By veteran journalist, Goddie Ofose, Lagos. Written 2013 but still relevant today


An African adage that says ‘don’t give a man a fish but teach him how to fish’ seems to have disappeared in the dictionaries of top multinationals and organisers of music talent shows in the country. They have made cash, cars, iPad, and smartphones, main reward model to those who supposedly desire guitar, keyboard and recording contract to catapult their careers to the next level, instead.

Music talent shows in the country have become a huge industry. The turnover of these promising young talents from music talent shows across the country is on the rise. Almost all multinationals, particularly the fast moving consumers’ goods companies and telecommunications firms, have all keyed into it and are making big business of it as a result of massive followership the shows have attracted.

Despite some pockets of controversies here and there, music talent hunt shows such as Benson & Hedges Grab the Mic, MTN West Africa Project Fame, Nigerian Breweries Star Quest, Glo Naija Sing and Lekki Sun Splash in the early 1990’s have contributed positively to the growth of the music industry and economy.

Among all of these shows, the Idol show that is West African Idol, sponsored by Econet (now Airtel) and Nigerian Idol currently bankrolled by Etisalat Nigeria, have attracted more controversy than any other music driven talent reality show in the country.

In the last 10 years, the industry has given out over N200 million in prize money to different winners from different shows but the impact of this value on the recipients and the industry has been highly insignificant.

For instance, MTN West Africa Project Fame in the last five years has given out a total of N12.5 million in cash to five winners apart from giving each of them a brand new car and a recording contract worth N7 million.

Glo Naija Sings has also rewarded three grand prize winners with $100,000 (N15 million) each while Etisalat Nigerian Idol in its two edition has reportedly given $100,000 each to the winners.

Cash for prize in the talent hunt reality shows in the country is fast becoming a controversial one as organisers of these events in collaboration with their sponsors use that as a platform to cheat winners of the coveted prize of their winnings.

Recently, it was reported in the media that winners of the first and second edition of Etisalat Nigerian Idol never got the advertised $100,000 prize money.

Arguably, the Lekki Sun Splash, a concept by Dapo Adelagan, which produced artistes like Blackky and Alex Zito among others, heralded the idea of a talent hunt in Nigeria. It would be recalled that Blackky and Alex Zito, who emerged winners in those competitions never got cash or car but a recording contract with Premier Music.

Shortly after Adelagan’s concept was rested, Benson & Hedges Grab the Mic came on board and produced wave-making Peter and Paul Okoye otherwise known as P-Square. Having emerged as winner in that competition, P-Square eventually got a recording contract with  Benson & Hedges Music where they released their first album Last Night’.

Benson & Hedges Grab the Mic looked promising but the ban on tobacco related advertising put paid to the show. And then the coming of GSM companies into the country gave birth to Econet sponsored West Africa Idol. West Africa Idol produced Timi Dakolo and Omawumi Megbele however, the show couldn’t continue as a result of the organiser’s inability to fulfill its recording contract promise to the winner. Then came MTN Project Fame, Glo Naija Sings, and years after West African Idol was rested, Optima Media Group (OMG) unveiled Nigerian Idol.

Unlike some winners of MTN Project Fame, Nigerian Breweries Star Quest and Glo Naija Sings which have continued to make impact on the scene, Nigerian Idol has been shredded in crisis and controversy.

Recently, organisers of the event flagged off the third edition of the show without clearing the air over the controversy surrounding actual amount that accrued to the grand prize winner.  Mercy Chinwo and Yeka Onka emerged 2012 and 2011 winners respectively.

The fate Onka and Chinwo, winners of the talent hunt has however thrown up some questions over the N7.5 million worth of recording and management deal they were supposed to have won. The winner of the Nigerian Idol went home with a Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) and a grand prize valued at $100, 000, (approximately N15 million) which covers a recording contract and management contract.

However, it was gathered that the N7.5 million which was supposed to be paid to the winner in cash at ago was paid in installment instead. In fact, on a monthly basis of less than N500,000.

In 2010, Etisalat Nigeria announced its sponsorship of Nigerian Idol and promised to commence the process of exciting viewers and changing the face of the Nigerian entertainment industry.

Speaking at the event, Mr. Wael Ammar, Chief Commercial Officer, Etisalat Nigeria, expressed his delight at the sponsorship.

According to him, “From the onset we have assured our consumers that we intend not only to be their preferred telecoms operator but also their partner for life. Our desire is to enable them achieve their dreams and aspirations. The sponsorship of Nigerian Idol is one of the many ways we choose to empower the youth of our nation.”

Ammar also emphasized that “through this platform, young Nigerians can give a voice to their dreams. But not just the contestants but also the host of talented men and women who are directors, content developers, producers, make-up artists, voice coach, dance instructor etc, who will develop and execute this concept from start to finish and also utilise this platform to express their talent and in turn realise their dreams. There is no doubt that the future of this nation lies in the hands of our youths. We urge them to take this unique opportunity and make their dreams come true.”

Responding, Project Manager, Nigerian Idol, Chichi Nwoko said “I’m deeply impressed with the vision that has brought this partnership and Nigerian Idol to this country. It’s obvious that Idol is not a flash-in-the-pan concept. Currently it is in 45 countries and counting. It is a concept that over the years has become deeply embedded in our socio-cultural fabric. And we have no doubt that this concept will be warmly embraced by all Nigerians and become a much anticipated annual event.”

Indeed the event has commanded massive followership but has it robbed positively on the Etisalat brand over the last two years?

There is no gain saying that music talent hunt events have had a huge positive impact as well as negative on the industry and winners.

Industry experts have been undecided over this issue. While some claim that cash for prize has impacted the industry and winners positively others simply said it is reward that kills the golden eggs before they are hatched.

Speaking on the implication of cash for prize trend, Chido Nwakanma, Chief Executive Officer, Blueflower Communications, said “Cash offers are a straight forward reward scheme. Organisers are looking at what works best for all parties in the immediate period.”

He however stated that offer of recording contracts would have been nice, but it extends the cost element in terms of time, manpower and other resources that companies would have to expend.

Indeed, it begins to take them into the realm of artiste management, when all they seek to do is to encourage talent discovery by providing an enabling environment.

“Let us avoid killing the willing horse. Once the organisers have provided an enabling environment for discovery of such talents, it behooves the artistes as well as those in the music business to take over and play their own part. It is classical division of labour and mankind has made faster progress through division of labour,” he said.

Describing the cash and car for prize reward as motivational, the erudite entertainment journalist and media practitioner, Adeshina Oyetayo said, “I believe strongly that talent show organisers are trying their best by giving uncut talents a chance at stardom with the cash and car prizes they give winners.”

“That for me”, he said “is a big motivation for the contestants to jump-start their careers. Yes, it would not be out of place to include recording contracts as Nigeria Breweries-sponsored Star Quest does but it would be predicated on what the show’s budget is. It would be detrimental to any organisers’s brand to make a promise and not deliver on it. So, let them make promises and fulfill within the reality of their budget.”

Ade Adefeko, former Corporate Communication Manager, MultiChoice however favoured recording contract above any other form of motivation. “I am of the opinion that recording contracts are more relevant and enduring, but the question you ask yourself is which reputable international ones who respect contracts are available… guess we have to adapt sometimes to our local circumstance and peculiarities,” he said.

But how does cash for prize trend prove career killer to promising talent in music? Tola Badamosi, Chief Executive/Managing Director of BD Consult, a media and public relations firm said: “I think the gifts are misplaced priority. That’s why most of them don’t go far after receiving the awards because they would think they have arrived. What is appropriate is a recording contract with a renowned record label so that they can learn more and improve on their chosen career.”

More so, brand activist and entrepreneur, Rasheed Bolarinwa, said these activities debase values and do not help in brand building process.

“I am not a fan of all those talents shows. It debases values and does not build industry in the youths who believe you could become an instant millionaire by participating in talent shows. How many of those who emerged tops of previous talent shows have made a music success? We could count them on our finger tips. I’d rather support educational talent shows like what defunct Bank BPH engaged in,” he enthused.

“While I agree that there is nothing legally wrong about that, I however strongly believe that recording contract will be more beneficial to the budding or upcoming musicians because it will help them to be more focused and serious about their musical careers,” said Igbinidu Charles Osaretin, MD, TPT International.

Observers have said that the rate of musical success from the shows’ past winners is very low compared to those who strive to make music on their own without any monetary inducement from any quarters. Apart from Blacky, P-Square, Sound Sultan, KC Presh, Omawunmi and lately Iyanya, the plethora of winners in these shows have remained unsuccessful musically hence stakeholders’ position to favour musical equipment and recording contract as prizes instead.