Nkechi Chima, Abuja
Moji Makanjuola, a renowned broadcaster, has held her audience spellbound for 35 years with her style of presentation and charisma on the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA).
She started her career in journalism having trained in Lagos in 1977 and the NTA TV College, Jos, in 1983.
With further training at Voice of America Training School in 1998, she proceeded to American Heritage University of Southern California, USA, where she obtained a BA in media studies.
In this interview with Daily Sun, recently, Makanjuola said that journalism has provided her with a platform to impact on peoples’ lives, and journalists’ should be respected and honoured as change agents.
How did your career in journalism begin?
I joined NTA Network Service, Lagos, before I proceeded to Abuja. I have reported most of the beats, but I have a specialty in health reporting and human development. l later pioneered work in health and social activities, environment desk in 1995. About two decades ago, under the aegis of NTA, I contributed to improving the public awareness of critical diseases and other health problems. The programme has also helped to create awareness on major health policies and legislations as well as other health interventions in Nigeria.
What were some of your most memorable experiences as a journalist?
Some are with tears, laughter and fulfillment because God has used me to impact positively on people’s lives. Sometimes, it comes with regrets because of the Nigerian factor but I have remained resolute to serve the people in my professional capacity.
Most importantly, it has taught me the complexity of human beings. It has also opened doors for me. I have travelled the world in the course of executing my duties, so I am able to analyse the peculiarities of human beings. In fact, it has taught me a lot of things on virtually all the professions. I don’t have to be a doctor to know how the health sector is doing or an educationist to be able to educate someone. The versatility of journalism exposes and keeps you above every other professional.
Journalism opens you up to the world such that you know almost everything that happens. As a newscaster, you could be on air and they bring a script, which you have to read and edit, but if you don’t understand what is trending, you may get into trouble. But I think journalists are not really appreciated for their versatility in Nigeria. We should be accorded honours as change agents. Nevertheless, it is a profession that unbolts you to every profession and gives you the privilege to put them in their perspective.
Were you passionate about journalism while growing up?
I have always had a flair for writing and reading and I knew that my destiny was in the public domain to impact on the society with my dexterity, either as a broadcaster or a print media professional.
If you hadn’t been a broadcaster, what else would you had become?
Probably, I would have been a lawyer, which my daughter has fulfilled for me. I could also have become a nurse, which I enjoy in my area of specialisation as a health reporter.
Would you say that you are fulfilled now?
Working tirelessly for the upliftment of the African woman, empowering and educating, especially at the community level, and giving succour to the underprivileged, particularly children with special needs, gives me fulfillment.
I also feel fulfilled using my life mission as a journalist to contribute to promote an environment for a greater nation.
What do you enjoy most in this profession?
I enjoy impacting on people’s lives because I don’t believe in negativity, but positivity. I think life in journalism has provided me with the platform for what I believe in.
What would you say is the toughest part of this job?
The toughest part is getting information and disseminating it. Like the popular saying, ‘He who pays the piper dictates the tune,’ so, it affects your job sometimes, you might have a media style that restricts your professionalism and that is challenging. The FOI law is there, but I am not sure of its effectiveness on the media. If you work as a public media practitioner, you will understand there are things you are not allowed to write and, if you do, it will be edited out of your work. Consequently, we do not enjoy freedom of the press. But is there absolute freedom of the press? For me, I think it is the ability to be able to execute your job without partiality as a Nigerian.
What do you think could be done to enjoy absolute freedom of the press?
We should implement the FOI law in the Nigerian press system. However, we need to improve on investigative journalism. We should be the change agents breaking the news. We also need to be patriotic, objective, as well as sharing experiences and seeing ourselves as part of the society and for the society. I am an advocate of specialization of beats, because when you are familiar with the beat, you would be able to position yourself to inform people better.
Among the people you have interviewed, who has made the deepest impression on you?
Bill Gates has made the greatest impression on me. I can still remember seating with the world’s richest man, his style was simple and the drink he asked for was a bottle of Coca-Cola. I was interviewing him on immunization, and his contribution to it and the humility he portrayed was intimidating, as the world’s richest man. I adored the fact that he was not egocentric. He didn’t put on designer’s glasses or designer’s wear, he was just Bill Gates. Although I have interviewed a lot of dignitaries in the world, but that particular moment was historic.
What aspect of this job do you enjoy most?
I love interviewing and probing. I love travelling and so the job allows me enjoy my hobbies, such as meeting people and getting them to speak. However, my interviews are very conversational so I know when you are speaking from the heart.
As a broadcaster, I love presenting and when I have good audience around me, they make an impact.
Do you have any plans of going into politics?
I don’t think I am a politician, but a development practitioner. I don’t know why people keep asking me this question, maybe because I am people-oriented. I love giving succour to the less privileged. You don’t have to be in politician to impact on the lives of people.
What are your achievements in this career?
I feel grateful looking back from where I started and where I am today. God has been awesome. While reporting health, it was mostly diseases or death but, presently, we have realised that health is an investment. My experiences in health reporting led me to publish a boo, “Health Journalism: A journey with Moji Makanjuola.”
I was the first president of Nigeria Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ) that was returned unopposed. I have been recognised as one of the foremost media advocates in the country; I have produced several programmes on maternal and child health, polio eradication, health systems promotion, communicable and non-communicable diseases, women’s health in particular, with regard to family planning and child spacing.
I have produced programmes on malaria, HIV, tuberculosis and the dreaded Ebola virus disease. I was the first African to be awarded the Knight Journalism Fellowship of the Centre for Disease Control in Public Health, Atlanta, USA. I was the first journalist to be given an award of excellence (Health Reporter of Our Time). Most importantly, I feel fulfilled mentoring young ones.
Have you retired from NTA?
Yes, I retired in 2012 but I still produce and present programmes like Bridges, the programme started during my retirement, my late boss, Mr. Jimmy Atteh, gave his support after the United Nations bomb blast. The former First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, encouraged us on the programme. It is an avenue where Nigerians can share their views on issues affecting our lives and how to bridge the gaps that have been lost in Nigeria. We had the first season of 13 episodes and we have over 200 episodes aired as producer, presenter and researcher. Commendably, after my retirement, NTA agreed for the continuous airing of the programme. Bridges is aimed at making positive changes, gender equality and good governance.
What is your advice to those who look up to you and wish to pursue their careers like you?
You must be passionate about the job because it is not a cup of tea. It is about hard work and determination. You must be versatile in reading to remain trendy. You must also be engaged in research and plan your time wisely at home and work to remain relevant on the job.
However, you must understand human beings because they are complex; always make a plan B, for your programmes or interviews to be aired or published, instead of depending on a particular person or client.
In addition, you must educate yourself academically and don’t be stereotyped, but be exceptional and ground-breaking in whatever you are doing to become an achiever.
What do you think needs to be done to revitalize Nigeria’s health sector?
There should be increase in financing; attitude of health workers should be monitored, patient safety and manufacturing of local production of pharmaceutical products in Nigeria.