Picture a police line-up. Yes, I know—we don’t do those here, but you’ve seen a ton of Hollywood movies. So, yes. Now, picture a police line-up. Ten 50-something-year-olds. All dark. Medium height. Verdant eyebrows. Controlled salt and pepper goatees. Polished domes. Your task: pick out Tajudeen Adepetu. Can you? Most people can’t. But if you ask Mr Adepetu, he’s just fine with that.
For a person who’s been in broadcasting for more than 30 years, the legend of Tajudeen Adepetu — creator of hit TV shows Everyday People and Family Circle, as well as the Soundcity Radio Network, SoundCity TV, ONTV, ONMax, Trybe TV, Spice TV, and UrbanTV — is that as large as he looms over Nigeria’s entertainment industry, he has continued to pull a ginormous disappearing act. Writer, producer, and director, he’s the showbiz personality who’s good with the show and great – some have said “the best”—with the biz.
The evidence is all there, isn’t it? Since 1993 when Adepetu, 56, launched Consolidated Media Associates, his holding company of media channels and production studios, he has never stopped growing it, filling all tangents you may think of with expert content sourced from home and abroad.
“When you do something and you succeed in it, and people can associate with it,” he says. “You of course develop it as time goes on, and expand it. That is how we have gotten to where we could seek and obtain a cable license and a satellite program distribution license from the National Broadcasting Commission.”
Today, CMA is the largest media organisation in West Africa. Content from CMA, which the company self-reported, reaches an audience of about 100 million in 70 countries.
Wasn’t it only yesterday, speaking figuratively, that Tajudeen Adepetu was the constant name at the end of 90’s kids’ favourite shows? When teenaged boys and girls, and their parents, wondered, Who is this Tajudeen Adepetu? Twenty years later, they may still wonder, but the name he’s built ranks number one in the markets he’s chosen.
For instance, before Adepetu’s Televista, Telenovelas were those series you saw sporadically on some terrestrial channels. The fun thing about them, to some, was that the audio never synched with the mouth movements. Weird. But it was fun. For others—a sizeable, monetisable group nonetheless—the strange love arcs in such massive hits as The Rich Also Cry and Wild Rose were nothing if not divine theatre. But what if you could turn a tap to an endless stream of telenovelas? Adepetu’s Televista was his, Hey, why not. Televista led the way in Nigeria for others like Telemundo.
To get to his startling milestones in the tight Nigerian economy, Adepetu, who was raised in cold, creative Jos, in an interview with Success Digest magazine, lists his six rules to seeing a nebulous idea through to a profitable concrete state.
One of the tricks he’s mastered, he calls it a “War Game.” Other businessmen might call it scenario planning. Contingency Planning. Murphy’s Law mollification, even. But Adepetu thinks of it as a series of battles for the very soul of his creation. Why, because it’s not just about knowing you might have to deal with “challenges,” he says.
But those may turn out to be fatal for the unrehearsed. “Your trusted aids or highly qualified staff that you trained may decide to leave, as is very common in our industry where we have a huge need for qualified hands, and [there’s] lots of poaching. The guy that is to write the next script may not show up, and you find yourself the one to complete it in a state of tiredness.”
So, “I ask myself ‘what are the possible things that could happen to prevent me from reaching that goal?’ I put everything in proper perspective,” he says.
His other principles rest on defining the task and keeping an eye on that ball; getting advice from “people who know more than you do,” people who may, for example, show you how to access funding;” researching it; giving yourself sufficient time “to see your goal accomplished”; and, of course, keeping the passion burning.
In the beginning, that passion was all Adepetu had—a passion for spending whole days glued to the TV, watching movies, calling out what might have been better done. Then, he went to the Nigerian Television College, Jos and later, the University of Jos, where he majored in Theatre Arts.
Adepetu’s first job was as a producer of radio jingles and spots. After two years of doing that, he says, “I found out that inasmuch as I loved radio, it was not as fulfilling for me as I would have loved” so one day, no job waiting for him in the city, he chose one day to “pack up my bag and come to Lagos because I believe that Lagos was the place to be.” That was in 1991.
The film and TV sector in Nigeria has since ballooned, as Nollywood (aka Nigeria’s film industry) grew by quantity and quality. These days, pictures made by Nigerians now show on streaming services like Netflix, Showmax, and Amazon Prime Video.
Meanwhile, Adepetu’s command of TV and radio has kept him wildly distinguished among his colleagues, including the more media-celebrated ones.
He is known, for instance, as the man whose drama series Family Circle was the first locally scripted show on Nigeria’s first privately owned TV network Africa Independent Television, AIT. He was also the line producer on the landmark movie Critical Assignment, which stared the fictional journalist and action man Michael Power. He created the modern Nigerian On-Air Personality when at the debut of Soundcity TV, he made stars of presenters Denrele Edun and soul singer Djinee.
In 2022, CMA will mark 30 years of soldiering on as a Nigerian business. Right from this moment and well beyond that time, Tajudeen Adepetu may find himself pressed to turn the camera on himself more than he’s ever done before.
Being the most successful entrepreneur in the space and as the success of Nollywood continues to draw in young Nigerians, many would wish to learn from the Most Valuable Player in the game, just as Adepetu himself would have done. When these younglings look around, to whom will they point their finger? That person, clearly, is Mr Adepetu.
This article was first published in The Guardian (Nigeria) on December 12 2020.