Friday, 16 October 2020

Women in Journalism: C'River governor's media aide, Imani gives insight after 10 years of practice

"Journalism is beyond the story, for me, Journalism is a passion. I have always loved to have the opportunity to speak the minds of people... I have been able to bring succour to the voiceless in my own little way through those stories. This alone is fulfilling."

"... I don't think I would have done well in any other field besides journalism. As a journalist, you may not really have the money to give out to people to help in solving their immediate needs, but you are able to identify a challenge, you are able to follow up through these challenges and draw up interventions. Because I ventured into journalism."

Those were the words of, Imani Odey, the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor of Cross River State, Ben Ayade on Electronic Media says, who having spent a decade in journalism, narrates her experience as a female journalist. 

In this exclusive interview with Efio-Ita Nyok of Negroidhaven, mani bares her mind about the challenges, hazards and joys of the profession. She said she is more focused now, than ever to change the perception about women in journalism.


Press: Good morning, Ma. Please may we get to know you.

Imani: My name is Imani Odey. I hail from Bekwarra Local Government Area of Cross River State. I am graduate of the Department of theatre and performing arts of the prestigious Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.

Press: We are looking at your sojourn into journalism. Can you tell us what your experience has been so far?

Imani: I gained my first media exposure as a corp member. I was posted to the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) Sokoto Network Center, Sokoto State. That was where this whole journey started, and over these years I have been privileged to work with veterans in the profession.

"I have spent 10 years in practice as a journalist. This first decade has been one I will describe as a learning process for me. You know every veteran was once a novice and I still consider myself in that humble capacity irrespective of what credit people ascribe to me. I tell people that 'I am a moving train, trying to pick speed each and everyday.'

"I have been privileged to attend various trainings and workshops within and outside Cross River State. I have been mentored by some of the big shots in the industry as well as making conscious decisions to match my pals and contemporaries across the world.

"So, in the past ten years, I have tried to improve my writing skills to match various events and to develop my own style of writing because I know originality is key and it is the surest way of getting recognitions.

"I have attended over a thousand events in the last ten years but some are so dear to my heart. 
Imani working on a story

Press: Can you mention a few of those events dear to you?

Imani: Yes, they include; 
1. My amnesty experience while I was with the Nigerian Television Authority
2. Coverage of the money woman marriage in Becheve community of Obanliku Local Government Area 
3. The story of an Obudu community where men speak differently from women
4. Coverage of some Bakassi Strike Force activities, that is the ex militant group
5. The coverage of the Ikot Nkebre community erosion site which brought relief to them amongst others
6. The trade by barter practice in Akpabuyo
7. The story on people who lived in caves for many decades which was referred to as the stone age culture
8. The mentally challenged family that got rehabilitated and reintegrated into the society
9. The community where the first shot was fired that sparked the Nigerian Civil War 
10. The historic Lugard wall which demarcated the northern and southern protectorates and could have been an international boundary as well as 
11. A series of reportage on the condition of Bakassi returnees which has attracted more attention to them to mention a few.

Press: Amongst all these, which made you the most excited?

  Imani in a local community gathering her report 

Imani: That would be the coverage of the rehabilitation and reintegration of ex militants in the Niger Delta region. I was privileged to be the only NTA reporter for both local and Network news as at that time who did that.

"They were trained by the Foundation For Ethnic Harmony In Nigeria (FEHN) under the supervision of its then chairman, Barrister Allen Onyema at the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) Orientation camp, Obubura.

"That was the first major event I covered as a staff of NTA. I also served as the Cross River State Government house correspondent for three years before seeking for a newer experience with Channels Television, shortly after resigning my appointment with NTA."

Press: How did that shape your ability to search for news?

Imani: In many ways than I ever imagined. As  a staff of Channels TV, I got posted to Government House Calabar, but my duties were not limited to government and its activities. I had the opportunity to take adventurous moves which grew my passion for community reporting and other forms of investigative journalism.
"My encounters with militants, 'the Bakassi Strike Force,' exposed their activities in the peak of militancy in the various creeks of Bakassi which later paved way for their denouncement and amnesty from the government.

"The experience is unforgettable, having left my six months baby at home to get that story out is a proof of my passion for the profession. I saw sophisticated weapons in their numbers for the first time ever, at first I regretted taking this adventurous move, I was scared to my bone marrow but I later summoned courage and let go of my fears.

"Asides that, I am also proud that, the Bakassi returnees can boast of decent accomodation today. It took me six years of constant reporting on their plight through thick and thin to achieve that.

"I am happy for the interventions by the Governor Ben Ayade-led government in which they are now enjoying.

"They had lived in classroom blocks through the previous years under harsh conditions with little or no hope to experience a new life outside what they were used to as returnees.

"I still recall a woman who died during child birth in one of the classrooms arising from pregnancy related complications. Many more had also lost their lives in other preventable circumstances. I am glad that, the narrative is gradually changing for them.

"On other infrastructural needs, several "Save Our Souls" reportage on the Calabar - Ikom - Katsina-Ala highway as well as the Calabar - Itu - Ikot-Ekpene drew the attention of the government. In fact, I remember the Biase axis of the Calabar - Ikom section had caved in, but there was prompt response. 

"Through these years, I also followed up on a story of a trending picture posted by one Progress Oberiko, who raised alarm about the condition of a mentally deranged family who had roamed various streets in the northern senatorial district of the state hoping on fate for survival. Their condition got me worried which led me to seek ways of reaching out to relevant agencies for intervention.

"With lots of follow-ups, the family as at my last check a little above a year ago are all mentally and psychologically balanced and now independent and enterprising."
With Sen. Florence Ita-Giwa

Press: Your report on the money woman marriage story was topical for weeks, shed more light on the experience.

Imani: The money woman marriage practice in Nigeria is a cultural practice that dates back to centuries ago where young girls are given to older men to offset debts owed by family members either in form of money or farm produce. In some cases, you find a toddler or a kid of 12 years given to a 60 year old man. Through the help of a missionary, Pastor Richards Akonam and a few colleagues, it was exposed through a thorough investigation by my report on Channels Television. Other media outlets followed suite.

"It was truly a heart wrenching experience for me that still hurts each time I think of it. The story is available on ChannelsTV website.

Press: The Bakassi returnees, your principal has relocated them, is there a sense of fulfillment in that? Especially being the one who told the story and is now involved in the resettlement as an aide?

Imani: I really want to commend the governor of Cross River State for what he did for the Bakassi returnees. This is a story I followed up selflessly for six years and I remember visiting them severally in their classroom blocks where they lived through these years. No matter how hardened you are, each time one visits that place, the truth is you will be moved to tears because of their predicaments.

"They cooked where they lived, about fifty of them clustered in each classrooms.  The men, women and children all co-habited there. These are people displaced for no fault of theirs. Shortly after the governor assumed office and paid a first visit to their temporary camp at Saint Mark's primary school, Akpabuyo, he was moved to tears and had promised to to relocate them from that place to a better location.

"Today the story is different. He has relocated them. I really want to commend my boss, Prof. Ben Ayade for what he did for the Bakassi people. It is something we should celebrate him for. We should celebrate the governor for bringing succour to these people.

"I recently visited them at their new apartment and they were excited to have moved in and trying to pick up the pieces of their lives back."

Press: Does this mean journalism for you is more about stories you are passionate about?

Imani: Journalism is a passion. I have always loved to have the opportunity to speak the minds of people. Besides, I don't think I would have done well in any other field besides journalism. As a journalist, you may not really have the money to give out to people to help in solving their immediate needs, but you are able to identify a challenge, you are able to follow up through these challenges and draw up interventions. Because I ventured into journalism, I have been able to bring succour to the voiceless in my own little way.

Press: Asides having to leave your child behind, what other challenges have you faced?

Imani: Every job comes with its level of challenges and especially a high and tasking job like the media job. Every day we face new challenges but the mind is what determines growth or downfall, so I have tried to turn challenges into opportunities.

"First as a young professional, I wasn't accepted and welcomed into the industry the way I wanted. I felt I was going to be celebrated and encouraged by everyone I meet. But, unfortunately, they had some assignments where they never logged me into, and others where they felt I won't perform well but by God's grace, I gave in my best and got results. Many also  felt I was too young and for being a woman but these are not new huddles, they were there before I came, and will be there when I retire. These challenges will still be there.

"Another challenge is the fact that,every interested party wants your story to speak their minds and if you try to balance the story up, you will be tagged biased.

"I remember working on elections duties while I was heavily pregnant, I was attacked by some law enforcement agents without them minding my condition.

"I remember also being tracked by security personnel during the peak of militancy in Bakassi. It was demoralising and pathetic but all the same, I did not give up, I had to step up and show pictorial evidence to events.

"Very recently, I was summoned to the electoral tribunal to stand as a witness against the report I made during the elections, I would have felt pained but I saw it as another challenge and obstacle I needed to jump over.

"Most people feel it is a male dominated profession forgetting the fact that women are gradually taking over now. In the course of doing my job, I have traveled by sea in turbulent weather conditions, I have traveled by land to hard to reach communities. I have risked my life severally in getting out most of these stories. Most men won't even want to dare that and when they watch these demanding reports, they are forced to believe that what a man can do, a woman can even do it better.

"Most women want to see other women succeed but some men who are supposed to support you as a woman feel threatened because of the acceptance one is gaining in the society. 

"I want to use this medium to appreciate some male veterans and colleagues who have stood by me, giving me priceless advices and defending me when the need arises in my journey so far in the media practice."

Press: You are now an aide to the Governor of Cross River State, how did the transition feel like? 

Imani: I did not see the appointment coming, my mind wasn't fixed on getting any appointment as at when it came. I got to know about the appointment few hours before it was announced. When it was first announced in 2019, shortly after my principal's inauguration for a second term in office, many people tried to speak me out of it, I had to go on consultations with some of my senior colleagues, mentors as well as those who play fatherly roles in my life; I told them my plans and how professional I was going to be of which today many have seen it.

"Upon acceptance of the appointment, I gave myself sometime to study the environment and later came up with my own strategy of making a difference and immediately I got inspired to start up something that wasn't in existence in the State. I began making short videos of the Governor's activities to amplify his achievements. 

"The videos are usually circulated to different online platforms and are watched across the globe. We have been consistent in this regard and most people are gradually adapting same. I am glad that I set the pace using my office (Smiles).

"Prior to accepting this appointment, I had spoken with my boss, the Governor, Senator Ben Ayade on my plans and the approach to my job, which he approved of.

"So, it's not totally different from working with a media firm and working for government. Both assignments are targeted at the same course.

"Again, rather than looking out for all angles of a story, my main target now is my principal and how to give him the best PR. I am concerned about what my principal does and how it affects the lives of people especially those in the grassroots.

Community Reporting 

Press: What is your position on the debate about who manages the image of a public office holder, A PR Expert or a Journalist?

Imani: I think if you hire one with experience you tend to achieve better results. I remember when I just got appointed into government, some of the first persons who called to congratulate me were my superiors at Channels TV, other professional colleagues with experiences in government, Mr. Anietie Akpan of Guardian Newspaper, Mr. Bassey Inyang of This Day Newspaper, Mudiaga Affe of Punch Newspaper, Nicolas Kalu of Nation Newspaper, George Odok of NAN, Eyo Charles of Daily Trust Newspaper, Eme Offiong of Voice of Nigeria, Umo Bassey-Edet, the then acting HOD of the news and current affairs department, NTA Calabar,
Rasheed Olanrewaju of AIT, Sunny Inah of CRBC and others all called to felicitate with me.

At different intervals, "They told me that this was one appointment the governor really got right. One told me, 'Imani, you have the experience and we believe that, you will deliver on the mandate.'

"So, if you hire someone with experience you are able to deliver on the mandate and leave foot prints in the sands of time."

Press: From your experience as a journalist and then a public officer, what do you think are the major needs of an average Nigerian?

Imani: Nigerians don't really require much from government if you ask me. We just need the basics. Power, water, quality and affordable health services, infrastructure and security because we are resilient and keep thriving no matter the odds.

Press: When you look at the gender balance, is the woman at an advantage or disadvantaged?

Imani: The woman is disadvantaged but with lots of sensitization and breakthroughs by other successful women over the years, more women are clamouring to make positive changes in the society.

"The female body is easily adaptable to any condition, be it stress or pain,we try and adapt.

"Some people see us as the weaker gender, but deep down, every goal driven woman would want to make an impact and stand independently in making her name and leaving legacies.

"Some people feel that women in journalism are loose, that they are easily cajoled and people always take advantaged of. But, trust me, it is not true. Yes, there may be a few individuals, but, it is unfair to hastily generalize what a few may do without any research conducted.

"In fact, many women have stood their grounds and made better investigative jobs the same way most men have. You remember the BBC reporter who exposed the sex for grade scandal in some public universities?

"We work in various hard terrains and war regions, I have been opportuned to speak with someone who has been in the front line reporting about the Boko Haram incident in Maiduguri, and she is doing better than some of her male colleagues."

Press: What is your advice for upcoming Nigerian journalists on the do's and don'ts in order to get their foot in the industry.

Imani: They need to be driven by passion because if you don't have passion for the job, you won't be able to leave legacies behind.

"Don't put money in front of you, don't try to be popular by being controversial, be professional in your reports. Write and talk with evidence, be thorough, don't rush into conclusions without making findings. The money will come, recognitions will come as well as recommendations.

"The truth is, I still see myself as a novice in the profession. 10 years is not enough to rate myself in the league of veterans. So, upcoming professionals should not think they have arrived when they have not. Let your work announce you to the world. You don't need to keep blowing your trumpet at every given time. The men should try to encourage women in the profession."

Press: What do you think mainstream journalists need to improve their career and the practice of journalism in Nigeria?

Imani: First, we should make conscious efforts towards self development by investing in one's capacity.

"Professional bodies should organise in-house trainings to develop the skills of their members.

"Government should from time to time subsidize tuition fees for journalists to encourage them attend seasonal trainings on professional courses both within and outside the country.

"We need support from various organizations. Channels TV has been at the front burner in this regard so far."

Press: You have shared your experience, but do you think journalism has impacted positively on Nigeria and Nigerians in the past ten years?

Imani: Absolutely yes and you can put that in capital letters.

"Most of the human angle stories I had done got interventions as earlier highlighted.

"You heard of the sex for grades scandals in universities across the country. A female reporter from the BBC carried out that investigation and you will agree with me that since that time after the news broke, most lecturers are now being careful of their relationship with female students. 

"That is what journalism does. It changes the perception of people in a positive light.

"I still believe in the journalism profession. Well, the issue now is most people are not factual in their reports. Most people are quick to criticizing without evidence. And that's what makes people want to lose faith in journalism. 

"The media will be appreciated more if journalists criticize constructively and carry out investigations before publications."
Imani with a colleague from NAN

Press: Have you received any commendation in the form of an award so far?

Imani: Yes, I have received a couple of awards but I will speak on one of the most recent which came from the National Association Of Women Journalists at the 30th anniversary of the body (smiles).

"Recently, I was awarded by the national women body in recognition of a scary story I did at the peak of militancy in Bakassi.

"Many people who watched the report while it trended commended my guts for getting that story out through the help of Channels TV."

NegroidHaven: Reflecting on your journey so far, there must be some people you want to thank right?

Imani: My first decade of journalism practice, I must confess has really been worthwhile.

"I am thankful to God almighty for the gift of life, wisdom, preservation and provision. 

"I am grateful to my boss, the Governor of Cross River State for believing in my capabilities.

"I am grateful to the NTA family for nurturing my journalism dream and to the management and staff of Channels Television for keeping the dream alive.

"I appreciate my supporters for their prayers, advices and believing in my style of journalism.

Umo Bassey-Edet has solidly stood by me through these years in ensuring that, I become a global brand someday soon.

"For my family, their support has been endless. I can't thank them enough for the constant pat on the back.

"As for my dearest daddy, his legacies will forever live on (sobs). May he continue to rest in peace."

Press: Thank you very much for your time.

Imani: You are welcome.