Àmâkà Òkôyé is at the forefront of a movement to revolutionize the media landscape in Nigeria. Despite facing threats and harassment from corrupt governments, and violent physical attacks, she is leading the charge to create a new and more positive narrative.
In this exclusive interview, the Deutsche Welle West Africa Correspondent chronicles her remarkable journey from being an ordinary Nigerian woman to becoming a renowned journalist in Nigeria and across Africa.
What challenges do female journalists face in Nigeria?
“The practice of journalism is not on hold in Nigeria because there are regulations and an unconducive environment, safety, and security concerns for those who cover conflict reports, and government interference. Many women have risen to practice journalism as they are the watchdog of the people, the voice of the people, and representative of the people by calling for change.”
Amaka also highlighted that women are becoming more influential in the media, taking on leadership roles and fighting to be heard in newsrooms. She noted that this is a conscious effort to shift the narrative and create a space for women to have their voices heard.
“I think we have pushed the narrative of women being sidelined so much that we don’t believe that women are already rising to the task and we want to stop the narrative that women are being relegated.”
What strategies have Amaka Okoye used to balance her personal life and journalism career?
“Simplicity has helped me manage my personal life and I believe I am the same person both in journalism and being myself. One’s personality could reflect in one style of writing. Though I am not married yet, my family members are so supportive of my career.”
What has been Amaka Okoye’s most impactful story and what inspired it?
“My documentary of an ex-convict in the military who was sentenced to life imprisonment. The sentence was later changed to 10 years in prison, through some intervention, he got six years and then he came out of prison. I follow him back into the prison again and then come out and tell his story of the documentary on him recalling the experience.”
The story going viral led to an outpouring of support from lawyers, who took up the case pro bono case against the Nigerian Army, and from those abroad who provided his children with educational opportunities. As a result, this man’s life was completely transformed, his daughter was able to go to university, and he was able to get a new job.
Another story was that of Chibok girls, describing it as precious to her. “I went to Chibok in 2021 for the 7th anniversary to speak to some people who escaped and one of them particularly agreed to speak to me.
“Her name is Mariam Ali Mayanga and I interviewed her. She was part of my story and just when I was about leaving she asked if she could have my contact and then by the time I got back to base a couple of days later, she sent me messages to say this is her, and then I had her number and after a couple of months, I got a message from her, saying she was now in the University after my interview with her.
“She said she wants to be a journalist to be able to tell their story and that made me so emotional because no matter how good we are at our job, there is none of us that can tell their story like these people and she’s in the American University of Nigeria.
Amaka also mentioned the story of ‘The boy called Miracle’ who goes to the library consistently even after walking up to 20 kilometers on daily hawking.
“After hawking bananas the whole day, in the evening, he goes to this Library where he tries to just read because he wants to continue to go to school but he can’t afford it. So, I did the story and a month later, he got a scholarship from someone abroad in the US and another person who reached out from Canada also placed him on a monthly stipend and changed his school. That just feels so good because just by way of one story that we told someone’s life transforms entirely.”
As a female journalist, have you ever experienced a threat or been stereotyped while performing your work? If so, how did you overcome it?
“I was invited into a meeting of parents who were waiting for their adopted children, and in that meeting, they were meeting with the negotiator – who was a repentance bandit – that person was the one who recognized me, and said: ‘Isn’t this the person we see on Radio and used derogatory terms? We know her, we see her, and we are watching what she’s doing – but it’s not in a good way.’ So, what I did was to send a message to my colleague, the camera person, that ‘we need to leave this place now and so we left.”
How did Amaka Okoye start her career in journalism, and what motivated you to pursue it?
“I began my career in 2013, a decade ago. Naturally, I have a flair for storytelling and I explored my strength by tapping into my strength, and then, some people were pointing the light for me.
“I moved from Radio, worked in Kenya for Radio Shahidi, and then I worked in a newspaper in Cross River, called The Chronicle.
“I have also worked with the pan-African Broadcasting Corporation and from there to Television and worked in plus TV Africa, moved from there to Arise news and currently working in Deutsche Welle as a West Africa correspondent, working for an international organization has always been a dream.
What has been your best and worst experience as a female journalist in Nigeria?
“My best experience is covering conflict and I know it may sound weird but always being on the ground and being there to see for myself and be able to report firsthand. I tell you, it’s such an incredible privilege to feel what is going on.
“Seeing it, sensing it, and then giving a voice that’s my best part covering conflicts, going to those tough, risky, fairy, and fearful places gives me a lot of strength and a lot of push.
“In Chibok, I cannot forget the image of how men and women there were so grateful to us and the children. My worst experience was covering anything that has to do with politicians. That’s not the best part of the work, having to get them to grant an interview and how they dodge interviews.
“I don’t like anything about politicians, having to get word from them sometimes is like waking the dead from sleep”
Have you ever considered quitting journalism or questioned your decision to pursue it?
“I’m still basking in that fulfillment. No matter how tiny the story is, demanding and tasking. When you travel around, when you go to places you never thought you would be, meet a lot of people, and get exposed to other cultures, it is just beautiful and amazing. It is just like, this is it, I’m living my best life.
PC: Amaka Okoye
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