Before All Our Children Become Musicians - by Azuka Onwuka

BBA sponsored by Coca-Cola: $300,000 (N48m). MTN Project Fame: N7.5m & SUV. Etisalat Nigerian Idol: N5m & multi-million naira contract. Glo naija sings: N5m & SUV. Gulder ultimate search: N10m plus endorsements & SUV. COWBELL Mathematics competition: N100k. Lagos State Spelling Bee: N50k. School scrabble: N25k. Cool-FM spelling game: A goodie bag filled with Amila drink. And someone is asking why there is so much failure in WASSCE?” That was a message I received on my phone some days ago.

My friend, Ayodele Adeyemi, told me a similar story recently. Someone saw the brilliance of his daughter and told her that she would be a doctor. The girl said no: She would be a musician. The person was surprised.

That story is not strange today. If you ask children in primary school or even secondary school whom would they like to be like in future, they would mention Davido, Whizkid, Omawumi, Don Jazzy, Genevieve Nnaji or Ali Baba.

It is a good thing that our entertainment industry has become a source of pride to our nation and a source of livelihood for thousands of youths. Youths who could have been at jobs they hated or even derailed into crime have found themselves happily and richly employed. Rather than being mocked by society, they have become a source of envy and admiration.

But therein lies the problem. Since the entertainment industry has become a money spinner and a glamorous industry, every child wants to be in it. But, why not? Currently, the TV programmes with the highest prizes are in music or entertainment. Unknown faces become celebrities almost overnight. Their mates watch such transformation and are filled with envy and admiration. Children watch their intelligent uncles and parents go unnoticed, uncelebrated and impoverished, while entertainers – many of whom are not particularly book-intelligent – become the stars of the day.

On the contrary, how many big-budget programmes or prizes are dedicated to rewarding excellence in creativity or the like? Very few. The NLNG Prize for Literature was virtually the only big prize until recently when Etisalat Prize for Literature came on stream.

The doctors, lecturers, teachers, etc are frequently on strike over pay and conditions of service. Nigerian writers have to move to the United States or the United Kingdom to be appreciated.

Beside entertainment, politics is the other field that is very attractive because of the direct and indirect money that oozes out of it as well as the glamour that goes with it. It is more rewarding – financially and socially – to be a local government chairman than to be a professor. If you are lucky to be a senator, a minister or a governor, you are made for life! Beyond amassing a lot of money, you are also initiated into the political circle, which ensures that even when you leave office, you are made an ambassador, a chairman of an agency or the like. You would not like to go back to the university, your medical practice or whatever you were before. As a doctor, an engineer or lecturer, your money comes in trickles, but as a senator or governor, it drops into your account like a bomb regularly.

But if you can’t be a politician, why not be an entertainer? President Goodluck Jonathan may not feel cool when shaking an engineer, computer scientist or professor, but when he is shaking hands with a musician like D’Banj or an actress like Genevieve, you will notice that his smile will be broader. Why? He is shaking hands with a star.

Unlike before when our entertainers just had enough to take care of their basic needs, today’s entertainers earn up to N5m for a 10-minute solo rendition of two of their songs on stage. For those who have up to four shows per month, even if they earn a million naira per show, that gives them N4m monthly. Many CEOs of top companies don’t earn that. And this amount excludes the money made from commercials, endorsements, celebrity appearances, fees to act as a judge at shows, album sales, and any other private businesses the celebrity is involved in.

So, it is not surprising that many of our young ones want to be entertainers. In their views, excluding the money and glamour in entertainment, it does not look as strenuous as reading and sitting for exams to be a pharmacist or a professor. Being a musician is fun. You stand on stage (in the limelight) while others huddle together in darkness, watching you. You don’t need to have all A’s or come first in your class. But once successful, you overshadow your siblings and parents. Your parents and siblings are identified from your standpoint: Omawumi’s mother, Omotola’s husband, Okocha’s sister. You travel from one city to the other or from one country to the other, stay in the best hotels, eat the best foods, and drink the best wines – all the time.

No wonder, parents railroad their children into entertainment. They organise three or four of them to sing, put it in CDs and send the children to filling stations and shopping malls to sell the CDs. Some parents push their children to participate in all music competitions in the land. Those who are wealthy use their wealth or connection to push their children to be featured regularly in the media.

At the auditions of reality shows, there is no manner of people you won’t see. Even those who croak like toads participate, believing that they are the next “Tu Baba” or “PSquare.” It is all because of how lucrative the entertainment industry.

TV stations have also caught the virus. While new all-music channels and programmes are springing up, almost all the local channels have dedicated the hours of 12 noon to 2pm to music.

It is a great thing that our entertainment industry is booming. Many African countries are envious of our achievement, but we need to emulate the US in our national development. The reason the US is different is that it is not a one-product economy. While it is the headquarters of entertainment in the world, it is also the headquarters of academic excellence and research. It consciously encourages its doctors, engineers, scientists, lecturers, broadcasters, writers, etc, to be the best by providing a wonderful environment. It does not create the impression that a senator is better than a professor by paying the senator higher than the professor, or giving the senator more recognition than the professor. Even though it glamorises the actor or musician, it does not give the actor or musician any impression that he is better than the police constable or primary school teacher. Politics is not made so lucrative that every media person prays to be appointed a politician’s press secretary. Many broadcasters actually earn more than politicians; so politicians can’t talk down on them or buy them over. The street cleaner does her job with pride. She knows that one day she can write a book on strategic street cleaning and it will become a bestseller that earns her millions of dollars and fame. She does not need to become a musician, a politician, a contractor, or a girlfriend to a politician before she can become successful as a street cleaner.

That is how a robust economy is built. It is an economy in which people have the potential to excel, to be rich and get national recognition in whatever field they operate in. That way, children who have the proclivity for research or teaching are not discouraged by such fields’ low-rewarding prospects and get lured into music or acting. Those who will sing will sing. Those who will act will act. But the nation must not make those who should be in other fields to jump into entertainment or emigrate, just because they believe that their natural field is unappreciated.