The head of Political Desk at Africa Independent Television, AIT, Tonia Uju Ike-Ejeye finds herself in a tough terrain, but in this interview says she is up to the task and enjoying the beat.
My name is Tonia Uju, a broadcast journalist. I work with Africa Independent Television, AIT. I am the head of Political Desk and I’m also in the general news room. And by the grace of God, we’ve been able to rise in this profession. I joined the industry as a teenager in 1985. I started long before I even went back to school. I was lured into the profession by a friend and again that is because I had always been interested. When we were growing up seeing Aunty Sienne Alwell Brown, John Oduaya, Shola Momoh reading the news, I was like, I want to be like them, talk like them, read the news like them. There was this programme called Fun with Children that we used to feature in on NTA then. It used to be on Sundays, four o’clock. That was the closest I could get to a television station. I guess all of that aroused my interest. So, years later when I left secondary school, there was this private broadcast institute that was opened in Ikeja and Shola Omole was part of the institute and then he was still a news caster with NTA. A friend said to me “Why don’t you register with this school. You speak very good English and you have very good diction. Why don’t you just go and get trained and join this profession. I think it will suit you”. That was how I got into that school. After my graduation from that school, I still went back for my degree in the tertiary institution. After that, I had my internship in NTA. As an intern, I guess I was the only intern that was allowed to run continuity on NTA. Then Subo Gbamboye and Furo Dagogo were there. I guess God just paved a way for me. I was given a chance at radio, too. My main mentor was Patrick Oke. He took interest in me. He said that I was very good and committed to my duties as an intern. He gave a note and said that I should meet his friend, Willy Ebe, at Radio Nigeria. He will give you programmes to present. Let’s start from there. There was this Sunday programme on Radio One and Family Favorite and whole lot of request programmes. I was also acting on radio.
Q: How did you get into the political beat considering the fact that it is a masculine beat?
For me, I did not see it as man’s beat. From the onset, I saw it as another assignment. I was head of Transport Desk when I joined Channels Television. While in the radio, aside from the acting, I was
also a disc motivator, an announcer, presenter, play the music and give the jam. It was fun for twelve years. I moved to Ray Power at inception and later moved to Channels Television. While I was
at Radio Nigeria, the late Ladi Lawal aroused my interest in news. He saw it in me. There was a programme, Cut Out, a current affairs programme, which he used to do. The issues were really in the news. He said that I will be his co-producer. By then, I didn’t even know the meaning of news even though I used to listen to news. I didn’t know what it was like to produce. He got me working with him on the Cut Out as a co-producer. That was how I started doing features occasionally. At Martin Luther King’s day, I will do features on him. The anniversary of late Murtala Mohammed I would do features. That was how I started doing features and they saw that I was doing it very well. So by the time I crossed over to Channels Television, John Momoh immediately recognized that gift in me because I believe in God’s gift. The way people see the things I do is not the same with me. For me, it is normal. I don’t see anything extraordinary in it. He put me on the Aviation Beat. Then, later I headed the Transport Desk. But when the late Lekan Asumi had his hand full on the Political Desk, he needed somebody to assist him. So, I was moved to the Political Desk and I remember that at that point in time, Lekan went to the US on an eight months course and in that eight months that was the heat of the struggle for the actualization of June 12 mandate of late MKO Abiola. Then, I had to go to Abiola’s house to cover the series of events that were unfolding. And that was when Salim Ahmed Salim, the Secretary General of OAU then came to visit. Those around him said nobody should talk to him. I wondered how I would go back and report that they said that nobody should talk to him. So, I moved around after him. I said to myself there is no way this man can just go without me hearing from him. The issue at stake that time was that MKO had been in prison and nobody said anything or spoke up against what was happening. So, if you come to pay condolence after his death, what did you do to help this man when he was in that situation? Is the condolence better than helping him to actualize his mandate? I moved forward and I started putting the questions to him. The SSS that were with him couldn’t stop me. And as soon as I started all the other journalists joined and there was no stopping. If you listened to that broadcast at that time, you found that even all the TV stations used my voice as I was the one asking the questions. That was how John Momoh saw that I had the gut and he made sure I remained on the Political Desk. So, when Lekan died, I took over the headship of the Political Desk of Channels Television, a position I held for nine years. Even when I became the Senior News Editor, I was still head of Political Desk till now.
Q:What are the challenges you’ve encountered in your line of job as a journalist?
Well I don’t see anything extraordinary because even when I was nine months pregnant I was going for rallies and I got my stories and nobody could really beat me to breaking the news even in that condition. For me it was just a normal thing to do. I didn’t see myself being female in that field and to be quiet sincere even the politicians that I was dealing with recognized that in me. They give me my full respect. They cooperate with me. They never discriminate against me. Maybe, they see that there is something different in me. I never had any challenges that are extraordinary apart from the normal challenges. Of course, on the family front, maybe, I had a few because I really couldn’t be with my children as much as I should even at the early stage. But my late husband, Pastor Emmanuel Ejeye, was quiet supportive. Being a man of God, he encouraged me. I think he is the person that encouraged me the most in my career. He would always feel in the gap for me. Other things I did was that in spite of the fact that I used to resume at about seven or eight in the morning and get home after the ten o’clock news, I will get home around eleven or twelve in the night. I will still take time, like when my children were babies; I will play with them that night. Each time I get home, the moment they hear my voice, they will wake up, because they were expecting me. They knew that was the time I used to play with them. It was stressful but I had to do it. And then, the days that I am off duty I stayed with them, played with them. I hardly do socials because I’m not the party type. I devoted my free time to my family.
Q:What is your take on the political situation in Nigeria?
Nigeria has a lot of challenges politically, particularly with the quality of leadership that we have in this country. It is not a matter of PDP or APC. It’s not a matter of Jonathan, Buhari or whoever. I think there is a general problem in the polity and in the political system of this country. If you criticize Goodluck Jonathan, believe me, I don’t see a viable alternative. If you criticize PDP, I don’t see an alternative right now, because you have the same kind of persons pervading the two major political parties. The same kind of persons, position seekers, power seekers, not people who are really committed to the good of the country or citizens. Not people who would lay down their lives if the need be for this country. But men who want to wield powers, who want to maintain positions for selfish interests, for their selfish aggrandizement. Our leaders are majorly a group of selfish people. We have few ones that are exceptional. They are just too few compared to the need that we have in this country. There is the need for us to have leaders who are truly leaders, the likes of Nelson Mandela and Prof Dora Akunyili. We have too few in this clime, Men who would be willing to lay down their lives for the good of the people. The good men are not given the opportunity. I remember when some good men attempted to contest, but they saw that the murky water was too filthy and too scary for them. Our political environment has not made it conducive for good men to come out and run. So, we see thugs who managed to get into power handing over to the thugs they bred while they were in power. These in turn hand over to another generation of selfish thugs. I’m not saying all of them are thugs, but, majorly, there is a depth of leadership that qualifies to be leadership in this country. That’s why I do not join in the debate to say this man is good or that one is bad. I think that it is a general thing. Even the followership is as guilty as the leadership. Is it the politician that rigs the election? It’s still the poor man out there who is given the opportunity to be part of the election process. It maybe the polling officer or whatever that is used to perpetrate the fraud of rigging the election. He forgets that whatever money that is given to him will last for only that time. After that time, he still gets back to square one or where he began. No basic amenities. We are still struggling with power every inch of the way. Even though the administration is sinking a lot of efforts and money, because the system has been so polluted, the operators of the system are almost frustrating every attempt to make things right. The operators, the same you and I. people at our level that are not among the main leadership. So, you find that the followership is as bad as the people that they are also criticizing because if they do not assist politicians to perpetrate fraud, politicians will not succeed. If the junior cadre of workers in our ministries do not assist the top cadre of the bureaucrats corruption would be reduced. Who are the people that falsify figures? Who are the ones who do the clerical work? It’s a chain reaction. A chain problem. The challenges are for you and for every single Nigerian. The man who is abusing Jonathan today, just check his own life in his office or the environment where he does his business, believe me, he is as filthy as the person he points accusing finger at.