Since she joined the cable news channel, CNN in 2008, Stephanie Busari has worked on some of the channel’s remarkable stories on Africa. More remarkably, the reporter was central to CNN’s coverage of the Missing Chibok girls, working alongside Senior International Correspondent, Nima Elbagir.
A multi-award winning journalist who hails from Ogun State in South West Nigeria, Busari began her career at the now-defunct London-based newspaper New Nation, which focused on the UK’s black and ethnic minorities. She later moved to the UK’s Daily Mirror, where among other beats, she covered Northern Ireland, covering some of the worst-affected areas of “The Troubles”. While in Belfast, she also launched and edited an award-winning lifestyle column for the paper.
Stephanie returned to Nigeria in 2016 as Supervising Producer, CNN Africa. She recently won the Gracie Award in California, USA for her story on the kidnapped Chibok girls. In this interview with Effects, the mother of one who has also been recognized by MIPAD and the UN as one of the Most Influential People of African Descent speaks on her mission, back in Africa, life in Lagos and the nostalgia of coming back to her roots.
Who is Stephanie Busari?
I’m a Nigerian by birth. I lived in Nigeria until I clocked 12 years after which I moved to the UK. I lived away from Nigeria until last year when I returned to head CNN Bureau here. I’m a proudly Nigerian and I’m happy to be back to tell our story and put our issues in focus. I’m very passionate about story-telling, I’m very passionate about telling African stories; Nigeria’s in particular, I think the world needs a different view of Africa. In CNN, we have a strong commitment to telling the stories on air via Inside Africa, Africa Voices, Africa Views. CNN by sending me here to pioneer this kind of multi-media bureau, I think it’s a great commitment to be on the continent and grow in it. I’m very happy to be the first Nigerian to ever head a CNN Bureau. I’m very proud of this and I believe that given my grounding and background as a Nigerian, I would like to excel. My parents has instilled in me, strong work ethics and anything I aim to achieve, I can achieve it.
How long have you been in CNN?
I have worked in CNN since 2008. This is my 9th year. I have been a journalist for 16-18 years and when I arrived at CNN, I realized that that was the type of journalism I wanted to do. It is serious, credible, rigorous and editorially sound. It is the Journalism that looks at global issues because I was at CNN international and CNN international focuses on Europe, maybe Africa. So, it’s really the first time I did international journalism and it was really nice. I have a background in tabloid journalism, which is great as a medium. It teaches you a lot of strong skills as a journalist. That was the kind of journalism I wanted to do until I arrived at CNN. I was very much at home and very comfortable with the style of journalism, which is why I have stayed for nine years. It’s a place that people thrive and grow. So, coming here was a kind of culmination of my skill, my passion for Africa totally and with my expertise in digital media. CNN realizes that they need to grow new audiences; younger viewers who are not essentially watching the news on television.
As a teenager, did you see yourself becoming a journalist one day?
I grew up wanting to becoming a big Nigerian lawyer and I went through many phases. I only enjoyed one thing, telling stories. My mum wanted me to be a pharmacist because my grand dad was a pharmacist. I hated sciences; I’m not very good in it. I’m more of a lover of the arts and I like writing. When I was 12, one of my teachers in the UK encouraged me to take up writing ad she channeled my energy to that area, that I never thought that I could become a writer. I thought I wanted to be a lawyer, champion people’s causes file and I’m very vocal about injustices. At 12, I knew what I wanted to do, I was one of the lucky ones that knew what she wanted to do.
Anything like racism in your workplace?
The very thing about CNN is that it’s very International. I haven’t faced any racism in CNN. I can categorically say that. In the course of my career, nothing had impacted me enough to hold me back. Challenges are everywhere. As a woman, there are challenges, I look at the challenges as extra ammunition to excel, extra ammunition to really say I will show you what I can do. I have been very fortunate.
What inspired your touchy report about the Chibok girls that won you the Grace award?
Why would I not. Firstly, I’m a Nigerian and I was born here. I went to a boarding school here before I travelled to the UK. All these things are connected to me. These girls could be my sisters; they could be my friends or my family members. To me, the Chibok girls are a symbol; a symbol of the women; of all the girls that have been stolen by Boko Haram. I was still living in the UK when I got involved in the story. Every journalist has a story that defines them. For me, it’s one of the stories I would find very hard to let go as long as the girls are in Boko Haram captivity.
You have been away for years, so how did you find this terrain?
I was really happy to come back. I have been away for more than 25 years. I tried to come back one way or the other but I had to wait for the right time and this is the right time. I’m just proud of the people I have been working with. I’m happy coming back to my root. I have a daughter; I want her to grow up here, learn the language and connect with part of my heritage. Its not the easiest place to be but this our country. It is for better for worse. You have to do whatever you can to help to build it and grow. For me, sitting in a developed country and complaining about Nigeria is not really going to make things happen. I have to be here do what I can, to help it develop, I feel my role is to highlight the story that needs to be told; shed light on things that needs to be exposed. These are things that drive me. It’s been one year already. I meet a lot of people and they are fantastic. That makes things easy as well. My life, in terms of socials and everyday is here. Actually, it’s not different from the UK. So far, it’s been a good experience. I live in Lagos but I go often to Abuja.
What would you like to be remembered for as Nigeria’s first Bureau of CNN?
I would like to be remembered for making a difference in helping to change people lives by my style of reporting. I want to see the impact I make when I see something wrong and I say it is wrong. That is what inspires me as a journalist. That is what I do and that is what I want to be remembered for. I did that with the coverage of the Chibok girls and I want to continue with that type of work. I want people to look at Africa differently. I want them to know that the story of this continent is not all about poverty; inot just about war and famine. I was in the US recently, and the immigration officer said to me ‘ooh, and I heard there are no hospitals in Nigeria?’ And I replied, you are very misinformed. He went further, your people tell me you have no hospitals and there is Boko Haram everywhere. I told him I would invite him to visit. But that is what they hear and read and I want to change that report. My role is to say, there are problem here like everywhere in the world, we need to show a different tide, and we need to show people who are making impact, people who are making great things here.
What do you have in your fashion collection
In Lagos, people do not play here. In the Uk, people wear jeans and top, sometimes, no make up and off they go. But here (laughs), everybody pays attention to what you wear and how you look. Here, people take pride in how they dress. Here, it is dress how you want to be addressed but in the UK there is nothing like that. I like fashion, I like dressing up but Lagos has told me to actually do it more. (laugh) I’m really fascinated about Nigerian designers. I like Style Temple, Cynthia &Angel in Abuja, when I went to Los Angeles (LA) for an award, everybody screamed at what I wore and I was so proud. I really wanted to wear a Nigerian designer, like when you go to Hollywood, you want to make sure a Nigerian designer is represented on that kind of a stage. Toshiba, Ejiro Amos Tafiri, so many amazing designers. I’m inspired by Chimanmada to wear Nigerian and African designers. I think its good for the industry, it’s growing, we have a lot of talents and I think we need to invest in them. I have interviewed many of them too. I have also interviewed Kinabuti. I have known Katrina before I moved back here.
How do you relax?
Just like any normal young person. I go to dinners. Sometimes, I go to bars and clubs. I went to a disco in Lagos the other day. They gave me headset and on the headset were different channels of music. It’s a dinner club but without a noise and everyone was dancing to similar or different music. It’s really nice. I spend a lot of time with my daughter as well. She’s six. I try to make sure she’s happy because my work is so busy and I travel a lot, so it’s very important I spend time with her. My work takes me away a lot.
What state are you from?
Busari is Yoruba name from Ogun State but I’m Nigerian first.
I thought you are from the North?
Everyone thought I was from the North. I think the name has its origin in Arabic. My grandfather is a Moslem but I’m a Christian.
What’s your best food?
I like okro soup and meat. I don’t eat it in the daytime because it’s heavy and would make me fall asleep. So, I limit it to evening time when I could have one small one. I love Nigerian foods, I cook. But my best is Pounded yam and okro soup. I don’t eat it everyday because one would blow up.