‘A woman alone has power but collectively women have an impact’
An interview with Ojy Okpe, Seyitan Atigarin, Laila Johnson Salami, and Adefemi Akinsanya of Arise News
There is a saying that goes like this… ‘A woman alone has power, but collectively women have impact’. History has shown that when women channel the power of collaboration and support one another, amazing things can happen and there is evidence that shows that women who support other women are more likely to be successful.
In this interview with Lehle Balde, Editor of the BusinessDay Weekender, 4 very talented journalists: Ojy Okpe, Seyitan Atigarin, Laila Johnson Salami, and Adefemi Akinsanya, open up about what it’s like to work in the media as journalists, at one of the most-watched and fastest-growing international 24/7 news channels out of Nigeria, Arise news. Prior to the pandemic and particularly at the height of COVID-19 in Nigeria, these ladies distinguished themselves with their stellar and a very accurate reporting that the nation and diaspora depended on to understand the state of the nation during the uncertain year that 2020 has turned out to be.
As part of the fourth estate, journalists across the country acknowledge their influence and status among the greatest powers of a nation. These 4 women are part of the group of individuals who seek to use their voices to tell important, groundbreaking and newsworthy stories with the aim of keeping the public informed and keeping decision-makers accountable for the policies and decisions that affect our nations. These women are shaping the future of journalism and media in the country and across the continent and the rest of the world while being supportive of one another and trying to balance their colorful multifaceted lives.
Laila Johnson-Salami, a global journalist and media personality, changing the narrative one conversation at a time. She is a Politics and International Relations Graduate from the University of Westminster, who spent the early years of her career working with governments and non-governmental organizations on policy and sustainable development. Currently, Laila is an anchor on Arise News’ daily ‘News Day’ show, a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation #GoalKepper and a contributor to the Financial Times and Commonwealth Secretariat. Her consistent passion for sustainable development has birthed both her organization, the We Rise Initiative, and her company, Forth Strategies.
Adefemi Akinsanya a British-born Nigerian Journalist. She holds a BA in International Politics from King’s College London. Her six years in journalism encompasses time at Al Jazeera, Reuters, TRT World, and Arise News. Adefemi speaks four languages, is an avid athlete and a dedicated Arsenal supporter.
Seyitan Atagiran, an award-winning TV Presenter, Broadcast Journalist, Event host, and the Creative Director of Abebibytan. Her career spans working in various TV, Radio and online platforms including Channels, Ebonylife TV, Red TV & Inspiration FM. She also hosts an informative mini-series titled What if on her IGTV which seeks to create alternative realities regarding current issues so people can begin to think outside the box. Seyitan is currently an Entertainment Correspondent for Arise News Television.
1. Journalists have a responsibility to keep decision-makers accountable. What’s the most difficult thing about having these discussions?
Laila: I would say that the most difficult thing about having these discussions is definitely knowing that you’re likely to speak to someone who overlooks facts and evidence in front of them. Politics really and unfortunately is all about self-interest and decision-makers often run away from accountability to protect their self-interest, which makes it difficult to have these conversations. But consistency and confidence in your approach always goes a long way – sometimes you have to be that thorn in someone’s side!
2. How did you get into journalism and presenting and what makes a great segment in your opinion?
Seyitan: My journey into journalism was an intentional one, I have a degree in Mass Communication and a Masters in International Broadcast Journalism. A lot of people don’t know this, but my first job after university was as an intake planner at Arise News London. I did that for 6 months before I moved back to Nigeria to continue my career, in presenting and journalism. About what makes a great segment, in my opinion, the most important thing are your stories, they are the foundation on which the segment stands. Then as a producer, it’s important to get the right assets i.e. images, videos, and guests that help tell the story, and last but not the least is you, yourself the presenter being able to disseminate information gathered in a concise manner.
3. How has COVID-19 changed the way in which you work?
Ojy: The COVID-19 Pandemic has certainly affected the way we all work in terms of the safety protocols that have been put in place to curb it’s spread in the work place. I have certainly taken Social distancing and wearing of the ‘face mask’ very seriously when I am at the office, but as an anchor, reporting the news live daily has been a routine that even COVID-19 cannot change.
4. What motivates you to wake up every day and chase these important conversations/stories?
Adefemi: Greed. There are many stories waiting to be told here in Lagos, it makes me feel like a kid in a candy store where my eyes are bigger than my stomach. Meeting people, listening to their experiences, joining them during a day in their lives, and then doing their stories justice. I love the entire process so I always want to do more and more.
5. Television journalism requires you being on -call pretty much 24/7. How do you find the balance between work, life, and other responsibilities?
Ojy: I have been in front of the camera pretty much all of my professional career, from being a model to becoming a mum and now a journalist. I just take it one step at a time. Being a journalist, I know how important it is that people depend on me for accurate information, so now my job comes as a priority. I take my time to research my stories before presenting and everything else falls in place. It’s like I was built to do this without even knowing.
Adefemi: That’s one thing I struggle with being in Nigeria. In the throes of the lockdown, work was the only thing I could do freely. Naturally, it became what I spent most of my days doing. Shooting stories and then coming back to the newsroom to edit them. I would video chat with my family abroad while I’m on the road and again before I sleep. Now life is returning to some form of normalcy, I’ve enjoyed socializing with the girls and meeting new people but honestly, work remains the heaviest weight making it hard to balance much else on the scale.
Laila: It definitely gets easier over time. When I first started off on The Morning Show and I was waking up at the crack of dawn every day at the age of 22, I struggled. I wanted to have evenings out with my friends, I wanted to not be tired enough to hang out with friends and family after work but that was not the case. I found that my whole life revolved around my job for the first few months, but with time you become more disciplined, and with discipline, it’s easier to have a routine and a schedule. Loving what I do is definitely the motivation because just knowing that you’re on call 24/7 keeps you up at night. I realized over time that I had to make my life as convenient for myself as I could – so I moved closer to work which really helps, I literally live a minute away from the office. My boss has also proven to be a huge respecter of my time and understands that balance is important, so I don’t find myself in many situations where my job has interrupted other aspects of my life. These days I’m usually able to balance things out a lot better!
Seyitan: Truth is I’m still figuring it out, It is quite the challenge as most young Nigerians have a “side hustle”, however Arise has created a conducive environment that leaves room for some flexibility. We are sent our schedules at the beginning of every week so you can plan ahead. When an emergency comes up though, you have to show up as the news waits for no one.
6. How important is it to have friends and supporters in the workplace?
Laila: It’s so important because these are people walking as close as anyone will to walking in your shoes, so they are people that you can lean on. Seyitan, Femi, and Ojy have been such a support system to me at Arise. I actually remember being skeptical of Ojy when I first joined because she was so warm and welcoming of me and for some reason it made me feel on edge. When I realized that Ojy is genuinely the kindest and most caring person you will ever meet, her support became everything to me. And imagine having someone around you that always finds a reason to smile – that’s my Ojy. Then along came Femi and Seyitan! I think I clicked with Femi immediately because she grew up in London and we had a lot we could relate to. I also found her extremely inspirational (still do, she’s just a package of brilliance) and her energy just radiates! Seyitan and I just bundled into a friendship that I am so grateful for because I turn to her every day now really. Our support for each other feels like it’s always been innate and I wouldn’t change that for anything. I keep Frosties (her favorite cereal and probably her favorite food) in my apartment just for her and I get upset when someone else touches them…yes. Just knowing that these three amazing women who I see as my older sisters are there for me in the workplace gives me confidence and keeps me going.
Ojy: I cannot overemphasize the importance of having friends in a workplace. It’s great for the moral support and the energy it brings. I love all the ladies at Arise News. God has blessed us all, with all the love we share! It takes a village to put together a great show, so working in a supportive environment is the oil that keeps the show ‘reel’ rolling.
Seyitan: It is very important to me but I have also taught myself to thrive if that isn’t the case. However, there is some comfort knowing that there are persons you share a workspace with who have your back, it boosts morale and you are inspired by their support and I get that with Laila, Femi, and Ojy. Ojy is one of the kindest people I’ve ever met, I remember the first time I had to produce my segment on the rundown myself (please note if you don’t know that thing, no hope for you). She spent her entire morning helping me, she genuinely wants to see you succeed and always, always has a word of encouragement to give. Have I mentioned her fire show, What’s trending? I’m addicted. Laila on the other hand, I commonly refer to as my little sister, who is my big sister wrapped in one, as she plainly just takes care of me as a big sister would. I was first blown away by how intellectual and shrewd she was, don’t get me started on her interview game, then I found out she was 23. Hold up! we clicked instantly from our first conversation and when months later ended up on the same show, it just flowed naturally. Literally, the high’ light’ (pun intended) of my days in the office. Now with Femi, she resumed just a week after I did. She was the “new girl” and I understand exactly how she felt being in a new space, so I walked up to her and introduced myself and can I just say the rest is history. We talk about work, grab lunch, work out, and on Sundays Co-host the Morning Show together and I still can’t get enough. Literally, good vibes all her.
The worst time in my career was because of a toxic newsroom. It was awful. I had a line manager who didn’t believe in me and was disgusted by my ambition. The stress took a toll on my physical and mental health and I vowed never to tolerate toxicity again. Arise, thankfully, is different. The friends I’ve made here are great. Seyitan was the first friend I made in the office. We were both relatively new to the Lagos newsroom, somewhat underestimated, in our previous experience and so we clicked. Likewise with Ojy and Laila, a sisterhood has been made. It makes me look forward to coming into the newsroom and seeing happy faces. We are all each other’s cheerleader and those organic connections underscore how much value there is in a positive workplace.
7. Arise differentiated itself during the pandemic with excellent reporting, coverage, and world-class journalism. In your opinion what are the keys to running a successful news channel?
Adefemi: Arise is very good at letting journalists do what they want. Do you want to be a reporter? Go to the field and shoot a story. Do you want to be a presenter? Come and take a screen test. Do you want to be a producer? Let’s see how fast and how well you can write a story. I’ve learned to use the freedom of opportunity here to my advantage. There’s a sink or swim culture at Arise, but the funny thing is, no one ever drowns. Picking the right anchors, consistency in storytelling, and being at the forefront of current affairs and events.
Ojy: I think what our chairman has done differently from other news channels, is to identify the talent in all of us, he challenges us to excel. Mr. Nduka Obaigbena is a true believer in growing talent, and because of that, we have all delivered excellent reporting. As a news channel, you have to continue to redefine your organization in ways that sets you apart from the rest.
Laila: Having dedicated employees who are dedicated because you motivate them. That’s number one. Number two is being open to diversity – at Arise we all have different backgrounds from different corners of the globe and the company is open and accepting of all our different backgrounds. But honestly, if we’re speaking about coverage during the pandemic, all hail Queen Femi. Femi, as I said, inspires me. While the rest of us would head home from the studio to isolate before a new day on air during the lockdown, Femi would head out to get the reports that you saw. She was brave, consistent, and did such an amazing job for the channel.
8. Any advice for young women looking to enter the media industry?
Ojy: Yes. Dedication and discipline! It’s also very important to identify a mentor In the industry, follow directions, it all doesn’t happen in one day.
Laila: When I first started off in the media, a friend with years of experience said “there will always be someone who comes along with an edge that stands out. You have to always ask yourself what you need to do and what it is that you have that keeps you relevant. That is how your career will stand the test of time.” – some of the most valid advice I’ve ever had.
More so, I would say, please always remain true to yourself, there is only one you.
Seyitan: Buckle up! It’s not going to be easy. This might sound like a cliché but you need to have a passion for it. The media industry seems very “glamorous” from the outside but it is a lot of hard work. It comes with its own share of low moments, disappointments, and setbacks. So, if you don’t love your craft those moments hit you really hard and affect your ability to keep going. Stick it through though and amazing things will happen!
Adefemi: Be intentional and fearless. When I was starting out, I didn’t know anyone in the industry. Journalism in the UK can be a guarded industry with gatekeepers trying to maintain the white and elite status quo. So don’t be afraid to knock on doors you don’t recognize. If they don’t open, look at the names on the envelopes being delivered through that door and send emails, request meetings, shoot whatever content you can on your mobile phone, and share it until you get the response you want. I fight for the opportunities God has dropped in my lap. A combination of grit and grace.
9. What do you do for fun?
Adefemi: EAT! I love food. I’ve been using my time in Lagos to learn how to cook more native dishes. I share the process on my Instagram stories. Sometimes they’re a success, most times they’re a failure but I’m getting better with each dish. Next, I’ll be tackling Ikokore, a traditional Ijebu meal made from yam pulp. Hopefully, I’ll make Ijebu-Ode proud! I also workout 3-4 times a week and relish those sessions even if I cry trying to complete a routine.
Seyitan: Pre- COVID, travel was my go-to thing to do for fun. That or, a beach day, drinks with friends, movie night. The usual.
Laila: Two things: head to the beach or head to Ibadan. I’m a water baby, I’ve always been and I love spending my weekends at the beach. I’m also from Ibadan, born and bred and there is nothing better than being home for the weekend. I’m in love with Ibadan, it is such a beautiful city to me with so much culture and diversity that I think is often overlooked.
If I’m not at the beach and I’m not home in Ibadan, I’m probably in my apartment with Seyitan and my dog, Pablo.
Ojy: I know we all love the beach! But most importantly we all support each other, especially when work becomes unbearable, so sometimes we cool off at RSVP!