For starters, pursuing any career path in Nigeria or even other developing nations is a challenging endeavour for women. And this is not because of their capacity and capability to do the job, but the cultural and social limitations of our society. With the right environment, women have been described as better managers who get the job done.
A professor of International Law and Policy at the World Maritime University Malmo, Sweden, Professor Max Mejia who was in Lagos recently to facilitate a workshop told me and I quote “if you want a job done, give it to a man. But if you want a job done very well, give it to a woman”.
You will agree with me that this is apt. The diligence, care and attention that women bring to bear on assigned tasks usually make the difference.
Journalism is the kind of profession where the practitioner is always on the move following that lead that will culminate in a cover story or breaking news. To cut your teeth in the profession, the rudiments of reporting a beat or beats and gathering useful knowledge is important.
This explains why most of the brilliant columnists we have around also had glorious careers as reporters.
Being a very mobile profession, women have had a hard time practicing journalism and the reasons are not far fetched. Women are naturally family oriented, who have to take care of their children including the first born son, the husband. They therefore tend to dislike jobs that are capable of keeping them away from home.
The situation in the north is particularly worrisome where religious and cultural restrictions are imposed on the woman. Besides, opportunities to ply their trade are also limited in north. There is no gainsaying that the west controls the media in Nigeria.
Of course it has not been all gloom. Some Northern women have and are still doing remarkable work in journalism whose recognition go beyond the shores of Nigeria. The Hauwa Baba Ahmeds who graced our TV screens in the ’80s and early ’90s casting the NTA Network News and Bilkisu Yusuf quickly come to mind.
Others include Hauwa Funtua, Fatima Abass, Aisha Bello Katung all of the NTA fame.
We also had the likes of Kadaria Ahmed, Jamila Tangaza, Delu Mohammed, Grace Alkheri and Bilkisu Labaran who were practicing on the international scene. These northern journalists were at various times with either the BBC or the VOA. Here the likes of Christian Amanpour of CNN and our own Nigerian born CNN Zain Asher.
Hajia Bilkisu Yusuf is one the first women, not just of northern extraction, to have served as Editor of a national newspaper and two others: New Nigerian,Sunday Triumph Kano and Citizen magazine Kaduna. She had been a columnist for Leadership and Daily Trust newspapers as well. She was a reputable journalist and fierce columnist whose passion for women empowerment and inter faith society knew no bounds.
As you are probably aware, Hajia Bilkisu Yusuf who was educated in Nigeria, America and Russia died in September 2015 during the stampede in Saudi Arabia where she had gone for Hajj.
Another Northern professional who has carved a niche for herself is Kadaria Ahmed. She is a media entrepreneur and journalist whose career spans over 20 years. She co-created, produced and presented “Straight Talk” for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in London while in their employ. Kadaria has also been Editor of the Award winning NEXT newspaper, 234next.com, and more recently had programs on Channels Television.
Even yours truly was a journalist and producer at the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) Minna, rising to the position of News Editor before switching careers to Public Relations. And this was at a relatively young age of 26.
There are also many other northern women who are quietly doing their bit in the profession in the print, broadcast and online media all over the country.
It must be noted that the barriers to successful careers by northern women are slowly but surely being lifted. It is more common now for husbands to allow women to harness their potentials in careers of their choice rising to the very zenith of their professions. Twenty years ago, only men who were brave enough to withstand being called weak by their peers let their wives follow their dreams.
With the revolution in Information and Communications Technology at the turn of the second half of the century, opportunities for women participation in journalism have grown exponentially. Without leaving the comfort of their homes, women can realize their potentials in journalism through the advancement of information technology.
News reporting is also slowly moving away from analogue (traditional media) to digital (online or new media). ICT has made mass communication even more heterogeneous and anonymous. The simultaneity of news reports is now even more instantaneous.
ICT has also brought increased awareness for consumers of information and aided their yearning for more information. Little wonder the online media even in Nigeria has continued to grow in leaps and bounds.
To grab this opportunity however, Northern women must be ready for the task. Continuous capacity building is a cardinal principle. Women, just like their male counterparts must continually develop themselves, mentor the younger ones, if they want to be on top of this game whose rules keep changing.
Gone are the days when people waited every morning for the newspapers to hit the stands to know what happened yesterday. Or families crowded around the TV in the evening to learn of events and happenings around them, locally or even globally.
Above all however, northern women must break the seeming barriers that have held them back all these years. They must seek to conquer by preparing through education for the tasks ahead.
On this score, a tribute written by Hakeem Baba Ahmed and published in Daily Trust of September 27, 2015 in honour of Hajia Bilkisu Yusuf cannot be more apt. Part of the tribute reads and I quote “neither her faith nor gender became an obstacle to her dogged determination and confidence that she could achieve results, in a social context with fairly rigid lines around both”.
I am sure we can all agree that the times of Hajia Bilkisu were much more difficult for northern women than we have today. Northern women in contemporary Nigeria therefore have far less an obstacle to contend with now and therefore little excuse for not aspiring for the top in their journalism career.
With determination, education, commitment, dedication and doggedness or even refusal to accept the norm, northern women can make their marks in journalism and develop their own versions of Late May Mofe Damijo, MEE, as she was popularly called, late Remi Oyo, Funke Egbemode, Ijeoma Nwogwugwu, the beautiful, young, enterprising Azuka Ogujiuba of THISDAY and the like.
These women didn’t get to where they got because they were beautiful, which they all are. They got to this level working hard at what they loved.
And for this I think the words of an American President of old Theodore Roosevelt were actually meant for female Journalism professionals from northern Nigeria when he said “far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing”.
Indeed, whatever is worth doing, is worth doing well.
Tumaka is Director, Special Duties at the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA).