…contd from last edition
By Mercy Hill
So, when I walked into that place, it turned out to be a Christian producer of a magazine. I told them I can write but I don’t have a previous experience of being a journalist. They said okay, so long as you have enthusiasm in the job, you can give it a trial. They took me, the pay wasn’t regular, but I was enjoying what I was doing.
It was Christian Voice Magazine and the publisher always took me to go and interview big men of God; sitting with those big men of God and asking questions and they are compelled to answer my questions, just that gave me orgasm, I tell you. I was so happy, that I did not need to be paid, sitting side by side with this man, I felt like ‘e be like I don dey arrive small small o’.
It kept happening until one day, one guy came to our office and I saw how he was making calls, he just came back from Bayelsa and he is moving to Lagos now, he has assignment. After his calls, this was happening in 2004, I walked up to him and asked him if he was a journalist and he said yes. I told myself for the first time, I am meeting a great journalist because the guy was so busy.
He’ll just answer call and say ‘yes, I just got back from Yenagoa’. He will answer another call, ‘tomorrow, I am moving to Lagos’. I said to myself, this is how a journalist should be busy, going around in search of news. This has always been the kind of life I wanted to live.
I felt happy, I approached him and he told me he had a local publication he was funding. That guy was working for Daily Times then and Daily Times was a big organization as at then, but he said he had a local publication he was publishing and that I could be of help to him.
That was how I left Christian Voice Magazine and joined his newspaper. It was just a pamphlet thing, but in the course of doing that, I found out that my reporting had increased tremendously.
At some point, I moved to Announcer Express where I practiced my first real journalism. Announcer Express is a newspaper based in Owerri, Imo State. I was made their Abia State correspondent. The newspaper was very influential in Owerri then, it was believed that whatever you wanted to tell the Imo State government, once you write it in Announcer Express, the government will hear of it.
I sat down and thought of making money in Announcer Express, they were paying me five thousand Naira (N5000), but I found out who the target audience of Announcer was; they were indigenes of Imo State living in Abia State. So I began to scout for them, each time I got an Imo guy living in Abia, I held an interview with him and publish it,
I decided there was no need chasing after local government chairmen in Abia; the only thing I did was to look for Imo people living in Abia and that way, I was able to make my mark. If you practice journalism, you will be hungry for a very long time until you find your feet. So I was very hungry then to the extent that sometimes, I have to drink a lot of water so that my belt won’t go round my waist two times.
While I was enjoying Aba, I got a an invitation to come to Lagos from National Mirror Newspaper, which was a big national platform. A lot of guys came, one guy even had a PhD in Mass Communication. So, when we were given tests, he was wondering what sort of questions were given. We had oral and written test and at the end they adjudged me to have done well and I was employed.
The guy who was bragging he had PhD and had written for a lot of people, was not even taken because he did not pass the test. I started working for National Mirror and in 2008, I was sent down to Anambra as the Anambra State correspondent.
That is my journey in journalism. How I even survived in Anambra is all a case of its own; because when I got to Anambra, I found out there is a way they practice here.
If there is a job here, your own friends that are journalists may not want you to come maybe because of money that would be made. Most times, I had nowhere to go to, no assignments to attend. I told myself, I can’t keep staying like this. First, I tried following the Governor’s convoy; I joined the Governor’s press crew.
I found out that one was hectic on its own, everyday, very early in the morning, they tell you the Governor is going to this or that and late in the night they bring you back and nobody gives you anything. I did it two to three times and I said no, I remembered how I worked in Aba, I started doing my own job all by myself.
There is a cyber café journalists go to sit and wait for when people will call you for assignments. I told myself no, some of these guys are made, let me go and use my hand and find an assignment myself. So, the first time I did it, I walked through Eke Awka Market and I found out people were trading on the streets, leaving shops in the market.
I started tracing the Chairman of that market. When I found him, he granted me an interview and I published it; and people started liking the small job I was doing. That was where I found out I did not need anybody to call me and say come to Udoka, there is an assignment tomorrow.
I can actually go out and figure something out by myself and that way up until now, I have always been doing a solo job. I wake up in the morning, I think of what to do for the day, if I don’t have anything to do, I sit back at home, if I feel good enough, I can even go to Aroma and drink beer with friends, but if there is something to do, I do it without waiting for people to call me to their assignments. That’s how I have managed all the while.
What inspired your journey into investigative journalism?
Investigative journalism is a whole lot of tough job, for me. I still did not believe that what I do is investigative journalism, it is just that I am an inquisitive person and when I find something that is not right, I askl why is this thing like this, maybe I can give an answer to it. Then, in the process of doing it, I found out that somebody will call and say that is good enough investigation you did o, then I will say if this is investigation, then I am also like an investigative journalist and it kept happening like that. Sometimes, out of curiosity, I’ll be like ‘the governor said he will build one road the other time, has he even started it?’ Then, I’ll go and check, I’ll make out my time and go and check and people will tell me that is good investigation. For me, I did not exactly set out to become an investigative journalist, but the push in me just leads me into doing things, I think that is how I have come to be known as an investigative journalist.
What are you made of?
To be frank with you, I do not believe I have done anything extraordinary. Some of the best works that I have done did not receive any award. The best investigation I think I have done in this job is the job I did about Scammers. I titled it ‘Yahoo Yahoo boys’.
You know these things are not things you just wake up today and say, Look, I want to investigate this issue; you have to take it gradually. First is that, your antenna must be high for you to know what is going wrong and you must identify the best people to speak to, people who will give you the answers to the question you want to ask.
I did that job because I had a guy who lived close to my house, he was studying in Unizik and all of a sudden we did not see him any longer, he missed almost a semester, then in the next semester, the guy appeared with a Honda car.
I teased him and said, ‘ah ah, you go carry your papa motor to come do guy for school?’ He laughed and said ‘no, it is my car’. I was surprised that the guy could have bought a car and before long, he brings out flashy laptops, he changed his phone, android was not very common then, it was those big Nokia phones. I started asking about those guys.