Saka, the thrift collector don port.


Back in 2003, at an NYSC orientation camp somewhere in the Niger Delta, Corps members who arrived from Lagos with their ‘cool’ Econet Wireless lines found out that their SIMS were useless. Econet network was barely available outside of Lagos and there was no chance of ‘porting.’ By and by, they reluctantly purchased new SIMS, a herculean and expensive feat back in those days.

The ‘porting season’ has opened with a bang with MTN stealing the ‘marquee’ face of Etisalat, Saka, who has ported to the South African owned company, Kiripata! Hafiz ‘Saka’ Oyetoro, whose popularity has been rising since appearing in the UNFPA sponsored TV sit com, The Thrift Collector, surprisingly appeared in an MTN ad singing, I don Port Go and ‘Kiripata Kiripata’ (Centrespread is that phrase not trademarked?).  

The sheer genius of Saka in a comic role has propelled the ad, available on YouTube and TV stations, into immediate cult status, a la My Friend Udeme in recent times, and for all intents and purposes is proving to be a masterstroke. Of course, the popularity of the ad is also being driven by the connotative meaning inherent in ‘to port’ referring to Saka’s move from Etisalat to MTN. I Don Port internet memes are already up and running including ‘Harlem Shake’ styled flash mob dances and Twitter hash tags. Whether consumers will join Saka to Port to MTN is another business all together. ‘Mad Men’ across the nation and legal luminaries are pouring over the ads and contract agreements to see if laws and ethics were breached. The guys at Etisalat and Centrespread are acting cool but heads will roll as this is turning to be an advertising coup d’etat.

A watershed moment in Nigerian advertising, the I don Port ad went viral just hours after release on YouTube, creating such a buzz and hoopla that MTN can as well stop the TV ads and not feel it. The internet video ad (read YouTube) has finally trumped traditional TV ads and since the big multinationals already favour satellite TV stations over local stations, many a Nigerian TV station will be in dire trouble over falling ad revenues.

I have had my MTN mobile number since 2003 and though sorely tested have stuck with them because I couldn’t bear a number change. But the inauguration of the number portability scheme by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), which allows for a subscriber to switch networks and retain their number, is tempting, sorely tempting.

I hope the number portability system would spur the mobile networks operational in Nigeria to sit up. Yes, Nigeria is a difficult place to do business but these guys are getting away with a lot and the fear that customers can easily port may scare them to become more effective. MTN potentially has got a lot more to lose: having the largest subscriber base and its consequent network congestion, many MTN users feel pastures might be greener across the fence. Obviously they have figured this out too and thus have come out firing on all cylinders because the I don Port commercial is indicative of cutting edge competition, Kiripata Kiripata!



There was a Story: Reading culture in Nigeria


A Nigerian Professor of English once famously remarked that Nigerians hardly read and even when they do it is mostly religious tracts. She commented that on a casual trip using the Underground in the UK most British passengers are seen reading a book or magazine in the trains. This is not so with Nigerians. Since the inception of his administration, President Goodluck Jonathan has been struggling to revive the reading culture through his “Bring  Back the Book” project, and has even gone as far as enrolling the help of the Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka. But somehow Nigerians have refused to embrace en-masse a healthy reading culture. That is until recently. Or so?

In the South East, the Igbo heartland, an interesting and intriguing phenomenon has arisen. Since the death of the literary icon, Chinua Achebe, it has now become fashionable to go about with a copy of his pseudo-memoir, There was a Country. The young boys who sell the books (are they pirated copies?) are doing brisk business and for once in my life I see a book – other than the Bible – outsell phone chargers and recharge cards in traffic. The President and Wole Soyinka must hear this. Now wait for this – last week I rode a Keke (motorised Tricycle) and the driver had his copy.

Now, There was a Country stirred up so many passions when it was published especially as some sections of the country quarreled with Achebe’s version of what happened during the War, and comically it became one of the few books in the world where reviews and critiques were dished out without the reviewers reading the book. Since the death of the grandfather of African literature, his last work has not only become a status symbol and fashionable, it has ‘forced’ the average Igbo person – nay Nigerian – to read a book. Well I can’t vouch that all buyers of the book are reading it (a fairly sizable tome), but I can vouch that I am very surprised at the enthusiasm to acquire a copy.

As we get ready for the funeral of Chinua Achebe, his literary daughter, Chimamanda Adichie, an effusive and talented writer, is literally toeing the line as her soon to be released novel, Americanah, is already courting controversy, over African women’s hair. A few months ago Chinua Achebe was denounced as an angry, nepotic old man who tilted his version of the Civil War, today in the wake of his death, he not only has become revered he has spawned a ‘reading culture’ in Igboland and across the nation. Maybe we need more of these controversial books.





“Is the movie good? Is it bad? Does it matter? It is what it is and occupies a world where the stars don’t shine.” – Roger Ebert

The demise of the world acclaimed film critic, Roger Ebert, who passed on at 70 after a long haul battle with cancer brings to light the power and influence of the critic on our tastes. For near fifty years, movie goers, auteurs, producers and newspaper editors cared about the opinion of one rather genial and opinionated Chicagoan concerning a particular film. His influence was so pervading that his trademark thumps up was keenly awaited and his stars brightened or dimmed the fortunes of many a film. A fellow Chicagoan, Barack Obama eulogised, “Roger was the movies.”

For a bustling film industry (the third largest in the world), Nollywood lacks critics with the knowledge, the panache, the boldness and professionalism of proper film critics. How then does one sieve through the myriad of video releases that assail our eyes every day? How then does one delineate the artistic from the derivative? The critic is like a guide, pointing the direction to the stars…… and the black holes too.

In the early days of Nollywood, when the movies were still a novelty and the term Nollywood had not gained traction, several papers ran film reviews and there were even TV and radio shows critiquing the week’s offerings. The TV shows naturally mimicked Siskel and Ebert’s but a lack of passion, or drive or sponsorship or the general amateurishness of the industry ensured still birth.

In 1967, Roger Ebert was appointed the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times. He took the beat and not only did he excel, he became the heart beat of the industry earning a Pulitzer and a Star on the Walk of Fame. Film awards have recently become popular in Nigeria. One wonders the rubric for awarding the prizes, one wonders if the films tick the boxes for critical acclaim. For many years now media students have wondered why our Nollywood ‘blockbusters’ never make it at film festivals, even the nearby FESPACO. Well I think we need specialists who will start rating our productions, assigning stars and giving thumbs up. And when necessary throwing in a bit of ‘bad mouth.’ That will certainly weed the field and mitigate the influence of upper iweka.

There is a niche for somebody as a Nollywood film critic. Roger that!