Ronke Idowu Reeves (Vibe Magazine), Lola Ogunaike (Formerly with CNN), Lola Adesioye (Huffington Post/The Guardian UK), Samantha Ofole-Prince (LA based Entertainment British Journalist) are just a sample of Nigerians in Western media doing their part to help tell beautiful stories of Nigeria and Africa. You can add yet another name to this list of remarkable women in media, Stephanie Busari-Akamba. Busari-Akamba a media personality with CNN.com is our Personality of the Month.
Learn about all of the great work she has been doing for Africa and Nigeria.
LadybrilleNigeria.com: Hello, hello Stephanie! How are you? How was your day?
SBA: I’m really good thanks, having a busy day, but all good.
LadybrilleNigeria.com: I’ve been observing your hard work at CNN in trying to tell modern
stories of who Africans are for almost a year since we were introduced. Share with our audience your personal background?
SBA: Well, I was born in Lagos and moved to England from Nigeria when I was 12. I grew up in South London and I’m the eldest of four. In terms of my career, I’ve had a fairly long and varied career in the British media. After university I started my full time journalism career at New Nation, a now defunct national black newspaper in UK. I also worked for the London Evening Standard but it was at the Daily Mirror that I really cut my teeth as a reporter, working on different desks including the 3am showbiz column where I basically went to parties, interviewed celebrities and tried to get stories out of them. That was a lot of fun in my early 20s! I also got a chance to work in Belfast, Northern Ireland, which was such an eye-opener to the situation over there.
LadybrilleNigeria.com: How did you get into the media field?
SBA: I always knew from a young age that I wanted to be a journalist, so I channeled a lot of my efforts into making that happen. I basically did every bit of work experience/internships in a variety of publications I could find, ranging from fashion magazines to local newspapers. I remember getting my first front-page story at the York Evening Press (in northern England) and it was such a buzz seeing my byline in print. I guess, I was very focused and determined to become a journalist and eventually I landed my first job at New Nation and haven’t looked back since.
LadybrilleNigeria.com: At what point did you begin working for CNN?
SBA: I started working for CNN.com in the London bureau as a freelancer in January 2008 and became a permanent member of staff in 2009.
LadybrilleNigeria.com: How did the opportunity come about?
SBA: I heard through a friend they were looking for freelancers, I sent off my CV and the rest is history, as they say.
LadybrilleNigeria.com: Good for you. That actually makes for a nice transition into my next question. The media is a very powerful medium, as we all know. The company you work for is a giant and definitely a household name, worldwide. What responsibility do you feel, if any, towards Africa in your role at CNN for CNN.com?
SBA: When commissioning stories for the website, I do try to seek out the stories that may not necessarily be the obvious “bombs and bullets” and poverty stories out of Africa and I know that CNN as a network has a commitment to looking beyond these stories as well. To that end, CNN has three primetime shows: African Voices, Inside Africa and Marketplace Africa, which enables us to cover a range of stories from the continent that are not necessarily being told. I mean we all know about Africa’s problems, but I’m interested in highlighting those who are achieving and excelling against the odds. People like Ory Okolloh from Kenya who is innovating and using technology to empower people.
People like Lovetta Conto, a 16-year-old war refugee from Liberia who’s making jewelry from spent bullet casings used during the civil war. Or those like William Kamkwamba, who taught himself how to build windmills from junk to transform his village in Malawi. There are so many inspiring everyday people in various African countries really achieving great things, against all the odds and that’s what I try to highlight in my role at CNN.
LadybrilleNigeria.com: Highly impressive and inspirational stories. Speaking of that, what are your thoughts on the recent Young African Leadership conference hosted by President Obama?
SBA: I think it’s great that the president is focusing on Africa in this way. It’s always important to get dynamic young people together and encourage them to share ideas and their vision for the continent but also to encourage them to put those ideas into practice and not just have a talking shop for three days and everyone goes their separate
ways. Africa is a very youthful continent so, in a way, a lot of these young people are very key to the development and future of Africa. Also last year, I was nominated to a not-for-profit organization called Nigerian Leadership Initiative (NLI), which was co-founded by Segun Aganga, who is now Nigeria’s Minister of Finance, and it’s not dissimilar to the president’s forum in that we were encouraged to share ideas about ways to make Nigeria better and work on specific projects that will make a difference to the country.
LadybrilleNigeria.com: Interesting. Yes we have featured NLI on LadybrilleNigeria.com. Many desire to be exactly where you are today. What are your words of encouragement for them?
SBA: Journalism and the media in general is a very tough industry, you have to be quite thick-skinned and never take no for an answer. It also takes a lot of determination to become a journalist, in the traditional sense, for example, with a newspaper etc. I mentor a number of young people who want to get into writing and journalism and my number one advice to them is to make sure they’re always creating, writing etc… in this day and age you need something that will prove your commitment and enthusiasm for the industry. I always encourage them to find an outlet to get their work published, be it with blogs, student newspapers/websites etc…
I also encourage people to take part in structured internship programs, not just one where you make cups of tea and ultimately gain nothing out of it. It’s a definite foot in the door, but you need to go in with your eyes wide open and ask a lot of questions about what your duties will be. I oversee my department’s internship program at CNN and we put in a lot of effort to ensure that the interns get something tangible out of it; we help them develop their ideas and give them an opportunity to get their work published
LadybrilleNigeria.com: Let’s shift gears and narrow our focus to Nigeria, your country of origin. Nigeria celebrates 50 in October and I know you have a few things at CNN you are working on. Share with us what that is all about?
SBA: I’m spearheading a project called Africa 50 for CNN throughout August which looks at the 17 African nations that turned or are turning 50 years this year. That’s a third of the continent, which I thought was quite significant. So we are using this as a springboard to really analyze where the continent is, not just the ones who are turning 50, but to take the pulse of Africa. We’ve looked at a number of issues including foreign aid in Africa to democracy, technology and where it is headed in Africa and China’s new role on the continent.
We’re also very interested in hearing from ordinary citizens, who quite often don’t get a voice, so we set up a specific assignment page (www.ireport.com/africa50) via CNN’s user-generated section, iReport. We wanted to hear from people about what’s happening in their country, what’s working? What’s not? The best thing about their country etc… I actually commissioned one of the young people (Erick Kaglan, a journalist from Togo) who attended President Obama’s conference to write a piece for CNN.com to share his experiences at the forum and also his vision for his country as a potential future leader and that was a very popular story for a few days on the website.
LadybrilleNigeria.com: What are you most proud of in terms of where you feel Nigeria is as a country?
SBA: There’s a lot to be proud of about Nigeria, for me it’s the resourcefulness of a people who are mostly down but never out. I watched the recent BBC documentary “Welcome to Lagos” and although a lot of people complained that it focused too much on the negative part of the country, which I agree with to an extent, I loved the way they showed that the Nigerian spirit is resilient and resourceful.
Like the abattoir worker who somehow found a way to make a business out of boiling animal blood and selling it for a tidy profit. It was back-breaking work, but, you know, our people are not shy of hard work and they do whatever it takes to survive. I’m also proud of the way Nigerian music artists have broken through on the world stage, you hardly go to a party or a club these days without hearing Nigerian music. And not forgetting our literary talent, with people like Chimanda Adichie, Adaobi Tricia Nwabauni and Chika Unigwe to name a few.
LadybrilleNigeria.com: I know I saw the abattoir worker story and was speechless. What makes you embarrassed, if at all, to be a Nigerian?
SBA: I guess I’m embarrassed and saddened that the country’s vast wealth has not translated into a better life for the citizens, many of whom live in grinding poverty. The level of waste and inefficiency in the country is also quite embarrassing. The fact that an oil-producing country has to import its oil to be refined before it can export it to
be sold on the world market because of a lack of functioning refineries is pretty embarrassing and wasteful.
As you know, Nigerians place a lot of value on education, it not uncommon for people to have two or three Masters and even PHDs, so it baffles me why this knowledge does not necessarily translate to the development of the country. ‘E go better sha,’ as Nigerians are fond of saying. I do think, though, it’s up to Nigerians in the diaspora to throw their hat in the ring and go back home to help the country progress with the skills they’ve gained abroad. This is definitely in my long-term plans.
LadybrilleNigeria.com: Speaking of going back home to help, I know you covered the story on the “Enough is Enough” campaign and the whole new youth movements. What are your thoughts on the youth revolution and its impact on upcoming elections in 2011?
SBA: I think it’s great that more young people are engaged in the election process and actually feel they have a voice and can make a difference.
LadybrilleNigeria.com: I agree!
SBA: That’s why I thought it was important to cover the “Enough is Enough” story. Nigerians are famous for being “beer parlour pundits” and it was encouraging to see young people mobilize and protest about things they are not happy about. I hope this movement will encourage more people to exercise their right to vote in upcoming elections and know their vote can make a difference.
LadybrilleNigeria.com: Let’s lighten things up a bit. I don’t want to get too personal but I know, since we are “friends” on Facebook, you just recently got married. Congrats!
SBA: Thank you! It really was my big fat Nigerian wedding with over 700 guests and was held in Lagos. I really loved the traditional engagement ceremony actually. It was so emotional.
LadybrilleNigeria.com: How awesome! In Nigeria we LOVE our weddings so I have to ask for our women readers, what made you decide he was the “one” for you?
SBA: Wow, well I guess I just made a connection with this wonderful guy and knew, without a doubt, that he was the one for me. It was a total whirlwind romance; we got engaged just six months after meeting in an underground station in London of all places! He’s a lovely, kind, caring and all round good guy so that’s why I knew he was the one!
LadybrilleNigeria.com: Fill us in on some of the Nigerian vendors in the industry you used. Who made your cake?
SBA: My cake was made by a lovely lady in Ikeja, Lagos who runs Tolulope Catering. I think she’s been making cakes for 20 odd years and really understands the craft. I thought she did a great job on the cake.
SBA: My dress was by San Patrick, which is part of the Pronovias range, from Spain I think. The style was called Palermo. I tried on so many dresses but when I put this one on, I didn’t want to take it off and that’s how I knew it was the dress for me.
LadybrilleNigeria.com: Did you have an event planner?
SBA: No, I didn’t actually, I was very involved in the process and I guess I couldn’t really let it go. I sourced everything from the flowers to venue, which I didn’t even visit before hand, but I had always seen this really beautiful garden driving on the International Airport Road every time we went to Lagos, so I always knew it was somewhere quite special so it was top of the list when we were looking for venues. To be honest though, it was not easy planning a wedding in Lagos from London but we pulled it off. My mum was really great. She took a month off work, a few months before the wedding and went to Lagos, she sorted out the cake, aso-oke, caterers etc… I also made use of relatives in Lagos to visit places and check things out for us. I really enjoyed the wedding planning process and it became a bit of a mini-obsession actually.
LadybrilleNigeria.com: Wow! Funke Bucknor-Obruthe and other Nigerian wedding planners should look out for you. (Laughs) The introspective question. How do you balance it all: wife, media personality, ambitious young Nigerian/African professional?
SBA: Well it’s not by my might, I believe in God and I really believe it’s by his grace that I am able to balance it all. I’ve learned over the years though that ambition is good, but your career doesn’t have to define who you are. It’s just an extension of who you are. I place a lot of value in my faith, friends and family and that definitely keeps me grounded.
LadybrilleNigeria.com: Many thanks for being our personality of the month.
SBA: Thanks so much for asking me. It’s a pleasure as I’m a great fan of the Ladybrille brand.
~Interview by Uduak Oduok