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It takes guts and heaps of courage to be a woman journalist in northeastern Nigeria

2 November 2023
Reading time: 7 minutes

Being a woman journalist in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states is extremely challenging – here they share their sometimes-horrifying experiences.

Insurgents’ atrocities, bomb blasts, dead bodies, farmer-herder clashes, having guns pointed at them and handling sexual harassment and intimidation is all in a day’s work for women journalists in Nigeria’s conflict-ridden northeast.

To say that their work is often challenging is putting it mildly. It takes patience, empathy and heaps of courage to do their work.

As one said: “Sometimes you see things that no one should be allowed to see.”
Rukaiya Ahmed Alibe of Radio Ndarason Internationale, who is based in Maiduguri, spoke to women journalists in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states to find out about their experiences and how they coped with the dangers, violence and cruelty.

They all agreed that even though their jobs were not always easy, the main thing that drove them to do their best in extremely difficult circumstances was the need to spread the news and information so that measures could be put in place to curtail the many crises.
Iya Ma’aji, a journalist from the Maiduguri office of the National Television Authority (NTA) said one story that she would always remember and regarded as one of her best was when she highlighted the hardships faced by internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Bama Local Government Area.

She said that after seeing on television the conditions in which the IDPs lived, the Borno State government had acted promptly and had provided almost immediate humanitarian aid for them.
“It’s very satisfying when your story helps to ease the plight of people such as these.”

However, she said there were some stories that were a lot harder.
“Covering stories on the Boko Haram [Jamā’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’way Wa’l-Jihād – JAS] crisis has proved to be quite difficult. As a woman living in an area that has experienced 14 years of conflict, I have had to get used to seeing bombing scenes with dead bodies scattered. Sometimes you see things that no one should be allowed to see.
Sometimes dealing with soldiers has been extremely exhausting. Visiting the sites where these atrocities have happened can be very frustrating. Soldiers have often denied me access so that I can’t report on relevant stories. At one point, they even stopped caring about my identity card. I have even had a gun pointed at me. At those times, no one has helped me to overcome any of the obstacles. All I had was my faith in God Almighty.

“I have been with this organisation for 20 years and I am aware of the atrocities committed by the insurgents. In fact, I was the one who read the news for the day – I remember it was a Wednesday – when the insurgent leader, Mohammed Yusuf, the founder of Boko Haram, was killed. I have never received recognition from anyone yet for my efforts.”

Iya said one of the good things about working for NTA was that it had never ceased operations during a crisis.
She urged the government to always consider journalists and recognise that they, too, were doing the same task by getting the news of what was happening out into the public.

She also encouraged other women journalists to be patient, have empathy and be extremely courageous.
“These are the most important qualities you need as a woman journalist.”

Zainab Yetunde Adam, a freelance journalist based in Borno, said she was passionate about reporting on conflicts, even though by doing so she had faced a lot of challenging situations.

“The 14-year conflict crisis emerged in a society where disinformation was prevalent and the suffering of victims was ignored. I have the opportunity to give the voiceless a voice through my reporting. My challenges have been relatively minor, though, and I have been able to overcome them when they did arise. It can be difficult to get sources to agree to an interview. They sometimes believe it’s all about the money because some of the non-governmental organisations which work with them give them money.

“I have dealt with sources who expect to be paid for the information they share. But there are ways you can phrase or rephrase questions so that you get the information without money changing hands.”

Other difficulties she has faced include denials for interviews, security risks and limitations on where she can go.
Zainab said it was inevitable that certain stories she had covered had affected her mental health.
“I continue to train myself in conflict-sensitive reporting to ensure that my stories are balanced. And I always stick to the truth.”

Her advice to all journalists, not only women, was to maintain their mental health even if it meant getting psychological help.

“Taking a break from a story to stay mentally fit so that you do not endanger your wellbeing is acceptable.
Additionally, whenever you plan to go somewhere for a story, always ensure your organisation or a friend you trust knows where you will be. Also, make sure you are familiar with the area before you go.”

Hauwa Ali Kawu works for Yobe State Broadcasting Corporation.

“I feel happy when I broadcast stories about internally displaced persons’ living conditions. Humanitarian aid organisations, after listening to my stories, have come to their aid. Without me having to shell out a penny, the aid groups take care of them and their hardship is eased. It makes me feel good that I can help them just by doing a story about them.

“One of the difficulties I have faced is when I am given the task to deal with crises caused by Boko Haram. I get scared. The bombing and gunshots affect my mental health, which prevents me from getting accurate information from those involved.”

Despite the relative peace that now exists in Yobe State, Hauwa emphasised that the government needed to offer adequate safety to all journalists, not only women.

“We deserve to be protected so that we will be able to conduct interviews with a peace of mind.”

Nuwamaiyinah Iddah of Scope Newspaper in Adamawa state said she had attended a gathering in Yola that was arranged by a humanitarian organisation. The intention was to foster harmonious relationships between farmers and herders involved in a conflict. Once they became more aware of the importance of living in peace, an accord was presented for them to sign. Most of them signed even though they were not forced to do so.

She said it would be beneficial if the government and media outlets encouraged these kinds of peace initiatives.
In February the International Press Centre (IPC) in Nigeria conducted a study that revealed poor welfare was the main source of challenges for women journalists. Employers were urged to give the welfare of women journalists more consideration by implementing safety protocols in the newsroom to deal with sexual harassment and intimidation, as well as offering transportation, a suitable place to rest, fair pay and security when covering sensitive stories in volatile areas.

It also promoted the establishment of spaces where women’s rights could be discussed and defended and more secure reporting platforms for women. In addition, it recommended creating more pressure groups for women journalists, as well as strengthening and widely publicising any existing ones.


About the author

Rukaiya Alibe