Nollywood will keep on improving – Wangi Mba-Uzoukwu
Wangi Mba-Uzoukwu has been in the brands and marketing circles in Nigeria for a long time. After years at British Ameriacan Tobacco(BAT), she moved to Coca-Cola and later Airtel Nigeria. Earlier this year, Wangi took over as the Regional Director, Africa Magic, West. Senior Correspondent, Hazeez Balogun was in her office recently and she speaks about her plans for the company and the Nigerian entertainment industry as a whole.
You took on the position in March, It is not a small seat, how has it been running such a large organisation?
Thankfully, I had been in the company for over a year before I assumed the position. I try to take everyday as it comes and not see the seat as big. You towards your goal, and you get it and here I am. It has been interesting and challenging at the same time. You know it is not easy stepping into a system that is already doing quite well, you have to make sure that you have something you are adding and nothing falls or slips away. It is easier to set up something from scratch but more difficult to build on something that exists.
There are many people who will be looking at the organisation before I joined and how the place was run and they will be looking critically at me and will be comparing. That is natural, but so far so good, I thank God.
(more after the cut)
Mnet has so many activations and many things going on at the same time, directing all these activities must be very challenging.
The challenges are not new, my background had been branding and marketing. I had not been in entertainment scene before, but I had worked for big multi-nationals. In terms of activations, these companies I worked for have them going on a regular bases. Airtel for example had many of such activations going on almost on a daily bases and the pressure was always there. In fact I can say that I work better when I am under pressure.
Apart from that, there is a strong team on ground and they know their stuff and they know what to do. I think that is the key to success, to have a good team and you value them and what they do and what they can bring to the table. The company as I said is doing very fine before I became head and my job was to come and make sure that there is a smooth transition. Everybody here have what they bring to the table, my job is to make sure we work as a team to achieve our goals.
Coming into the entertainment scene after working in other such multinationals like Coke, BAT and Airtel, there must have been some sort of culture shock for you.
Many people including friends ask me that questions, but the truth is like I said I had been into branding, we work with talents a lot and we work on a lot of productions. I had a lot of relationships with the industry before. In BAT for example,, we had the Gold and Tones project where we discovered P-Square. I handled it from beginning to the end. In Airtel, we did a lot of productions where we used talents like Ik Osakioduwa. Airtel sponsored Tinsel and Nigeria’s Got Talent and others. I had been on the scene, it’s just that I was not too familiar with as much people in the industry as I do today. I think it has always been my passion to have something to do in the entertainment industry.
I have always valued and appreciate our local talents and I believe that they are not being celebrated enough. So I was very happy when I was brought into a platform like this. It will help me I doing my own bit in growing the talents and the creative industry as a whole.
You said you are not here to reinvent the will, but there must be some new ideas you want to bring on board.
I think evolution and not revolution. Reinventing the will is revolution where I say nothing is working right and I am going to change the whole system. Every business and brand has the opportunity to evolve. Africa Magic is for Africa, by Africa, entertaining Africa and delighting Africa. We need to check if we are really doing that. The platform that we have is unique. We are African, we are not trying to be like anybody. We have our own original local content and I think that there is a lot we can do around that. We need to look at the contents and see if we are doing enough to satisfy what Nigerians what to see. Do we do more drama, or do we do more soaps, do we engage more reality shows? There are many of our successful programmes that will stay. We have Big Brother and the African Magic Veiwer’s Choice Awards(AMVCA) and the likes staying. But how do you stretch a little bit to get more out of these shows.
The most important thing is that if we connect locally then we are doing a good thing, we are leaving a legacy. We provide a platform for great talents in the industry. We can also get better in nurturing and finding new talents. We will continue to look at how more we can do to make the industry grow. By the time I leave this role, I want to look back and be proud of what I have achieved. We are already speaking the speak.
There is a new drive in Nollywood to create better films, we are still not there. Hollywood movies made 30 years ago are still better than Nollywood movies made today, how is Africa Magic assisting this new drive to make better movies?
I think a lot has changed in Nollywood. Things are not the way they used to be even five years ago. I give kudos to those people working tirelessly in the industry. I believe Rome was not built in one day. I don’t agree with comparing Nollywood with Hollywood. The natural projection of things is that Nollywood will keep improving. They are getting a lot more education because there is a lot more exposure. People are seeing what is going on in the industry and are looking for ways to improve the quality.
We normally are part of the drive to improve quality. On our platform for example, we don’t just put any kind of film out there as well. We have done a lot of work with the suppliers we work with. We try to show them the kind of movies we would want and what we don’t want in movies. We show them things they can fix to make their films enticing to us. Inch by inch we try our best. The films we have now are of better quality. Nollywood against all odds is growing.
Africa Magic is now making in-house movies, some Producers believe that you are planning to phase out buying of films from established movie makers on the long run
That is not right. last year we produced 80 movies and this year we produced 65. Contents like movies are what we use on a daily basis on our channels. We cannot buy enough contents to keep or channels running 24 hours a day and seven days a week. I am sure that you have heard a few people complain that there are repetitions in our contents. That is to show you that we need more and more content. We can never stop acquiring movies.
If Africa Magic is to provide 100 percent of it’s own content, then it is against what we stand for. 80 movies is just a tiny bit of what we air in just one year. We still buy most of our contents. We won’t say that because Tinsel is doing do good we will not feature any other soap opera on our stations. For us to make our own movies, it is more of a give back to the industry. You will notice that we work with many new faces in the industry both as cast and crew. We use it go give young people the opportunity to be a part of the industry. We are only adding to the pool of experience and talent than taking away. We are still acquiring contents from independent producers. In fact, in the future, we are looking at working with these producers on our own productions as well.
These African Magic movies you make, will they also be sold on the open market in discs?
No. they are made for one hour long movies and they are made for Mnet Africa and that is the only place it will be showing.
Countries across Africa get Africa magic Yoruba and Hausa, but we do not get stations from other countries like Swahili, is there a reason for that?
The reason is that there are no demands for such content in Nigeria is not there, but the demand for Nigerian content across Africa is high. And you know Nigerians believe that we are the ones teaching them, so why do we watch what they have.
Do you get feedbacks on which Channels that are watched more?
We have online feeds and we can determine by how much people talk about the stations and programmes.
Why did Fred Ade Williams die in Tinsel? It was a big worry for viewers of Tinsel.
People come more and go in dramas. If he did not die, some people will also complain. He is human, he had faced many health conditions and he kept surviving it. This time he was shot, if he survived a gunshot as well, people will start asking if he is superman or Die hard. The feedback we got after he died was so much but it was good for us to get such feedbacks.
How are Nigerians keying into your new innovation, Box office?
It is still early days, I don’t have the data yet. I know that there is a lot of inquires coming in, and a lot of people are giving us good feedbacks. So far so good, the feedbacks have been positive.
Big Brother is coming up. What should we expect?
There is not much to say, what I will tell you is that, watch this space. There is a lot of work that goes into it and you should expect the usual buzz around it. I don’t want to disclose much now, like I said, watch this space.
There are lots of technologies and specialisation that goes into producing Big Brother, hosting Big Brother in Nigeria will expose a lot of our manpower to these technologies, don’t you think it is time we host Big Brother Africa in Nigeria?
I think it is good to have an idea, but there is a lot of investment in South Africa to make Big Brother Africa happen. Now it is more plug and play to host it there, everything is set. It will be difficult and unwise to move all that facility. Also, if you move it to Nigeria, some other countries will start asking why not them? I think it is more practical to have it in one location. It does not matter where it hosts.
Your name sounds South African, but you sound like a Nigerian
I am a Nigerian. I am from Rivers State. Bonny to be precise. I was born abroad but I was raised in Porthacourt.
Tell us about how you got to the position you are today.
I did my O levels in England. I went to University of Nigeria Nsuka where I got my degree in Political science. I later went abroad again to get some work experience. I was working for a government organisation. i came back again to get married, and I decided to stay here. I worked with a direct marketing agency, then I later moved to British American Tobacco. After seven years at BAT, I left as Group Brand Manager, and then I moved to Coca-Cola where I was the marketing manager. I later moved to Airtel as head of Brands and media. I was there for just a year.
I later saw an opportunity in Africa Magic and I took it. Some people say ‘you are leaving a position like head of brands for a regional manager position’. Some times in life we need to take a chance and stoop to conquer. I say that because when I was in the agency, I was the client service director but I was not satisfied because I could not go higher than the owner of the company. I took a pay cut and moved to BAT as a brand manager, but I knew I could easily move up because it was up to me. When the opportunity with African Magic came, people were saying regional manager, but I knew I could create what I want in the job.
With such huge responsibilities, how do you cope as a woman with work and family?
Thankfully, my kids are all grown up now. The youngest is 11. One is in the university and one is in boardings school.
When they were younger it must have been hell.
It was. What I did then was that I balanced it. When I was at home I was at home. I don’t receive emails on my phone. I get them when I get to the office. I am also thankful that I have an understanding husband. We try to meet each other half way. When I am not there he is there, when he is not there I am there. He also does a lot of travelling and works for a multi-national for a long time. I also have a good support system. My family have been fantastic, especially my mum. You know it is Africa, we will help each other out.
You have moved around industries, are you enjoying your stay in Africa Magic?
I told you that entertainment industry is my passion. Even when I was in other industries, I have always worked with the entertainment industry. I brokered the sponsorship deal with Tinsel when I was in Airtel. I believe there is a huge opportunity in the entertainment industry and being at Africa Magic I could harness these opportunities. This is where my passion lies.
I have sold coke, I have sold airtime, I have sold cigarettes. For me, they are not all as satisfactory for me as creating and nurturing this industry. you can’t buy the feeling I have. I feel privileged to be in Africa Magic. When I got the job I was asked to give one word about the place, I said ‘home’. That is still how I feel.
Anyone who follows your career will believe you will soon get tired on Africa Magic and move on.
You think so? The reason for my moves had not been due to boredom. There is a lot in this industry to grow into. I see myself here for a while.
What is your dream for Africa Magic
That every single evening, every West African goes home and switch on to an Africa Magic Station. That is my dream.
What dream do you have for yourself?
I need to be happy. For me, I have been fortunate and I have been blessed. I am lucky to be here. If I start talking about dreams, it will be like I am ungrateful for what I already have.
How would you advice young Nigerians about achieving their dreams.
You have an idea of what your passion is, if you follow your passion you can’t go wrong. Don’t believe you have to go with the flow. I wanted to be in entertainment, but see all the detours I took in life, yet I get to work in the entertainment industry. Finally, a good education is the foundation of everything. Grow yourself, equip yourself so you can speak intelligently.