Internationally connected dude, Austine is one of the pacesetters in the striptease business in Nigeria whose effort to redefine that aspect of entertainment has been immeasurable. The Delta-State born Austine is one icon that a lot of people respect in the industry because of his sense of humility and articulate mien. This habits he cultivated right from his developmental days have really paid off as his club, Cazzbah, a gentleman’s club on Opebi, Ikeja area of Lagos has become a haven for all and sundry. In this chat with Michael Alonge, he opens up on a wide range of issue including his undying love for stripers. Excerpt
HOW DID YOU VENTURE INTO NIGHTCLUB BUSINESS?
Well, when i was trying to study and pay tuition fee, i had to work as a bar man in a nightclub even though, we didn’t know that we would end up in the business. So when i needed a job to do that didn’t require any particular experience or that i din’t need a certificate to do then i tapped into my bag of experience and it’s like yes, i have done this before i could still do it at the helm of affair. As a bar man i grew up to the level of supervisor and here we are today it was easier to set up and it’s the only business i understand the acumen that goes with it. This is where we are today and God has been kind enough.
WHERE WERE YOU THEN; WHERE DID YOU HAVE YOUR EDUCATION?
That was back in California, the United States of America in the early 90s.
WHAT WERE CHALLENGES FACED
There was no basic challenge except that you were always short-paid at the end of the month and from this money you pay for accommodation, tuition fee as a foreigner in another man city. Another challenge was that we find it hard to cope with the two, studying and clubbing but as a ‘ruggeddy’ person which i was and still am, we sailed out. But right now, the challenges are not really much. It’s the same routine and we are used to it by now- 10-to-6 format for a highly ambitious person.
YOU STARTED OUT WITH CORNER POCKET?
Yes, but back in the days in the university where we organized show or doing carnival, we were so much involved in raves and all sort but in 1994, i opened Corner Pocket, a sport and pool bar in Sabo area of Yaba in Lagos and by chance i was on a visit to Russia and a friend of mine showed me a place and told me we could do this and it was pretty good. But coming home i said common, i could do this back in my country, if somebody could do this here why do i have to better another man’s country economy. Nigeria is giant of Africa and there are some thing we are supposed to be pacesetters of in Africa. I have been around all the African nation and i noticed that their own style of strip club is called Mapooka but the Europeans are so classy in this kind of entertainment and we thought of bringing that down here so that was how Cazzbah came to be. Today, i am delighted because a lot of people have accredited us and have thumbed us up for the beautiful innovation injected into this form of entertainment and keeping on to the European standard of the and we hope to get better and bigger. I have also noticed a lot of strip clubs springing up left, right and centre i think it’s healthy, we just pray that someday there should be a kind of legitimate that would be on paper from the licensing office that this business is given full support of the government as it’s in the other western world.
ARE YOU TRYING TO SAY THE BUSINESS IS NOT LEGITIMATE?
No, the basic thing is that there is no law for or against it. What we are saying is that, if government could look into the legalising structure and see how they can harmonize it as part of economy growth where the issue of tax payment would be strictly adhered to. Lagos State for example is gradually turning a mega city, all thanks to the self-less service of Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola and his formidable team, if foreigners come around to establish this kind of business, if there is no support from the State government automatically the business will not stand the test of time and that would not add to the growth of the State as a metropolitan state.
We have Shoprite in Lekki which has become a tourist centre in Lagos for a lot of foreigners so the same thing applies to gentlemen’s clubs. At Cazzbah, we operate a very unique concept, last December, we had some guests from Abroad and they were not only surprised but were happy that gradually their country is developing in all areas of endeavours.
ASIDE ENTERTAINMENT THE BUSINESS HAS BEEN ABLE TO PROVIDE; WHAT MORAL VALUE DOES IT ADD TO THE SOCIETY?
Basically…it’s a two head-sword thing, for the moral angle, it creates a kind of atmosphere for married couples to reunite their family tides. It keeps prostitution off the street, instead of them hanging around the dark places of the street; they can come under a roof and redefine that act that will better their lots. I don’t know about other clubs but here at Cazzbah, we operate on a different but decent angle. We have had issues here where a couple had a marital issue and he left for Cazzbah on reaching here, the sexual huge enveloped him and he had no choice than to go home and settle his rift with his wife at home. There are women who just want to see a different way to better their marriage. A lot of people are stressed out from the day job and they needed a place to unwind before getting back home, here, we provide a little form of stress-therapy for some people and a lot of people who come here are the ‘i cant believe this is happening here let me go and see’ and majority of our clientele have all traveled to Europe, America etc. they couldn’t have ever believed it could happen in Nigeria. This is how we do it just as nobody thought Oshodi could be what he has turned out to be today. It’s a thing of joy knowing that Lagos State is not backward in the nation development and we, in the entertainment industry, are not relenting in forming an alliance that will project the image of the country positively to the global audience.
IS CAZZBAH STRICTLY MEMBERSHIP GENTLEMEN’S CLUB?
Cazzbah is a membership club and it’s open to the upwardly mobile people, high-classed working men who are stressed-out during the day and have just come to realize and seize the opportunity to network and meet friends
WITH WHAT I HAVE SEEN SO FAR, I THINK CAZZBAH HAS CARVED A NICHE FOR ITSELF; HOW DO YOU COPE WITH THE PROLIFERATION OF OTHER NIGHTCLUBS AROUND YOU?
Thank you for that observation and commendation. What stands us out is that, there is this uniqueness in the area of decency in what we do here. We have ‘Gogo Club, Mapooka, strip club and there is a gentlemen’s club, we fall into the latter. Though, we all do similar things, our modus operandi differs. That’s why we called it gentlemen’s club and we are particular about the type of people who come in here. Cazzbah is the only club which has an exclusive membership in Ikeja. The proliferation of the strip club thing is allowed and healthy it creates room for improvement. But we stand out because most of the time, we send our girls abroad to go learn the act of striptease, there are schools abroad that teach such courses and the result has been awesome.
WHAT’S YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH OTHER PLAYERS IN THE BUSINESS?
Pretty cordial. We are all in the same field. Every club owner knows himself and we all sit togehter to foster on the challenges and best way to keep the business up there. Sometime we converge at one particular club not minding whose club it’s and the next meeting could be at the other man’s club. We are all brothers in the same business.
IF YOU WERE SINGLE WOULD YOU HAVE MARRIED A STRIPER?
Yes, being a striper doesn’t mean the person is a prostitute or harlot. Even there is a song that says i am in love with a striper so what’s the big deal. The stripers are not less-human or useless elements in the society. A lot of women just love to be naked and have people accessing their body. Lots of corporate women walked around at their home naked because they are comfortable doing that. In Europe and America, a lot of students strip to pay their school fees and other bills and they are not castigated at all. Let’s even thing of it, what is it that they show that any man has not seen before? So, there is nothing special there from good point of view. It’s just a form of entertainment.
WHAT EFFORT ARE YOU MAKING TO SUSTAIN THE NAME IN THE NEXT FIVE YEAR?
Five years is a bit too far to look at. Like i told you earlier the basic thing is to fight for the legislation, we would try to lobby for the legislation to see through. the government of the day can actually look into creating a licensing arrangement for people to have a club, not just a strip club, a dance bar and others, so that nobody would beat on government for nothing. We are willing to corporate and make things happen but not at cut-throat. I personally we want this issue to be treated with all sense of seriousness. Got to Togo, Republic Du Benin, Afri Coast, it’s another avenue of entertaining people and you see all these things fully legalized so why is ours different. Aside this, there are people who appreciate this and want to maintain the cordial deal with it. the fact that they are even springing up left right and centre simply means that some people patronize them, if people patronize it then the society accept it, if society accepts it then government should look into it.
HOW MUCH MONEY WOULD I HAVE WITH ME TO UNWIND AT CAZZBAH?
It depends on who you are and how much you have to unwind with. You are not compelled to have10 bottles. If it’s just a drink you have all the night, nobody we chase you away.
HOW ABOUT MEMBERSHIP; HOW DO YOU OPERATE IT?
Membership itself is even restricted, we don’t just issue it to anybody, we have to know who you are. We wouldnt want a situation whereby 419ers or drug barons come to ask for our membership. We have a day membership fee, one week membership fee, we have pilots, sailors, accountant, in fact, and corporate people are who we give our membership card to. By the grace of God, we shall work into people mind and they would know that you can go to club on Tuesday, Wednesday or even Sunday to unwind yourself and feel good at the end of the day. It doesnt have to be on weekends. Surprisingly, women are more appreciative of the kind of service we provide here.
ASIDE THIS NIGHTCLUB THING, WHAT ELSE ARE YOU INTO SUPPLEMENTARY?
Of course, a business gave birth to Cazzbah, i run an oil and gas servicing company called En-George Oil and Gas, we have been doing it since 1995. I just decided that somehow, someday, somebody had to lead, had to do something that would be diffrent from the norm, something that would be worthy of mention that’s why i decided to open Cazzbah. I have traveled wide and far, i have seen a lot of things and there is nothing basically out there that we don’t have back home. I am very okay, god has been kind to me, it’s not about money but about creating employment opportunity for some people from the bar man to the security, dancers and the Public Relation person. The whole idea is to meet up with the ideology of a mega city.
HOW DO YOU RELAX?
I relax at work. I only sleep for 3 hours; it has been like this for years so it has become a part and parcel of me. I must confess that i like it. The reason is because it keeps me out of trouble as i work day and night.
YOUR LAST WORD
My last word is that everybody can dream dreams; it’s not just to dream dreams but to try and actualize your dreams, keep planning and pursue it. A big decision is not the end to a decision there are still smaller decisions that determine either big decisions would come up and see the light of the day. I will encourage everybody to be focus, know what you want and go for it. It doesn’t really matter what the next man thinks about it because he hasn’t seen it