24 Oct Down memory lane: Reflections and recollections on the dawn of participatory media in Nigeria
Student volunteers working in the UNIZIK studio.
Community radios were often established as a response to different kinds of struggle about socio-economic or cultural issues. In Nigeria, the establishment of community broadcasting is in direct response to the pressure from civil society on the Federal Government for the democratization of the airwaves in order to facilitate the emerging Nigerian democracy, create a more pluralistic media system and for rural development.
The campaign for community radio in Nigeria was not unconnected with the development of community radio globally, which was gaining momentum in other African countries like Mali, Benin, Ghana, South Africa, Mozambique, Kenya, Senegal, Zimbabwe etc. Moreover, radio activists and development scholars at the time (Akingbulu, 2006; Opubor, 2006; and Alumuku, 2005), argued that the philosophy of the prevailing broadcasting environment needed a paradigm shift to participatory media since radio then was still trapped in the regimes of State and commercial principles unsuited to achieving the ultimate results in development. It is within these contexts that the journey that led to the transformation of the radio media landscape in Nigeria began.
This article briefly recounts the role media scholars and activists played in framing and driving the national agenda for participatory media development in Nigeria and looks at some of the questions that need to be addressed through the particular lens of a campus radio station, UNIZIK 94.1 FM; relaying its trailblazing experiences as a pointer to other forms of emerging community radios in Nigeria.
How it all started
The struggle for community radio (CR) in Nigeria was initiated in 2000 by concerned community broadcasting advocates. In 2003, three collaborating organizations – The Panos Institute West Africa, the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC), and Institute for Media and Society – joined the initiative. This sent a message to the Nigerian authorities that captured the urgent and crucial need for community radio development in the country.
Known as “Initiative for Building Community Radio in Nigeria”, the committee developed an action plan which included seminars for CR stakeholders in four zonal centres across the country. This gave rise to series of awareness-raising and interest-generating workshops that took the message of CR development to the various regions of Nigeria.
With this action plan, the initiative succeeded in putting Nigerians in the driving seat of advocacy. It also provided the forum for sensitization and knowledge concerning CR. It is important to recall that prior to this period of heightened advocacy, the concept of community media was relatively unknown in the country even though it was gaining popularity across the globe. This era, therefore, was significant in educating and sensitizing Nigerians about CR broadcasting.
This era was not without some challenges such as: misconceptions and low commitment to CR issues within government and other agencies; inconsistencies in government policies and poor policy implementation regarding CRs. These challenges trailed the first type of CRs in Nigeria – campus CR stations – and were a major obstacle to their advancement. The challenges, notwithstanding, helped to define and reignite the struggle for CR development as in 2005 the initiative metamorphosed to become Nigeria Community Radio Coalition (NCRC), the umbrella body for community radio development activities in Nigeria. This body had the aim of educating the public and policy makers, stimulating continuing discourse and helping to actualize a truly plural media landscape in Nigeria (Akingbulu, 2006).
In 2006 the NCRC organized a high level policy dialogue in Abuja that led to the government setting up a 17-member committee to produce a draft Community Radio Policy (CRP). The CRP draft has long been produced by the committee but the Federal Government is yet to effectively use this draft to develop an enabling policy framework crucial to the success of CR broadcasting in Nigeria. NCRC up until now is still spear heading the advocacy for the development of other community radios in the country which somewhat materialized in the second quarter of 2015 with the licensing of 17 community radios in the six geopolitical zones. But then, before the licensing of these community radios, campus community radios had emerged in the country.
Dawn of campus community radio in Nigeria
Arguably, campus community broadcasting in Nigeria started with the clandestine transmission of radio programmes by three students of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) in 2002. The students’ illegal transmission sent a strong signal to the Nigerian government that the time was ripe for radio stations on campuses. This, some have argued may have partly contributed to the granting of a license to the University of Lagos the same year and for the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission’s (NBC) initial revision of the National Broadcasting Code to accommodate community broadcasting in the code. Other licenses were issued to 10 other campus community radios in 2007 and 18 campus radios in 2009.
It took the Nigerian government almost a decade – since the first set of private/commercial radios were licensed in 1994 – to issue the first license for campus community radio (UNILAG, 103.1 FM) in 2002 and another five years for 10 more licenses to be granted to other campus community radio stations in 2007. Several reasons presented for this slow uptake of community broadcasting in Nigeria include:
The experience of Rwanda with hate radio and genocide.
CR was perceived to be capable of sometimes producing independent content that could be dangerous and inimical to constituted authority.
CR has been viewed by some in the country as a political tool with the capacity to inflame and fan the embers of political destabilization.
The nature of Nigeria’s ethnic and religious configuration, which is multifaceted.
It is pertinent to recollect at this point that the establishment of campus community radio stations in Nigeria was possible because of the existing campus broadcasting studios in the departments of mass communication around the country. A cursory look at the structure and operations of UNIZIK 94.1 FM exemplifies this point.
UNIZIK 94. 1 FM in perspective
UNIZIK 94.1 FM was one of the campus radio stations licensed in 2007 and domiciled in Nnamdi Azikiwe University (UNIZIK), one of the Federal Universities existing in Nigeria. Like other CR stations in other parts of the globe, UNIZIK. 94.1 FM was set to operate under the principles/philosophy of CR. Among the key principles are: access, popular participation, community ownership and not-for profit motive.
There was clear evidence of similarities in licensed campus radio stations’ operations across the country in their embryonic stage, because during that period, the Nigeria Community Radio Coalition (NCRC) continued with capacity building workshops for these emerging stations, thus providing a forum for learning but also for networking and sharing of experiences among CR stakeholders. The coalition provided the seed knowledge for all the campus stations which went a long way towards consolidating their existence.
Conversely, we also observed a serious oversight on the part of the coalition in their commendable efforts – the omission of university management and senior education stakeholders in these seminars. The result was internal conflict and tensions between the stations and their various universities, lack of take-off funding for these stations, employment of radio professionals and a misconception regarding these stations’ ownership status.
CR principles such as community ownership, volunteerism, community participation in the development of contents and the general management of the station etc. were often misunderstood and contested by the academic communities across all the campus community radios. Some community radio stations in religious institutions and those owned by state governments particularly operated a model of campus community radio that had a near absence of student participation and used radio professionals entirely for their operations. The running and management of these stations and programme content was similar to the existing commercial stations except in quantity of commercials.
Management and staffing
This was a major challenge that UNIZIK 94.1FM had to contend with during the kick-off phase. To solve the problem of staffing, however, a technician was employed for the station. He was the only permanent staff for the station, while the rest of the workers at the FM were student volunteers, drawn from different disciplines in the university. Although the idea of running the station with volunteers is in keeping with one of the philosophies of community radio, at that time, it was a major limitation. The development of programmes, presentation and studio operations became a task since most of the student volunteers had never worked in a station before.
What the department did at this point was to engage in on-the-job training of the students by inviting experts from mainstream broadcast stations operating within the state and also using lecturers teaching broadcasting. The effort paid off considering the speed with which students learned the ropes of radio broadcasting in a very short period. Using student volunteers presented yet another huge challenge for the station because they still had their academic works to attend to apart from other social engagements. Staffing and management, therefore, are stark realities that emerging community radios have to reckon with.
The issue of funding is generally regarded as the biggest challenge of any community radio. For UNIZIK FM the issue was complicated in several ways viz.: There was no grant from the University management to start off the station; the University did not allocate any monthly subvention for the station even when they saw the station as one of the various units of the University. The issue of not-for-profit motive of community radio as interpreted by the regulatory body (NBC), also greatly restricted the revenue source for the station. The NBC 2010 code (p.65) limits sources of funding to membership fees, levies, contributions, gifts or grants and local spot announcements.
In our case, no member was willing to donate to a non-profitable venture and gifts/grants were not forthcoming either. Recounting this experience is of immense importance to other emerging community radios as a vital issue that needs to be addressed with the regulatory body. Without clear alternative means of funding, keeping the FM station running was a challenge.
Another experience worth recalling was the issue of community access to the station. The easiest way to ensure access is through community participation, but this is not without its limitations. UNIZIK 94.1 FM made a conscious effort to ensure access, popular participation and representativeness in the station by giving every member of the university community chances to be heard. UNIZIK as noted earlier is not a homogenous community, where it is easier to define the community since the population is less segmented.
In a heterogeneous community like our campus and other universities, this can be a challenge because there are so many different social groups that comprise University life. Ensuring that such sub-sectors of the academic community participate in campus radio was somehow difficult for the stations to achieve since most of the Universities had yet to understand the concept of community participation and the idea of non-professionals being involved in producing media content was unfamiliar.
The journey so far
Presently, Unizik 94.1FM is a success story. The activities and indeed the rich programming content of the FM that is community-based and people-oriented have proved critics wrong that campus radios are not merely educational or instructional tools but also a tool for development. The programmes of UNIZIK 94.1 FM serve development in various ways through a selection of key themes such as students’ forums, gender issues, education, health issues and others. The radio station, because it regards itself as a window through which Nnamdi Azikiwe University talks to itself, ensures that the above discussed themes are participatory in their production format.
A recurring programme of this nature is “Good Morning UNIZIK”. The Vice- Chancellor has used this programme on several occasions as a platform not only to inform students about developments within the University but to quell rumours that could have caused serious unrest. Other programmes that are getting high acceptability are the “Students’ Parliament” where the Students’ Union Government showcases its activities and answers questions from various constituencies; the “You and the Law programme” where issues of students’ rights and the citizens’ rights are discussed. These all reflect the participatory and development roles of the station.
Besides programming, the use of student volunteers also speaks volumes about the participatory nature of the FM. The whole essence of the public sphere as propounded by Habermas (1962) was a site where citizens have the opportunity to engage in dialogue and debate, and UNIZIK FM strives to uphold that. A majority of the student volunteers who are from disciplines other than Mass Communication department have become active producers of radio content through the station.
Another key success story is the training of the student volunteers. For us this empowering process is indeed worth mentioning. These students from non communication discipline learnt the ropes of broadcasting at the station. This way, campus radio serves a valuable economic function to the society by providing viable training for students and other members of the community in radio broadcasting.
Bridging the missing gap: Lessons for the emerging community radios
It is important to point out some gray areas that might be a constraint for the emerging community radios if left unaddressed. One such area is the full integration of all elements that make up a given community. This has not really been fully captured in the UNIZIK 94.1 FM and all other existing campus community radios in Nigeria. The operation and functionality of the FM currently favours certain segment of the stakeholders – students and staff – while excluding the third component – host community. Programming contents should be tailored to serve the needs of the entire community; being a campus station, musicals of course should dominate but then so should educational programmes. Unfortunately, this has not been the case in the campus radio stations existing in Nigeria. Another problem with the dominance of these musical programs we observed was the use of foreign professional artistes which is in conflict with the very idea of CR practice of promoting indigenous talents.
One other area that has not been fully explored and yet remains amazingly possible is the use of the station for educational broadcasting – using the station by various lecturers as an ‘on-air classroom’, as supplement lectures for students not opportune to attend classes; report on research breakthroughs as well as to promote arts and culture within the university community.
The licensing by the federal government of 17 more community radio stations across the six geopolitical zones of the country in 2015 is a clear indication that campus radio stations in the country have passed the litmus test for the operationability of CRs in Nigeria. The campus CRs by their doggedness in operating a different radio philosophy that was relatively unknown within the Nigerian radio broadcasting landscape ensured the full establishment of the community radio sector as the third tier of radio broadcasting in the country. As the newly licensed community radios take off, the need for NCRC to further scale up on advocacy and sensitization, including workshops with key stakeholders of these new CRs across the six geo political zones in the country remains vital so that participatory radio will be consolidated in Nigerian media terrain. ν
Akingbulu, A. (2006). Issues in the Historical Development of Radio Broadcasting in Nigeria. In Akingbulu, A. (ed.) Building Community Radio In Nigeria: Issues and challenges. Lagos: Grafix & Images.
Alumuku, P. (2005). Community Radio: Emerging Democratic Communication in Africa.”NBC Journal, Vol. 7. No 2.
Habermas (1962). The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere-An Inquiry into a
category of Bourgeois Society. Thomas Burger, Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press
Opubor, A. (2006). Can Radio Build Communities? In Akingbulu, A. (ed). Building Community Radio in Nigeria: Issues and challenges. Lagos: Grafix & Images
Ifeoma Vivian Dunu (Ph.D.) is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Mass Communication, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Nigeria. She is an international scholar, with research interests in Community Radio and Development, Gender and Communication, Public Relations and Advertising, New Media and Popular Culture and Communication Research. Contact details: Mobile Number: +234(0)8036732718; E-mail: email@example.com
Gregory Obinna Ugbo is a Ph.D. student of Mass Communication, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Nigeria. He is an avid researcher with interests in Development Communication, Gender and Communication, New Media and Popular Culture. Contact information: Mobile Number: +234(0)7039410172; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org