PLUS

For a man whose mother was the eight wife, the uniqueness of his situation against the background of many siblings in the house and a severely limited means of provision or care,this presupposed he would remain at the bottom of the ladder. However, Taye Oladimeji Ige, CEO of Hotsports Media Group was determined to climb each rung of the ladder, one at a time and no matter how long it took, his eyes were on the ball at the top of the ladder. Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Adedayo Adejobi report

Tucked somewhere into the remote precincts of Oregun-Lagos is an emerging gigantic edifice with a larger than life aspiration. Actually, you can say that more than 80 per cent of that ambition is a done deal. Thinking of the sheer desire that produced the building against daunting odds is a studious imitation of the life of the man behind the building, Taye Oladimeji Ige. Like Ige, not many could see the potential when it was just several jots of massive lines drawn on paper. Just the same way they could not see a hugely disadvantaged Ige, inching his way to become an icon. Where the building stands was once a swampy thicket. Ige was the first person to see its prospective glory and bought into it. Today, it is named after the enterprise that turned around his personal fortunes for good. As a pathfinder in that area, he could have called it Taye Ige Street and it would be an apt name, but he chose to immortalize ‘Hotsports’, the business name that is both a personal and corporate game changer in Nigerian media space, particularly sports broadcasting. So, the street is named Hotsports Drive as a summation of the testimonies that Ige embodies.

For a man whose mother was the eight wife, the abnormality of his situation against the background of many children in the house and therefore a severely limited means of taking care of them, presupposed he would remain at the bottom of the ladder. However, he was determined to take each rung of the ladder, one at a time and no matter how it long it took, his eyes were on the ball at the top of the ladder. Weighed down by so many hurdles, he began a slow climb at the age of 27 when he benefited from a university education.  His ambition was partly fired by a resolve to catch up with his buddies. “I have always believed that those, especially my primary and secondary school classmates, who made it to the university, were not better than me. One day, one of them visited me in my place of work. And when I asked him, he said he was at the University of Ilorin, studying what he called ‘mech engine’ – mechanical engineering. The manner he articulated this to me once again roused in me a hunger to do all I could to access university education. To date, I still tease him with how he pronounced mechanical engineering to me that day. I thought to myself: ‘So this guy, my primary school bosom friend will end up a mechanical engineer and I end up as what?’ I resolved there and then that the time had come to do the needful. So, I finally obtained a JAMB form to sit the exams.”

Ige became the butt of many jokes that year. On the day he went with his JAMB registration materials to his mother, his late brother’s friend was in her company. His heart still bleeds each time he recalls his caustic remark to the effect that, “my age mates were bringing home wives, I was bringing home a JAMB form. I really couldn’t answer him. Neither could my mum. In fact, she didn’t utter a word. But she supported my desire. You could ask my mum anything and she would refuse you. If it was about education, consider it done! If she didn’t have what you asked for, as long as it had to do with your school, she would go borrowing or even dispose of her possessions, if she had to. She wasn’t educated but knew the value of education. Undoubtedly, my mum was the reason I could take the plunge to resign from my job to acquire university education on full-time basis. When push came to shove, she sold everything. When things looked bleak, all I needed to do was to go home. I had a friend in Port Harcourt who also helped tremendously. He even put me on a monthly allowance.”

As God would have it, his first post-NYSC job was at The Week magazine where he was on the sports desk. The late Godwin Agbroko who edited the magazine had a friend at NTA who visited frequently. This friend of Agbroko recommended him to present sports on NTA2 Channel 5’s Morning Ride, which was undoubtedly one of the most watched programmes on television nationwide. It was a lifeline he wouldn’t let go. “I saw the potential for personal advancement and professional fulfilment was higher than what I was doing at The Week. As a journalist, you are as powerful as your medium.  Morning Ride was the in-thing then in Lagos, as at least 60 per cent of television viewers were hooked on to NTA2 Channel 5.

I was able to get sponsorship to France to report the World Cup draw in December 1997 and to cover the World Cup itself in 1998. Something that really was difficult to get with the publication I worked for. That’s an index of the kind of power that the platform gave me at that time. On coming back from the World Cup, I thought I could start my own programme and when I approached the programme controller then, Ola Fajemisin, he told me to think of something imaginative, something exciting and interesting to viewers. That was how HotSports was coined from ‘hot arguments on sports’ and came into being. And so by the first Saturday in the last quarter of 1998, we started HotSports as a 30-minute offering on NTA2 Channel 5, Lagos. The programme is still running although I’m no longer the host. Hot Sports, at a time, was the largest independent sports programme on Nigerian television, broadcasting on a network of 23 TV stations across Nigeria. I presented it for 15 years.”

Ige has a tepid response to advancements in sports presentation. “It has moved with the times,” he said. “Twenty years ago, it was not what it is today.  At that time, there was no National Broadcasting Corporation that supervised activities in the sector. In those days, we could display Mr. Biggs Menu on the set and sometimes take a bite of their very delicious meat pie right on the set, live. Our set became sometimes a chef’s showroom. Within the 30-minute duration of the programme, we could run as many as 14 commercials, more than half of the time. Because there were not many stations then.”

One of the most daunting challenges he has taken on is undoubtedly, the building of the Hotsports television production studios. When he conceived the idea of the facility, the first drawing was double the present size because he wanted an events centre atop the studios.
But he couldn’t run with that budget.

After giving it a long thought, he tweaked the idea to come up with the present design.  It would retain elements of the original design, but in an enhanced capacity. “Our biggest studio is earmarked as an events centre, but events that can happen here are only live coverage because we have a channel in the works solely for events. Ideally, if one has come this far, the environment should come to one’s aid. But our commercial banks are more interested in our deposits than critically appraising the project with a view to assisting with requisite funding. So, here we are: we have finished by the grace of God. The structures are standing; ready to receive lighting and equipment. We are immensely proud of what we have. Our funding initiatives for this final phase of the project are in place and we are hoping that before the beginning of next quarter – before the World Cup in June – we would be fully done and ready to accept clients’ briefs.”

The World Cup may be a big stimulant for his immediate dreams. However, he did not sleep and wake up the next morning to own this grandiose edifice. He is emphatic, even if modest on how he got to where he is. “This is a product of 20 years of our business life. I think that this modestly qualifies this as a high. Professional satisfaction and being on the verge of seeing a dream we set out to achieve finally coming to reality can be fulfilling. At several points along the line, I was forced to think I had actually made a grievous mistake going into all this. But today, I am happy and remain ever thankful to God Almighty; our help in ages past and our hope for years to come.”

Participating in many global sports championships meant that Ige was exposed to the best and latest broadcast gadgets and he dreamt of pushing the envelope in Nigeria. The opportunity came with the mandatory digitization of broadcasting. Rather than just produce programmes or content, Ige upped his physical and corporate satisfaction (and in some way he deems it honour to Nigeria) by delivering television production studios of international standard. He said proudly, “Our facility, the largest in Nigeria and possibly sub-Saharan Africa, is our immediate response to digitisation of television in Nigeria. This is a complex of five television production studios, ranging from the largest, and 900sqm, to the lowest which is 50. Our plan for equipping them is equally ambitious. Research has proved that television succeeds where you can find yourself in it. So digitisation will free up the space, allow an upsurge in the number of television stations in the country.

This will naturally lead to an upsurge in activities generally in the industry especially production. Don’t forget the NBC has this 60/40% in favour of local content. When digitisation comes and you have all those television stations, the in-thing will be content to run on them in such a way that they’ll attract viewership, thus attracting advertising content.”
While talking with Ige, it seemed right to ask his opinion on Nigerian football and if government should play a role in sports. His answer was without ambiguity.

“Nothing is wrong with football in Nigeria.  There are unrealised potential in every aspect of our lives as a Third World country. So it is with football. First, our economy is not as strong as it should be and that’s a major issue. So Nigerian football doesn’t have as much resources as it needs to make it be the best it can be. That is why a lot of our talents find it worth their while to export themselves out of the country where their economic well-being is more enhanced. Meanwhile, the world itself keeps shrinking by the day such that it has now become what can be described as a hamlet, and no longer a village. Good football matches come the way of Nigerians via clear TV signals and played on exceptionally good pitches and with superior facilities. All these have made everything tough for local football with the myriad of challenges it has to grapple with.”

He delivers with even more clarity of thought on why government should not take its hands off sports. “No government worth its salt would totally take its hands off sports, especially football in an environment like Nigeria. There is nowhere that is done, because government needs sports while sports need government’s money. And as long as it needs money to survive, there is nowhere the government would put money and not exercise control. Government also needs sports as a Public Relations tool. When Nigeria qualified for the Russia 2018 World Cup with one or two games ahead, it so calmed Nigerians severely frayed nerves .We momentarily forgot our economic and social hardships.”

Though Ige acknowledges God in all his ways, he recently became upset with the conventional religion and decided to serve God on his own terms. He doesn’t seem to have the stomach for all the absurd things going on in the religious environment.
“I’m not ‘churchy’ but focused on serving God through people. I used to be ‘churchy’ but not any longer. I’m proud of the little things God has used me to achieve in the church. I used to attend an orthodox church. I found out to my chagrin that things are not better even in orthodox churches. The volume of ungodly things that happen in those environments are sometimes befuddling. Therefore, I have decided to have a direct route to God Almighty and I find that more fulfilling. I have elected to serve God directly by ministering to the needs of fellow human beings when I can with the little means He has put at my disposal and not through some contraption called church. In my former church, I was the chairman of the Harvest committee for two years during which I mobilised friends, acquaintances and we were able to complete the sanctuary in the first year.

My church has the capacity to do so much, though doing so little to minister to the direct physical needs of its members. When members have needs, all you do is pray, pray and pray. Certain things require physical intervention – especially medical.”
Ige added that he wishes to see true religion that ministers to the physical needs widows, orphans and other categories of disadvantaged persons.