A community radio station in southern Nigeria
We hear a lot about Nigeria in church, it’s mostly bad, mostly to do with the suffering church. We hear how bad things are for Christians living in the North and the middle of Nigeria. Boko Haram and the Fulani Herdsman make life difficult and dangerous. Nigeria is like three different countries, the North, the Central Plateau and the South. You may have heard the expression “The Muslim North and the Christian South” applied to several countries in Africa, Nigeria is no exception to this.
I worked for the BBC World Service Radio as a radio studio maintenance engineer for 42 years. Since my retirement 5 years ago I have been working part time with one of my ex BBC colleagues Ana B, in Port Harcourt, which is an oil city in the Christian South of the country. The organisation I work for is called Cmap. They are a not-for-profit NGO supported by Comic Relief and Amnesty International. They are not a Christian organisation but the majority of people I have been training there are Christians. We have built a community radio station for a slum area known as the “Waterfront”. The project started when the government decided to demolish some of the slums without notice, leaving the occupants homeless. The demolitions were supported by armed police and the army, who confronted the protestors. Michael U (Ana’s partner) recorded some of the happenings and these films were later used as evidence (Michael is half Nigerian, half English and used to be a lecturer on film-making at Roehampton University). Cmap first had to map the area to show that it was inhabited as official maps showed it as a mangrove swamp.
We now have two radio studios that I built (the equipment not the buildings!). We are waiting to get a licence to broadcast. The radio station is called “Chicoco Radio”. Chicoco means “mud” - something that all the waterfront communities are built on, as years ago they threw so much rubbish into the tidal lagoons formed by the Niger Delta that land was reclaimed and that is what the slums are built on.
More recently we got some funding for a music project. I installed a small recording studio and many local musicians became involved. We now have a band called “Chicoco Sound”. They have played twice at the annual “Felabration” event (Google it!) at Lagos. This year we got some funding for equipment and a small PA system for them. I shipped it out there and did some training on how to set up and use a PA system with a digital desk.
There is a lot of musical talent there in the slums. Most of the musicians learn their trade in the churches. They all go to church every Sunday and lead the worship. If you ask them, during a training session, to sing something for PA testing purposes, it will probably be a Christian song. The churches there are not like here, there is a lot of “prosperity gospel” and some of the pastors become very rich at the expense of their flock. There are churches everywhere, some big, some small.
The electricity supply in Nigeria is generally very intermittent, you get about 4 hours a day on average, so we have solar power at both sites. When the grid power goes off, you see people around starting up their generators, whereas for us, it just keeps working silently and without pollution. We are keen to promote solar power for environmental reasons, if you think it’s polluted here in the UK, you should try going there! As well as very smoky cars, trucks and generators, there is off-shore gas flaring carried out by the oil companies. There is smoke and soot everywhere.
It’s great training and working with the young people there. There is a lot of energy and enthusiasm around. We hope to get the radio station on air in 2019. Meanwhile they have made a radio soap-opera about the everyday problems faced by members of the waterfront communities such as police corruption and violence. It’s called “Angala community” (Angala is a local word for mangrove). There are 15 episodes in series one and they are being aired every week on two large radio stations in Port Harcourt, followed by a live studio discussion about the issues raised.
There has been a lot of training, not just technical training from me and operational training from Ana but specialists have been brought in to train on radio journalism, script writing, radio drama recording, song writing and many more.
I must stop typing, I could go on and on….. I’m happy to answer questions about it all!