Ladi Bala is the National President of the National Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ). In this interview with ENE OSHABA she shares her experience as a journalist, election as the national president of the umbrella body of female journalists, even as maintains that women can get to the peak of their careers if they are determined.
What has the experience been like in journalism which remains male dominated and how you have evolved over the years to this point?
My adventure into the journalism profession and now becoming the National President, National Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ) was divinely ordained, though I realised this later in life.
When I was young, like 16-years-old, I was having dreams where I see myself reading newspapers. I always had this dream to the point that I had a photographer take a picture of me reading a newspaper and my thinking then was that God wanted me to go to school, little did I know that God was telling me the kind of job he wanted me to do in the future.
My father was retired from the Nigerian Army because of his health condition, he had stroke and his services was abruptly cut, and we left the barracks and returned home to Adamawa state with his source of income being his pension. My mother was only a business woman so things were not well because the finance was not there.
As the first child and daughter my mother was concerned that she may not have money to see me through school and the only thing coming to her mind, especially with the incidences of girls getting pregnant, was for me to be married off honourably because I was 16. I had just finished secondary school and people were already asking for my hand in marriage but I said no.
I got born again and would always talk about the dream that God wanted me to go to school and so strongly objected being given out in marriage.
Before the job at the TV station I had been hired as a lesson teacher for some rich parent’s kids but their mother was very abusive and there was a man who always saw how patient I was with her and picked interest in me.
One day he asked where I was from and I told him I am from Bachama and he was surprised that I could be that calm.
So, he asked where I lived and why I was not going to school and I told him I had finished secondary school but had to work to raise money to further my education.
A job opportunity came up at the TV station and this man remembered me. He came to where I used to teach but I had left the job for another one at our local government secretariat.
He remembered I had told him where I live and so he went there to look for me and that was how destiny played out.
He located my house and told my mother there was going to be mass employment at the Adamawa State Television, I never knew he was the General Manager because I didn’t get to watch television then.
He advised me to go to Yola and apply and I was employed as a news assistant. It was in this job that I sat for my WAEC and made the required papers and went to the university to study Diploma in Mass Communication and afterwards proceeded for a degree.
I joined the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) at Adamawa Television Chapel level, where I rose to the position of Auditor.
I eventually contested to be secretary at the state chapter, and subsequently became vice chairperson and even the chairperson.
I would usually follow the Chairperson of NAWOJ in Adamawa state to meetings and that was how I learnt so much from her.
I came to know that NAWOJ was the only association I belonged to professionally and so I was passionate about it.
I grew through the ranks and eventually there was going to be an election and the North-east zone was to produce the National Secretary and they collectively pushed me forward to represent the zone.
I didn’t want to because I made NAWOJ a household name in Adamawa but when it was time for election I was rigged out and so I got discouraged.
I also have a baby at the time and I had done so much as a chairperson in the state chapter and it was a thankless job.
So, I didn’t want to commit much of my time any longer but destiny was playing out. I didn’t buy the form but the former president bought the form and told me not to turn down the offer because when people wanted me and I reject, whenever I want their support for anything else they would also reject me.
So, she directed me to fill the form, which I did just a day before the closure of sale of forms, and that was how I became the national secretary.
Having served in that capacity, I saw the need to consolidate and that was why I contested for re-election alongside four others and emerged winner for a second term as NAWOJ national secretary.
Having served two terms as secretary, I considered what other position there was for me to run for in NAWOJ because I have seen it through and through, weathered the storm, and seen where the gaps were, and all I wanted to see was positive change and so I decided to contest for the position of the President of NAWOJ with the mind of changing the narratives and give it a face life, that image it deserves.
What does NAWOJ do basically and how has the association been able to change the narrative for women?
NAWOJ is a professional body of women journalists and we have a responsibility as a fourth estate of the realm.
We have a big platform where we can change the narratives of our government and that is what I am here to achieve.
NAWOJ has been in existence for the past 31 years yet has no national secretariat and this is one of the main reasons that made me vie for the position.
We were in Minna in 2020 for the Triennial Delegates Conference and there were four other contestants for NAWOJ President.
God granted me victory and made me the National President of NAWOJ and since I came on board NAWOJ is gradually becoming more visible.
We have been engaged on lots of development issues, issues that involve the girl-child, women’s health and even the profession itself.
Right now we are trying to reposition the association by galvanising the efforts of all women in Nigeria to see that we are the limelight that this nation has to see. We setting agenda for the government and every other stakeholder to see the direction we need to follow.
Some female journalists don’t associate with NAWOJ because they perceive it a cabal for selfish interest, how will you ensure all women journalists are brought on board and treated equally?
There is nothing like cabal in NAWOJ. We are in a society that is driven by “what will I get?” instead of “what will I offer?” and as long as you have that mindset you will always get it wrong.
You will be disappointed because members don’t even pay the N2,000 annual dues. They only pay when it is time for elections. So, how can one say it’s a cabal when nothing much is happening.
Stereotype is one major challenge female journalists have complained about, have you experienced it?
There was a time an event for coverage came up and my colleagues said Ladi cannot cover this because she was pregnant but I challenged them and asked if I was complaining about the assignment or my pregnancy?
I told them when I accepted that appointment letter I accepted the responsibility that comes with it so they should allow me to speak for myself.
I am one person in the newsroom that does the most serious work. The time you get to me is when you tell me I can’t do certain work because I’m a woman. I have followed crime stories, criminals, armed banditry into the bush with the Police to get stories.
I have gone to the hinterlands where one has to trek for hours to cover stories. That is when you show your capability and readiness to do the job no matter the circumstances and you don’t come up with excuses that you are a woman. Nobody can deny you the opportunity.
Is anything in place by NAWOJ to ensure more women journalists attain leadership positions especially in the newsroom?
Basically, we are talking to our media organisations and they are beginning to understand that for you to attain meaningful development women inclusion is imperative. I think media organisations are appreciating the fact.
A lot of media organisations are giving women opportunities. You will see women anchoring serious programmes and I think we are getting there.
We are also training our colleagues and encouraging them to improve themselves in terms of their qualification in preparation for leadership roles in the newsroom and outside.