Tell us a little about yourself. How were things growing up?
I was born in Lagos, moved to Enugu and grew up there until 1977 when I moved to the UK for school. Enugu felt like the best place in the world. I loved my nursery school Aunty Lillian’s day and Ekulu Primary School. Those were wonderful carefree days, playing football in Polo Field, riding my Grifter (better than Choppers lol) and picking mangoes and guavas off trees in my house. Looking back now I wish I could return to those wonderful days.
You attended the most famous and arguably the most prestigious secondary school in the world, Eton College. The British Princes, William and Harry later attended the same school. What was your experience there?
I had a great time there, we were maybe 6 black boys out of 1400 boys. Of course I was a contemporary of many famous people – Damien Lewis and Dominic West the actors, Boris Johnson and David Cameron among others, I made lifetime friends and learned a lot of lessons.
Of course one dealt with and overcame racism and the limited knowledge of black people that these places have. Perhaps my favorite memory was when my late uncle Ben Enwonwu, who is one of the greatest artists to come out of Africa came to our school open day one June 4th with my father. He was the special guest of the then Provost of the school and we had lunch with the Provost and the great and good of the UK. There must have been 100 plus people on those long tables. I remember beaming proudly as the Provost (Lord Charteris of Amisfield) told all of us how he met Ben when for 3 weeks in 1956 he was taking the Queen to his Battersea studio, where she sat for Ben’s sculpture of her. He was the first African that the Queen sat for and it led to a lifetime relationship, where the royal family collected his works for over 50 years. As a 16 year old it was music to my ears that my uncle was a best friend of the Provost who is like the Chancellor of the School. I had a good time at Eton, was successful as a student, sportsman and member of pop (prefect) and I’m blessed to retain many friends from those days.
Obi in the Eton College yearbook
Obi Asika and Storm Productions have been household names and a mainstay in the Nigerian entertainment industry for decades. Have you always been into entertainment? What did you study in university?
I think it’s in my DNA. I studied law at the University of Warwick but from the age of 14 or 15 I was promoting club nights and parties in the UK. By the time I was in university we had taken it bigger and I was involved in a massive 1989 event called Biology. I was seeking to collide the worlds of hip hop and the UK house music scene. With a bunch of Nigerian friends we flew in Public Enemy, 3rd Bass, and Dej Jam. I remember sitting with Russell Simmons and Lyor Cohen at the Intercontinental Mayfair and having to call off the gig. An incredibly painful moment but maybe one day, there is a movie in the tale.
I am a natural entrepreneur but from the way I was raised music, arts, culture and sports played a huge role and these are things my father, Ukpabi Asika deployed to help in his governance efforts as Administrator of the East Central State. I grew to learn that he was applying soft power 20 years before it became a Harvard philosophy.
I have worked across industries and it goes way beyond entertainment but I have always been a spokesperson for what we can bring to the table and proud to have played a role in the current global explosion of our culture and content led by Afrobeats.
Did you face any push back from your parents concerning your interest in entertainment as a career?
I never received any pushback but it was not until I was perhaps 34 that I realized I could do this exclusively. Before that, I worked in finance, oil and gas, procurement, real estate and contracting, but through all those jobs and ventures I was always pushing my agenda with Storm and collaborating with multiple talents and people to drive forward. My father was our first investor in Storm in 1991. I still have a photocopy of the cheque as he made us sign for it…Lol. And later my mother became my biggest cheerleader. They were both intellectuals and artists first, so in some way they loved the fact that their son was always with the creatives.
In recent times, do you think Nigerian parents have started to see entertainment as a viable business and career option, and not something you do only for fun?
I think only uneducated people don’t realize that entertainment has been and always will be a massive business.
Leisure, retail, entertainment are all the reasons why people work. They work so they have the resources to enjoy those benefits.
Sadly, many talented Nigerians have been blocked by narrow minded parents and this led to a lot of unhappiness in my generation. I am sure I would have played 15 years of professional football if not for society at the time. I think everyone in the world now knows that this is serious business and if you’re not working hard you can’t be successful.
Congratulations on the successful conclusion of another season of Nigerian Idols. It seems to get better each season. How has the journey been so far?
I have been an executive producer for film, tv, live events and more.
Ranging from Fifa Nigeria 99 to the Calabar Carnival, to bringing the Big Brother Franchise here and producing it, and the Apprentice Africa and Dragons Den Nigeria. I also co-created the original format for Nigeria Sings which had 3 strong seasons and Vodacom Icons in Ghana over a decade ago.
I say this because having produced the biggest shows in the world here, it was something of a shocker to find myself on tv and in front of the camera. I have enjoyed the 3 seasons of Nigerian Idols done so far and I always receive positive feedback from the audience. It’s been a pleasure being on this show. We have a great production team with our executive producers Anneke and Kassim. The Africa Magic and Dstv team give us great support and it’s a pleasure and privilege to be beamed into the homes of millions of Africans since 2021.
Tell us about some of your projects before Nigeria Sings.
The tv production list of projects is extensive and I’ve mentioned some of the reality shows I brought here and produced. One of my favorite projects is a 10 part feature documentary series about our music. It’s called The Journey of the Beats and it’s running on Showmax. I am very proud to have told an authentic multigenerational story which will impact our people for decades to come.
Nigerian musical artists have become household names the world over in the last few years. International music legends now seek them out for collabos. What do you think has led to this level of popularity?
We built this for more than 20 years to arrive at this “overnight success” . I am pleased to be a witness and a principal actor throughout the period. A few things happened in our favour. The advent of MTV Base validated us and showed us we could impact. Channel O and MTV Base made our music and artists household names before terrestrial stations and radio began to support us.
Over that period the major labels who impacted include Kennis Music and Storm Records. Then you gave Questionmark Records and later we saw Mohits, Chocolate City and Northside Records with P-Square.
Our era with 2Baba as the outlier are the precursors to what we see now. I hope Nigerians never take it for granted but at the same time I hope all Nigerians continue to be inspired by what our people are achieving. This explosion came because we built the rails and relationships. We took Africa first and then London and from there we took America and now we are fully global. The next phase is to fully domesticate touring so Nigerians can experience our biggest artists in their home towns in a world class experience. The domestic opportunities are massive and revolve around product, merchandise, ticketing, local promoters and more.
Being Nigerian oneself, this may sound a little boastful but the truth is that Nigerians are incredibly talented people. There are only a few areas of human endeavour where you will not find a successful Nigerian – perhaps in the more hazardous activities where you’ll be hard pushed to find any black man…Lol. What makes the Nigerian stand out so much?
I know what you mean, it’s in our DNA, our very essence. I always say that the biggest asset we have are the people, their creativity and expression, if we ever could bottle it, we would be unstoppable.
Nigerians are something else. We can be very negative and tribalistic but at our best we are God’s own. There are no ceilings for Nigerian talent.
How do you think the Nigerian educational system can be tweaked to bring the best out of our pupils and students? Does it do enough to nurture ability? And I don’t just mean in academics.
Our Educational system has been in crisis for over 30 years. For me it’s about refreshing the curriculum, about bringing innovation into education and scaling all opportunities for our people to learn.
I think if we can kill the learning by rote and repetition, we can encourage critical path thinking which we seem to lack. Education is a super power that can unlock so much value and one of the first things is for us to stop running from our duality as Africans.
Every time I see a Thor Movie I become more upset that Shango is not yet alive in the movies. We must learn to reimagine our own mythology and bring our fables alive. We have all the best original stories but for some reason we Africans have lost the art of storytelling. We need to rediscover it fast as we are firmly in the age of Storytellers. We have lost time, income and opportunity by not seeing the power that lies within us, from the ancient concepts of Chi to Afa and Ifa. It is important that our education also reinforces our own legacy and history.
This final question is in two parts. One, do you think your education made you? And I don’t necessarily mean the certificates. Two, what would be your parting words for the Nigerian youth who desires to succeed in life?
I was blessed with parents who were engaged with me, who argued and taught me, who gave me the confidence to argue and the knowledge to question everything I was being taught. For me it is ludicrous to regurgitate what you’re taught. You don’t need to go to school to do that and it is not adding any value anywhere. The teachers at my various schools were strong and supported me but I think the most important thing was the knowledge of self I gained from home which basically made it impossible for anybody to diminish me. It’s the best of times and the worst of times. We have real challenges and real opportunities. I wish I was 18 again so I could go and get a payday in Saudi playing football.
I think for all our youth, they should know that the African century is here. Even with all our difficulties, we will be a global top 20 economy in the next 5 years. Please don’t allow people to kill you with constant negativity.
Instead of complaining about things, look at them as problems to be solved which means they are opportunities. If our largest demographic which is our youths deploy their energies to be problem solvers, the next generation of Nigerians will lead the world and it won’t just be the music and culture, but all the other elements will be right there. I can’t think of a better time to be a young Nigerian and I remain optimistic about the Nigerian possibility.
Do you have any project in the pipeline that you would like to let us know about?
I am a born collaborator and have been working with IsnHubs, the largest innovation hub network in Nigeria with over 150 hubs in 25 states to launch the Omniverse in association with GIZ and the EU’s digital transformation Nigeria project.
The Omniverse launch conference comes up November 13-16 at The Landmark and we are seeking to converge the tech, innovation and connected industries ecosystem.
In this way, we want to bring all parties together, to build collaboration within the community and to provide line of sight for all interested in our country. We believe that collaboration is a super power and we are bringing together academia, public policy experts, regulators, entrepreneurs and the Nigerian startup Ecosystem as well as the major aggregators and leaders in major sectors of the economy.
We invite everyone interested in development and growth to join the Omniverse and follow us on social media @youromniverse.org on all platforms.
____________________________ Obi Asika, Convener of the upcoming Omniverse is acknowledged to be one of the key African voices in the cultural, creative, innovation and sports sectors. He is a policy expert, thought leader, executive producer for Film and TV, Music and Live events and has a 30 year track record in the entertainment sector. He is one of the visionaries who with his record label Storm records, led the globalisation of Nigerian music and the global arrival of Afrobeats. He has created several TV shows, reality formats and also licensed and produced global formats. He was the executive producer for the first Big Brother Nigeria in 2005. He established Endemol Nigeria at that time. He was also Executive Producer for The Apprentice Africa, Dragons Den Nigeria, 100% Naija for Channel O, All Access Africa for Channel O. In addition to Vodafone Icons in Ghana and Naija Sings in Nigeria, both original reality formats. As Chairman, Co-Founder Ampn West Africa. he also launched The Winner Is and I love Nigeria which were Talpa Formats and before exiting, launched the Voice Nigeria. Obi was Chairman and Co-Founder of SocialMediaWeek Lagos, from 2012-2020 which became one of the largest new media conferences on the continent. Obi Asika was a member of the core group of the Presidential Advisory Committee for the Nigerian Start Up Act and has worked on significant legislation in the spaces affecting creative industries, ip, innovation, sports and the entertainment industry. Obi led the Technical Working Group in 2019-2021 which for the first time brought the CCHT (Culture, Creative, Hospitality, Tourism industries) to the Nigeria National Development Plan 2020-2050. Obi Asika has been the principal advocate for Nigerian Soft Power since 2010. He is also a member of the board of trustees of the Nigeria Olympic Movement and is presently also a judge on Nigerian Idol. He continues to produce important projects with the most recent being The Journey of the Beats on Showmax, a 10 part series which tracks the history and journey of Nigerian music through the ages. Obi Asika sits at the nexus of culture, content and technology. He continues to influence policy and leaders to bring more attention to these sectors which include, sports, entertainment, technology, art, fashion, culture and the wider creative industries. Mr Asika is a born storyteller and has spent a lifetime producing content in multiple ways across multiple platforms. Follow @Obi Asika on Twitter | Instagram | FB