Lawal Yusuf Saulawa is a veteran Journalist who has been in the broadcast industry for almost 50 years. He is currently the Managing Director of Nagarta Radio, based in Kaduna, North West Nigeria. He shared his vast experience in broadcast journalism with Africa Media Development Foundation (AMDF) crew. He attributed his success in the noble profession to long life, good health, and determination.
Let’s meet you sir.
My name is Lawal Yusuf Saulawa, I was born in Saulawa, Katsina city, Katsina State, North West Nigeria on the 13th of June 1945. I schooled at Katsina Private Primary and Secondary school. I joined broadcasting on 15th March 1967 when the then Broadcasting Corporation of Northern Nigeria (BCNN) which is FRCN and NTA Kaduna of today was celebrating its 5th anniversary of creation. While I was there I told them I want to speak on the radio but they said no I was going to be a camera man and camera men do not talk on radio theirs is just to show what is happening to the people especially for Television.
Could you please share your experience in journalism?
I got employed at BCNN as a camera man and I served from 1967-1970. Meanwhile, I started doing programmes on the radio and by 1970 there was shortage of announcers on the radio and because of my experience in the field I was drafted as an announcer. Ordinarily, if an announcer was recruited from outside he will have to work with one of the announcers at the station for about 2 weeks to 1 month before he can go on air. But because of my experience and work on the station my case was exceptional and immediately I was drafted. It was my first edition and the then BCNN gives you opportunity especially when they see the determination.
I worked as an announcer, translator of news and producer and then proceeded to BBC hausa from 1973-1976 service. My case was peculiar because once you get an opportunity with BBC you are suppose to resign your appointment with the station and when you are done you reapply. But in my case then Balarabe Musa was our secretary chief accountant in charge of Finance and Administration and late Mal Dahiru Moddibo was the head of programmes, so they discussed with the BBC that they will second me to the BBC but the BBC will in turn give me all available training opportunities. They kept to their promise and I have never attended any training locally in the FRCN training school, I did all my trainings in the BBC based on the agreement. I was trained on production and post production, intermediate and advanced production, news room journalism and news editing and reporting. I even did foot ball commentator coverage.
I had the best opportunity and when I came back BCNN had started taken graduates so I told the then Managing Director I wanted to go back to school and I got admission at a school in London. While there I joined the Institute of Public Relations in BBC so I read journalism and public relations. I was able to get enrolled as a member of Nigerian Institute of Public Relation based on the certificate I came back with. I came back in 1976 and continued as a producer and in 1978 when President Obasanjo wanted to hand over power to politicians, correspondents were posted to different stations and I was posted to Ibadan.
I was in Ibadan during the campaign in 1978-1979 and immediately after the handing over my colleague who was in Lagos got transferred to Bauchi and I was transferred to Lagos which was like the head quarters of 7 states in Nigeria. I was in charge of Lagos office and other people who were in Enugu and Ibadan were reporting to me while I report to Kaduna. I was made Manager, Program in 1986 and late 1986 I was appointed Commissioner for Information in Kaduna state; after the Buhari administration in 1984-1985. I was later transferred to Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
When Katsina state was created we were the first set of commissioners from Kaduna to Katsina state, as the commissioner for commerce and information because we were only five. I later resigned my commissionership to return to my station because the assistant program officer got a job somewhere so I took the position. While back at the station, Katsina state wanted to establish a radio and television station so they drafted some of us and because of my experience in the then BCNN which was a radio and television station we advised Katsina state on what the setup should be. It was a military regime and as such there was no accountability, the governor approved our report and called me to set up the radio station.
Initially I refused because I felt I had served as Commissioner for Information in the state and will not come and serve as a Managing Director of the station under the commissioner. I later went and served for 6 months after which I was made Commissioner for Information but was later changed to Commissioner for Finance.
I left in 1990 because my friend who was the correspondent in Lagos was moved to Bauchi and got appointment with Voice of Nigeria as Director General and because of my experience in BBC he wanted me to apply and join him in Voice of Nigeria. He convinced me to resign as commissioner because according to him it was a temporary work. So I went to Voice of Nigeria to take up appointment as Director of Programs from 1991-2000 and in 2000 there was some minor problem in FRCN Kaduna and I was transferred and invited to Kaduna to take over the station as Zonal Director. Then I had only two years to go in the civil service. I started there as a camera man then BCNN and ended there as Zonal Director of the station. I believe God gave me the opportunity.
After my retirement I continued with broadcasting as I was again invited along with some other people to be members of the Editorial Board of Freedom Radio in Kano. Being a brand new station then, there was need for professionalism so my boss Mohammed Ibrahim who was the chairman of the board suggested that I should train the staff of Freedom Radio which I did.
While doing that the former Vice President Atiku Abubakar was setting up a radio station in Yola, Adamawa State so he invited me and a colleague Ahmed Aliyu in days of BCNN, BBC; at BCNN I was then Manager Programs while he was Manager News he invited us through Garba Shehu who is now with the present administration. We went to Yola and assisted in setting up the station, eventually I was made the chairman of the board and I served in that capacity for a year.
Meanwhile Nagarta Radio had its own problem and my boss at the then FRCN Kaduna who happened to be a Member of the Board of Directors of the station suggested that if they could get me, I could be of help to the station and make it better as a professional. So I was invited to be the Managing Director of the station, I told him of my position then in Yola but since that was a temporary job and Nagarta a permanent one; I accepted the offer. Because there is no way you can shape up a station without being part of what the station is doing. So I took up the appointment and started with working Nagarta and I have been here for 6 years now.
Like I said God has been kind to me, he gave me the opportunity to take up the profession that I love. He also gave me good health and life to be practicing because I have spent the original 35 years of service and now added another14 years so I will be 50 years in broadcasting next year March. Long life, good health and determination are what have kept me going and above all I belief that it has been God who gave us the opportunity.
In every endeavor there are challenges, so what are some of the challenges you have faced on the job?
By nature I am a very calculative person, whatever I do I plan and see how it will go as much as possible. I recalled when I was posted to Ibadan my boss told me it is a very difficult task because of the danger of the political change but we are sending you because we know you can handle it. During our time before you put your pen down for the December examination you may get a job and I got a job in an insurance company and was posted to Lagos. I was there when all the problems started for the then election of western region in 1964-1965. I was also there when the Sardauna coup took place and the political crisis started which was the genesis of the Biafra war. So when I had the opportunity to go to Ibadan as a reporter I knew exactly what I was going into and because of my calculative nature I planned my stay there. I establish friendship with the people around and luckily for me while I was in Kaduna as Producer “Barka da yau” some people came from Ibadan and wanted certain things and I sent my people to cover it. So when I got to Ibadan and was trying to establish friendship, the peopleni had helped identified me and we established friendship with all the people covering for the different political parties and so I was immersed in it.
That would have been my most difficult challenge because I went as a reporter in a completely different domain but because of the confidence and encouragement and my experience in Lagos before I joined broadcasting it was easy for me. Even while managing stations I have not had any serious challenges and when I had some I tried as much as possible to get to the roots because as problems come so do solutions come so I was able to overcome them. So I finished my service comfortably at least I retired without been sacked.
Could you please compare the practice then and what is obtainable now?
In our days we did not have these tiny gadgets, we were using what was called UI and we put it on our shoulders to go out. I remember a man whose left shoulder sagged before he left the practice because of carrying the UI.
Then there was more dedication because people actually chose their profession out of choice rather than what is happening now. Just as a lot of people go into teaching because there is no job, likewise journalism especially for TV, a lot of people feel it will expose them and they will make a name.
However, the profession is much easier now because the gadgets and opportunities are there. I remember when I was in Ibadan the condition of the Nigeria telecom was analog, you will have to keep trying to get your station to send in your reports and if you are unlucky the line will cut. But today even in the remotest village you can send in your report live because of technology.
The practice today is much easier and also challenging because it must be timely and you know news is news only when it gets to the public. I am grateful that I was giving more challenging roles and I have succeeded in all but you must have people who are serious minded and very passionate about their work.
What is your take on Journalism standard and press freedom in Nigeria and Africa at large?
We must work for the interest of the people. Based on one’s knowledge of the profession he/she must be able to discern right from wrong. You earn your freedom because it is not just given on a platter of goal, and each journalist must discharge his responsibility based on the interest of the organization. A journalist must understand the profession and what it stands for, know his responsibility and carry it to the later.
How can we promote quality reporting in the region?
Training and re-training of journalists; the senior reporters should learn to monitor the junior reporters and correct mistakes. To actualize the profession and make it better there should be immediacy and the reporter must be up and coming because we lack some of these things in the profession.
Journalists should go in based on interest not because you are influenced to do so. And as a reporter you get information especially when travelling, even when you are on another assignment you could see something that may be of interest on the road and as such send it before going further. You must show some sense of responsibility and be ready to sacrifice.
What’s your assessment of the new media?
New media has dangers and also advantages. Because some people are not being professional in their reporting and before one realizes the story is already out and there is nothing one can do about it. But the good thing about is that its gets to the people faster for everything that is good there is the element of being bad.
Advice to upcoming journalists
Don’t come into journalism because you want to make money. Know who are, the organization you are working for and the community you come from. You must be passionate and do things in the best interest of the people you are serving. Get yourself trained and re-trained.