Engr. Isaac David Balami is the president and founder of the Nigerian Rebirth Project, an NGO that seeks to foster national unity through bringing together youths from across the six geo-political zones of the country. In this interview with CHIDI M. NWACHUKWU, the former National President of the Arewa Consultative Forum Youth Congress, former National Spokesperson of the Trade Union Congress, and current president of the Aircraft Pilots and Engineers, discusses the details of the LABOUR ROOM Project, a reality TV show that is billed to hold in Abuja beginning from 1st July.
What is the Labour Room all about?
The Labour Room is all about a New Nigeria that will usher in a new African continent. For the very first time, we are going to have a very different type of reality TV show that has never happened anywhere in the world. In the last six months, we have gone round the 36 states of this country, including the FCT, with our team, and we were able to get an independent body to audition so many youths across the country. The finals was done here in Abuja, and we have been able to select one intelligent person per state to represent his or her state. The whole concept is to see how we can begin to discuss issues of national importance. There are a lot of emergencies in different areas, and as far as we are concerned, Nigeria should as well be declared a state of emergency because if you look at the sectors, there is none that is actually working, and the truth of the matter is that we believe that most of the people that brought our independence, that brought us to where we are thus far, were in their late 20s and early 30s then, but what we see today is that the opinion of the young person does not matter in this country or the continent anymore. We want for the first time to see how 37 people will actually sit and discuss on the way forward. We will be camping 37 young male and female persons in one big mansion for 60 days, and for these 60 days, we’ll be discussing Nigeria. It is not a platform to insult, to instigate, to incite, to cause any problem. It is a platform like meeting in a mansion, but not like other reality TV shows where they misbehave, and indulge in sexual acts that should not be on air. We decided to camp this people for 60 days to see how we can look at issues that concern our security, our health sector, aviation, you know, we’ll look at about 11 key sectors that need to be activated, that need to be properly looked into to move this country forward. The good news here is that these are youths, there is no agenda for them to follow. They have their own minds. They were selected based on their intellectual capacity. They are sound, most of them are first class graduates. They are people that know what they are doing, most of them have been able to invent something in business. They have solutions for this great nation, and of course, it is going to be aired for 24hours like other reality TV shows, and we are looking at over 200 million viewers across the globe.
What is the reward for the winner of the show?
The reward, I’ll say, is one of the biggest in the world, but that is not even the catch. There is something bigger than that. We are giving 200 million naira to the four last housemates standing out of 37. Now, this is the simple reason. Out of the 37 housemates, as soon as they get into the mansion, they will be split into six persons per group. Each zone will have six people, and one person cannot win this 200 million. There must be a Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo or any other minority tribe in this particular group. At the end of the day, we are looking at the possibility whereby your inability to keep more than three people in the mansion, means that you are all evicted. So from six people, the whole world is watching, they are looking at your input, your performance and everything, and at the end of the day, if you are not able to work with each other, and look at each other’s strengths and weaknesses, like for instance, if there is somebody in your group who does not know how to use the computer, it would be your duty to teach him, so you see Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo, Fulani, Kanuri, Bura, you know, different tribes coming together to achieve common goals, that is exactly what this country should be like, and this money, the 200 million naira, is not for them to go and start buying cars, go to clubs and start misbehaving. It is a capital, a seed capital, it’s more like an equity contribution. We are looking at the Bank of Industry, NEXIM bank, they should be able to access as much as 2 billion naira. So that 200 million naira, for me, is more like 10 percent equity contribution, but while they are in the mansion, they will develop something that will sell, the whole nation will begin to order for their products because of how they will sell it, but most importantly, the issues of religious tolerance, peaceful co-existence, ethnic differences would be looked into, and at the end of the 60th day, I believe we are going to give birth to a super nation. Now very interestingly, for the fact that there will be no sexually-related activities in the mansion, some people might see it to be boring because they are used to watching movies with people kissing, caressing and what have you, but we will surely make it interesting. A lot of celebrities, local and international, will visit the mansion every week. There will be a lot of games in the mansion, there will be a lot of brands, and a lot of companies trying to sell their brands and products. They will pick up a game that will be played like an hour for Coca Cola or Pepsi or Indomie or whatever, and it is going to be very interesting.
Where is the venue of this big show? Are you going to take it out of Nigeria like the other people have been doing it?
We cannot. God forbid bad thing! We cannot take it out of Nigeria. It’s going to be here in Nigeria. It’s going to be in Abuja, in a secret location. We have already gotten the mansion, well secured and with everything.
What about the power factor, have you made adequate provisions for power?
Well, we are looking at using inverters, two power plants and the local supply of power.
What informed your choice of theme? What is the message behind your theme?
Well you see, it is in the labour room that you give birth to a baby, and it is usually a painful process, but every woman prays for that day. When that day comes, while she is in the labour room, her husband and family members are in the waiting room, praying and waiting. Now for 60 days, our children, brothers and sisters will be in the labour room, while about 200 million Nigerians across the globe will pray, watch, advise and air their views on how this country should be shaped.
How did you manage to gather the northern contestants since they have the issues of religious bias and other touchy reservations?
Well, first of all, most of the Muslims participating in this contest happen to be strong and good Muslims, not just by word of mouth. These are Muslims who read the Koran, pray five time a day and in fact, living with them for just three days, we were able to know the kind of people that they are, the kind of people that Muslims will be proud of, and these people saw that this is not an avenue for them to misbehave, to be engaged in any immoral act. They look at the sincerity of the purpose for the show, and at the fact that there is no evil agenda. It is just a platform that will make this country go forward. It is as simple as that.
Who are your target audience?
Our target audience are all Nigerians, whether old or young, male and female, and also lovers of Nigeria and lovers of the African continent. It’s going to air on Multi-Choice and on Startimes. It is going to be viewed across the globe. We have partnership with BenTV, TVs like Arise TV, and it is going to be all over America, Europe and other parts of the world. It is one of the biggest things that will ever happen to reality TV show in the history of the world.
In a short statement, what do you hope to achieve through this project?
Well, we hope to achieve a nation because Nigeria is not a nation. A nation is a landmass containing people living together with a common ideology, common vision, common language, common belief and what have you. But for Nigeria, that is not the case. Yes, you can be an Igbo man, a Yoruba man, an Hausa man, but common language means that we are speaking the same thing, we are on the same page, and that is not where we are today as a country. Today, the South East is on their own, the South-South is in disarray, you know, challenges all over the country. At the end of this, we should be able to say ‘Yes, there is a need for us to come together because there is strength in our diversity’, that is one thing that no other country in the world has. So, in a nutshell, we intend to be a nation, not just a country.
There are already tongues wagging over your personal moves. There are speculations that everything you are presently doing is a pointer to your political ambition. Can you say anything about that?
Well you see, people will always say. For me, I’ve been consistent. This is not my first shot at public service. I was the TUC national spokesperson. This is my eighth year as the national president of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers. I was also elected at some point to be the president of the Arewa Consultative Forum Youth Congress. You see, all these things we’ve been doing, people will always read meaning into everything, but for me, everything I’m doing is a way of giving back to this great nation.
Do you intend to enter into politics anytime in the future?
You see, that one is God’s calling. If you are not called into something, and you think because you can talk very well, and your face looks very good, then you can just venture into politics that can end up in a mess. For me, the will of God will always prevail, and that is all I can say. But for now, there is no sign.
Who are your major stakeholders and partners?
Nigerians and lovers of Nigeria.