•Reveals The Story Of BRILA FM @ 20
Dr Lawrence Osadomey Izamoje will clock 60 in a matter of days. He was born on the 24th of February 1962. But, he prefers a low key celebration. Why? The situation of the country is not looking good. A hard worker, Dr Izamoje pioneered Sports Radio in Nigeria and Africa when he founded Brila FM in Lagos, Nigeria in 2002. Brila was coined from the name of his wife (BRI) and his name (LA). The station, which is now a group of stations, turns 20 on October 1st, 2022.
Born in Onitsha, Nigeria, Dr Izamoje hails from Ekpon in Igwuoba, Local Government in Delta State. He is the fourth child in a family of nine and the second son in the family.
He is married with three daughters (Pheby, the senior, Debbie, the second, and Becky, the third). His wife, Bridget is his business partner. Dr Izamoje got his 1st and 2nd Degrees in Sociology from the University of Lagos before getting a Doctorate degree in 2012 from the Business School, Lausanne, Switzerland.
He recently spoke to City People’s Contributing Editor, IYABO OYAWALE on life at 60. Enjoy it!
You pioneered sports radio in Nigeria and Africa. How did you perform the feat?
We are independent producers. I was in mainstream sports, playing actively and broke my leg. The story is all over the internet. I broke my leg and had to go into talking sports. At a stage, it was clear that with programs on over 15 radio stations at that time in the country, the thing was about looking at how to grow the business. So, when my very good friend, Danladi Bako became the DG of the NBC, he said he wanted to have specialised broadcasting in Nigeria.
And talking with him, he said he wanted news radio, sports radio, specialisation in different fields. So when he mentioned sports radio, I said: “oh! that is my field”. And we keyed in. That is the story today.
How has it been running Brila FM for 20 solid years? I know you turn 20 this year?
Sweet and Sour like the Chinese would say. Sweet because it was a pioneering effort. Sweet because today the same road we opened first in Africa, other people in other African countries and also in Nigeria have followed. So, we thank God for helping us be the ones who opened that area of Sports service via broadcasting. Sour because in media planning services, you find that rating and rankings are still being done using the old template when specialised broadcasting had not been introduced into Nigeria. In America, the moment specialised broadcasting came into the system, the Americans devised a new way of measuring listenership and media audience but in Nigeria, it’s the same template that has been there before we came on board 20 years ago that they are still using. Sadly, agencies and others have not been able to also do their own independent thing. So, this impacts negatively and massively on what could have been our revenue in the last 20 years. It is so welcoming, we thank the Federal Government for it. On January 18, the government decided to inaugurate a committee that would come up with another kind, and a better kind of media audience measurement for Nigeria.
Today, we have so many people doing things digitally, online. How do you measure them? And people who place adverts use just one method in placing adverts. I think it is very wrong. Companies should also wake up if they know that times are beginning to swallow them. They too should wake up and rise with time.
If you ask me that has been one sour point. Another sour point has been heavy government taxes. Not long ago, we bought some microphones and we paid 20% of the fee as customs duty and then you wait and the same people would call you and say “help us use this story to promote societal development”. You don’t enjoy the kind of government support that you expect to enjoy. Another sour point is poaching in the sector. Nobody cares. Even when you seek redress in court, it takes 10 years, 5 years for the case to even be heard.
But generally, if you ask me, “do you want to continue doing this business?” My answer would be “yes” because it is something that has caused others to join. It is something that has raised the bar concerning sports broadcasting in Nigeria. So as I look back, I count the gains more than the pains.
And I thank God for it.
Thank God. Do you plan to celebrate your 20 years?
We are being careful, we are feeling the pulse of society. In a country where so many are below the poverty line, you want to say does it really call to beat drums when you are doing anything? I will soon be 60 and this is one birthday that has confused me a great deal. When I was turning 50, I knew exactly what to do. I gathered friends and family and we were at the Federal Palace Hotel, on Victoria Island, Lagos, a posh 5-star hotel, to beat the drums but here I am 10 years later. You look at the country, you look at so many people you know, people closing their businesses, people unable to guarantee three square meals and you are looking at how to continue to uplift people rather than roll out the drums to celebrate.
If you ask me, we are feeling the pulse of Nigerians. If you are in sports where we meet people who are really down, you will know there is a lot of suffering in the land. And that is what we will guage when we turn 20 on October 1, 2022.
You used to be Larry Echiejile because I have followed you for a while. What informed the name change?
My father was James Izamoje Echiejile. A great guy. A wonderful guy. A man that I will still want to be my father if there is another life. A man I am hoping that what he taught us will never leave us. So when he died on the 9th of December, 1996, my siblings and I decided that the only honour we could give would be, beyond the fanfare of burial, the only way we could give him real honour was to change our surname to Izamoje, which is his middle name and that is how it was done. Everything is legally effected.
I know you have some days to be 60, but how do you feel at 60?
To me, it is like another day. I keep working. I keep setting standards for myself. There are so many things I still want to achieve. To now rest at 60 is not to continue to give God praise. And so thank God I am not in the civil service where they say once you are 60, you start preparing your retirement notes. My goal is to keep building and to keep handing over some of the things we’ve built and look at other things we can still do.
At 50, I was celebrating my DBA, my Doctorate degree from the Business School, Lausanne, Switzerland. At 50, I accomplished that goal. At 60 and beyond, there are many things I still want to go into. One of them will be to impact today’s youth and continue to show people success strategies. Not that we call ourselves a success or not that I call myself a success. Success is a destination. So to show people why they should not rest on their oars, to tell people those things that we did that paved the way in a little way for us in a tough country like Nigeria.
What are the lessons life has taught you at 60?
Number one, to continue to give greater thanks to God Almighty. To look down and see those that you have passed or where God has got you from. Rather than looking up every time to those things you have not achieved. You see openings in the sky but do you know there are some people already buried? So as you aspire to buy a private jet, which I am, I don’t know tomorrow, if God lands it on my table, why not? There are certain things I don’t do, I do what is real and so to be more grateful to God Almighty. To take life one day at a time, know that at the end of the day, a good name is worth more than billions in the bank. And that is one thing I thank God for concerning my name and my person. Know that you have children who will be judged or perceived based on what you have done.
And also know that you have only borrowed life not from your parents but from your children. That is the way it is. You must live in such a way that your integrity speaks for you, honesty speaks for you, people can trace your footsteps and say this is what he did to get this. I know at the end of the day, Nigeria is a country we must continue to build and a country we must make better than we met it.
There are so many things life has taught me. To think deeply, to take a deep breath, when annoyed rather than acting on the spur of the moment. I can go on and on. So many things. And one other thing I have also learnt at 60 again I go to the first thing about Brila is to look at the downtrodden and see how you can lift people up.
Do you have a foundation for that sir?
Yes, I have registered Sports Hope Network to give hope to people who are in Sports because I can not carry every other thing. So, I am looking at my sector, the sector that God has used to bless me. I intend to look at those the sector has not been good to or those who also tried to raise the bar in the sector but met different things they never thought about. Let’s just see what we can do with Sports Hope Network.
It might not just be my funds, what do I really have? But we are also looking at how to work with companies, particularly their CSR departments and see how together, we can make sports alive for so many people. The hope that they have to do sports, we want to keep the hope alive.
That is why we labelled it Sports Hope Alive Network.
I am aware of your succession plan in Brila because I have already spoken to Debbie. Do you plan to hand over the running of the station now that you are 60?
Debbie is already operating the stations. We only recently started a new station in Port Harcourt. That opened on the 1st of January, 2022. We have also installed a new audio-visual service which Debbie mid-wifed. She is a lady but let me use the word there. And so you find that new things are coming. I am a realist. I am of the old school and here we are, it is time for new media, it’s time for the new school, you can’t operate effectively using old ways to run a new system. So Debbie is fully in charge. About handing over, we have since handed over. Debbie operates as our Chief Operating Officer and what I just do is advisory.
And because it is difficult for me, the only thing I really know how to do, apart from also preaching the Gospel, I can’t stay without talking sports so at times I tell them to allow me when there are big events to also cause my voice to be heard on the station which they do. I also do one programme, that is the only programme I do in a whole week. A 15-minute talk on Saturday morning called “Music And Sports Special” but apart from that, I am into other things and when she needs help, she comes to me and I think it is the right thing for people to start copying. Start planning your succession early, have a few years to do it. In our case, we did it for 5-years and it was strategic, it was well-planned, it was well-thought-out. Debbie, for example, has a Diploma in Sports Business Management from the Barcelona Sports Institute. Debbie has her 1st Degree, 2nd Class Upper in Information Management from the University of Sheffield. Because she was coming to manage a group of stations and other digital platforms under them, she attended University College, London, where she did Management.
Beyond that, she went to Harvard and got a Diploma in Innovation and Strategy. She went to Harvard for a Post Graduate short course and did an Online Certificate course in User Innovation from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). So we have invested greatly in her and I have not had any reason to doubt having her. Her being COO was a decision we took as a family (her mother, sisters and I were actively involved).
Now that you’re winding down on being actively involved in the running of the stations, what is a typical day in your life like?
I do a lot of reading, I do a lot of research. I am into different things. I will leave for the public to know when I start unfolding them. I enjoy reading. That is why I went back to school for a Doctorate degree from age 47 to age 50. I enjoy reading. I do some coaching, motivational talk here and there when invited. Not long ago, and I thank them for it, Heritage Bank gave me the opportunity of addressing men during the last Men’s Day and that is for 2 years running now. I also do work as a member of faculty for the Executive Sports Management Program of the Lagos Business School. We do that once a year and I have been on that faculty doing that very programme for them in the last 3 years. I was also invited not long ago to do one that they were planning for UNILAG but I don’t know what has happened.
I hope they still come on board. So, we have many things that we are into. I am also still researching better things to advise Debbie on. So, my plate is full, very full. Not as strong as I used to be. I also create time to rest. Not long ago, in fact 3, 4 days ago, I was at the Ikoyi Club to renew my membership. So, when a man starts going to the clubhouse, you now know that he is truly slowing down.
Do you have any regrets at 60?
No regrets. Perhaps I should have been slower but if I was slower, it becomes a very, I would say no regrets really. I don’t keep enemies, I don’t keep things in my mind. If you offend me, I tell you immediately. I love my God. I love my family. No regrets whatsoever. I am most thankful to God that there is no scandal, no negative reports around my name and person. People can trace what I have done and I will continue to do what I have done.
There are no regrets but I have things that I would have ventured into that I did not venture into. I wouldn’t call them regrets because I saw stumbling blocks on the way. Rather than being any form of regret, I want to thank God for his vision. It was a vision that saw Brila in the first place.
So God has been really gracious to me and that is why I Cor. 15:10 remains my best passage in the whole of the Bible where it says “it is the grace of God that you are who you are” and beyond that, you have really tried, you have really worked hard and that is my story.
I went from Lagos to Abeokuta every day for 6 years just to talk on the radio for 15 minutes. Hard work does not kill. It pays. If you work hard and decide to rest, it is a holy thing. God himself worked and rested. It was a holy thing.
So, it is good to work hard. It does not kill. Rather than doing “Yahoo Yahoo”, then you start running away from Law Enforcement Agents, do the right thing so that when you drive that big car you want to drive, even if they stop you, they will greet you when they hear your name. Remember armed robbers once held me, they put a gun to my head and when they heard my name, they removed it and we started talking sports (laughs).
That was the 11th of June, 2001. So, God has been gracious to me.