BBC Expands Its Footprint

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The launch of the Pidgin, Yoruba and Igbo news services of the British Broadcasting Corporation in Lagos has broadened its reach among Nigerian listeners. Martins Ifijeh writes

“Nigeria is a very diverse country, and our strength lies in that diversity. I am hopeful that the introduction of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) News services in Igbo, Yoruba and Pidgin languages will further help in uniting this country rather than dividing us.”

These were the thoughts of the Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to the President of Nigeria, Mr. Shehu Garba, during a chat with THISDAY at the launch of the BBC News service in Lagos recently.

He said Nigerians are very accommodating people who are ready to embrace one another once the right messages are passed; noting that he has no doubt that the broadcasting giant will make that a reality.

He said those from the North were very much aware of how BBC Hausa radio has become part of their lives, noting that the rich, the poor and those in rural communities have access to information through the BBC medium, as everyone connected because of the language.

“Now the focus has moved towards the Southern part of the country with Yoruba, Igbo and Pidgin services. It will no doubt increase the level of information among Nigerians,” he added.

Nigeria is a country of over 500 languages, but the three major ones are Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo. Nigerian Pidgin is an English-based Pidgin and the Creole language is spoken by over 75 million Nigerians.

The BBC News officially opened its new bureau in Lagos with the introduction of the three languages, while its international news currently has an audience of 36 million in Nigeria, the largest of any country.

The Bureau; which will act as the BBC’s headquarters in West Africa – comprises a television studio and two radio studios and could house up to 200 people. Its three new local language services join BBC News broadcasts Hausa and English across the country, giving Nigerians same quality of reportage in diverse languages.

The Editor of the news service, Peter Okwoche, who noted that original journalism in a local language travels even further than in English, said the platform was big on the African narrative and the Nigerian narrative, adding that it was time for the people to try to tell their own stories.

While stating that the Igbo and Yoruba news services are offshoots of the Hausa service, he said BBC Hausa service started about 60-61 years ago as a radio service because there was no internet. “So it began as a radio service, but it has gone on to have its own online platform – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. It has a news bulletin on TV now, which runs on Youtube. So, in that sense, the BBC Hausa service is very well established and very successful.

“For the BBC Igbo and the BBC Yoruba, we are starting with online platforms first. Strictly because research has shown us that most people are beginning to consume their news on their mobile phones.

“But that notwithstanding, the quality of stories on the Igbo and the Yoruba service will continue to maintain the highest standard of the BBC. For instance, BBC Igbo is launching an exclusive interview with Nnamdi Kanu’s wife, she talks about the whereabouts of her husband and what she knows about that.”

On the Yoruba side, he said they have an exclusive interview with Professor Wole Soyinka. “Exclusive in the sense that it is one of the very few interviews, and that is what he has told us that he has ever given completely in Yoruba. And he talks about the Nigerian politics, leadership in the country and who he thinks should take over the leadership of the country, among other things. Very high-quality stories. We are bringing them to you in the indigenous languages of the Igbo and Yoruba people,” he noted.

In an earlier interview with an online newspaper, he said before finally coming out to launch the services, a pilot study was done for about a year and a half to figure out if people actually read and write Yoruba. He said the result was positive, as lots of people know how to read and write Yoruba. I take myself as an example.

“I am from Benue State. Nobody ever thought me how to read my language. Because the Bible was printed in my Language in the early 1990s, I started reading it and learning. If there is a text, people will learn. If you are already speaking the language people will learn how to read it and then from there learn how to write it. I think people will engage with it and people will love it and come to see it for what it is – real impassioned news. People will appreciate it and begin to invite people to engage in it.

“We have been piloting for the last two months and it has been a very interesting two months. Now, everybody who works in the Igbo Service is Igbo, but they are not from same part of Igboland. Everybody who works in the Yoruba Service is Yoruba, but they don’t come from the same part of Yorubaland. So what we have realised is that sometimes an accent might change, the spelling of a word might change. A lot of the time these things are not standardised. We are just trying to develop a formula where we make it as standard as possible realising that sometimes we might just have to change an accent or the way the word is spelt to reflect what part of Igboland we are talking about.

“I give you a typical example. BBC Pidgin, for instance, the way we write Pidgin in Nigeria is not the way Pidgin is written in Ghana. So, when our reporter in Ghana is writing a story, obviously he writes it the way the Ghanaians write it. It would be very unfair for us in Nigeria to change it so that Nigerians will understand it. No. it is written primarily for a Ghanaian audience. So, we just let it go. So, if an Ogbomoso man and a Lagos man are saying one word in two different ways, if that story comes from Ogbomoso we would write it the way the Ogbomoso man will pronounce the word.”

He said the service has a lot of stories about politics, technology, entrepreneurship, science, culture, traditions, women affairs, women in politics and business, among others. “Women actually do great things. A lot of people believe it is the women that keep the economy going outside of the oil industry. We want to cover all the great things that women are doing and bring them to the attention of our audience,” he added.

The Director of the BBC World Service, Jamie Angus, during the announcement of the launch, said its investment in Nigeria has created over 100 new jobs in Lagos and that it was part of the biggest expansion of the BBC World Service since the 1940s.

Not only that the news giant’s initiative will aid the country’s unity, it hopes to also help in providing job opportunities to Nigerians and empower next generation of journalists through its innovative approaches.

“The BBC will also invest in the region further by launching a mentorship and internship scheme for the next generation of West African journalists,” the Director of the BBC World Service, announced.

He said: “It’s wonderful to be here to open this bureau, which will be the headquarters for our operation across West Africa. It will be a beacon for our journalism and as such, I am delighted to announce our mentorship and internship scheme for up-and-coming journalists. This is part of BBC’s contribution to the growth of media best practice and professionalism in Nigeria and the fight against ‘fake news’-and we’ll benefit from the young journalists’ insight into West Africa.”

He said the BBC World Service delivers accurate, impartial and independent news to all countries. “We spot the stories, see the patterns and make sense of your world. We promise to remain your most trusted source of news in the years to come,” he added.

On her part, the Head of BBC West Africa, Oluwatoyosi Ogunseye said: “It’s a great honour to be part of this expansion, and I’m so proud to be leading the teams in Nigeria. We will be big on original journalism that impacts the lives of Nigerians at home and abroad. We are expanding our editorial offer to cover politics, culture, business, health, investigations, among others.

“We will focus more on young people and women, ensuring that we cover Nigeria and the whole of West Africa like never before. We’ll remain true to our ideals and values of objectivity, truth and impartiality.”

She said BBC news in Igbo, Pidgin and Yoruba reports on stories affecting the lives of audiences across the region would be available online and on social media, adding that there is also a 60-second audio round-up, BBC Minute twice daily.

“The BBC is also joining forces with Channels Television on Connect Africa, a new weekly half-hour programme in English which will be launched later this year. This will be a live current affairs focusing on the stories behind the news, with audience interaction via social media and from a studio audience.

“The BBC will also launch more new television programmes for Africa later this year in English, Hausa, French and Swahili, and some of the TV teams will join the Lagos bureau. This will include programmes about sports, business, and entertainment, satire, women’s programme, a programme for 10 to 16 years old, and investigative documentaries,” she added.

She noted that this will offer other local independent producers the chance to be involved in co-productions and BBC commissions.