Nchetachi Chukwuajah, a young female journalist with about four years of experience, was on a quest to develop her career and learn new skills that would enable her to advance in the media industry. While searching for capacity-building opportunities for young media professionals, Chukwuajah came across a call for applications for Investigative Journalism training for female journalists by the Women Radio Centre (WRC).
Little did she know she would be one of the selected out of 183 applicants for the maiden fellowship programme of the WRC. This became a turnaround for her career.
“At the time I applied for the Women Radio Centre fellowship programme, I was at a point in my career where I was looking for a new challenge and adventure. I wanted an opportunity for growth and knew the fellowship programme would be a good place to start and I was not disappointed; it is the springboard for my voyage into reporting women-related issues.” Chukwuajah explained.
WRC, an initiative of Women Radio 91.7 supported by MacArthur Foundation with accreditation from Bayero University Kano, was launched in 2022 to build the next generation of female investigative journalists who will produce in-depth and high-quality stories that can advance and promote the rights of women in Nigeria.
The fellowship programme welcomed applications from female journalists from across Nigeria with a balanced selection process to ensure journalists from all the 6-geopolitical zones benefit.
Taiwo Adeleye, Project Lead at WRC, explained that the Centre was set up to address the gap in the under-reportage of women’s issues and the representation of female journalists in the field of investigative reporting.
Adeleye said “historically, women have been underrepresented in investigative journalism, facing challenges such as limited access to training, limited opportunities, and gender-based biases. The centre seeks to bridge this gap by providing specific training and support to empower young women to take on investigative roles.
“We are also building a network of journalists in the field to create a supportive community for budding female investigative journalists, facilitating networking opportunities, mentorship, and connections with experienced professionals in the industry.”
The fellowship program in its first year was a week-long residential immersive training programme for 20 selected applicants. After the training, the 20 WRC fellows class of 2022 received tools ranging from laptops, spy cameras, spy pens, etc to help them with their investigations.
In 2023, the faculty was led by Dapo Olorunyomi and training was collapsed into three intensive days including a visit to Olumo Rock and Itoku Adire markets in Abeokuta Ogun State. The 20 WRC fellows class of 2023 received story grants to enable them to pursue investigative stories.
Adeleye explained that “the 2023 faculty and coaching programme was led by Dapo Olorunyomi, Publisher Premium Times, with support from Dr. Suleiman M. Yar’Adua – Associate Professor Bayero University Kano and 8 other veterans who guided the journalists by providing not only career advice but also valuable insights and support. The coaches were available 24-7 to guide them in developing and executing their stories. The centre also supported fellows with story grants for their investigative stories and we ensured that fellows have access to necessary resources, including research materials and tools required for investigative reporting.”
She added that the centre partners with other media houses to promote the works of the fellows and give visibility to fellows, including speaking opportunities at conferences and other training workshops. The centre has also facilitated networking and collaboration opportunities for female journalists, leading to partnerships with other media organisations and women’s groups.
By providing a platform for immersive training, mentorship, and resources for female journalists, the WRC is not only empowering individual journalists but also contributing to the advancement of women’s rights through high-quality reporting.
Turning the tide for female journalists
Angela Nkwo-Akpolu, Senior Imo State Correspondent, Leadership Newspaper with 22 years of experience in journalism and a 2023 fellow of the WRC, also applied for the fellowship because of the desire to “learn new things especially as it relates to gender mainstreaming. I also wanted a major career boost and I saw it as an opportunity to harness that.”
The training has not just added to the numbers for the beneficiaries, rather, it has made a major impact in their career.
Yecenu Sasetu, Broadcaster at KissFM and 2022 fellow, explained that the training has advanced her journalism skills beyond reporting to telling in-depth and data-driven stories that drive impact.
She said “I now look critically at my storytelling. I am also able to infuse data into my storytelling not as figures alone but as part of the story.”
Chukwuajah also corroborated that the fellowship programme has been impactful as it drew her attention to media portrayal and reportage of women-related issues.
She explained that “the key lesson for her is that “only a woman can report women’s issues better. With this understanding, I consciously began to look for and mainstream the ‘woman angle’ in my reports and story writing.”
The Ibadan-based journalist also noted that “the quality of faculty available during the training immersed me in the knowledge of investigative reporting of issues related to women. This has invaluably contributed to the quality of my report; they are no longer the business-as-usual type because I realised, especially through the value the training created, that my report will ultimately shape the narrative of media reporting and portrayal of women.
“In fact, since being a Women Radio Centre fellow, I have leveraged the benefits for other media fellowship opportunities. The fellowship programme set me on the path of being a ‘women affairs reporter,’ a toga I am more than happy to wear.”
In its second year, 40 female journalists have been trained on the rudiments of investigative journalism, which has increased the representation of female journalists in the field of investigative reporting.
Adeleye said “the centre has produced successful stories and investigations led by the journalists who received training through the programme. Angela Nkwo-Akpolu reported on the Sit-At-Home effect on women in Imo state, Jennifer Ugwa wrote on the issue of Osu Caste against single women in Southeast Nigeria, Grace Obike reported on HIV/AIDS stigmatisation of women in Borno IDP camp, Maryam Rufai produced a Hausa radio programme on the abuse of Kayanmata and how it destroys marriages.
Esther Alaribe, Programmes Manager at Women Radio 91.7 also acknowledged the impact made by the Centre as it has also benefitted some student journalists from the Department of Mass Communication at Bayero University, Kano.
Tools or grants – supporting journalists to do their work
As part of the fellowship program, the WRC provides work tools and story grants for the beneficiaries, to help them do their work effectively and efficiently.
The 2022 fellows were given tools ranging from laptops, spy cameras, recorders, and high-end telephones for mobile journalists to aid and support their investigative reporting.
Chuwkuajah requested a laptop, and according to her, it has been quite valuable and has been of immense help in her work as a journalist.
“Given how essential a laptop is to journalism, I no longer have to worry about how to get my ideas and stories documented and my files safely stored. All I have to do now is let the ideas flow,” she added.
However, in 2023, the centre gave story grants where the fellows submitted story pitches under the guidance of their coaches and grants were approved to execute their stories.
Mariya Shuaibu Suleiman, a broadcast journalist working with BUK FM in Kano state and a 2023 fellow, on her part received a story grant and according to her, the grant made her story ideas a reality “and it helped me to accomplish the investigation that I pursued in Jos”
Suleiman noted that without the grant, the fellows would not have been able to achieve anything.
A drop in the ocean
While the fellowship program has been quite impactful for the recipients, there is a major limitation in its reach. In the first year, there were 813 applicants and only 20 applicants were selected, which is about 0.41% of total applicants. In 2023, 1552 applicants applied but just 20 were direct beneficiaries, which is about 0.77% of total applicants.
This fraction signifies the huge number of female journalists who would never be opportune to emerge as female investigative journalists through the WRC fellowship programme because of the limited number of beneficiaries and resources to accommodate more female journalists who apply for the fellowship.
Although the selection process is diverse and inclusive, the centre cannot accommodate all the applicants, and like Adeleye said, “our application process is thorough but without discrimination, as we selected one nursing mother in 2022 and 2 nursing mothers in 2023 and catered for their nannies as well, so anybody can apply including persons with disabilities as long as they meet the selection criteria.
Adeleye said the centre would have loved to do more, but there are limited resources to accommodate more than 20 female journalists at a time.
“We are very grateful to the MacArthur Foundation for supporting and making this vision a reality. We would love to give this training opportunity to at least 50 young journalists, including young female journalists with disabilities, every year but for limited funding.
“The economic constraints affected our capacity to take on more beneficiaries. The increased cost of flying participants from across the 6 geopolitical zones, and work tools that enable fellows to carry out their investigative reports successfully on the field has also limited how we make tools available to fellows.”
Also, because the centre doesn’t have unending funding resources, it is impossible for the funding for female-centric stories to continue ceaselessly. Thus, female journalists who might have been trained by the centre might possibly not be able to produce quality women-centred stories if they do not have access to adequate funds.
Beyond the WRC operation’s cost, Adeleye noted that “we also faced gender biases and stereotypes that affected the perception of female journalists and their ability to cover certain topics in their regions.”
Charting the way forward
Suleiman believes the training programme should be more extensive beyond the three-day programme that was organised for her set in 2023.
Nkwo-Akpolu’s spirit was dampened when she didn’t receive work tools as the 2022 fellows did.
She said “The sudden refusal not to release work tools dampened most of us as I looked forward to a spy camera. That policy should be revisited if there’s funding of course.”
Nkwo-Akpolu also recommended that the faculty members should be committed to providing constant support for the fellows, because according to her, “I think the centre partners with tutors that are just too busy! Other fellows in the broadcast sector appear to be grappling with this issue.”
On her part, Sasetu proposed that the WRC should “develop a system to ensure that fellows are followed up adequately to make the training programme more impactful.”
Chukwuajah believes that the WRC needs to have a detailed follow-up mechanism that ensures accountability from fellows and step-by-step actualisation of set goals.
She remarked that “fellows from previous cohorts who have demonstrated capacity can be included as coaches, resource persons, trainers; more like backward integration of the training and exposure of the fellowship.”
Going forward, Adeleye affirmed that there were teething challenges with the 1st set of fellows in 2022 and agreed with Chukwuajah on accountability on the part of 2022 fellows.
She said “most of the fellows are working journalists and we took the feedback of class of 2022 and addressed this with the 2023 fellows with more strategic planning with each of the fellows having a coach that works closely in a systemic manner. We also had one of the 2022 fellows as a guest speaker who shared her experience and gave tips to guide the 2023 class. We are already seeing the positive results from the class of 2023 set.
Alaribe said that the centre will “continue to provide a platform for women journalists to investigate and report on issues affecting women and marginalised communities, and hope that these stories would lead to policy changes that address gender disparities and injustices, influencing legislative reforms and societal attitudes, especially for women and girls.”
Regarding the lapses identified by the fellows, Alaribe explained that “2022 was our first trial, and we have been able to make and see improvements in 2023, we had a few hiccups during planning and execution.
“We have done an appraisal of the past programmes and identified the areas we need to improve on, a more critical selection process, and a coaching programme for the female journalists after the programme.”
Quite promising for upcoming fellows
Some of the trained 40 fellows are already excelling in their careers, driving impact in the world of journalism and telling women-centred stories that are often underreported.
For Chukwuajah, a major lesson for her during the fellowship programme was about proper positioning and being visible to leadership.
She noted that “the training programme awakened my consciousness to aspire for newsroom and media leadership by being visible, standing out, and doing great work. I learned that I can dream it, work towards it, and attain great heights as a female journalist.”
She charged incoming fellows for subsequent years on the need to consider the fellowship as a great opportunity to harness their skills, grow their networks, and improve their capacity as female investigative journalists.
For Suleiman, the upcoming fellows should be committed, willing to learn, and ready to network.
Nkwo-Akpolu believes it is “a beautiful place to learn, make friends, and network. Embrace it, give it your best, I assure you the benefits will be limitless.”
To current fellows, upcoming fellows, and female journalists in Nigeria, Alaribe advised that “never stop learning, keep at it as you advance yourself in adapting to new technologies and storytelling methods. Embrace Your Voice and use it in amplifying underrepresented Voices, be a champion for inclusivity and representation by showcasing people at the grassroots.
“Challenge stereotypes in your stories and your professional journey, the road is tough but do not be deterred, embrace collaborations for support, build and join active networks to support you professionally, personally and mentally”.
The Women Radio Centre, Nigeria’s First Female Academy, established on 8 August 2022 to train women in media is an initiative of Women Radio 91.7 with support from the MacArthur Foundation. Applications for the 2024 set will open in January.