Frontline World

NIGERIA - The Road North, January 2003


THE STORY
Synopsis of "The Road North"

MISS WORLD'S WOES
A Chronicle of the Pageant's Troubles

THOUGHTS OF A FAVORITE SON
Interview With Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka

NIGERIAN WOMEN SPEAK OUT
Five Diverse Voices

FACTS & STATS
Learn More about Nigeria

LINKS & RESOURCES
Sharia Law, Human Rights, the Role of Women

MAP

REACT TO THIS STORY

   


Nigerian Women Speak Out

Christine Anyanwu Journalist

"Once you're a journalist you go places that the ordinary Nigerian woman wouldn't go."
Christine Anyanwu
Journalist

Christine Anyanwu is a journalist who received the International Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists in 1997. She is a Christian, is the mother of two children and is from eastern Nigeria. Her production company, Spectrum Broadcasting, produces a weekly current affairs program in Abuja. Anyanwu was editor in chief of the independent Nigerian newsweekly The Sunday Magazine in 1995 when she was sentenced to life in prison under the government of dictator Sani Abacha. She had served three years in prison when she was released after Abacha's death in 1998.

A Devastating Blow
I was enraged when I heard about (the upheaval around) the Miss World contest. I just couldn't understand that. We have had too many missed opportunities in this country, too many blunders, and it feels like we're insisting on ridiculing ourselves -- with our own hands -- before the world. It was devastating to see those young girls, frightened, coming down a plane at night. Fleeing the country! Nigeria is such a wonderful place. People are so warm. People are so nice, very welcoming. I didn't understand why anybody should have to flee this country. And yet it happened. It looked very bad. And I felt very sorry. Because it was devastating to our image.

We've had too many missed opportunities in this country, too many blunders, and it feels like we're insisting on ridiculing ourselves -- with our own hands -- before the world.

I traveled to the CPJ [Committee to Protect Journalists] dinner, and here was the gathering of the most influential press in America -- a very huge event. I was supposed to (receive) an award, and I usually make a little statement. Before I got there, the news had broken. Just as I was sitting there, someone had declared a fatwa on the reporter who'd written this story [in ThisDay newspaper]. Minutes before I was supposed to make this presentation, they gave me wire copies of this. There was Dan Rather sitting next to me and expressing his concern. "Have you heard about this fatwa?"

I was mortified. I had gone there to tell them that things are well with Nigeria, that we haven't got it quite right yet but we are forging ahead. And free speech, freedom of expression was on in Nigeria. We could speak now, and write without fear of being repressed by anyone. Just to give them the good news! But what could I say to the world after all that? Of course I couldn't say that all was well with my country, that free speech and democracy was well and unhindered. We had never had things like this (fatwa) happening in this country. And it was devastating. For me personally and, I think, for every Nigerian and everybody who has anything to do with Nigeria, it was a devastating blow.

The first thing my son (who lives in America) said when he saw me was, "What's all this going on in Nigeria? Are you sure you can continue doing your work in Nigeria? Why don't you go to Ghana or a neighboring country?" My family all want me to succeed, but they also want me alive. The way it was sounding to them, it didn't sound like Nigeria was a safe place.

Journalistic License
Once you're a journalist, you go places that the ordinary Nigerian woman wouldn't go or wouldn't have much access. You see history in the making, you see people at their most intimate moments or making their mistakes. Some interesting experiences that I've had ... occasions when I was working at NTA [Nigerian Television Authority], going to interview some VIPs and seeing their faces glistening with grease, and I'd have to do their makeup. People who (you) ordinarily think are flawless -- you know that they, too, have moments when they're unsure.

I think newspaper print is very powerful here. Because you can really do a lot of work. And people don't know you, people don't recognize you. But they feel your impact. But television is really everyone's medium, and you get reactions from the common people because they watch the most.
My whole family lives in America, but I am passionate about this place because I see the potential. And the potential is not just in the oil and gas, it's in human beings.

Nigeria's Potential
When you look at the potential for tourism -- it's like a haven. I've never gone to a place as beautiful. But there's not been development, and there cannot be tourism (now) because people will not come in an atmosphere where there's no peace. The ingredients are not there. And we want to push tourism. How do we do it when it's unsafe for people? When there's insecurity of investment, how do we get people to develop these things? It's very troubling, the road we're traveling now.

Nigeria is not being fair to itself. I am passionate about this place. My whole family lives in America, but I am passionate about this place because I see the potential. And the potential is not just in the oil and gas, it's in human beings. This place is unexplored. What nature has given this place is untapped. Its people have not yet started their development. Their potential individually, nobody is fulfilling it.

People can do so much, so much can happen in this country. But it's not happening because there's so much work that needs to be done. The best of us is not being seen abroad. I don't blame them, with all the mayhem that we inflict upon ourselves -- which is what takes priority in terms of news coverage. Who cares to come and discover the good things in this place? Nigeria is rich. Richer than you can imagine.

NEXT - Mario Bello: Youth advocate

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