The radio reigns supreme in Nigeria. For more than 7 in 10 Nigerians it is the major source of news. Several times a week we tune in to listen.
It’s everywhere – by your bed or in your living room, on our phones and in our cars. We can stream it on the internet. Today, it remains the fastest, most accessible platform for passing a message.
Yet we hear different messages despite a common medium. Nigeria is a complex country (multi-ethnic and multi-lingual). Nigerians are faced with common complex challenges. Radios, and to some extent mobile phones, remain the dominant source for keeping abreast of these challenges or getting access to information on the causes and solutions of these problems. It seems, however, we’re tuned, to different wavebands such as our political choices.
A yearly Gallup survey that has been conducted on behalf of the Board of Broadcasting Governors reckons the problem lies with the difficulty of even traditional media like the radio to reach the media poor (typically a female, 35 years or older, rural dweller with either only primary education or none at all).
Conducted over five years (2009-2013), the survey tracks contemporary media use in Nigeria. It also fields question about current socio-political conditions.
Its 2014 report notes that economic hardship was most acute in the northern Nigeria – Nigerians there were less likely to say the economy and their standard of living was getting better.
They also felt unsafe. Their perception of safety declined the most over a 5-year period in 2011. What’s more, the perception of safety in the north had an inverse relationship to those living in the south. Hence displacements were highest in the north – between March 2012 and July 2013, the number respondents in the north who said they moved from another city or area within the country in the past five years almost doubled.
One telling detail is that prior to President Buhari’s election, the military enjoyed the most confidence among Nigerians and the chances of credible elections was the least trusted. This possibly explains, among other factors, the success of the president at the 2015 polls. A heightened sense of insecurity, a steep rise in displacement and displeasure with the performance of former President Goodluck Jonathan paved the path for Buhari to Aso Rock.
Though the most avid radio listener is likely to speak Hausa, language does not define who listens to it.
Of all the means of media communication, the radio consistently ranked highest followed by the TV and Cable TV. It’s the default source of news before word of mouth and TV. It, and the mobile phone (the channel for word of mouth), often serves as the primary source of news. Between 2009 and 2014, the radio was the most frequently used platform among Hausa speakers.
For those with no formal education the radio and mobile phone were often the means of communication. Among those categorised as media poor, the radio and mobile phone were relied on the most for keeping track of happenings around. But their consumption of current events is limited to least once a day with healthcare, human rights, religion being the topics that most interest them. Meanwhile, the media rich are more interested in education, human rights, economics, and politics.
Overall, FM stations are the most common but AM and SW wavebands are popular for Hausa speaking Nigerians while more Nigerians listen to radios on their mobile phones, few do so in the car or over the internet.
Three contemporary Nigerian authors feature characters listening to the radio in their recent fictional works. Adaobi Tricia Nwabuani in “Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree, Igoni Barrett in “Why Radio DJs are Superstars in Lagos” and Teju Cole in “Open City”. Interestingly, their characters are respectively based in Borno, Lagos and the US. What their characters listen to, where and why suggest interests rather than content or medium shapes why Nigerians are on different wavebands.
“In Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree”, the radio of the protagonist’s father is serves as a leitmotif. The small black radio is always with him, tuned on from dawn to dusk “transmitting stories from other worlds strange and inconceivable to our own real world, but in the Hausa language we speak.” Nwabuani returns to the radio often to ground the parallel realities taking place while the girls are held hostage in Sambisa Forest. News from the radio intersperses the novel as the protagonist narrates her life among the terrorists and her eventual escape.
“In Open City”, the half Nigerian, half-German narrator prefers listening to foreign classical radio channels on the internet rather than their American counterpart because they had too many adverts.
In “Why Radio DJs are Superstars in Lagos”, Barrett’s character discovers on-air-personalities with “their often feigned accents and invented personalities became as dear as confidantes”. When stuck in traffic they are ones who keep us company with their banter and music playlists. Barrett’s character notes too that the young and old, rich and poor all own a radio. With power hardly available, cheap portable, made in China radios with rechargeable batteries are the most reliable source of news and entertainment. Cheap Asian mobile phone brands too.
Between 2012 and 2014, ownership of a radio declined by same amount personal mobile phone ownership increased: 10%. Nevertheless, the radio isn’t going out of fashion, 15-54 year-olds listen to it more than those aged 55 years and above.
These three stories depict different Nigerias; we all listen to the radio but for different messages. I wonder, however, when our views will align. Can the penetration of mobile phones and data change that? For that to happen economic growth matters; research shows that the richer a country, the more likely its citizens will get their news online.