nigeria’s independence’
Every time July 4 is coming in America, it’s such a big deal; every American celebrates it. But somehow, it’s not our culture here. It’s a public holiday, so nobody goes to work and nobody goes to school. But that’s not where it ends; there is usually an address by Mr. President or maybe the governors in the morning of that day. But after that, nothing. There is a culture that is attached to those things. On Christmas Day, there is an expectation that there will be jollof rice and turkey. So, what do we tie to our independence and that day? That’s the root of it.
All it takes is five minutes with Idris Olorunnimbe and one would begin to have a rethink about any negative sentiments towards Nigeria, and by extension Africa. This former two-term-serving public official is as African as they can get.
From the bold framed album cover of Fela Kuti’s 1977 classic, No Agreement, hanging on his wall, within his office space at his bespoke 360’ media relations outfit, Temple Company, to the array of bronze arts adorning his shelf, including a signature miniature version of the Eyo masquerade, the Chinese Buddha, among others, one already understands Olorunnimbe’s personality; passionate, patriotic, charismatic, and intentional. And stemming from his noble, Pan-Africanist worldview, Olorunnimbe is currently leading another mission to revive the cultural appreciation as well as sense of patriotism among Nigerians. Teaming up with the Balmoral imprint, the former Senior Special Assistant to Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola, will debut a one-of-a-kind independence day-themed festival dubbed, Lagos Independence Festival of Excellence (LIFE), this year. In this chat with CHINONSO IHEKIRE, he shares insight into how he intends to use the 3-day festival to revolutionise the tourism sector in Nigeria. Not just providing value and revenue, but also by inspiring younger people towards venturing out into the sector.
How did you come up with The Temple Company?
In my whole life, I worked in the public sector. From 2007 to 2015, I worked with the former governor of Lagos State- Babatunde Fashola as personal assistant. And when he was done in 2016, a question came: what’s next? The easy thing would have been maybe construction or consulting in the public service area or politics, which I had somewhat been embedded in at that point for about nine or ten years. But we wanted a challenge. We looked at the entire sectors of our economy, focusing on places that have great potential and are not saturated, places that are not as developed as the rest of the world and we can cause disruption and leave a legacy. And we realised that our entertainment and sports sectors and the tourism sector are still very fresh. Quite a few players there, and there is a space we can occupy and make a difference by improving on what we have met. That’s the abridged version of how we got there.
Talking about the Independence Day project, what’s the drive behind the festival?
I had earlier mentioned tourism. For tourism to thrive, one of the things that are critical is a calendar, because for anybody who is attending any tourist event, they need to plan. Now, a tourist is not necessarily someone who can wake up this morning and pick up the bag and go. Many of us have structured lives; we have work, we have what we are going to do during annual leave. For those of us who have children, if you want to travel, you’re going to plan it to fall on when the children are on holiday so that you can go. And to make it easy for yourself, you plan in advance so that it will help you in terms of saving and in terms of paying.
There’s one day on the Nigerian calendar that is local to us and will never change. I mean our Independence Day, October 1st. The other days, Christmas Day, Workers Day, Children’s Day, Eid and others are all inherited. The only two days that are local to us are our Independence Day and our Democracy Day, it was on May 29, and now on June 12.
We like to look at what other people are doing. There is no adult that knows two things about international affairs that does not know about the American independence. Because the typical American has two birthdays; the day they were born and July 4. July 4 is coincidentally the day I was born, but I’m a Nigerian. Every time July 4 is coming in America, it’s such a big deal; every American celebrates it. But somehow, it’s not our culture here. It’s a public holiday, so nobody goes to work and nobody goes to school. But that’s not where it ends; there is usually an address by Mr. President or maybe the governors in the morning of that day, and after that, nothing. There is a culture that is attached to those things. On Christmas Day, there is an expectation that there will be jollof rice and turkey. So, what do we tie to our independence and that day? That’s the root of it.
Ezekiel Adamu and myself are working on the project together. Adamu is the chief executive officer of Balmoral. So, this is a partnership between the Temple Company and The Balmoral Group. He came to see me in the studio. After our tour, we sat down and we were talking about the country, about patriotism and other things. There are some things that you are born with, and there are some things that you learn, that your experiences give to you. You are not born a patriot; your sense of patriotism is developed from your experiences.
Imagine ten of us in a canoe, in the middle of the water, and we are supposed to paddle, but only one person is paddling, we will not get anywhere. But if we get eight people paddling and two people are not paddling, we will get ashore. And the paddling of those eight people will probably positively affect the attitude of the two people that chose not to paddle. So, we believe that by the time we deliver life and we are able to showcase the best of Nigerian art, the best of Nigerian entertainment and entertainers, we would have been able to showcase our rich history and what our future can look like, we will be able to develop more patriots.
Would you like to share some details on the strategies or what we would see unfold in LIFE?
In LIFE, we have broken it down into two: the daytime series and the nighttime series. The daytime series is for our children where there would be games and story telling. They can attend the exhibitions, there will be food, they can explore, they can play and I think there’s going to be water games. They have a slide and all of that, there will be a small footing area and there will be musical performances. We are going to introduce Abebi at the festival.
Abebi is our character that tells Nigerian stories; we developed Abebi and we christened her. What Abebi does essentially is that she has a magic rabbit and they explore Nigeria and Nigerians. So, it’s an animated series. We introduced her the same time with Bisola and all those storytelling programmes designed for children about Nigeria and Nigerians. We’ve released some episodes where the full season is in production and Abebi will be the ‘go-to person’ for our children to be able to answer questions in such a way that they will be able to understand and not forget.
Don’t forget that the “how did you learn your nursery rhymes and multiplications” was by entertainment. I’m sure that if I start one of those things now, you guys will sing along even though it was many decades ago. So, Abebi is a storyteller, she’s an educator, she’s an explorer and she’s our children’s friend, so to speak. For the children to be fully catered for, we are also speaking to the Lagos State government. Let our children even understand the concept of taxation early.
We take a lot of things for granted. If you go to the market, you will find out that there are decent numbers of people who don’t understand how tax works and so don’t pay it. We also want to introduce them to money, so we are working with some financial services firms who would also be present. I mean, it’s edutainment and there will be musical performances from the artistes that they know and they adore.
In the nighttime series, there will be concerts for the adults and there will be actor-centric entertainment. Part of what we have designed as well is that we would have some residents – nannies or babysitters. What you have is just enough space for you and your kids, you don’t have to bring your nanny, we are working with undergraduates for babysitters. They will start with the kids and when you are done, you can go back and carry your children and the babysitter shots it down for the day.
When it comes to the LIFE project, why do you think Nigerians would want to celebrate their country?
I think Nigeria is worth it. In our individual lives, from one birthday cycle to another, we experience ups and downs. At the end of it, one of the most popular things that you see on everyone’s birthday is +1, or I thank God for life. I believe and I’m sure you do that too that when there’s life, there’s hope. I mean, we have never been in a state of hopelessness and we will never get to a state of hopelessness. One of the critical things that I said earlier is that we need to inspire and encourage people to do more, to get committed and this is one of the ways that we are going to achieve it. I think that we’ll get significant buying from the people. We like to celebrate, and it’s a great opportunity to come together and celebrate ourselves.
What threats do you perceive would constitute a stumbling block to LIFE?
First, we’ve answered part of it. LIFE is annual, so we expect that when we finish this year, we will start planning for next year and that when we die, life will continue. With regard to the other things that would be done on our own calendar as Temple, we are constantly doing a few things. There’s Abebi now who’ll continue to tell the stories and who will continue to encourage our children. There is also the circle time with Bisola that would also continue to run while we look for excellence to celebrate.
One of the things that would happen is raising a panel. We will pick a topic and people are going to come together to talk about it. Part of the plan is that whatever we say, we plan to implement and be able to come back in the next edition and say we’ve talked about this and that and we’ve been able to influence these policies. Part of what we do as well with our storytelling is to showcase our Nigerian and African excellence and it will not stop.
How long have you been running the Temple Company and what lessons have you learnt?
We are a little over six years old. We turned six in March and Ogidi turned one in March. What I have learned is that Nigerians are some of the dopest people that you will ever come across. We’ve also learnt that a lot of people within the creative industry and maybe even generally, are self-taught. We’ve also learned that there are many ‘Four-men.’ When I say four-men, I mean one person running the shifts of four people on one set. We realise that the potential is mind-blowing. You can actually pick one and be a master at it and earn as much as you are earning from doing the four different things or even more and be occupied all year round.
I’ll use film as an example: if you go on a movie set, you will see the significance in the lives of tens and hundreds of people. When you are going to shoot a movie, there are cameramen, there are sound people, there are makeup artists, there’s wardrobe, there’s transportation, there’s accommodation in many cases. So, when you look at one scene with only one person in one room, if the person should take a picture of what’s happening behind that camera, you will be amazed.
We realised that more people need to learn more things or better things and choose to be experts in one place or another. So, I’m a casting director and I want to be the best casting director that exists, and it’s one of the reasons we do those master classes that we run. A lot of people, because they are self-taught, there are some things that they need to unlearn because when you have one teacher, the chances are that you are going to learn all the good things he knows plus all the bad things that he knows. But when you have multiple teachers, you can choose a cocktail and be better than them.
I always talk about mentorship and I say that you must not have only one mentor, because there is no mentor that is perfect. So, you must have an array of mentors. The person you like for how he speaks, you might not like the same person for how he dresses. The person you like, how he dresses and how he speaks, you might not like how he walks. When you like how I speak and you choose how Femi dresses, because Femi’s dress is better than mine, and you choose how you walk, you have become better than the three of us. Some of your mentors as well are learning what not to be like. You look at that person and you are studying him because of the mistakes he makes to ensure that you don’t make that kind of mistake.
What does success mean to you and what are the challenges you think the creative industry in Nigeria needs to overcome?
I’ll take the second question first which is what the creative sector needs. I think we need two things- one is infrastructure. We have led by bringing Ogidi Studios. After that, a few others have opened and a few others are in open development phases. Beyond that, we also need some type of re-orientation and recommitment. For instance, the typical artiste survives at the pleasure of their fans. Micheal Jackson remains one of the greatest of all times because of the large fandom that he had. I know of a Turkish man who attended a business school with one of our directors– Mr. Abudu– and the family is in the leather business. His father’s luck came from Michael Jackson and a leather jacket. He said that if the man made one hundred jackets today, he sold one hundred jackets today- the power of a star. Now, when you say you have 10 million followers, it means something. For many artistes, in Nigeria, the conversion rates are higher, so your fans will be able to put money on you- majority of your fans. There would be some that, maybe because they are your fans, will be expecting something from you in return. But when you have the majority of your fans wanting something from you for free, there is a problem.
That’s why I said we need some type of reorientation because typically, if a big star tweets now- my new movie is out, go and watch in the cinema, If you go and look at the replies, majority of them will be saying ‘vice me free tickets.’ But if an American movie superstar should post the same, you might read three minutes later- ‘tickets for the first week sold out.’ You are supposed to vote for me if you are my fan, but in addition to that, you are also supposed to pay because it’s your money that I’m supposed to use- you are my meal ticket, you don’t expect me to wear the same clothes. So the more you have, the higher your earning potential or capacity. So typically, if you have 10 million fans and each one is ready to spend one Naira on you every day, it means you have the capacity to earn N10 million a day, but if you have 10 million fans and only 100 fans are willing to spend one Naira on you, hunger will kill you.
As a very busy person, how do you find time to relax?
I have two families, that is, my wife and children and the extended families that come with them. Also, I have my colleagues at work. Our work environment is not very stiff. We kind of work and play at the same time. Sometimes, it doesn’t feel like work. The other part is the time I spend with my wife and children as well as the family at home. Everything you watch for pure entertainment purposes is an educational tool for me, my colleagues can attest to it. It can be a water message at any time of the day or something I’ve seen on TV, something I’ve seen on Instagram, something I’ve just read about. So relaxation for me is just being at home chilling. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke. When I go out, you know for some people as the drink is finished, you can refill it, but it’s not the same for me. By the time I finish drinking a bottle of soft drink, I’m full. Occasionally, we go out to eat at a lounge, to a club, or to the cinema, typically to just chill. Sometimes, being at home and just with the children, playing with them downstairs is soothing enough for me.