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