On Independence day, everyone is allowed to make a little noise. Time and technology have given the average young Nigerian a voice.
As Nigeria celebrates its independence, millions from around the country will follow the events that mark today and the images of merriment and reflection from the friendly end of television screens, and mobile devices.
57 years ago, in 1960, when Abubakar Tafawa Balewa gave the speech that marked the ascendance of a purely indigenous government, most Nigerians of the day connected with the handover through voices bursting from radio sets mounted on elevated platforms or centre tables, surrounded by eager listeners.
Beyond the shared hopes of the pre-independence struggle, the fact that they shared this moment together helped to make October 1, 1960, a collective victory for Nigerians.
57 years later, the transition from radios to personal handheld devices has been the main vehicle for the involvement of Nigerians in the Nigerian story, from politics and social commentary to entertainment and storytelling.
In the optimistic years of the 1960s, media was severely constricted. The people who listened to Tafawa-Balewa’s speech did so on government channels, such as the FRCN and BBC Hausa.
Most, if not all, media was government owned; the property of the federal government, British-funded institutions like BBC Hausa.
There was only one television station at the time, Western Nigeria Television (WNTV) founded by Awolowo’s Western regional government in 1956.
Few private-owned media platforms existed, but where the government ruled the airwaves, so to speak, their reach was limited to newspapers and journals, with little to show in circulation.
The result was that most Nigerians lived in isolated bubbles. In some more “secluded” areas, it could take days before the hottest news story would reach the first eyes or ears.
Musicians, storytellers and creatives could only take advantage of very restrictive channels available to them through local publications and platforms or hope and pray that the national media would “pick them up” for a feature on one of those late night shows created to exhibit such.
In ’67, when Ojukwu declared the sovereign state of Biafra, most of his followers hoisted their half of a rising sun to the Oxford-inspired accent of the rebel leader booming from radios. This remained the case through most of the war.
In the later years, when the war reached its most destructive days, Radio Biafra broadcast its updates and messages from the equipment mounted on the back of pick-up trucks that remained mobile till the war ended. It was a necessary measure because it was the only source of information for millions of people.
This was the case around the country, except for the West where increased economic prospects had allowed WNTV’s reach to spread into many homes and the radio was beginning to take a back seat to the TV.
All of that changed drastically with the creation of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA). In the years before, regional television stations like Radio Kaduna, Mid-West TV and Benue-Plateau had joined the list.
Television corporation had begun to take root and create a platform for a vast range of content that the populace was creating. Late night shows became a thing, as well as performances by budding musicians and shorts, were popular works by Nigerian authors and folklore were made into short television series.
NTA subsumed all of these separate platforms into one nationwide network. The result was two-fold; NTA helped foist a national narrative and bring different parts of the country together by sharing their stories and experiences.
By broadcasting news from all regions in one broadcast, it presented the country as a single concern and helped the viewers see it in that light.
On a lighter note, it was also instrumental in helping a new generation of creatives find a national audience and cultivate a following on that scale. Songs from Onyeka Onwenu, Sunny Ade and their peers were broadcast regularly on the National network, making those artistes perhaps the first truly national stars of their generation.
The newspaper had also gained a strong foothold in this period. Private interests and consortiums had created publications that had provided the people with alternative sources of information.
Some were driven by their own agendas and biases, it provided the general public with information that state-run media would most likely not have published, cut out government propaganda, and helped hold the politicians accountable to the people.
As technology advanced, and more and more people were able to afford television sets, the incentive for private run television stations increased, leading to the creation of television stations such as AIT.
AIT in 1996 was a major moment, it did not only reduce the monopoly held by NTA but also provided an avenue to showcase Nigerian culture and creativity.
In the years after, leading into the early 2000
s, the programming on NTA became flat and predictable; AIT allowed storytellers like Amaka Igwe to provide diverse offerings in the footsteps that NTA had set with a major audience with ‘Checkmate’.
Checkmate, another of Amaka-Igwe’s loved television series, ran from 1991 to 1999. It starred actors like Francis Agu and Richard Mofe-Damijo and was one of the first truly successful Nigerian television series.
Amaka Igwe continued that streak with the spin-off, ‘Fuji House of Commotion’.
More and more television stations were established in AIT’s wake, most notably Channels Television and Silverbird TV, providing a wide array of programming, as well as documenting the political matters and everyday issues important to the average Nigeria.
One of the most important and fastest growing eras of media (one which we are lucky enough to be a part of), is the internet age. Though the internet has been around since the eighties, and in wide use in other climes during the nineties, it wasn’t until the early to mid-2000s that the internet was widely accessible to the average Nigerian.
The avenues of expressing and distributing information which the Internet has provided continues to increase as more contenteurs take advantage of innovations like Snapchat; however there are some very important platforms and personalities that have changed how Nigerians consume information; first a little, then all at once.
The rise of blogging in Nigeria helped provide people with quick access to information. Blogs, more than anything, have opened the media to people who would ordinarily be consumers. A blog costs less than a DSLR camera would at a media house.
One of the most popular platforms in Nigeria that inspired the rise of similar blogs was Linda Ikeji’s blog. Though some of the content on the platform may be questionable, it is nonetheless one of the first when it comes to breaking celebrity news, gossip and political scandals. Linda Ikeji’s blog has built a reputation as a sort of TMZ of Nigeria, and she was very influential in the 2015 elections.
Aside from giving professionals a louder voice, the internet has given the Nigerian people themselves an avenue of expression, to air their displeasure, advocate for societal improvement and network with like-minded individuals.
The ‘Bring Back Our Girls” campaign, which gained international sympathy, was an activist campaign which may not have gained as much awareness as it did had it not been for social media.
As in the case of the #OccupyNigeria protests and Audu Maikori’s run-in with the Kaduna State Government, virtual conversations on social media have spilt over with real implications.
While the internet has created new forms of media, it has not completely destroyed more traditional means such as television. For example, Channels television still dominates Nigerian news reporting for the most part and remains the go-to platform for political discussions.
50 years ago, only a few people could afford the reach that a Twitter user gets with 7000 followers.
Nigeria’s media has grown in spurts, inspired by abrupt changes over the course of its history. From the early stages when it was essentially used to relay information from the government to the general public, to now when every single voice may count.
The ever-changing landscape of the Nigerian media provides exciting prospects. One can only imagine where you’d read this in a couple of decades.