This interviewed was originally published by Pointer Newspaper following the fellowship in 2018.
LADY E Ejiro Umukoro is a household name in Delta State, one of the adorable ladies on radio. When she was with HOT 96.5 FM she was a fire-brand. Now with Trend 100.9 FM, the fire in her still range on. Because of her enviable skill, her unwaning passion for her first choice job, Radio, being a presenter and a broadcaster of note, her recognition has transcended Delta State, as it now unarguably stands. And this is coming on the heels of her recent award, Fellow of the Report Women! Female Reporters Leadership Fellowship by the Wole Soyinka Center for Investigative Journalism in faraway Lagos. In this interview held at The POINTER Corporate Headquarters in Asaba, Lightray Ejiro Umukoro tells The POINTER Group Features Editor, Benson Okobi-Allanah all about the award and what it means to her. Excerpts:
You’ve been an internationally recognised multi-award winning Broadcast Communications Specialist and recently you were awarded Fellow of the Report Women! Female Reporters Leadership Fellowship by the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism, Lagos. Congratulations.
Thank you, Benson. Yes, I was among the top 20 women selected from nine (9) countries. The Report Women Leadership Fellowship by WSCIJ was done in collaboration with Free Press Unlimited based in Amsterdam, Netherlands. And for this particular Fellowship, we worked on projects focused on women leadership in the newsroom and media houses as an intentional way of addressing the imbalance at management levels in various media organisations by training women to aspire for leadership responsibility and not shy away from any news beat, including the ones that have long been tagged ‘male beats’ such as defence, power, foreign affairs, aviation, politics, business, fire service, oil and gas, and so on. On hand was a team fantastic women experts like Motunrayo Alaka who is the centre coordinator for WSCIJ, Nneka Okekearu (Pan Atlantic University), Dr.Abiola Akinyode-Afolabi (WARDC), Bethel Tsegaye from Free Press Unlimited our own Lekan Otufodurin (The Nation) who is a strong advocate for women inclusion at top management in the media space. We also had the delightful opportunity to interact with own renowned delectable Aunty Eugenia Abu and Stella Din-Jacobs.
Why do you think this fellowship is important at this time?
Following a collation of research data WSCIJ collected and a deliberate quick research we the FRLP Fellows carried out, we found out that many newspaper stories are not gender balanced in their reportage. In one newspaper with over 30 pages we examined, we found that pictures of women in different activities appeared 12 times while pictures of men in different activities appeared over 40 times. And in some cases, there was gender bias seen in election reporting of aspirants where pictures of men who are contesting were given wide splash and mention but there not a single woman aspirant or contestant interviewed! That was shocking to discover. Even radio and TV stations including online publications are guilty of this kind of imbalance too. And that is the power of data journalism. It presents things as they are rather than what we assume. And some of the reason for this kind of bias reporting is not far fetch. We leave in a suffocating patriarchal society. And as journalists, both male and female, we cannot afford to allow such conscious or unconscious biases blind us in truthful and objective reporting. That is why women must not allow fear or cultural constructs that limits them stop them from becoming decision makers too. Women must from now on take on more leadership responsibility in the media space, in the news room, in politics, business and so on because their perspectives add important contributions to our society just like children’s view on matters relating to them too matters. We cannot silence their voices as ‘lesser’ humans even in ongoing discussion about good governance, better type of education system and improved standard of living.
What do you hope to achieve with the Fellowship?
As a WSCIJ Report Woman Leader, my goal is to add value to every female journalists and women and girl groups or organisations in Delta and beyond by providing them with the training exposure, media career opportunities, tools, resources, collaboration, skillset, network and capacities to tap into their journalistic career to make more money for themselves through media entrepreneurships and funding opportunities to write those story ideas they are very passionate about but lack the resources to do so. There’s a vast array of opportunities journalists on this side of Nigeria are not aware off that they can tap into. And by the way, the men are not excluded (she laughs).
What do you think of journalists transiting into the political arena as political aides?
There are many career paths for advancement open to media practitioners and journalists alike. And if that’s a next step a journalist wants to take, by all means they are free to do so. And while in government, there’s nothing wrong with political aides protecting the interests of their principals. But when such aides have been journalists or still wear the hat of journalists, much more is demanded from them. They cannot afford to play to the gallery, especially when citizens who have been familiar with their work or trusts them may become jaded when they don’t speak truth to power or engage in weaponization of information. This is a very big responsibility. It is not fair as a journalist to protect your pocket in terms of salaries, other benefits and future political appointments to the detriment of others when issues affecting the masses are glaring. And that is why as broadcasters, journalists, researchers, writers, public commentators or analysts, we must be familiar with and have deep insights into every facet of governance, citizens’ rights, investigative journalism, communications, advocacy, politics, economics, business, public service, leadership, law and jurisprudence, and every other aspects of human interactions. As a journalist-turn-political aide, your job is to learn the ropes so you can do it better than was previously done to help enshrine good governance and a seamless relationship between the governing and the governed. One cannot do without the other. A journalist who is a political aide to a powerful politician or elected public official who cannot tell their principal the truth, has no business been in politics. And if the principal is not receptible to truth such a person don’t belong in the seat of decision making that affects the lives of millions. As you know, the ultimate goal of politics by the people for the people is good governance. Any journalist who can achieve this, has done her job. Same for the man. Journalists cannot be singing ‘Oye’! just as paid mobilisers shout ‘Oye!’ it is an insult to the profession. You know what I’m driving at.
But there has been instances when journalist would say: ‘Until you’re inside, what you see from the outside is not the same thing. What would you say to that?
That’s an interesting one. Here’s what I do grasp: when political parties and their machineries aren’t progressive, and when decision making lies in the hands of those in the civil service space to execute, and godfatherism holds them by the throat, each of them not wanting to advance the good of the public, and there is no stringent reward and punishment implementation that is enforced to the letter, what you meet is a brick wall – a strong fight not to disrupt the status quo or current establishment. It is that brick wall that needs to be collapsed. And that is achievable when we ensure that the political processes are not hijacked, compromised or warped in any way. Citizens therefore, must not only deliberately and internationally raise their information literacy, but must also be keen on heightening their civic, cultural and political intelligences through active participation in everything civic.
There’s an urgent need to ‘sanitise’ the Nigeria media space in terms of flooding it with developmental stories and tackling the spread of fake news, malinformation, information disorders, misinformation and conspiracy theories. At the Delta Online Publishers Forum where I was the Panel Moderator, the team of experts that were on hand from the academia, NUJ, INEC, NBA, media, CSOs, including other stakeholders, like Micheal Ikaegu, the current NUJ Chairman who made a succinct comment: ‘As long as there is iPhone, there will always be fake news!’, directly echoes research carried out by the BBC Africa Eye, which reported earlier this year that fake news in Nigeria is propagated by technology. Another survey showed that nearly a third of Nigerians say they had shared a political news story online that turned out to be fake. Health rumours are widespread too. Now imagine this scenario I saw of a writeup posted on several social media app where a woman actually told her customer to wash her hands because yellow fever is spread by hands and not mosquito bite. And when she was asked where she got that information, she said: ‘na for whazap I read am’. That tells you that although she may not be information literate, but the fact that she promotes such misleading information through word of mouth shows how harmful fakes news via social media apps are.
The digital age is giving the media a good run for its money challenging us to focus on media and information innovation. And only those equipped with the right mindset, tool set, skillset and network would make the most impact in how we tell stories, tackle issues of inclusivity on gender balance reporting, our approach to investing in more investigative stories, and how we develop more journalistic tools not only to combat fake news, misinformation disorders and malinformation, but also how we report and manage conflict through various media channels can affect whole people and places. In this age of weaponised information in this season of election cycle as we gear up to 2019, we must be ready to tackle the spread of false stories through social media channels and the internet because it can affect how votes would swing. In Nigeria, politics is not just about hiring political thugs to do the dirty job (which is fast losing appeal) as politicians who often resort to these are now taking extra steps to ensure such hoodlums are not only traced to them, but they have also seen the opportunity social and online media offers as a means to trump down their opponent through use of weaponisation of information to deceive the public or injure the reputation of opponents.
How do you think the media can tackle this?
The media must be ready to form alliances and strong collaborations to ensure they tackle the spread of false information since social media is the platform through which fake news is propagated in Nigeria. This means more work for media organisations and journalists. We cannot rest on our oars. That is the reality of the digital age we find ourselves and we must keep up by changing our strategies on how to flood such platforms with more authentic developmental stories, grassroot driven realities and investigative reports that can be produced in shorter time without compromising truth, ethics and balance reporting. A good thing happening in the media space now is having fact-checking groups like Africa Check, CrossCheck, and a host of mainstream traditional print media coming together to use access provided them by Facebook to form a pull of experts who can quickly debunk fake news as fast as they come especially so in this season of elections. But we need to expand such collaborations to the Niger Delta and South East, which is something I’m working on. 2019 is a big deal and the media has to step up real quick.
One of the your recent online post on Facebook in response to the promise made by the governor of the state promising to pay $25,000 for every goals Nigeria Super Eagles scores at AFCON caused a stair within the government circles. Why was that an issue for you?
There’s a context to that post we must not lose sight of. While I commend the governor for trying to motivate the Eagles and finally putting to rest the lingering issue of completely building the Stephen Keshi Stadium that took his party over twenty years to erect, with millions of money gulped into that single project that deserves probing, that promissory sum, $25,000 for every single goal scored at AFCON was not only outrageous and misplaced, but it insulted the intelligence of many Deltans who live in penury in a state where security is an issue, and business owners pay high production costs to run their businesses in an environment where bad roads and poorly executed roads abounds, not to mention many key investors have left the state and 22 industries are moribund; where electricity is not constant or non-existent, and the State Anti-Cult Unit does not have enough logistics to tackle the menace of secret-cult-gangs in secondary schools; where access to water is a challenge like in Ogwashi-Uku, or like in Ugbolu Secondary School where educational infrastructures are grossly lacking, or where people displaced by flood and are denied access to school struggle to eke out a living; not to mention this promise was stated at the height of unresolved issues of living wages for civil servants and other workers, smacked off such largess as insensitive. Public money does not belong to any elected or appointed official to treat as largess even though they may feel occupying the seat gives them the power to use it at will. There’s something called public accountability.
And the attorney general’s office and other agencies and ministries must be on top of this no matter who is in government. The executive will have to account to the citizens and electorates where such monies would come from. And if this was his private money, that demarcation needs to be made clear and then we can take it from there. Michelle Obama said in her interview while promoting her book ‘Becoming’ that they paid for meals eaten at the White House including traveling expenses that was not an official requirement from their pockets. That’s probity. Bringing that simple principle home, it tells you point blank that on no account can a sitting executive in public office spend state funds for other purposes other than for the state. This kind of abuse of public funds in office we have seen since 1999 must stop. And as you will recall, a sitting governor spent tones of money building statues of foreign presidents that had no bearing on improving the lives of the people of the state; more so in a state where there are bad roads that needs fixing, poor health care facilities in need of upgrade, and with a good number of the population living in poverty. It is grossly immoral and insensitive for any executive to act in that manner; even if that practice has been the norm amongst politicians, it does not make it right. There are better ways to motivate players but it cannot be at the expense of public good, public interests and public rights.
Talking about governance and elected offices, let’s look at women in politics. Do you think women can do better?
Absolutely. Governance is about decision making. It requires good judgement, experience, expertise and having a great team who are competent and have a great grasp of what public service is. Women, (including men who are afraid to be part of the political process),need to realise that every political decisions affect the prices of goods and services, school feels, cost of rent, the cost of production to run a business or factory, whether to read that bachelor’s degree or not, own a car or not, drive on good roads or not, the cost of ordinary aso-ebi, a trip to see your mother in the village or not, the cost of airfare, or the choice to decide whether you want to ride in a train or boat, and every other decision that makes your life simple or difficult, that’s when it hits you profoundly that being in politics is about making important decisions that raises the standard of living for everyone.
So what qualities must a woman have to thrive in politics?
The same qualities men vying for political office must have. And since politics has been male dominated for a long time, this time around women need to change their thinking and strategic lenses if they want to add their all important contribution in making this blessed country of ours, Nigeria great. Some of the key qualities are Competence: what skills do you have? What problem are you good at solving? You must have Track Record: evidence of your contribution to society and impact. Gain a mastery of Street wisdom: common sense! Quick and smart thinking.Ability to read a situation and act intelligently and not be hoodwinked or be used for someone else’s end. Begin to learn and improve your Knowledge of campaign strategy: get a copy of Ayisha Osori’s book – LOVE DOES NOT WIN ELECTIONS. It’s a great book for beginners and long-time politicians. Have Tenacity: do you give up easily? Do you have a road map on how you’re going to achieve your goals no matter the obstacles? Possess requisite Qualification: if you say you’re known as an expert in an area, what trainings or experience have you garnered to show effectiveness? Go into politics as a Competitor. Not as one begging! Buy your own nomination form. Stop saying: I’m a woman so therefore I should be treated specially, and so therefore yours should be free or discounted. When they discount it for you, you have successfully discounted and demoted yourself. Remember, politics is for DECISION MAKERS. Not beggars. Heighten your awareness about violence against women in politics. The goal is to frighten you. Your job is to ensure you protect yourself. Avoid playing compromising games or exposing yourself unduly. Safety and security must be your watchword. Begin to plan ahead: sit down and think it through thoroughly. Meet other women and men who have been in politics. Get a solid political mentor not one who makes you a handbag carrier.
Ask them the right questions to get the right answers. Not answers that’ll make you feel good but one that adds to your knowledge base of the game. Yes. Politics is a game! So be strategic in your thinking and the moves you make. Women must change their financial mindset and stop thinking someone will, must or should sponsor them. So start today with a financial plan and start saving ahead so you won’t make silly ethical decisions that compromises you! Then you must form great alliances. There are wealthy Nigerian women who have capacity to sponsor but must do so because they believe the capacity of that woman candidate and not because they want to enshrine ‘godmotherism’ when we know ‘godfatherism’ has been the clog in the wheel of progress for Nigeria. To be successful as a woman in politics, you have to be a networker. Connect to your grassroots, your community, even the street where you live you can start making impact there. It’s a good training ground on mobilising active civic participation and engagement.
Women must also stop this practice of been used as paid-for-campaign mobilisers. It’s a tool used to further impoverish them! Women must become smarter than that. They must realise how often such mobilisers are abandoned once their uses have expired and are only called again when there’s need for them. This is how poverty is recycled. Don’t allow anybody use you. Be a decision maker and not a beggar. And once they know you won’t settle for less, they’ll begin to respect you and treat you better. And even if they don’t give you appointments, you’re better equipped to sort out your needs through competence and other skills you have.