Tracking down erstwhile presenter and anchorman with Channels TV, Sulaiman Aledeh, was not a walk in the park but THEWILL’s David Oputah was determined to get him to talk on what made him quit the service of the major broadcast station where he stood out as one of the anchors of Sunrise Daily and other programmes of the television channel. Getting to his new office at Apapa, Lagos, was made difficult by the numerous trucks that have turned the road leading there to the permanent parking lot. David eventually succeeded in placing the tall, easy-going Sulaiman on the hot seat, where the former Channels TV staff had often times placed newsmakers. In this first part of a two-series interview, he talks about his sojourn into broadcasting; his craving for good diction and eloquence; life in school studying philosophy and practising broadcasting by the side; how he got VIP treatment during his NYSC days in Ebonyi state courtesy of then Governor Sam Egwu; and of course, why he left Channels TV for Arise TV Network. Enjoy!
What drives you, what is responsible for your success in broadcasting?
Basically, for me, I think it is success and failure. (Laughs) Yes. I push so I don’t fail. I strive to be successful at what I do. That’s what really propels me to keep going on and on at what I do.
You studied Philosophy in your first degree, obtained a Masters degree in Humanitarian Studies. How does your educational background connect with broadcasting?
It connects a great deal. I think, with Broadcasting, first you have to have the interest. Your interest is what helps you when you start going for training to perfect the art; it is an art. Most communicators, especially those in the broadcasting industry, many – because I like biographies a lot – do not have first degrees in communication. So the passion and interest, the love, helps you build on what you would encounter as you progress on the job. Look at someone like Richard Quest, many don’t know that he’s a lawyer by profession, but he’s doing really well in broadcasting, he’s a fantastic journalist.
For Philosophy, I love it any time, any day; it is the king, yes, it’s the ultimate because there’s hardly anything you’d study in life that you don’t have the philosophy aspect of it. So, Philosophy is, aptly put, really the love of knowledge, whether it is astronomy, medicine or journalism. Back in School, we did Philosophy of Language, and my lecturer on that course would look out for me to make sure I was in class before teaching, and if I wasn’t, he’d get really angry because I’d already started broadcasting from my university days and it didn’t make sense for anyone whose path is already in the broadcast world as a student not to be in that Philosophy of Language class.
So, philosophy has helped me a great deal and every course, I’m happy you’re also a journalist, there’s no knowledge that is wasted, which is the beauty of journalism. Going for my Masters to study Humanitarian and Refugee Studies, Refugee Law, at the University of Lagos was also very cool. Looking at the world today, strife everywhere, people displaced; refugees everywhere. I have a better understanding of their plight as well as the terms to use in knowing who a displaced person is, who a refugee is, who a stateless person is; the rights and privileges of these persons. It helps me when I write my story, it helps me when I analyse issues or interview people on that.
How did you come about the good diction and eloquence that have stood you out?
I have always loved pronunciations growing up. I lived in a place where pidgin was second nature for many people -Benin City. Many would prefer or love or understand pidgin instead of their traditional languages. I’m careful not to use the phrase ‘mother tongue’ because I have come to realise that mother tongue is the first language you encounter as a child, so if pidgin was the first language this child understood growing up, that’s the mother tongue. If it’s Benin, Yoruba, or Spanish, that becomes your mother tongue. So for many people, pidgin was their mother tongue there.
I loved listening to the Voice of America (VOA) then, not even the BBC because then there wasn’t DSTV; I used to listen to a program on VOA by Ray McDonald. He was the anchor of the program ‘Top 20 Billboard Countdown’. What I did was, I would record with a cassette and then playback to listen to what he had done, and it stuck. So I realised that words were not really how we pronounced some of them, and that was before I even went to spoken communication schools and even the FRCN training schools. I realised that many words were not properly pronounced and even though we were still in Benin, I started taking interest in words. When I watched movies, I would see how words were pronounced.
For example, I wondered when ‘bomber’ is pronounced, I asked myself why is it that the ‘B’ is silent, if someone says ‘plumber’, I want to know why the ‘B’ is silent and not ‘plumBer’ so I wanted to know why someone would say ‘representative’ and not ‘RepreSENtative’. So, I started learning stress placements and stress shifts this was while I was still in high school.
When I started broadcasting, it was easy for me because I challenged those who were on radio at that time. And I asked my big brother, ‘What are these people saying? I can do better than them.’ That was how I got into broadcasting. He just drove me to the radio station, we met someone -he’s late now, God rest his soul- Sheikh Mukhtar Momoh, he was the Manager of programs, Edo Broadcasting Service, and they told him I had interest, and that was exactly the same time I was doing my registration to get into first year in UNIBEN.
So side-by-side, I did an audition and I was asked to come back; I did, and that was how I was given programmes to present as a freelance. I wasn’t paid, I was a student in UNIBEN, I was doing radio. I did that for about one week; the second week, the controller programmes, Sidi Lawal Ighio, invited me over to her husband’s private concern, a TV program called ‘Here and There’, and that was how I was co-opted into a TV programme again while I was still doing radio, alongside Cordelia Okpei; the present General Manager of Metro FM. I was working as a reporter under her. She was the lead anchor of ‘Here and There’. I was doing radio, TV and schooling.
Not too long after, another producer who is a very senior person now, -he’s still in the station- Oseni Salami, pulled me again to be with him on ‘Weekend Rendezvous’, a weekend programme. And that was how the first really big entertainment programme started on TV in Edo state then.
On Weekend Rendezvous, he gave me a slot for entertainment, and I was wondering what do I do? I then remembered Ray McDonald, so I went back to what he was doing and I decided to copy that, Billboards Top 20 Countdown. I’d listen to him on Friday night and record everything with my tape, then I’d transcribe. I’d listen, pause, write, listen. I was learning the art of scripting as well as the art of delivery through him. So I’d come back on Saturday morning and basically talk back the Top 20 Countdown – ‘here are the top 20 billboard count down through radio air play record store sales and duration on the chart ….bla bla bla’ I still have them in my head, (laughs) so we just talk about all of those top 20 countdown,
It was huge, it was big, and that was how the journey started from radio to two television programmes.
I was given some money on ‘Here and There’ only, and that was because it was a money-making business for the man then, Pastor Mike Ighio. He was paying some allowances. But for the ones I did with Edo Broadcasting Service, there was no allowance. And we loved it, we were happy we were doing it. I did all that till I left school, and then…
From school to youth Service, Ebonyi Broadcasting Service, EBBS; I served in Abakaliki. Everyone wanted me to influence my service, I never did; not that I tried, I never did. People were afraid, ‘oh, guinea worm outbreak in Ebonyi’ at that time. I said no, I was going. When I got there, I joined the Orientation Broadcast Service (OBS), without them knowing I had the experience. You can imagine someone who has been on radio and television for four years; they thought I was a Corps member who just dabbled into it. So I went on air and God was on our side; it was fantastic.
Then I was chosen to give the vote of thanks on behalf of the entire Corps members during the swearing-in ceremony. Right from the swearing-in ceremony when I gave the vote of thanks, the Governor at that time, Dr Sam Egwu, said, ‘Post him to EBBS.’ Everybody was rejoicing, and I was wondering, because they had not even started posting, that was the swearing-in, we just came on. So I asked what EBBS was, and they said Ebonyi Broadcasting Service; I said wow. That was how I knew where I was going to be posted to.
Then the life began: I was posted there and Ebonyi state did nice things for me while I was there; they made sure they cared for me. I had two other Corps members who moved in with me in my flat. Once in a while, they would bring drinking water for us, you know, I was specially treated by the government at that time. I did the one year of service and when I finished, I returned to Benin.
I didn’t spend up to forty-eight hours after my return before Cordelia called me; she asked me in pidgin, ‘Wetin you dey do for Benin?’ I said I was just chilling, and she said, ‘Come to Lagos!’ That was how I left Benin for Lagos. I met her in Metro FM. The station had just rebranded from RN2 to Metro FM. I joined them, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Was that where you met your wife?
How did the journey….
(Cuts in) I don’t like talking about how we met. I think I’ll keep that memoir in the book, really. I met her, or rather, she met me. She met me there. She wasn’t working there; I got there before her, but I don’t like talking about it. It’s a part of me that should come pretty much later.
So from Metro FM to TVC, TVC to Channels, and from Channels, now to Arise TV. What has it been like?
It’s been interesting; you learn every day and it was quite interesting coming through TVC. Before TVC, they had a name, Link 65, then G 65, before it became TVC. The audition, I can’t forget the audition, it was huge; it was crowded. A lot of people were at the gate trying to get in, trying to get a space to be auditioned. Finally I sailed through and we started a programme; it was awesome. Dele Alake, the head then, was a fantastic administrator; Lemi Olalemi, all these people were fantastic and I was there. So while I was leaving, I thought, okay, I want to go to Channels, let me go to Channels because I’ve always heard that it’s the best, so let me go and work with the best.
Coming to Channels was a dream come true. I did all the interviews, I don’t know if they still do it, but it was really tough getting into Channels, for anyone who wanted to come in. There was the written interview and also the oral one. You were given some tests to write. I did all of that and I was also lucky to get in.
Was getting into Channels TV your big break?
The big break is not yet here.
But you said you wanted to work with the best, and at that time…
I have always dreamt; I still dream, and whatever I dream has come to pass and I’m excited about that. I dreamt, as a young boy, of attending UNIBEN. UNIBEN was the in thing around my area then, my locality, everyone wanted to go to UNIBEN. It was like Cambridge, Harvard or Oxford, MIT. I wanted to go to UNIBEN. I didn’t want to go to other schools. And it came to pass. So, that’s it. I said I wasn’t going to influence my Youth Service, let’s see how it plays out, how it pans out. It worked for me, I survived, I made friends in the East. If anything, I understand how to pronounce many South-Eastern names, and that is an added knowledge to my kitty. I also dreamt of, I was supposed to be at Rhythms. I remembered when I was coming up, I was supposed to go to Rhythms. I had a talk with them but my dad and a few people said it’s always best when you leave school, to start work with the government. So I started working with the government, and that was a blessing because at every point, every year, I was trained, free of charge.
If you go through the basic, the intermediate, the advanced of any field presentation, they wait and they look, ‘Okay, what next?’ Then they say okay, come for production, what next?, come for script writing. But when I finished all that, and I went into the private world of media practice, none ever gave me that kind of opportunity I had with the Federal Government. So sometimes I tell people that there’s still some kind of goody within the Federal Civil Service, if you really have a good parastatal or agency that really works, and you have a good person who is heading that. And at that time, we had Dr Eddie Iroh, a fantastic administrator. He gave me, and all of us, because at that point in time we were with Metro FM and many thought it was privately owned. This comes from the thinking that anything that is better run is a private concern.
So we had the three male voices then on Metro at that point in time, just Frank Edoho (the host of ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’), Charles Anazodo now with Super Sports, and myself. Today all three of us are on television. We all had the best of training while at Metro; for us, diction, pronunciation, presentation skills, speaking right was all that mattered to us, and it helped us when we got there. That’s why I’m saying the big break is not here yet.
So, how was it like at Channels?
Yes, I love my sojourn at Channels and that’s another place anyone who wants the best should be because you’re not talking about someone who is an entrepreneur, you’re not talking about someone who is into politics or someone who is bereft of the rudiments, technicalities, knowledge of the trade. You’re talking about someone who, in an ideal world, you can call the professor in broadcast journalism and that’s Mr John Momoh. So for you to work there, it’s an added advantage, it’s a school in itself, a school whereby as you work, you learn.
The semblance I get there is the kind of semblance you pick from Radio Nigeria where you have so many people, some of them are dinosaurs. I call them that because they have retired but they are still very much there; they are listening to you, you make a mistake, they pick up the phone and call you and tell you this is it, and on and on it continued, just like that. That’s what we also have in Channels Television because Mr Momoh is like an Octopus, he’s got his hands on so many pies and he listens to everyone and once he’s chanced, he has this one-on-one with people to impart that kind of knowledge. You can’t give what you don’t have; he’s got it, so he’s giving it back to those in need of it.
Any regrets leaving Channels?
No, I don’t regret, never! I don’t regret. I’m strong-willed. I think, the day I was leaving, someone asked me if I was broken. Perhaps the person had something in mind while asking me if I was broken, if I felt bad, and all that. I smiled, because it tells a story that definitely means something wasn’t right about something, perhaps. But I decided to ignore it; maybe this person saw something I didn’t see or something everyone thought I should see.
But I don’t regret. I’ll prefer people to hurt me than to hurt people, that’s how I see life. I love people to hurt me, I’m serious. I don’t like to hurt people, it’s always good for people to do what they are doing; when they do that, it’s best for you to move on and say, ‘Well, God, this is what has happened,’ and move on. So, I don’t regret. Never. I have colleagues; I try to also qualify people. If I work in a place, if you’re not my friend, you’re not my friend; you’re my colleague. (Laughs) If you’re an acquaintance, that’s what you are. Some people make the mistake of saying, ‘Oh, my friends.’ No. The fact that we work together or are cousins doesn’t make you my friend. My brother could be just my brother, or he could also be my friend as well. I try, as I grow up, to define all of that, and that’s what I also teach my children. If this is your classmate, then that’s what that person is, not your friend. If your friend is ten or a thousand miles away, that’s your friend. That’s how I worked there. I have friends, I have colleagues, I have people. We live in a world where communication is there, so I don’t regret anything.
People are still confused. What really happened? Why did you leave Channels?
I was sad! I wasn’t happy anymore. I felt I should be doing something else to make me happy. I felt, eight years, I needed to do something more, create an opportunity for myself, a new vista. I’ve always loved to be, to do. I’m a social advocate, I’ve always loved the online media and I was playing, doing my thing online while I was with Channels. At that time, I had my blog sulaialedeh.blogspot which was what I was doing then. But I stopped, because I couldn’t continue, and it was like a conflict, or a drawback, when you have some kind of silence in what gives you joy, like closed doors, and everyone believes that you can’t dare, you can’t evolve; you can’t aspire. I hate restrictions. I’m claustrophobic; I hate small spaces, and it also happens to me when it has to do with my mental being, my mental thinking.
When I think that you’re boxing me into a corner, I try to run. So I thought for a while, I didn’t have space, I was being put in a hole, I was choked, I was choking. It was really something that I don’t like to think about. There are things that you can always see in a movie, but I think they were all happening, all at the same time, and I tried as much as possible to let it wear out before I take a walk.
How did you survive all that?
I think maybe I survived because I pray. I’m not a holy person, but I pray. I’m a sinner who acknowledges the fact that he’s a sinner but I pray, daily, a lot. When you pray you wouldn’t think of committing suicide. If you communicate, and you also believe in the leap of faith, you also believe strongly -call it dogmatism-, just believe and believe, it will help you in life. I believe, I’m a believer, and it helped me. Now it’s difficult for me to tweet sometimes. I used to tweet a lot. It’s almost the same case of breaking up with your lover and every time you try to say something about heartbreak or love, people think that you’re referring to that person. It happened to me. I’d go online, try to express myself the way I’d always done and someone thinks I’m talking about my travail in Channels. A few of my tweets before I left, yes, but after I left, I just left everything because I didn’t want to be seen as insulting anyone who’s older than me or someone who is a father to you. People have troubles with their parents, you don’t come on the streets and start to insult your dad or throw stones on the roof. That’s not my style.
So for a while, I was just trying to tweet at nothing. I created something then on YouTube called ‘Blabbing with Sulai’. I was just talking because I felt that anything I say could be used against me in a wrong way. So I was just playing and letting it go that way. But the bottom line is, I left when, perhaps, I should have been able to do something bigger and better in the broadcast world and I felt that I didn’t have that independence anymore. I didn’t have any physical altercation with the management or any individual, never. And, back to my blog, I was asked to stop the blog while I was working there. It was a management decision because I had a kind of meeting with some very senior people and they said I was competing with the station. It was kind of painful for me but I stopped it immediately.
So, who or what do you miss the most?
Well, basically, I had good times in Channels but the people, my people in Channels are the cleaners, security guys and all of that. And I miss the make-up girls.. (laughs). You know we had an older woman heading that unit and anytime she wanted to make us we would just tell her to please call her younger girls… (laughs), I miss all of that. Those were my real people because I allowed them, even the cleaners, access to me. They could talk to me anytime and tell me anything. I was never rude to them, you know some of us in the broadcast industry see ourselves as celebrities and treat those folks like low life ‘hey, come and do this, hey, look at my table’ and all of that but I treated them with respect which was mutual too. As for my colleagues, of course, they are just a dial away so it’s not that different but those other guys, I miss them a lot.
Watch out for Part 2