Sunday, 28 December 2014

Every radio station in Lagos refused to hire me –BBC’s Okwoche

By Onche Odeh,

 Peter Okwoche, a regular host of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)’s Focus on Africa news magazine programme is a man whose identity has confused many people that have encountered him.

To many viewers of the BBC programme, he may just be another kid from East Africa, while many others think he is Ghanaian because of his closeness with the late anchor of the programme, Kumlar Dumor.

That he is a Nigerian is a fact that also surprises many others. More surprising is the fact that he hails from Benue State, a state in North Central Nigeria known for producing more military men and farmers than journalists of broadcast orientation.

Although he bears the name Peter, which is commonly given to the other half of a male twin often named Paul in Nigeria and other countries colonised by the British, not so many people outside the family and friends know he is born twins.

Birth and early life

Born in 1968 in Jos, Plateau State, North Central Nigeria, Okwoche sees nothing wrong about being born a twin. This is against popular belief in most Nigerian communities that twins are special kids that bear some spiritual.

Reliving this impression, Okwoche told Sunday Independent, “I have an identical twin brother, which is great. Many believe this means we are mischievous. But, I disagree. I think it is really cool being a twin though. It means you have a best friend from birth.”

Speaking on his early years of life, Okwoche spoke about how much he enjoyed Jos, a place he said he still cherishes above any other in the world.

“I spent my first few years in Jos and then went back there for university. It’s still my favourite place in the world, despite all the problems of the last few years.”

Parental influence

As a child, Okwoche said he was tutored by a highly disciplined diplomat father and educationist mother. Despite feeling the pain of being restricted some times, he still feels his parents were the biggest influence he had while growing up.

He said, “My parents are great. They are perhaps the biggest influences in my life to date. Everything I have ever done is to make them proud. Both are retired educationists and administrators. After university, they said I must teach as well, just like they did.

“Their reason was that teaching young people, in turn teaches you to be patient.”

Although Okwoche did not agree with his parents at that initial time, he said he was happy he did later, wishing to do so again later in life.

“I must say I didn’t agree with them then at first; but, I am so happy I took their advice later, because I fell in love with teaching and hope to go back one day,” he said.

On his father, he said, “My dad, Oga Okwoche, was Nigeria’s former Ambassador to France, while my mother, Comfort Injori Okwoche, is a retired educationist. Both of them knew the importance of formal and informal education.

“So, apart from making sure we did our school work on time, they allowed us to travel as well and it wasn’t just travel for travel sake. It was for us to learn about our world and not just outside the country, but within as well,” he added.

This travel lesson is one Okwoche said he can never forget. He said, “By the time I was 21, I had been to almost every state in Nigeria. I look at some Nigerians who have been to many countries from Australia to Canada, to Chile to Germany, but have only been to Lagos and Ibadan. If you don’t know about your home, how can you tell others about it? When I joined the BBC, I was ashamed about how little I knew about Africa. But, I am catching up now and loving it.”

He also spoke of what kind of punishment he dreaded most from his parents.

“My parents weren’t too big on corporal punishment. The worst thing my dad could do to me was to say, “Don’t talk to me for week!” and proceed to ignore you completely. Kai! That used to kill me a lot.”

Relationship with twin brother

He also spoke of a wonderful relationship with his twin brother. He, however, confessed that they do have cases of ‘healthy rivalry.’

“My twin brother, Paul (Everyone else calls him Mario), is my best friend. We do have a healthy rivalry. It pushes us. We think alike, but we are quite different. So, he’s cool to bounce ideas off. He’s got a very sharp mind and he’s more ‘Street Smart’ than I am. He’s a great guy.

Peer influence

As a young man, Okwoche said, he’s “been there, done that.”

He said, “As a young man, you do what young men do; party, drink and all that. It’s not too unusual; but as long as you have your head screwed-on right and don’t get carried away, you’ll be alright. I’m happy I went through that phase of life. Now, I’ve left all that behind. Been there, done that, you know what I mean? But, I wouldn’t change my younger days for anything. I had a blast.

The Okwoches

“I come from a very a close-knit family,” Okwoche said, while also disclosing that he has over 80 fist cousins whom he knows by name.

“I have over eighty (yes, 80!) first cousins and I know all of them by name. That’s how we were brought up. I have one elder brother. I also have a younger sister. She lives about two minutes from me in London. So, I’ve got family around me. I am married. My wife is from Cross River State and she’s a writer. We have two kids; Tyrese, who has just started secondary school and Kenya, who is the most precocious nine-year-old you’ll ever meet.

Peter Okwoche, the DJ

While at the University of Jos where he studied Theatre Arts, Okwoche was in a band, called Hot Ice, that was formed by him and some friends. This helped fire up his love for music, as he said.

“A couple of my friends and I got together and decided to start a band. We all liked music. We played every kind of music; Rock, Funk, Reggae, Jazz, you name it, we played it. We were a very eclectic bunch. I played the bass guitar and also sand back up vocals. I also rapped for the group.”

He said he later learnt other skills like how to play the drums, adding, “We were a band of brothers.”

When most of the band members graduated from the university, his twin brother, Paul, took over affairs and changed the name to Pep talk.

“It was great. Unfortunately, we don’t play anymore; but, it would be nice to jam with all the guys again,” Okwoche said.

After teaching for two years post university, he became Disc Jockey and Presenter at Radio Benue, Makurdi, where he said cut his teeth as a broadcaster.

From Benue to Lagos and BBC

After spending three years in Radio Benue, where he had a blast, Okwoche thought it was time to seek bigger challenges.

He said, “I loved the three years I spent in Radio Benue, but after that time, I wanted a bigger stage. So, I moved to Lagos. But every radio station I applied to work in refused to give me a job. Then, Hints magazine, the biggest romance magazine in the country then, was just about going into movies and radio programmes.

“So, they decided to hire me to oversee that section. We had several successes, but after five years or so.”

He was still unfulfilled, as he wanted to work in a radio station, after the Makurdi experience.

He said, “I really wanted to get back fully into radio. Rhythm FM gave me a job and I ended up presenting several programmes on the station, including the Breakfast Show, Lunch Hour and the late night shows. I was later asked to move to Abuja to head the programmes department. After a year or so, the BBC came calling and here I am. I’ve been with the BBC for 10 years now and I’m still loving it.”

Favourite music genre, fashion

Okwoche said he loves the four Rs of music (Rock, Reggae, Rap and R’n’B.), although he also listens to other genres like Gospel, Heavey metal, Punk, if it sounds good.

“The only two genre’s that I can’t get my head around are Fuji and country music,” he said.

On fashion, he said, “I have to wear a suit to work every day. I like to look smart on set. But, looking over dressed or shabby can distract the viewer from the news you are giving out. I’m not too fashion conscious though.

I’m, however, lucky that the BBC provides a fashion consultant who helps us out. Away from work, I am Jeans man. I love Jeans. Easy to wear, easy to maintain. I also love shoes. My wife says I have too many. I agree, but I’ll probably go out and buy another pair now.”

Love for job

During this journey, he said he learnt some lessons. But, the hook for him is that hard work pays.

“I love my job; so it’s easy for me to concentrate on it. I do a great deal of research before I go on air everyday. It’s important because you don’t want to look foolish on air. But, it’s been great. I could actually do my job for free (Don’t tell my boss oh!) That’s how much I love it.”

He may be having a great time out there in the United Kingdom now; but, he is thinking seriously about how to give back to Nigeria.

“One day, it’ll be time to move back to Nigeria and impart some of what I learnt to the younger ones. Remember, I said I would like to go back to teaching or mentoring. There have been some wobbles along the way, but not many because I’m doing what I like.

Living in the UK as a Nigerian

“I love London,” was the response when asked what it feels to live and work in London. According to Okwoche, there’s so much to do there.

“When you live here you feel it’s the centre of the world. I believe there’s someone from every part of the world living in London. It’s a bit crowded though. But, hey! You can’t have it all your own way.”

He, however confessed that he misses home a lot. He said, “I miss home too. I do return home at least two or three time every year so that’s not too bad”.

Speaking on what he misses most about home, Okwoche said, “I think what I miss most is that I can’t just jump in the car and go and see my parents. And sometimes on a very cold evening, when I call Paul and he’s hanging out with some of our friends, it can get a bit lonely then. But otherwise, I’m quite cool like that!”

Working for the BBC has helped compensate for this, an experience he simply described as great.

He said, “I think we are the best news organisation in the world (I really believe that). I have grown so much in the last decade and I am still growing.”

Kumla Dumor

Okwoche and Kumla Dumor where like an inseparable duo at the BBC, until death snatched Dumor away.

Like Okwoche, Dumor studied Medicine at the University of Jos.

Speaking on Dumor, Okwoche said, “KD was my really good friend. We’d been friends for nearly two decades before meeting up at the BBC. We met at the University of Jos. He was studying Medicine and I was studying Theatre Arts.

“He was four years younger than me, but he was my mentor. The guy was so slick and was among the very best at our job. I learnt so much from him. We used to call Studio B, where we present Focus on Africa from, our playground. We always liked to have fun on the programme. Because, we’d known each other for that long. Our banters during the show were effortless. Sometimes only the two of us knew what we were talking about. I miss him very much.”

He insists that the most emotional moments of his life have been when his children were born. He said, “I had never held anything so beautiful in my life. I was there when my son was born. But, unfortunately, I missed my daughter’s birth. But, holding them was so amazing. It still is. To me, having kids ensures immortality.”

Words for Nigerian journalists

Okwoche expressed happiness that journalism is now taking a firm hold in Nigeria. He, however, said it is for the journalists to ‘shoot straight.’

“The only thing we have is our integrity. Once you lose that as a journalist, you are nothing. I keep telling young journalist, that ‘Brown Envelope’ that looks good at the time you are collecting it compromises you, which means you can never do your job well. And in the end people will know.”

Speaking on quality of Nigerian print media, he said, “If you read Nigerian newspapers today, you can almost tell which reporter has collected a bribe to skew a story. You can tell. And then no one takes you seriously.”

Source: Daily Independent

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