When broadcast journalists get to work on breaking news, interviews and analyses, it’s a moment that separates men from boys. Charles Aniagolu, a news anchor with ARISE TV makes live news casting look easy. Beyond his signature voice, good looks and delivery, he practises his craft with command, comfort and clarity. Having worked with the British Broadcasting Corporation, ITN, Sky News and CNN, Aniagolu is with ARISE TV as the lead news anchor. He speaks with Adedayo Adejobi about his works, successes and passion. Excerpts:
What do you see as the biggest challenge for Africa?
I think leadership is clearly the biggest challenge. You’ve got to have the right leaders, and with the kind of vision (of the Chairman of THISDAY and ARISE TV) Nduka (Obaigbena) has, as evident in the setting up of ARISE News. I’ve actually wondered why he cannot get into politics. If he can power through the sort of things he did with ARISE and THISDAY, perhaps he can transfer those skills to politics. But what I think we need is a great visionary with consistency of policies who would see them through. And it’s not just about building infrastructure. It’s about putting the wherewithal to maintain that infrastructure. But more importantly to carry out that revolution in the minds of your citizens, you have to inspire them, create a vision and bring them into that vision.
In Africa because most of the leaders are sub- literate, they don’t have the capacity to inspire people. They don’t know how to do it, which is why the resort to force and violence. But you need a revolution in the minds of people and in order to do that. You need somebody who is almost like a philosopher leader who understands the philosophy of a nation as well as practical things you need to do to move that nation forward and I think that is grossly lacking in Africa. I think until we get away from some ethnic politics and focus on merit and institute meritocracy, there is clearly a big challenge Africa
What do you see as the gaps in journalism in Nigeria and how do you think they can be closed?
What is lacking often times is education. The medium you use to communicate is English if you don’t have a command of English you won’t be able to deliver. I find absolutely unintelligent of some people you write bad scripts, those who don’t have the requisite journalistic experience, and the problem of the ethics where people collect money, I find completely unethical. It completely destroys the whole point of Journalism which is supposed to be a watchdog on behalf of the people on the leadership. But when you go and collect money from those people, you compromise yourself. It’s same thing as corruption. That’s basically what it is and the problem is people don’t seem to understand what they are doing. The whole brown envelope is a syndrome; an absolutely unacceptable in journalism.
It astonishes me that it’s not just the journalist, you have people in positions of leadership who tell you they are fighting corruption and then at the end, they are sharing big money. It has happened to me several times and I’m like ‘please don’t even think about it’. I’m talking about very senior Nigerians and they look at me strangely. I tell them under no circumstances would I receive it (brown envelope). On the other hand, journalists have to survive; so if there’s no consistency of remuneration you open them to that kind of thing. So it’s a due responsibility, but I think the onus is greater on the journalist to say these are the ethics of my job. If for instance the judiciary goes to collect money to dispense its job, when you compromise that, you destroy not only the independence of the judiciary but the foundation of society and that foundation is the rule of law and the law of contract. But when you undermine that, you destroy the very foundations of a society and in the same way it is just as dangerous for a journalist to do that.
But do you think Nigerian journalists are globally competitive?
I’m seeing some absolutely fabulous writers – some of those who write in newspapers, including THISDAY – some of them very good in terms of their ability to write and understand the issues in the society. But beyond that there are other things where you often don’t have first-hand journalism. For example, there has been an insurgency raging in the North. I’ve travelled and when the Chibok girls were taken, ARISE TV was the first national crew to go there and I was the reporter who led the team there when the Dapchi girls were released. I was there in Yobe State and we did a documentary. What I find lacking is you don’t find that kind of first-hand reporting. A lot of people would say ‘they said’ without going there to find the story and give that independent verification – and often times you’ll sit here and see that the AFP press or foreign journalists telling you what is going on in Nigeria. It’s astonishing. I know there are a lot of things that hold back reporters here and I think the potential is certainly there with quite a lot of talented people, but I feel the key things are proper education, maintenance of the ethics of the profession and then having the ability to go out there and tell the story. I think in varying degrees, there are still a lot to be achieved in those directions.
What do you think is the future of journalism in Nigeria and on the African continent?
I think Nigeria particularly has given the world – in fairness to Nigeria – very robust journalism. If you look at the period of military, the annulment of the 1993 presidential election, we had a very intrepid press. You have the Dele Giwas. These were people who were prepared to give their life for a story. To that extent they were consistent, by challenging the government and drawing the attention to bad governance, human rights violation and all sorts and I must say they worked very closely with some of the human right activists. So, to that extent they would certainly be remembered as great patriots who did a lot for this country and to move this country back to the right path of Democratic rectitude. To that extent they have to be congratulated. So the problem is like leadership, it’s like taking one step forward, two steps backward. You have incredible journalists who sacrifice a lot and give their life’s push to up the bar. People like the Duke – Nduka Obaigbena – who try to maintain a very objective line which is absolutely essential in journalism especially in a country like Nigeria where there are many divisions and many are trying to get you to their own side, you have to be absolutely objective and I think he’s done that with ARISE and THISDAY.
What will you call the highs and lows of your job as a news anchor at ARISE TV?
Like I said we led the team in 2014. We broke the news internationally of Chibok girls who were kidnapped. That was the high point for me, especially when we produced documentaries on Dapchi girls. I think ARISE TV has put its name and stamp on international journalism and has succeeded to put Africa on the map from the journalistic point of view as people who have the ability to tell their own story and I think without the shadow of doubt that in itself is a very significant achievement.
Have you had the opportunity of feedback from other competing international news organisations like CNN and BBC?
There have been quite a lot of people who worked at the British Broadcasting Corporation, CNN, Aljazeera and also working with ARISE TV, so there’s that symbiotic relationship and I think there are rooms for improvement. But I’m sure if ARISE TV isn’t doing something right they won’t be coming to ARISE.
Your show on the 2019 elections, dissects contemporary, critical issues without fear or favour. How do you see 2019 elections panning out?
It’s unpredictable at this point to be honest. I think the opposition led by Atiku Abubakar and the incumbent administration led by (Muhammadu) Buhari, almost have equal chances. We don’t know what is going to happen. Looking at the two sides; they have their strengths and weaknesses. I think what would be astonishing is if a third force beyond those two was able to cause a really dramatic upset – that would be interesting. Because in 2015 what caused the upset which was dramatically interesting was the fact that an incumbent which has never happened before was removed from office and the incumbent conceded. That was a remarkable period in Nigeria’s political history. Whether or not we are going to get that kind of dramatic development in 2019 I don’t know. Whether or not the promises that are being made now are going to be fulfilled, it’s a matter for the people to access. What we are trying to do in ‘Nigeria in 2019’ is to show Nigerians as much as possible, to challenge those promises, so we put their feet on the fire as it were, but ultimately it’s up to the Nigerian people and I think there are so many factors beyond the clarity of the two main parties. So many other things like ethnicity, poverty but we have to wait and see. But the real surprise, real upset would be if a third force would be able to come in and I’m very impressed by the rare range of presidential candidates. I think each one of them, the more prominent ones and perhaps the members of the third force; because I think they have to work hard. When I mean third force, the lesser well-known parties they probably have done their home works much better than the two bigger parties who have the reach and can master the sort of voter participation and voter clout that can knock the other two off their feet.
What is the Nigeria of your dream?
The Nigeria of my dream is a place where certain things must be put in place – education is number one. You can’t have dreams of improving the society and economy and raising people out of poverty without having a proper educational system. Education is not just also about passing your exams. It’s also about instilling in people values that deter them from corruption, violence and all kinds of things and give them a sense of belonging. I would like to see a country where the issue of ethnicity is longer in the front burner. I think it’s absurd in a country like Nigeria with so many ethnic problems, you continue to perpetuate that by insisting that people may have been born and grown up here, but they come from somewhere else. That’s ludicrous. I’m a Nigerian but I was born in Scotland. As far as people in the UK are concerned I’m British and wherever I’m born is where I’m from and it makes no difference. I’m a British citizen. If somebody lives in northern or western Nigeria and they are from the Niger Delta and their children are born and brought up in the north or west that’s where they should come from. That’s the right. It’s the same country, so I think those things hold back Nigeria and I would like to see those things disappear.