Quote 1: “I had to receive my late mother’s body at the airport and then fly out the same morning to SA to host the show....”
Quote 2: “I don’t just want to be the MVP; I want to own the game. Hosting is great, but it is those who put together the show and sell content who make the real money...”
It is mid-July at the Balfour Park studios where the popular show Big Brother Africa (BBA) is shot. The Expatriate magazine team (Xpatr8) sits for an interview with the show’s presenter Ikponmwosa (I.K.) Osakioduwa at a cafeteria right next to the “Upville house” where a handful of Africans live under the watchful eye of millions across the continent.
Xpatr8: So your full name is actually Ikpoo...ah...hmmm
IK: Don’t even bother pronouncing it. What kind of parents punish a child with such a long name? Even worse my surname sounds Japanese even though I am 100% Edo from Nigeria.
Xpatr8: You actually don’t sound very Nigerian, did you grow up outside the country?
IK: Not really but we travelled a lot within Nigeria when I was young because my dad was in the army. As a result of all the travelling, I ended up not learning any of the local languages and my parents spoke to their kids in English. Always being the new kid in the class, I learnt how to break the ice and adapt which has helped me a lot in my career.
Xpatr8: How did you get into entertainment?
IK: When I was about 21, I joined Rhythm 93.7 FM in Nigeria as an understudy on the afternoon drive show. The host didn’t like me and told me to sit in the corner and shut up. I have a fuel crisis to thank for bringing me to the limelight. For about a week and a half, many presenters who lived far from the station were unable to make it to work and I was called upon to present for 12 hours straight each day. This was my opportunity and I went crazy earning me a lot of fans and the nickname ‘The Wildchild’. As a result, I got the afternoon show and later moved up to the morning show.
Xpatr8: And MNET?
IK: My Head of Programmes at Rhythm, Femi Sowolu insisted that I take the day off and go for the Studio 53 audition in 2003. I wasn’t that keen on it but I didn’t want to annoy him so I went. There were close to 250 established TV faces there so I felt like it was an achievement to make the shortlist afterwards and even more pleased to get the part. After that I hosted other shows including Temptation Nigeria and Comedy Club Live in Lagos. In 2009, I went for the BBA auditions which were a disaster because I am used to free-styling the script but the director insisted on us mouthing it verbatim. Fortunately, they gave me a second chance with an interview where I was asked to describe the places I had been to. I killed it! I made everywhere sound so exotic!
Xpatr8: How was your first show?
IK: Terrible! A live show is a different kettle of fish. Halfway through the show the director pulled me aside and insisted that I stick to the script as the crew was relying on certain key words to know what happens next. I had a problem with dyslexia when I was young, so following the auto cues was difficult. One ear was plugged to the director and I couldn’t hear myself from the other as the crowd was screaming so hard. Consequently, I sounded like a retard! A wardrobe malfunction also meant that I was stuck with this ridiculous trench coat for the entire show which was trending afterwards on twitter. Ah men... I struggled for the entire first season; I actually would have fired me if I was in charge of the show.
Xpatr8: And yet, here you are in your fourth season being watched by millions. How does it feel?
IK: Amazing! It means that I am on a first name basis with millions of people. It gets me to a place of familiarity with people meaning that I don’t have to introduce myself. If I fly to Kenya for example, an immigration official would recognise me and that makes my life easier. There is a downside though – the constant scrutiny. If I am on my cell phone while driving it would be a radio topic in Nigeria all day and the media are almost always on my case.
Xpatr8: Has anything untrue ever been written about you?
IK: Are you kidding? All the time! Just recently I was quoted on taking a stand against the Nigerian government on some topic I had not even heard of. Look man, I am a retiring flirt so occasionally I may be seen being friendly with the ladies which magazines make a big deal of because I am a married man.
Xpatr8: Retiring flirt huh, recovering alcoholic as well perhaps?
IK: I actually don’t drink or smoke, never really have. People do those things for three reasons. They either like the taste of alcohol or need alcohol to loosen up and be more confident or do it out of peer pressure to socialise. None of those apply to me.
Xpatr8: Let’s get back to your being married.
IK: I met my wife Olo while I was dating someone else who wanted me to quit my radio gig and get a ‘real job’. Olo was the only friend who seemed to get me and did not want to change me, but she was dating someone else. So I called her and told her that she seems like the kind of person I would be able to spend my life with and asked her to get in touch as soon as she had got rid of the guy! We named our son Osahar, Egyptian for ‘God hears me’. I was praying that he would arrive before I had to leave for SA for four months during the first season of BBA and he arrived three days before my departure. Our second child is a daughter called Micah.
Xpatr8: Was leaving your new-born your hardest experience with the show?
IK: It was hard but my mother’s passing this season was worse. I actually wanted to quit but my father wouldn’t allow me to because he knew she was the only one who believed I could have a career in entertainment. I found out she had passed three days after my birthday on Friday the 24th of May 2012. That same morning I flew to SA to do the show on Sunday. Then a week later, they flew her body from Mexico where she was being treated for cancer and I had to receive her body at the airport then board a flight to SA for another show. That was very tough.
Xpatr8: Do you fly in and out of SA for the show?
IK: Yes I still have a show on Rhythm FM where I am also Head of Programmes and MC a lot of events in Lagos. Thank God for technology because I occasionally do my radio show over the internet from a quiet place in an airport and record the daily BBA shows from Nigeria which I email to SA.
Xpatr8: Speaking of Nigeria, the M.D. of MNET Africa is Nigerian, the presenter is also Nigerian and the last three seasons of BBA were won by a Nigerian!
IK: Pure coincidence. The voting platform is in no way skewed to favour Nigeria as each country gets one vote. In addition, a reputable audit firm with multinational clients that are a thousand times more important to them than BBA always checks the results.
Xpatr8: Who is the voice of Big Brother?
IK: There is an individual who is here almost 24 hours a day. His identity remains a secret as the producers reserve the right to change the person. But it is not about him because the concept is that the public is big brother as they are the ones watching and determining who wins.
Xpatr8: What is your view of this season, what will be its legacy given the two violent incidences between a guy and a girl resulting in all four people involved being eliminated?
IK: What we are seeing is that the quality of housemates is changing as they now understand the dynamics of the show. No one has used as much profanity in any season as much as these housemates. They understand that to win the USD300,000 you have to get the cameras to follow you and that is why they are pushing their personalities to the limit where you find a girl provoking a guy to slap her in the hope that he gets eliminated. But next season’s housemates are watching this season so I predict that in as much as they will be crazy, they will be careful not to get eliminated by provoking violence.
Xpatr8: Where to from here? Have you reached the pinnacle of your career by hosting BBA?
IK: Not at all. I don’t just want to be the MVP (Most Valuable Player), I want to own the game. Hosting the show is great and has a lot of perks but it is the people who put shows together and sell the content that make the real money. One of my role models is Ryan Seacrest who not only has a radio show and is the presenter of American Idols but also owns a number of shows like Keeping up with the Kardashians.