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I've won many journalism fellowships - after my interest in journalism started dwindling - because of one man's push

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11 September 2022
16 minutes read
I've won many journalism fellowships - after my interest in journalism started dwindling - because of one man's push

Sometime in May 2020, I came across a tweet by a Nigerian veteran journalist seeking for a research assistant for an 'exciting' documentation project. Interested candidates were required to send a "max-200-word bio on any Nigerian, dead or alive."

I applied.

But I was told that I lost the chance because my application came late: someone else had already been engaged.

Nevertheless, the veteran journalist took an interest in me, because he said I had everything it takes to be an excellent journalist.

Because I live in Niger State, he not only gave me an idea for a biography for a former Nigerian first lady from the State as she was approaching seventy years of age, he also introduced me to another veteran journalist from the State who tried to link me up with the lady. In addition, he began to share with me opportunities for journalism fellowships and reporting grants, which I honestly believed were above my grade, and it was when my interest in journalism had begun to wane, but his encouraging words helped me to believe in myself.

So, I began to apply for these fellowships - and my life has never been the same again.

I am Anibe Idajili, a 2006 business administration graduate of Kogi State University (KSU) who ended up in journalism because my roommate in my first year at the university, Ladi Opaluwa, a fantastic creative writer, inspired and encouraged me.

In the beginning…

I am the eldest of the five children - all girls -  of Nathaniel Nuhu and Rose Aye Idajili. My mum is late; she died in 2003.

I was born at Grimard Catholic Hospital, Anyigba but raised in Ajaokuta, both in Kogi State.

My dad worked as a Supply Chain Officer at Ajaokuta Steel Company while my mum was an auxiliary staff at the Staff Hospital.

I was born in Anyigba because being her first child, my mum needed to be close to family. Besides, that hospital was then one of the best in the Igala region of Kogi State.

My father is from Ajiolo-Ofalemu, which is about fifteen to twenty minutes' drive from Anyigba. 

The village is known for oranges. Ofalemu in the name means 'under the orange tree.'

I still have fond memories of orange trees everywhere. Sadly, most of them have been cut down to make room for more buildings.

My mum was from Dekina, also in Kogi State.

My name (Anibe) means 'wise one' or 'sensible person'. My mum used to say that the name was a perfect fit. According to her, even as a child, I was always attentive to other people's needs and opportunities to be better.

But it is a name given mostly to boys. For a long time, I did not know any girl with the name besides me. But in the university, I met two ladies with its variants - Omanibe and Ibe. At home, I am called Ibe.

From primary to secondary schools 

My sisters and I all schooled at the Ajaokuta Steel Company's Staff primary and secondary schools.

I was a star in primary school.

I either came first or second. Never third. It was always between me and David Momoh, a classmate whose name I have not forgotten.

I was also made the health prefect because my mum made sure I always looked neat. In fact, in Primary One, I was given a wrapped prize for being the neatest. I cannot remember what was in it. She had a photographer take a photograph of me holding the prize dressed in my school uniform. She enlarged the photo and hung it on the wall of our living room. 

I became less of a star when I got to secondary school: my performance dwindled a bit because I was now catering to my younger ones. I was overwhelmed with doing chores as we had no househelp. I guess my parents did not see anything wrong with that; other children were doing same in their homes too.

But I was not taking it too well. Plus, puberty/adolescence was a difficult period for me. Looking back, I think I did not cope well with the changes in mood and anxiety that came with adolescence.

That affected my grades in school.

However, at the end, I passed all my examinations well.  I did not resit any of the West African School Certificate Examination, Joint Admissions Matriculation Examination and National Examination Council examination.

Choice of course

I have always loved books and reading. 

While growing up, I read everything from newspapers to novels. My dad had a small library in the living room. 

I was about nine or ten when I read Frederick Forsyth's Emeka, a story about Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. 

I also read Camara Laye's The African Child long before we were introduced to it in secondary school.

Little wonder, English Language and Literature in English were my best subjects in secondary school.

But I was an introvert and considered journalism/mass communication to be for outgoing people.

So, when I finished secondary school and my dad asked what my choice of course in university would be, I wasted no time in telling him it was business administration.

My belief was that, upon graduation, I would readily find a well-paying job to take care of my family.  

Change of course

I got admitted in 2002 into KSU to read business administration quite alright but fate brought me in contact with Ms Opaluwa, a mass communication student who also loved reading books.

We became friends.

Many years after our graduation, while she worked with a magazine, she would email me her stories before or after they were published.

They were so well-written.

Then, I began to nurse the idea of being a freelance writer, even as I was an Internal Auditor at Dansa Foods Limited, a subsidiary of Dangote Group. My colleagues and friends, Oyewo Oyetunji, who is still an Auditor in the company, and Eze Hanson Obasi, who worked in IT, were encouraging me.

But the super encourager was Ms Opaluwa, who gave me the idea to email my writings to some editors. 

Eventually in 2015, the editor of Sabinews (now 1st News), Enajite Efemuaye, agreed to publish my opinion piece titled "There's some Dasuki in all of us." It is about the widespread deterioration of values among Nigerians.

But I did not write anything else until 2016 when I became an editorial intern at She Leads Africa and edited at least two hundred articles and published six of my own. And, I was still at Dansa.

Then in 2017, I decided to change the course of my journey by transitioning into journalism.

My colleagues kept pushing me to get some journalism training.  So, I applied and was selected for the Aileen Getty School of Journalism under which I published two stories on YaLa Africa Press and won third place in the Enel-YaLa Conference on Electricity in Africa Writing Contest.

In 2018, Dansa decided to downsize as it was facing some financial challenges. Everyone in the Audit Unit was laid off except Tunji. In fact, we had not been paid salaries for seven months.

So, I took a deep dive into journalism and began to actively apply for jobs in the news media.

I finally got a job as an editor for Daily Digest Nigeria (now defunct) owned by Raphael Afaedor, the chief executive of supermart.ng.

I also started freelancing for TechCity

When Daily Digest abruptly terminated my employment, I got a job as an editor for TechNext.

But by 2019, my interest in journalism had started dwindling. I was not getting ample opportunity to do what I wanted, which was impact-driven journalism. I also started feeling like an impostor.

I decided to take a break except for my occasional contribution on TechCity.

Not yet time to quit

In 2019, I got married to David Ali.

Then, in May 2020, came the interaction with the veteran journalist who began sending me notifications on journalism fellowships' opportunities.

When I decided to try one, I became the first runner-up in the AWiM2020 Pitch Zone Awards (Migration and Mobility Category). AWiM is African Women in the Media, the initiative of Dr Yemisi Akinbobola, a university lecturer in Birmingham, United Kingdom. I pitched a story and I was commissioned to produce it. I got a hundred United States dollars for that. 

So, this was it, eh? 

I became pregnant in July 2020.

Then in March 2021, I won the NAREP Media Fellowship organised by PTCIJ, now known as CJID. NAREP is Natural Resources and Extractives Programme. CJID is Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development and PTCIJ is Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism. The win came with training, mentorship, and a monthly stipend of one hundred thousand Naira each for three months.

Winning this fellowship made me feel being seen as a journalist. It also boosted my confidence in applying for more opportunities.

I gave birth to my daughter the following month. 

When she was five months old, I took her with me to Abuja for the workshop for the African-China Reporting Project grants on digital identity, data and technology which I won in September 2021 among nine other fellows. An initiative of the Paradigm Initiative in collaboration with the African-China Reporting Project, each fellow got one thousand dollars to produce a story. My story was titled "Determining the implications of biometric technologies on Nigerian startups."

I was on the lookout for more opportunities and the veteran journalist never stopped sharing them with me. He still does.

See my other wins:

  1. Public Health Reporting Corps Fellowship 

  2. Basic Education Media Fellowship 

  3. Voices for Change Fellowship 

  4. Reporting Violence against Women and Girls Fellowship 

  5. Finalist, Politics of Religion in Africa Journalism Fellowship

  6. WanaData-GMMP Fellowship 

  7. Grantee, Journalists for Accountability Competition

  8. Gidan Yanci Fellowship 

  9. Africa Academy for Open Source Investigation Fellowship 

  10. Grantee, Internews Health Journalism

  11. Network’s Vaccine Story Production

  12. Climate Leadership Fellowship 

The feeling is surreal.

Nothing is stopping this girl now

The high-level professional development gained from these fellowships and trainings has made me become a better journalist. 

I have had unquantifiable access to resources, and collaborations with other journalists to produce high-quality and impact-driven stories. There are now so many journalists I can now call on at any point and say, “I need support with this or that.” 

Would I keep applying for fellowships and training programmes for journalists? 

Absolutely. They are what spur me on to tell impactful stories, especially for historically underrepresented groups like women, girls, and children.

I cannot thank all my helpers enough.

My dad is quite proud of me.

According to him,  I have always been calm and think deeply about things which is why he believes I love writing. He added that when I was little, I would read everything I came across and loved scribbling things.

"I am so happy that you did not give up on what you loved even when life initially took you to a different direction," he remarked in his message to me.

What can I say?

Thank you, Lord.


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Commonwealth Professional Fellow
Founder/Director, The Journalism Clinic
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