Godwin Adodo Odemijie is a among the very popular journalists in Nigeria. Out of the many years he invested in journalism, over two decades were in health reporting. In this interview with our Health Editor, HASSAN ZAGGI, Odemijie explained how he began to cover health and what sustained him over the years. Excerpts:
For the sake of our readers, let’s meet you sir.
My name is Godwin Adodo Odemijie, born on December 4, 1957, in Ujemen, Ekpoma, Esan West Local Government Area of Edo State.
I started my educational carrier at Catholic Primary school Ihumudumu, and that was because my parents were of the Roman Catholic sect and we were forced to attend their schools until my mother complained of the distance from Ujemen to Ihumudumu about six kilometres.
We were later transferred to Assemblies of God Church Primary School, now Ujemen Primary School. There were some unfortunate incidences that derailed my educational progress but by the special hand of providence I came to Lagos.
I was later enrolled in Tope Commercial Institute, Obalende on February, 1978, for commercial subjects including typing, in the same Token Baptist School Apapa. However for some other reasons I completed my secondary education in Nigerian Model High School, Idi Oro in Lagos State. Much later in life, I attended Times Journalism Institute, TJI and University of Abuja.
I started work in Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, (FRCN) on March 18, 1977, as an office assistant, doing all manners of work; cleaning, running errands etc. What I can also say was the work of providence, was my being sent to work in the office of the Director General, Dr. Christopher Kolade, and later on with Bishop George Bako who took over from him.
However, on the 7th of January, 1980 the conversion was effected to a Secretary Typist having obtained the requisite qualification.
Another hand of providence was my being transferred to the Newsroom. My very close friend Amos Alfa was a typist in the newsroom and he has this opportunity to do extra duty and he was paid N3.00 per day.
He then introduced me to the Editor and I started coming for the extra duty too including Saturdays and Sundays. It was a big relief as it were. When the Editors saw the dexterity and accuracy I was producing their scripts they moved to the Manager News, then Chief Patrick Obazele, who contact the admin unit to effect my permanent transfer to the Newsroom.
At the Newsroom, I had the privilege of working with great broadcast Journalists including Chief Patrick Obazele, a man who inspired and supported me to be who I am today and many others. Malachy Ukpong taught me the rudiments of news writing while Zakary Mohammed who believed in me and would not give up until I got it right.
Can we say journalism was an accidental carrier you ventured into or was it deliberate?
Well, I will say both. Yes, accidental because I never thought of Journalism as a carrier when I was growing up. However, when I got to the Newsroom I was inspired and i had the desire to be one. That passion has remained in me till date.
On the other hand, I would say no, I have always sought for ways to address any form of injustice, people’s plights and improve the total well being of people and I found the privilege in Journalism. It was providence I would say that took me to where I could achieve this dream.
Over the years in the course of your practice, were there low moments that made you to regret becoming a journalist?
You see, mine was out of passion. If you are passionate about something, you count it as gain whenever you find the odd side of it. However, there were moments I was actually scared, all the same at the end of the day I counted it as gain.
One of such moments was April 22, 1990, Gideon Orkar Coup. We run shift and on that fateful day, I was on night shift. We close from the Newsroom at 12 midnight, at the gate when we were coming out, we saw a trailer which we later learnt was loaded with ex-service men who were to take over the Broadcasting House, Ikoyi Lagos.
We saw the soldiers smoking and the whole place was stinking of Indian hemp. It was a narrow escape for us that night.
We heard much later that most of the soldiers on guards at the Broadcasting House did not plan the coup with them but were conscripted when the plotters came to the premises.
Another dreadful moment for me was when I was invited to accompany the then Minister of Internal Affairs, Babagana Kingigbe on facilities tour to Prisons. At a point in Kirikiri Maxium Prison Yard, they said Journalists should not come with them to the area they were about to enter, unfortunately, I joined them. It was not that I was trying to disobey the minister, it was a feeling that I came with the Minister, so I should follow him to wherever he goes.
At the prison, I saw very high profile detainees, Titi Ajanaku, Shehu Yar’adua and a room filled with woman and children. When the Minister was told that the occupants of that room were about 70 awaiting trials I was moved with my natural instinct of defending the poor. What! “This is inhumanity”
I unconsciously voiced out. It was then they realised that a journalist was in their midst. Immediate 4 SSS men surrounded me and led me into one of their cars until the minister concluded the tour and they drove out of the place to a bush path. They brought me out and the minister walked up to where I was and shouted; “didn’t you hear when I said no journalist should follow me?’ “Yes sir. I heard you, but I thought….” I uttered, trembling. “You thought what? If any information of what you saw is broadcast you will be held responsible,” he warned. He ordered the SSS men to return my recorder and note book to me. They abandoned me there and I had to find my way to broadcasting house Ikoyi. I was not having enough means of transport but I had to trek a long distance to make up.
There are many other instances. The job of a journalist is a very risky one, but in all, I enjoyed every part of what I did as a journalist. I am still enjoying it.
You covered the health beat for the greater part of your career, what sustained your interest in covering health over the years?
Absolutely, passion, passion and passion I must say. I started effective coverage of the health sector during the National Health Summit held in Abuja in 1995. It was a gathering of Health professionals from different parts of the world including development partners and non-governmental organisations coming to deliberate on health issues affecting the nation. It was an eye opener for me. I was exposed to the many health challenges facing the nation and some of the solutions proffered at the summit to tame the tide.
Issues around Malaria, HIV, TB, infant and maternal mortality and morbidity were at the front burner. The summit provided me a template to appreciate whichever of these challenges I have to work on.
There was this visit to Benue State, the epic centre of HIV/AIDS then. In fact, the sentinel survey carried out at the time placed the state as the one with the highest prevalent rate in the country. I was in the state with the Minister of state for Health, Professor Iyowose Higher. We went to Aliede which was among the areas worst hit by the HIV scourge at the time.
In one of the Missionary hospitals there, the matron took the minister round the hospital and we got to a place where we saw six young men in one room. The Matron told the minister that these young men had HIV and they have been kept there to die honourably.
At that time, there was nothing like Anti-Retroviral Drugs (ARDs). Testing positive to HIV at that time was like a death sentence. In fact, there were reports of relatives who helped their infected loved ones to their early graves. I was so sad.
However, I came back to meet these six young men after the Minister had left. Then I greeted them. The response was chorused spontaneously. “We are hungry, we are hungry.” I was so touched. I then went to the Minister and told him that the young men were actually complaining of hunger. His response was as if what can we do? Even if we give them all the food now, they will soon die because of HIV. I wasn’t able to go back and find out the status of these boys, but up till this moment, I believe that if those boys eventually died, it will NOT be as a result of complications arising from HIV but as a result of hunger.
People do not know that being well fed is another means of managing HIV virus. If you feed very well, live positive and do a lot of exercises, you can manage HIV. That was another incident that made me to declare to be the voice of the voiceless. Anywhere injustice is found, I go for it to the best of my ability.
However, talking about whether the health beat is lucrative or not, well I would say those who focus on immediate money should look elsewhere because they will soon get frustrated and put themselves in trouble that could tarnish their reputation.
As for me, I always tell people to always pray for wisdom when approaching issues. If I have ever asked for anything from anybody be it in government or private it has never being give me money but give me job to do for mutual benefit.
Many years after I have retired from the services of Radio Nigeria, operators in the sector still call me for jobs. The founder of Albino Foundation, Jake Epele during a courtesy visit to the FRCN DG, described me as the only journalist who will not demand for monetary reward for covering the foundation’s activities.
Since that day, my DG started calling me “My Reporter.” That was because he was proud of the report he got from outsiders about his reporter. We need wisdom and discipline in the practice of our dear profession.
Another experience I had was with the focal person in charge of Cancer in the Federal Ministry of Health, Dr. Patience Oshonubi. After the news briefing for the World Cancer Day, a young lady came to me with an envelop saying she was asked to give it to me. I politely told her that as a matter of policy I do not collect such gift. Three days later I came to cover the “Walk” one of the activities organised to mark the day, behold Dr. Oshonubi and Professor Ifeoma Okoye were part of the crowd. And she came to me, “Godwin I listened to your report on the Press Conference. That was good.” My response was, “thank you very much ma, it is my pleasure”. “But you did not accept the envelop we sent to you,” she added. Before I could say a word, Professor Ifeoma Okoye said “ah, you don’t know Godwin? He won’t take such things and he does his job excellently well.” I was shocked.
No minister will say that Godwin did not do his story because we did not give him money. Over the years that has been my attitude.
I have never asked anybody to give me brown envelop as a journalist.