Lumen Christi TV has been a household name for some years, especially for Catholics in the Archdiocese of Lagos, and beyond. The TV clocked seven recently. TONY AGBUGBA speaks with the Founder/CEO, Prince Soji Olagunju on the giant strides recorded by the TV network, among other issues. Excepts.
How has it been nurturing Lumen Christi for the past seven years?
It has been so far so good! Having been involved in so many start – ups in my professional life, I knew the beginning will as usual be tough. The only difference was that in this particular case, it was Church related and I was absolutely convinced that the same God that helped in my professional life of banking will provide far greater help, with Lumen Christi Catholic TV Network for the simple fact that the ancient of days changeth not. He is the same yesterday, today and forever! Notwithstanding all the challenges, Christ Jesus provided adequate directions and inspirations for the project. From a purely investment banking background, learning the broadcasting ropes was daunting and though seemingly unassailable but ultimately, it became very interesting entering into uncharted territories of indigenous digital Catholic TV evangelization.
Can you list some major milestones the station has attained these past years?
Well how to take – off itself was the initial hurdle because I had started construction works on a 12 floor hotel pet project and to extricate myself was a bit tough but Christ strengthened my resolve to leave it behind. So, I abandoned the project! Considering the fact that I was really not making sense to a lot of people as to how it is my business to venture into what was called ‘priestly duties’. A lot of people actually thought I was crazy setting up a Catholic TV because as they said, I will lose money and even run into debts. Besides, I am not a theologian. The closest to the Altar I ever had, was as an Altar boy at Regina Mundi Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Lagos. Very scary though, but to the glory of God, I went ahead because I knew what I heard and it was divine and clear, SET UP A CATHOLIC TV. IT WAS GOING TO BE AROUND EASTER SEASON AND HENCE THE USE OF EASTER RELATED COLOURS AND IMAGES. Hence the alpha and Omega logo, the predominant purple and white/off white Easter colours. Also our theme song – Christ is our light, byline : lumen Christi – Deogratias! Etc. Some milestones amongst others include: Surviving the US $15,000 monthly subscription paid to our satellite TV service provider based in the UK for about 3 years.
B) Migrating to DSTV platform on channel 350 with the understanding that we will also be on their GOtv platform. We were actually on channel 212 of GOtv for sometime but along the line, we were taken off and I am still disturbing the Multi-choice/ DSTV Management to put us back or give us another channel. We are very hopeful that we will still be on GOtv because of the great number of Catholics on that platform. I also have their word that as soon as it is possible they will avail us. Let’s remain prayerful! Another milestone has to do with live broadcasts of weekday and Sunday Masses. We knew this will be additional burden and we cannot start and go back to just covering Sunday Masses alone once we begin daily Masses. Eventually, Christ gave us courage and we commenced around 2016. To the glory of God, we have been very consistent except for a day or 2 within a year!
D) Another major milestone that comes to mind has to do with expanding our reach and network outside Nigeria. As against a local TV station, the inspiration was to play globally. The ‘Network’ part of our name wasn’t by accident! Currently, we are watched across the World 24/7 and real time. In addition to the DSTV platform that is seen across sub-saharan Africa, we have our online live streaming TV and website live broadcast irrespective of your location in any part of the world. We are on ROKU TV platform and TV Afrique in addition to daily Masses on facebook, youtubeetc and lately, the NTA Star Network StarTimes platform which began test running last week at Ibadan and will go nationwide in a couple of weeks by the loving grace of God. The beauty of this arrangement is that about 30 African countries will also benefit as they will have access to our StarTimes broadcast at cheaper rates as well.
One milestone in particular became indelible in our minds and that has to do with the situation the whole world and more particularly the Mother Church found herself in the wake of COVID 19 onslaught of 2020. It was late in the night just before the 2020 Easter Holy week that I got a call from the Lagos Chancery that Parishes won’t be opening because of the complete lock – down order of both Federal and Lagos State Governments. I was at Offa my hometown and didn’t see it coming so soon. The Lagos Chancery in reaction to the closure order issued a circular to the effect that Lay Faithful should join the LCTN live broadcast of that Sunday and the rest is history. I must commend the Catholic Archbishop of Lagos for being so proactive and acting swiftly in the face of unprecedented human challenges! Kudos to Fr M.Teko – the Cathedral Administrator, Fr. R. Emedo his Associate Priest and Fr. Vitalis, the Lagos Archbishop’s Secretary. With the Metropolitan of Lagos, they kept the hope and faith of the people of God alive worldwide while I became the delivery guy through LCTN! Since then till date, we have not left the Holy Cross Cathedral! Lumen Christi TV has been a household name for some years, especially for Catholics in the Archdiocese of Lagos, and beyond. The TV clocked seven recently.
How did this journey into StarTimes commence?
Being on the StarTimes platform was quite miraculous just as being on DSTV. The mere fact that I am aware of so many of our Catholic brethren who can’t afford to be on DSTV, made me realise that something must be done as what we broadcast, is to enhance our earthly religious life with the ultimate goal of getting to Heaven. Each soul counts in Christ Kingdom as emphasised in the parable of a lost sheep amongst 100 and Christ saying a good shepherd must leave the 99 in search of the lost one! I knew deep within me that until the teeming poor Catholic population that are in the majority have access to our broadcasts, I have not fulfill my mandate for Lumen Christi TV! Hence, the quest to be on GOtv and StarTimes platforms as they are readily available and cheaper. This naturally led us to StarTimes after relentlessly praying to God for help in this regard. I had asked my colleagues to make enquiries as to what it will cost to be on StarTimes and their findings cost wise, was scary to say the least! The rest as they say is history! We are now there and having been given the option of picking either Oyo State or Rivers State for test running, we settled for Oyo State and test running started last week. The MOU has been signed and I can safely tell you that we will be seen Nationwide as soon as the test running is completed within the next few weeks DV! StarTimes decoders on their DTT platform are as low as #7400 while monthly subscription is as low as #900 with one month free subscription.
What is the implication of your being on StarTimes?
The implication of being on StarTimes is very postive as greater percentage of Catholics can now have access to our broadcasts. As Christ reminded us, the poor will always be in our midst and this implies that it is our responsibility to ensure they are adequately catered for in all ramifications, after all heaven is not for the rich alone, so all of us who had been richly blessed should take it upon ourselves to help the poor even by donating the StarTimes decoders to them! This is by no means a small feat.
How do you intend to recoup the enormous financial input expended on this latest investment?
Arrangement? Recoup? From where and for who? The word ‘recoups “is the twin brother or sister of ‘investment”. That is why hardly you will see the word ‘recoup’ without the word ‘investment’. For an Investment Banker like me, the two are like five and six! Prior to my retirement, if anybody asked me to do business appraisal/feasibility studies for a Catholic TV as a business I would most likely say don’t even try it! Having said that, I must confess that divesting from several investments and using the resources wholeheartedly for God’s purpose requires divine intervention! The mere fact that I knew nothing about TV production or media activities was enough to scare one. I knew it was going to consume as much as I could raise and with that knowledge I attempted dodging the responsibility for about five years, until when I realised that I was playing the same Nineveh game that landed Jonah in the stomach of a big whale that I retraced my steps, begged God for forgiveness and accepted my fate and carried my Cross so to say! Was I scared initially? Oh yes, very very scared! Am I still scared now after 7 years? Not at all because I have learnt to place my trust in God absolutely as against my abilities and available resources. To specifically answer your question, there is nothing to recoup as it wasn’t a business decision and the resources are not even mine. God only gave me the privilege of being the custodian of those resources! I am like a household water dispenser – if that will make my role clearer! That explains why it became our policy right from the beginning that commercial adverts will not be allowed on LCTN! Otherwise, it’s just a matter of time before we get derailed from our core mission of evangelisation once advert money start coming in (he who pays the piper, dictates the tune) as you would be tempted to give adverts prominence as against our religious programmes more so when some of these programmes like angelus, live masses, Divine mercy, daily rosaries etc has designated times! Rather it’s a spiritual investment in the people of God to make heaven through spreading of the gospel, propagating the Faith and getting more and more people to fathom the essence of their being created by God in the first instance and according to elementary catechism, it is to know, love and worship GOD in spirit and in truth and ultimately to be with him in heaven till eternity! That is the nature of this so called ‘investment’ and as such recouping is the last thing on my mind. Rather it is an opportunity to give thanks to God for HIS resources placed at the disposal of a mere servant to do exactly what we are doing at Lumen Christi TV, which is for the good Lord to spiritually re – awaken all of us which incidentally is the literary meaning of my Yoruba name ‘OLUSOJI’. The day all of us that have been richly endowed realises that the enormous resources which we rather erroneously assumed belongs to us actually belongs to our Creator and he has only made us dispensers of same to the poor and less privileged amongst us, the better for humanity. That is the full meaning and import of the famous bible passage – The Earth is the LORD’s The COVID-19 brought its own challenges for an up and coming TV Network still struggling to cope with the huge costs of maintaining our services and now saddled with ensuring Masses are broadcast as scheduled come rain or shine and because it was a global lock – down, Catholics from across the World irrespective of race or colour, beamed their search light on LCTN and our online Network jammed, as people were tuning in around the same time particularly for Sunday and Easter season activities of 2020. It was mayhem but God helped us to come out stronger and provided additional funds to further upgrade our equipment and acquire new 4k cameras. Our online presence was also upgraded to avert future pressures on our systems.
Your station has been on DSTV for some years now. What has been your experience on that platform?
Being on DSTV was extremely essential to our operations and target audience. It was a journey of 3 clear years that began in 2014 when we started operations to 2017 when we eventually dedicated the DSTV channel 350 to God! Our being on the DSTV platform and lately the StarTimes platform is like playing in the big league! There are penalties for non – delivery! You can’t even afford to go off – air! Your equipment and contents must even for a religious TV, be of the highest standards. That you are in Nigeria and there are PHCN issues are not tenable. You just have to be on air every minute and you are expected to inform them of anything that will make you to go off – air! All the same, we are coping notwithstanding the hurdles because it’s God’s work and he is ever so abiding with his presence in all aspect of our operations.
How can your teeming viewers access the StarTimes decoders across the country?
StarTimes have distributors nationwide with signposts directing people to their dealers. Incidentally, we were given a super dealership status and as such, we would also be ensuring that decoders are made available specifically for Catholics across the various dioceses through the offices of the Directors of Communication to the varioius parishes in Nigeria! For those who are already on the StarTimes platform, all they need to do is to renew their subscription if it has expired and rescan their decoders to access Lumen Christi TV on channel 455. They will also have access to over 95 extra channels on the StarTimes bouquet on the same #900 monthly subscription!
A bulk of last year was a very traumatic year for Catholics who were deprived the opportunity of attending physical Mass. Your station played a major role in bringing daily Mass into the homes of many. Can you recount your experience in this regard?
Thinking backwards, I can safely say because God is all knowing, he knew ahead of all humanity that a day will come when there will be something called ‘COVID 19 lock – down’ . He therefore ensured that Lumen Christi Catholic TV came into existence few years before then. Even when people thought I was crazy and at a time I wondered myself if they were not right, our Lord and Saviour adequately, took great care of our spiritual needs at one of the most crucial period of our generation when the entire universe was on a complete lock – down. GOD IS AWESOME! Until then, it didn’t really occurred to me that Catholics in Canada, Australia, Japan, China, the Americas etc could be interested in our supposedly local Catholic TV until when feedbacks message were coming in (some not even in English) and our systems were seriously under pressure!
Has that experience changed or altered your perception of the enormous responsibility on your Television station?
Of course it did! At the beginning our primary focus was on Catholics in Nigeria and by extension in Africa of about 200 million in population but the COVID – 19 experience, made me to realise the full meaning and import of the name the Church bears – ‘CATHOLIC’ which means global or universal. Can you imagine how pleased Christ would have been when notwithstanding the lock- down, we stayed connected spiritually? The people of God old and young, rich and poor irrespective of the colours of their skins could raise their voices and universally chant in one accord during each Eucharistic celebration – HOLY, HOLY, HOLY LORD. GOD OF HOST, HEAVEN AND EARTH ARE FULL OF YOUR GLORY, HOSANNA IN THE HIGHEST! Just think about it! Truly Christ is King and reigns forever and ever, amen. I know expectations are very high from all and sundry and we will always do our utmost best so help us God! Amen.