Reinventing African Heritage

By Sony Neme, This Day (Lagos), 20 July 2001

Lagos—Good dressing, no doubt means good business for many. But for South Africa-based Shola Ajay—broadcaster, broadcast technologist and businessman—life is all about celebrating African heritage and achievement by projecting the contributions made by Africans to world civilisation.

To achieve that objective he has gone into partnership with EMS, South Africa in providing investment in radio and television projects across the continent.

Recently, in his Opebi, Lagos residence, Ajay took THISDAY down memory lane on a profile that manifests in his PABHA (Pan African Broadcasting and Heritage Awards) project which the second edition is set for Abuja later this year. Same vision we gathered, made him to relocate his Houston, Texas, USA- based SOLSAN Communications Ventures (SCV) to South Africa in 1987 for a broad range media and telecom related projects. Zambia was his first port of call.

He was also in partnerships with Bop Television and M-Net Multichoice. Ajay's SCV pioneering vision led to its first all auspices awards of the Union of Radio and Television Network of Africa (URTNA).

Radiant in a black designer long sleeve shirt over a pair of black trousers, awaiting for the 7.30am South African flight, he said that it stared off as a child's play way back in the 1970s when he won a Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) award in Benin.

His words: From elementary through high school I wanted to be a broadcast journalist, so there really were no difficulties as to where and what I wanted to be. It's been a long career. About twenty years ago. He went on to bag a degree on radio and television while his masters program was in telecommunications. After a while, he was agitated by events around Africa. As you travel round the continent, you'll discover that my field is so underdeveloped. That propelled me for a better broadcast climate in Africa, he said, stressing that lots more needed to be done.

For the past 14 years, he has been operating in Africa. With Zambia's former president, Dr. Kenneth Kaunda he established Zambian Global Network Television in 1990, moving the sector from state control to private and commercial broadcast station.

From a strong family background with strict moral code he said I simply have a dad that was strict and firm while mum played her role by ensuring that you read your books and attend to other house chores assigned to you. He stressed that there was no pretence about what they set out to achieve.

Ajay has also been following the Nigerias electronic media. He said that broadcasting in Nigeria is in a sorry state due to years of military rule, moreso as it is with same people who ruined our economy, and the broadcast industry in particular. What we have are carcass called radio stations. He recalled the good old days, when the industry had committed and visionary practitioners. There were the Madukas, Christopher Kolades, the late Balogun among others who had vision but with limitations.

He said that the industry is behind in manpower. I feel aggrieved because it is my field. There used to be the David Jones (DJ) and you are supposed to be very phonetical. We need a quadruple leap to catch up with the rest of Africa. he further stressed. Ajay said that the militating factors are the old brigade who still think that it's business as usual.

He told THISDAY that the much talked about bad image of Nigeria abroad is a mega problem. For him: There is nothing you can do about criminals living abroad who were bad before they left Nigeria. And because sensationalism sells news, so the western media will not celebrate an ingenious Nigerian who excels in technology, but will have a Nigerian out of other nationals involved in a crime on front pages of their news bulletin, he said. Interestingly, he said that a few professionals in South Africa recently formed the Nigerian Forum, a pressure group driven by a five-man think tank to project Nigeria's image.

He said the image of about 120 million people cannot be viewed from the activities of less than 30,000 criminals. So the private initiative in conjunction with government will carry out projects that will redefine our image. He said that just like the apartheid regime in South Africa, Nigeria has been impoverished by the military for about 30 years. In South Africa, he said it was white against blacks while in Nigeria's case it is a class against the people.

Nominations for this year's edition of PABHA has commenced.This year's edition is expected to have an additional children's category to bring the number of awardees to six. The Award was designed to celebrate excellence in various fields of endeavours using media as the driving force. Ajay, event organisers, in a media briefing in Lagos, said that as Africa faces the challenges of a new era, yesterday's excuses of its oppressive and exploitative colonial past are no longer tenable.

We have seen how determined individuals can change the perilous situation of their people and consequently, the course of history. The over all impact of the economic stagnation of Africa on our youths, by the constant bombardment of images of civil strife, natural disasters and famine through television, radio and print media is reason enough to recognise Africa's role models in the hope of changing hopelessness to aspiration by celebrating our success, Ajay explained

For Salomey Eferemo, Co-ordinator English, West Africa, this year's award ceremony is special because, for the first time, our up and coming generations are being incorporated into an all-adult ceremony. This new innovation in PABHA,, she stated, is to further enhance the concept of the awards as the voice of the vision of Africa achievement. She stressed that the African vision could be nurtured in the younger generation by encouraging their participation and in celebration of excellence through junior PABHA essay competition.

While expressing their readiness to carry critics along in the nominations process, she said that I encourage you all to fish out those that need to be recognised, rewarded and nominate them to be part of this visionary concept called PABHA. Ajay said there is a vision for Africa that is larger than the individual. He said it is time Africans began to entrench and expose the many contributions that Africa and Africans have made not only to the continent but to the world at large, that is the reason for the awards.

He further stressed that as one of the media representatives of Africa,it is imperative to start showcasing and celebrating the good things inherent in Africa. The Delta State-born broadcaster called on the media to assist in making the event, grand. The inaugural edition of PABHA was held in Abuja as part of activities marking Nigeria's 40th independence anniversary, but it drew sharp criticism as the award, supposed to be a media event did not carry the media along even though it was designed as a milestone in the annals of African Awards.

The awardees are expected from the media (television, feature film, radio and print), culture and sports (literary, sports, music and arts), medicine (health & medicine, technology innovation and environment), social achievement (humanitarian, entrepreneurial and management) and The PABHA Overall Awards which could come from any of the aforementioned and winner must be an African.