They all beamed with smiles as they basked in undiluted excitement. They were 20 – all female journalists who participated in the 2019 Female Reporters Leadership Project (FRLP) organised by the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ).
Their elation was understandable. After six months of intensive training, reports and projects execution, they came together to say a final goodbye to one another having been inducted as fellows of the FRLP with the support of the Free Press Unlimited.
The induction ceremony marked the end of the six-month fellowship, which entailed a four-day training, three-month mentorship, two-day share-fair as well as story and leadership projects that were executed by the fellows.
At the event held in Lagos, one after the other, the fellows walked majestically to the podium to share their experiences within the six months in review and the hurdles they surmounted to get to the finish line. They told the untold stories, enunciated the impact their stories and leadership projects had made, not only on the people they engaged or on the society, but on themselves. They expressed gratitude to the centre for the opportunity, admitting that the programme had moulded them into better individuals.
The 2019 Fellowship, the third in the series, received 207 applications from nine countries from which the 20 fellows, including a reporter from Ghana, were selected.
The 2019 Fellows are: Tessy Igomu, The Sun; Shola Soyele, Channels Television; Omobola Farayola, Daar Communications; Temitope Omogbolagun, The Punch; Michelle Agoh, Lagos Talks FM; Omobolanle Adesuyi, Metropolitan Broadcasting Services; Chika Mefor, Leadership; Tijesu Adeoye, Television Continental; Josephine Akonor, Ghana Business News; Justina Asishana, The Nation; Omolabake Fasogbon, This Day; Amaka Omoye, Plus TV Africa; Lami Sadiq, Daily Trust; Nkechi Macaulay, Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN); Kikelomo Oduyebo, Lagos Television; Elfredah Kevin-Alerechi, Today FM; Modupeoluwa Shoremekun, Silverbird Television; Emiene Erameh, Nigeria Info FM, Azeezat Adedigba, Premium Times and Annette Jeje, Daar Communications.
Certificates were presented to all the fellows, while the top three fellows got awards. Adedigba won the best prize with her story published by Premium Times in October that focuses on the health risks associated with the use of firewood.
Soyele and Igomu emerged as first and second runners up respectively. While Adedigba was awarded with N200, 000 and a brand new HP laptop, Soyele got N150, 000 and a laptop and Igomu got N100, 000 and a brand new HP laptop.
At the event held on November 26, a 15-minute documentary chronicling the exciting ride of the 20 fellows with their mentors including veteran broadcaster, Bimbo Oloyede; Executive Director of Media Career Development Network, Lekan Otufodunrin, Deputy Director, Enterprise Development Centre at the Pan-Atlantic University, Nneka Okekearu; and Board Chair of the NigeriaInfo Radio Group, Rotimi Sankore as well as the WSCIJ was viewed by the participants and their guests.
Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of WSCIJ, in a video message, reiterated the need for the fellows to be intentional about changing the stories of women in Nigeria and the leadership status of females in the newsroom. She noted that mainstreaming gender requires the involvement of all irrespective of their gender.
Alaka said: “It is not a ‘his and hers’ war; this is really about humanity and the dignity of human beings, whether male or female. And so, let us continue to ensure that we include others as we do this campaign especially our male counterpart.”
A Programme Officer with the WSCIJ, Toyin Adeniran, appraised the exercise, the fellows’ journey, stories and leadership projects as well as their testimonies about how the fellowship had impacted them. She challenged the fellows to continue to stir actions that would eventually catalyse into solutions for generations now and hereafter.
No doubt, the stories they implemented mirrored the realities of today’s women and girls and the stereotypic glass ceilings that must be broken in order to make the change desired in our world possible. The fellows looked into various core issues plaguing the female gender like education – out-of-school children; health/mental health resulting from traumatic experiences, among many others.
Representing the mentors, Mr. Lekan Otufodunrin commended the WSCIJ and the Free Press Unlimited for the worthy initiative, which, according to him, was very unique and intentional in many ways. He charged the fellows to continue setting the pace for other female journalists.
Said he: “You must continue to be good ambassadors of this project by raising the bars in your performance in your various organisations. Own your leadership projects and scale them up as some of you are already doing.”
A broadcaster with TVC News and Public Relations Officer of Report Women Network (REWoN), Abosede Omoruyi, welcomed the new cohort of fellows into the network.
A former Assistant Director of Programmes, Lagos Operations of FRCN, Funke Treasure Durodola, commended the WSCIJ for the commitment in keeping the initiative running year after year, and better. She told the fellows that it was not enough to do stories, but to follow-up these stories until it yields the aspired results.
While closing the event, Senior Programme Officer at the centre, Adeolu Adekola, described the 2019 fellows as a unique set.
He said that the 2019 fellowship received 207 applications from eight African countries, and India, out of which the 20 participants were selected.
He said that all the participating journalists were winners and agents of societal change. He said that those who received special prizes did stories that stood out. He commended their passion and resilience while pursuing the award winning stories.
He expressed confidence that they would use their new skills and exposure to impact lives and expose diverse ills in Nigeria and beyond.
The Leadership Fellowship, supported by the Free Press Unlimited, was designed to empower female journalists with the skills, finesse, support and tools to take bold steps that help position them for the highest leadership roles in their various media houses.
“Celebrate your wins today, but going forward, look at the bigger picture; ensure that your gender lens is always on. When it looks like it’s getting rusty, dust it and sharpen yourselves over and over again,” Adekola said.
The FRLP Fellowship is aimed at equipping female reporters with the skill, finesse, support and tool to reach the top echelon of authority in their media houses while driving lasting and far-reaching changes within their spaces and in the society.
Igomu said that her award has renewed her zeal to embark on more stories that would have greater impact on the society.
The WSCIJ is an initiative targeted at repositioning female journalists to occupy leadership positions in the newsroom and shaping the society to achieve a socially just world, especially as it concerns the female gender.
At the event held at Leola Hotel, former Protea, Maryland, where awards and certificates were presented to the participants, Igomu clinched an award that came with several prize with her story entitled: “Nigeria’s incurable pandemic: Silent, endless anguish of rape victims.”
In the story published on October 23 2019, she reflected on how sexual abuse of girls and women has persisted unhindered across the country, while justice was denied victims.
She also mirrored the sufferers’ trauma and travails, which also include the agony suffered by family members and the society at large. The story called the attention of the authorities, including security agencies, judiciary and other stakeholders to the scourge of sexual violence, urging them to ensure the unhealthy development is tamed.
She thanked The Sun Publishing Limited Managing Director, Onuoha Ukeh, for encouraging her to participate in the leadership programme. She also thanked her mentors who painstakingly monitored her throughout the project.
Igomu’s mentor in the course of the project, Sankore, asked more organisations to sponsor similar programmes, so that the society would be better for it. He believes that the media have a big role to play in protecting human rights and in having a just society.