Radio show helps ordinary Nigerians take on officials
Early each morning, a crowd gathers outside Ahmad Isah’s radio studio in Nigeria’s capital Abuja hoping to share their problems over the airwaves.
For those waiting — men and women, young and old — Isah’s Brekete (very big in Pidgin English) Family show offers a rare chance try to hold officials to account in a country where rampant graft and abuses of the justice system often frustrate citizens.
The lucky few Isah picks each day get to make themselves heard on issues ranging from their struggles against the authorities to medical needs and requests for financial assistance.
The others will have to come back another time.
“My goal is to give a voice to the voiceless, facilitate arbitration, expose wrongdoings and force those in power to respect rights,” Isah told AFP.
“The inspiration is about justice, kindness, and support to humanity.”
Nicknamed the “Ordinary President”, Isah begins his live show on Human Rights radio with a call and response in pidgin, the language widely spoken in Nigeria, to get his audience fired up.
Teacher Winifred Og ah has come to try to get some redress after she says a local court wrongly auctioned off her car for failing to pay rent on her house.
“I believe that the justice you get here, you can’t get it outside,” she told AFP.
“I have been listening to the programme and was encouraged by how other people’s problems were being resolved.”
Rights groups in Africa’s most populous nation often complain of a culture of impunity, where the wealthy easily skew the system in their favour and officials rarely have to answer for their misdeeds.
“The voices of the masses in Nigeria are usually unheard because they don’t have the financial muscle or connections to be able to project their views especially when in need of justice,” said Daniel Soe tan, from the Goodwill Ambassadors of Nigeria civil society organisation.
He is a regular listener to Isa’s show and lauds it for “helping to project the voices of ordinary people” in a way that makes it difficult for officials to ignore.
“When these issues are projected, it attracts the attention of the authorities to attend to their plights,” Soe tan said.
“It is a forum that allows people to speak because if they are left with authorities alone, there can be bureaucracies and attempts to silence them.”
Human Rights radio has been on air since 2006 and while Isah did not give precise audience figures, he insisted it even had listeners outside Nigeria.
In a country where confidence scams are rife, the show has a checklist of requirements people must go through before they can bring their cases for resolution.
They first need to depose to an affidavit at the High Court in Nigeria in which they swear they are telling the truth.
It is not easy taking on the powerful interests deeply entrenched at every level of Nigeria’s federal, regional and local governments.
But Isah insists the radio show’s combative style has had concrete results bringing officials to book.
“Some of them see us as a threat. They don’t like us. We have exposed several corruption cases that other people are afraid to go close to,” he said.
“There is injustice everywhere, government is not accountable, and there is no justice for the poor, bad roads, terrible hospitals. Nothing is working in this country.”
Over 44 percent of Nigeria’s roughly 190 million people are estimated to live in extreme poverty and that fraction is expected to grow as the population expands.
The show also looks to give financial assistance to those in need with support from the MacArthur Foundation and it own fund-raising.
One of the beneficiaries Luis Kinta said the radio had raised two million naira ($5,600, 5000 euros) to boost his shoemaking business.
“I came here without knowing anyone. The good thing is that ordinary president assists without knowing the tribe, religious and affinity of those he supports,” he said.
But the major focus for Isah remains on trying get redress for those wronged by Nigeria’s abusive officials — and the flow of hopefuls bringing cases to him shows no sign of slowing.
“The justice system is only for the rich, not for the poor, So this is why we need this kind of journalism in this country,” he said.
“I will never give up.”