Nigerian Journalists: The new bride of British Council

August 10th, 2018

By Richard Abu

For two days last week, the British Council in Nigeria assembled over 100 hundred Abuja-based journalists for a capacity building workshop in its office in the nation’s capital.

In all its ramifications, it was an enriching and impactful period for the participants, who maximised every bit of the training in terms of their engagement of the carefully and thoughtfully selected resource persons. The experts easily fit in as the best in the industry as they did not fail in their assignment.

The selection of the participants, drawn from the print, broadcast, and the social media, was unique. Beside the exposure gained on new trends in media practice, new relationships were formed among the pen pushers, some of which would certainly last for a lifetime.

Kudos go to the British Council for investing so much resources in Nigerian journalists, who on the homefront are dreaded, misrepresented, vilified, derided and declared endangered species by the ruling class, brutalised by security agencies, and humiliated by even their employers and the society at large for no fault of theirs.

The only time, the Nigerian society values the journalists is when their services are needed. But not so with the British Council!

The British Council new romance with Nigerian journalists gained momentum on November 3, 2017 when it held the maiden edition of the capacity building workshop for almost the same number of media practitioners in Lagos.

The Abuja edition of the training, which was held on July 25 and 26, 2018, was however an expanded version as more resource persons were engaged and the scope and subjects of the workshop enlarged.

There are several takeaways from this programme, which was in every sense of it more practical, thought-provoking, incisive and soul-searching. I have since begun to practice what I learnt.

Even the natural environment was as friendly as the organisers and trainers.

The British Council office in Abuja does not look it the Nigerian way for organisations of such category. The entrance does not indicate or exemplify any luxury. Human and vehicular traffic is low. The car park is small. There are no convoys of vehicles accompanying officials in and out. The security agents, both regular and private guards, know their work and their limit.

Inside the premises on the heart of the elitist Maitama District of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), are a few buildings, none is gigantic. There are also no workers gathering in groups discussing anything, such as political trends in Nigeria. The walkway to Great Hall, the venue of the workshop is well-paved. The rich green grass and the tall trees hovering over you with refreshing air make the atmosphere congenial for learning. There is no noise pollution from any generating set, the trademark of most Nigerian offices.

I searched for a dustbin and found none. The few leaves that fell from the trees in the morning when I entered the compound were no longer there at lunch time.

Inside the Great Hall is nothing unique except the great minds who have gathered there to learn, exchange, and trade with ideas.

Painted all white, the hall is filled with well-arranged tables to sit between six and eight participants. The rest room is everything rest. With eight of such rooms, four apiece for males and females, there is no queuing at all. In Nigeria, public offices of such magnitude, only two toilets would suffice: one for each gender, so that the people can queue, knock and shout on anyone staying too long.

Inside the toilets, there is no water spilling on the floor from the taps as there is no leakage of any kind. It is a lesson in public health. I have since reflected these observations in my home.

Back to the subject in focus. This mutually-beneficial workshop to the British government, the British Council on one hand, and the Nigerian journalists and ultimately, the country on the other hand, started on July 25 and ended the next day. Because of the rich content of the Lagos series, which I personally sponsored myself to attend I came well-prepared for the Abuja segment. And I was not disappointed.

The first day featured introduction and overview of the British Council, which Louisa Waddingham and Dr. Bob Arnot of the British Council were on hand to address. It was followed by a spicer from young and promising Nigerian award-winning journalist, Mr. Arukanino Umokoro, who charged the atmosphere with his topic: “Upholding journalism ethics in the age of social media: Sifting facts from fake news.”

Umokoro, the CNN/MultiChoice African Journalist of the Year (Sports) 2016, has read more than his age. He also knows more than his contemporaries. His new ethical code: “Stop, Reflect and Verify” to check fake news made the session very revealing and interesting.

Next was this enterprising and apparently unsung sensation in the journalism profession: Lauratu Umar-Abdulsalam, who dwelt on “Conflict sensitive journalism.” For the two days that the workshop lasted, Umar-Andulsalam kept the participants glued to their chairs with rapt attention as she went through the danger and damage done by media men with their sensational publications, especially stereotyped headlines.

Her practical session on election conflict mapping ahead of the 2019 general elections was an eye-opener for all.

In this session, the womenfolk were very outstanding and extra-ordinary. Two of them headed the three groups, leaving only one to the men. This was not by censorship. The women were just too daring, calculating, articulate, and poise. I thank God that I sat to learn from them. Nigerian women journalists are great. Don’t crucify me. Ask their sole male ‘challenger’ (name withheld) for security reasons?

The first day ended with the vociferous Fusi Olateru-Olagbegi of the British Council, who focused on “Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in the Nigeria Media.” After his all-encompassing lecture, which exposed the participants’ biases, a colleague whispered into my ears that he is walking away from his prejudices. And I concurred.

With these mind-blowing teachings on the first day, the hall was filled to capacity the second, which was also the last day, with even new attendees.

Again, the resource persons lived up to expectations.

After the Head of Communications, British High Commission, Louise Edwards, opened the session with “Walking together with journalists”, another great mind, Dr. Lanre Phillips of Elpee Consulting, fired up the hall with “Storytelling in contemporary Nigeria.”

With age and strength still on his side, this scholar and creative brand master, came with slides on the changing phase of various brands, to pass his message. His thought-provoking and soul-searching presentation opened the participants to the inevitable conclusion that the print media is seriously under threat.

The way to go therefore was rebranding both individually and institution-wise to remain relevant. He was emphatic that the future of the media belongs to the online sub-sector, and in fact, the bloggers with facts in monetary term.

Even from the British Council were great facilitators – Nnamdi Odiwe and Nwabugwu Sunday. Thank you Odiwe for drawing me closer to my children through your revelations on “Child Protection Policy” and Sunday for the insight into “Impact of Our Activities on the Environment.”

The Head of Communications and Marketing and Communications, Edemekong Uyoh, deserves special mention for always knowing when to intervene in the sessions which were devoid of the conventional, but boring theories and theorems.

Each time she intervened, Eddy, as she is well known, always lifted the spirit and curiosity of the participants.

Then the sumptuous meals also deserve a mention. Although, I was watching from the sideline because it was a week declared by my church for prayer and fasting for the rescue of the soul of Nigeria, a senior colleague, who shared the same table with me was impressed with the meals and quietly asked one of the officials for the source.

At this time, I did the needful by approaching the officials for a takeaway. After due consultations, I was obliged. So I did not go home empty.

Next time, British Council!

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