Alhaji (Dr) Ahmed Tijjani Ramalan once served as Kaduna state Chairman, National Republican Convention (NRC) .Also he was at the helm of affairs at JOMALIC in Lagos .But he has finally returned to Kaduna to establish a private radio station, Liberty Radio. In this interview with Iro Danjuma, he speaks on the challenges he faced while setting up Liberty Radio and denied nursing any ambition to occupy the Sir KASHIM Ibrahim House in Kaduna state 2015.
Dd you establish the radio station because of your political ambition to be governor of Kaduna state?
I have been a politician all my life, right from when I was the State Chairman of National Republican Convention (NRC). I was a member of the national executive committee. Since then I have been active in politics. But somehow with the government of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) I have not been active in politics. In fact, I always tell people that I have paid my dues as far as party politics is concerned in Kaduna and this part of the country. And also in government, I think I have paid my dues, I have served two times as the Chief Executive of Federal Government parastatals and I think under those periods I did my best, I eventually employed over 300 Nigerians when I was there.
So as far as party politics is concerned, I have paid my dues. I had wanted to retire and go for the Senate, which was in 2011 general elections, but unfortunately I had to withdraw due to some personal reasons, and I now came into the media.
And since then people have been speculating that I was fronting for Mr. XYZ, but they have forgotten that I have been in business since 1976, and I want to use this medium to tell you that I don’t really have any ambition to go for any elective office as far as this current democratic dispensation is concerned.
I am even looking forward to my disengagement from partisan politics very shortly. But, you see, in life, you can’t say you won’t do politics forever because you don’t know what God has for you in future. But for now I don’t have any ambition to contest. So, all those who are saying that I have gone into media business to prepare for governorship race are not correct.In fact, office of the governor is for younger ones now, for those between 40 and 50 years bracket. I am 58, so even if I have to go into politics, is to go to the National Assembly. I attempted, it was not possible. So I think I am happy with the media business am doing now.
Tell us what contribution has your radio station made so far in tackling insecurity in the North?
Well, our contribution as a station, since we started because we came in during some confusion in the country, which was during the protest against removal of fuel subsidy. Well, we did quite a lot by relaying messages from the government to the people and from the people to the government, and we have been doing so all through this unfortunate period. We have been having security challenges in the State. We are always there to reporting the way it is, and I think that is very important because before then, in Kaduna when you have these kind of crises, you tend to get silence from other stations, nobody tells the people what is happening.But Liberty radio came with some level of efficiency because whenever anything like that happened, say bomb blast, we send our reporters there to report from the scene of event, and that goes a long way to douse tension.
And in some of these cases, we open our lines so that people in our coverage areas could receive situation reports, and we also invited security officers from the military, Operation Yaki, the commissioner of police was here just to get update. We have a special programme which comes up every Sunday, I think between 2 and 3 pm specially dedicated to security and crime situation in the state. I think it is another medium of telling the people about what the government is doing in order to tackle security challenges. And of course, this helps quite a lot of us during curfew time to give some kind of therapy to bad situation we found ourselves. So I think Liberty radio is doing quite a lot in bringing about peaceful co-existence in the State.
Could you share your experience during this crisis period?
It has been very tough for us during crisis period because we made sure that whenever we are in crisis situation we want to remain on air. In fact, there were periods some of our staff in many parts of the metropolis could not even come to work. In fact, there was a time I had to convert to newscaster and newsreader. So you can see that it is not easy, but because of the delicate periods we have, we always want to be on air so that we can inform the people about the progress going on as far as security is concerned and dousing rumour which is very important. These rumours in most cases are causes of the crises we have been having especially in this era of facebook. You see somebody telling you something he never heard of. In such situation we send our reporters or the people we call Liberty citizen reporters to tell us what is happening in their areas, and they give us on the spot account of what is happening. This has helped security agencies pertaining to some of the crises we had in these areas. We brought the former Inspector General of police, Mike Okiro, he suggested how government should go about security situation.
Tell us how you are coping with competitors?
You see, this is the first time a radio station will come into the industry especially in this part of the country and shoot to the top. It is not that easy and I believe that coming to the top helps us a lot because when we started ,despite the competition in the industry, but of course, this is a private radio station. In fact, to me there was no competition before Liberty radio came on air, most of the radio stations were government owned stations, and of course they were being run by government intervention. But as a private radio station we came into the industry, we raised the bar. In fact, the very week we came into the industry, very unusual, the big time media buyers from Lagos started patronizing us. As you can see this business of radio is not all that a bad business as most people are portraying. It is a N10 billion business, that is what the radio company and advertising industry pay annually, and Kaduna itself has about N1 billion budget for radio advertising in Kaduna and our target is to make 50 percent of that budget. So honestly, I don’t think there was much competition before we came into the industry. But now Liberty radio here and every competitor is on his toes, and I believe that it is a very good thing because, our sister stations, I won’t call them our rivals, we are all in the same industry and I think there is enough for everybody if you do the right thing because in this era of digitalization, no radio station will make it if it is not having digitalized equipments. It is very important, and content too is very important. If your content is not appealing to the listeners, nobody will listen to you, and that is why before we came in, we did our market survey, we did our feasibility study, we got our content in place, and we have only released 30 percent of our content, and I believe other stations must surely put efforts. In the African summit we attended in Abuja where all radio stations were invited, it was made very clear that as we migrate from analog to digital transmission, content is the key and that is why we in Liberty make content a top priority. In fact, we are even going beyond that to set up a content production and business centre, not only to train Liberty staff, but also to train broadcasters in the industry.
Were you at any time tempted to back out of the business?
To be honest with you, when we had that unfortunate collapse of our 105 metres mast, because right from the word go, I knew that most radio stations had this kind of problem of collapse of towers, collapse of mast, and that was why we did not go for local fabricated tower. We went for a Southern African tower which is a foreign tower. So when it collapsed, the market value of that tower is about N39 million, and the cost of raising the tower, to put it up is about N10 million. So you see, we have clearly lost almost N50 million just due to human error. Honestly that affected us quite greatly, and in fact, it was a Monday morning when this thing happened. I was sleeping at home, the phone rang, the station manager called me that our tower has collapsed. The first thing that flashed my mind was that I hope no loss of life because when we are in an area where we have residential houses and so on. So when I came to the station and saw the collapsed tower on our facilities, I thanked God Almighty because nobody was injured, only that the collapsed tower damaged the building. After the initial shock, I said what next, we talked about, we even thought of moving to some areas where we may not need to put a mast, like some of the high rising buildings along Ahmadu Bello Way.But then we thought again that even those stations that are transmitting from high building have their own problem, and to go and join them, it means we will be part of the whole problem. So after 3 days, I came back, and I said I must forge ahead, I will not allow the dream to die. So we have to go for another tower which we got from UK, and as God will have it, we quickly got the tower from Lagos from someone who imported it for a radio station, and he was willing to dispose it, and we bought it, and we moved ahead. But the good thing about it is that we got that disappointment when we supposed to go on air in November 2011, we made budgetary allocation for massive publicity and advert because we knew that we are coming into the industry where you have a radio station that has been since 1964, so the budget we had for advertisement and so on was there, and when we started, there was this fuel subsidy crisis, and the advantage we got by having other stations up here made what happened as a kind of blessing because when we started broadcasting in January 2012, and with the advantage we had, with other stations off air at that time, gave us a boost that money couldn’t have bought. In fact we didn’t spend up to 5 percent of the money we budgeted for publicity and advertisement because there was no need again. We had wanted to go on network, on NTA, AIT and newspapers. So I think we had wanted to back out at one point, but God in His infinite mercy gave us the courage to forge ahead.
Any plan to expand your network?
You see, in radio you must expand because you need to meet your listeners’ needs, like you know we have a radio station which is 91.7 that broadcasts in English and Hausa. We have 70 percent of our content in English, and 30 percent in Hausa, but in my feasibility study, my intention was to have an English station because I wanted a viable station not just for money. All the studies I got from professionals, indicated that a radio station in Kaduna stands the chance of patronage by the media gurus in Lagos because the truth of the matter is that if you are going to survive on broadcasting in northern Nigeria, you won’t get anything from the local adverts, you just have to rely on media agencies in Lagos. So we have been doing this experiment on 70/30, but from what we have seen so far, our Hausa listeners have 30 percent and they are not satisfied, the English listeners have 70 percent, and they are not satisfied. From our interaction with media agencies in Lagos, we have seen that we will be ok we have 100 percent Hausa and other languages station. That is why in December last year, we applied to the NBC to give us a second channel which if we get the license from NBC, we are going to have Hausa and other Nigerian languages. So this is our plan of having another channel in form of expansion because we are going to have two radio stations with one facility, so there won’t be much investment because already we have the mast, we have the staff, we have the facility, we have the generator. What we may do is to have a studio which may translate into an increase in revenue. We are also trying to have a television station, a current affairs television station, and we have seen the market of the television station we are going to have because we rely on expert opinion. From our research, the big radio station have dominated the airwaves, and is going to be difficult for any new television station, so we are trying to have Hausa television station, current affairs Hausa television station because we believe that that kind of outfit will take a big chunk of the market nationwide. That is our next programme.
On staff welfare:
Before we started recruiting our staff, we had to sit down and look at media in Kaduna, we sent out people to go and get us the condition of services of all the broadcast media in Kaduna, the state government and private owned media, and of course the Federal Government owned outfit, and we said since we want to have the best out of the best, we must also give our staff something that is good. So we had to take a condition of service that is above the state government level, above the private radio station in Kaduna, but not up to that of the federal establishment, so I believe our package is a very good one by a private radio in Kaduna. And I always tell our staff that as a businessman, if everything goes on fine, because this is not the first business I am putting together from scratch, if it goes on fine it will also translate into their condition of service. Of course, issue of life policy insurance, it is very important, and I don’t want you to forget that at one time, I was in charge of the labour regulating body, I am very conversant on labour issues and I believe life insurance is something that we are going to put in place for our staff.