When the UNEP Young Environmental Journalist Award went to Nigeria’s very own Ugochi Anyaka earlier this year, we were delighted to see a young Nigerian receive international recognition for her outstanding work. Nigeria has few people and organizations who are advocating for environmental issues from climate change to sustainable development and Ugochi Anyaka Oluigbo is one of them. We had a pleasurable opportunity to chat with Ugochi to find out more about her and her work in environmental journalism.
“They cannot tell our stories better than we can, so they tell them how they understand them and that’s not good enough for the issues at hand” – Ugochi Anyaka Oluigbo.
Could you tell us about yourself and your background?
My name is Ugochi Anyaka Oluigbo. I am from Imo state. I studied English and Literary Studies at Imo State University and I’m a journalist. I started broadcasting, as a final year student, with Imo Broadcasting Corporation, Owerri. Then, I served (NYSC) in Abuja at Aso Radio and TV services and that’s where I’ve been working since I was retained after NYSC.
So, when did you first get involved in environmental journalism and what sparked your interest?
I started environmental journalism in 2010, even though I’ve always been interested in my environment. As a child, I remember always asking my mum, “When we burn things, what happens to the smoke?” She would say, “It just goes up there.” So I was always really interested. As I grew older and started broadcasting, many people were broadcasting HIV / AIDS, especially when HIV became a big thing. But I wasn’t interested in that, I knew there was something I was more passionate about. At that time, climate change and environmental reporting weren’t quite popular, certainly not like HIV. So, I started talking about environmental issues on my show but I still wasn’t doing it very well. Soon, I started a radio program called Green Angle in 2010 where I basically started reporting climate change and other environmental issues.
You’ve done pretty well for yourself in terms of awards and recognitions in such a short time. Congratulations and please tell us about your awards.
Thank you. In 2010, I won the Climate Change Media Partnership Fellowship. Then in 2011, I won the UNFCCC CDM Africa Radio contest. The UNFCCC – CDM is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – Clean Development Mechanism. In 2012, I won the UNEP Young Environmental Journalist Award. Just a few days ago, I got an award from the Lagos State Government and the UNDP along with 7 other environmental journalists in Nigeria.
Winning the UNEP Young Environmental Journalist Award (YEJA) shot you into limelight. What was the project that earned you this award?
I did a report on a young man in a suburb in the FCT and his home-made paper briquettes. He basically takes waste paper, soaks it in water, puts it in a brick maker, squeezes out the water and makes these briquettes that people come to buy from him. They replace firewood with these briquettes and use them to cook. These briquettes have helped the community reduce their use of fuel wood and their impact on the environment. They are also cheaper so the people save money and this creates employment for the young boys too. It was an interesting story and I reported it; that’s how I won the award.
How did you find out about this story?
When I first moved to Abuja, I wanted to broaden my horizon so I joined an NGO in the city. While I was there, the young boy came to pick up some waste paper. So, when I started to look for a story to report that was close to me, I remembered him. He’s just a local doing such an amazing thing despite facing several challenges with the project.
What’s the status of the project now?
Some more young men heard about it and joined the project but they are facing financial challenges. They need transportation to carry larger amounts of waste paper since they are not getting enough from around them. The response has not been as it should be. But recently, an organization called me up to follow up with the young man who started the project.
What area of the environment are you most interested in?
If I had to choose one, it would be sustainable development.
What’s your take on the climate of environmental journalism in Nigeria? Is it where it should be?
It is better than what it used to be. A few days ago, the award was given to 8 environmental journalists who’ve shown outstanding work in environmental reporting. Among the eight, four of us are young journalists; four have been there for some time. Out of the four young ones, two of us use social media a lot to talk about this. So, I see that people are becoming interested.
Many international organizations are our sources of environmental information in Nigeria, especially with issues about the Niger Delta. Does this present a slant in reporting?
Nigerian journalists don’t have the resources that these international journalists do. I would like to go and see what’s happening in the Niger Delta but I can’t fund it. Most times, when Nigerian journalists cover issues in the Niger Delta and other areas in Nigeria, it is when the government wants to talk about what they’ve done. So, most times, local journalists who want to be objective need time and funds to stay in the areas and report happenings but can’t afford to do so. Many international organizations are interested in the stories that will sell not necessarily the issues and the people. They cannot tell our stories better than we can, so they tell them how they understand them and that’s not good enough for the issues at hand.
What’s your audience like? Do you have a large youth audience?
On the radio station, most people who listen to us are not quite the urban youth since the station is more grass root focused.
So, are your blog and your active presence on social media ways to balance this audience out?
Yes. That’s why I’m on social media and have the blog, Eco Nigeria, run on WordPress. I know a lot of young people follow me on Twitter and read my blog so; we’re reaching the young people as well. What I do is I cover environmental events and ask young people to send me pictures of their events if I am unable to cover them. Many Nigerians are not conscious about the environment and the goal of the blog and Twitter is to encourage Nigeria and Nigerians to embrace sustainable lifestyles.
What is the role of the Nigerian youth in Nigeria’s sustainable development?
The youth have a voice. The future belongs to the youth and their support and advocacy is important because Nigeria will be theirs in a few years. The youth must address sustainability as they participate in politics, also.
What about the government?
In Nigeria, I haven’t seen a commitment to sustainable development from the government. It’s all talk. I mean, we can see what happened with the floods recently. The state governments didn’t do enough to ensure that people are informed and evacuated before the foods arrived. A lot of people on social media knew about the floods before those who were affected. The government has been failing us and is still failing us and we hope they wake up to their responsibility.
And the private sector?
The private sector has a lot to do as well. For instance, an organization could take up the young man making the paper briquettes. There are so many young people doing stuff on sustainable development so private organizations can support them.
You’ve recently married and been blessed with a baby. Congratulations. How have these changed your activism?
Thank you, thank you. My baby is seven weeks old and for the last few months, I haven’t been involved like I used to. I retweet things on Twitter regarding environmental issues but I haven’t done any reports. It is slowing me down right now but that’s life and I’m enjoying it. I couldn’t be in Doha for the United Nations conference on climate change. Of course, I’ll go back to reporting once I can. Two days ago, I went to take the award I mentioned and I was there with my baby. I was able to do a presentation on my work so far. I still post on my blog when I can.
Do you have any mentors?
Yes. I have someone whose work I love. His name is Ewah Eleri. He’s not a journalist but he first gave me the opportunity to learn about environmental issues in Nigeria through his NGO, International Center for Energy, Environment and Development (ICEED) in Abuja. The organization is into sustainable development also but Ewah Eleri’s main focus is energy poverty and access in Nigeria.
Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
I see myself being a strong voice and more prominent in environmental journalism. I see myself running a successful website on environmental issues. I also see myself as the mother of a six year old (laughs).
What you’re doing when you’re not being a mum and doing environmental reports?
I love to watch TV, especially documentaries. I’m online a lot so I can know what’s going on.
What else would you have become if not an environmental journalist?
I would have loved to become a veterinary doctor. If I was knew the sciences, I would have gone for that.
Before we leave, how would you describe Nigeria in two words.
Just two? Okay…Beautiful Country?
Thanks a lot for your time. Your work is amazing. Well done!
You’re welcome and well done too.