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#WorkinWomxn: Sandra Ezekwesili is Bringing In All Voices To Political Conversations

#WorkinWomxn: Sandra Ezekwesili is Bringing In All Voices To Political Conversations

Journalism is a euphemism for truth. It is a diverse art that directly impacts freedom, fairness, and democracy. While some journalists tell stories to influence conversations, others have conversations to influence stories. Our WorkinWomxn is a broadcast journalist who is decentralizing political discussions to include everyone.

Tell us a little bit about yourself

I’m the host of Hard Facts, a daily current affairs program on Nigeria Info. I have conversations with policymakers, analysts, politicians, and Lagosians, every day. I’m also Head of Strategic Partnerships for the station. I think yam and oil is an elite meal and I have 2 cats. 

Let’s talk about your childhood. What was it like?

I was a daddy’s girl. My dad and I were very close, and he encouraged me to think for myself and be independent. I loved Primary School. They called me “TuzaQueen” because I was always in the spotlight; school plays and musicals.

In Primary 3, my teacher was a former broadcaster. He taught me and another kid how to read the news (how to scan the copy and look back up to recite it). I was the best at it, and so at every school function, I got to read a “news bulletin” for the parents. It made me a local celebrity.

Interesting. And at that time, did you already have a future ambition?

I wanted to be a lawyer because everybody told me I should become a lawyer. They said I “knew how to talk”. Turns out they were right about me finding a career where I got to talk a lot.

So, how did you end up in journalism?

I just gravitated to it. I’m not sure there was a moment when I made a conscious decision. Like I said, people had told me my whole life that I should be a lawyer. But in my teens, journalism just seemed more and more attractive. And since I got to fill my own JAMB forms, I ended up going into Mass Communications. While at Enugu State University, I realized I preferred broadcast journalism to print.

It seems you’ve had a pretty straightforward journey; studied mass communication, and now working as a presenter. Would you attribute this to luck or being intentional?

There’s a cliché about success happening when luck meets preparation. I’ve been very fortunate in my journey. But at each point, I had what it took to capitalize on my lucky breaks. I studied hard in school and got good grades, but I was also lucky not to meet lecturers who wanted to frustrate me. I don’t know how I would have handled that. I served in Bayelsa and was lucky to get accepted by Radio Bayelsa. But my success at the station was down to me being ready to put in the hours, stay humble, learn my tradecraft, and push myself. I found out about Cool FM Port Harcourt’s auditions for a presenter because of a random offhand comment by a colleague. But it was the quality of my audition (in spite of recording it on a half-dead Blackberry) that got me in the door. Over 5,00 people auditioned for one job, and I got it. Some of that was luck, but some of that was also a reward for the hours I had already spent working on my craft.

Do you love your job? Are there days where you wake up and don’t want to talk?

From the moment I say “Those were your Hard Facts, Lagos, goodnight” I don’t want to say another word, until the next day when I say “I’m Sandra Ezekwesili, and these are your Hard Facts”. All my friends and family know I don’t really do phone calls on weekdays. Talking about Nigeria 4 hours a day weakens the mouth and the brain.

But I LOVE the job. I enjoy the challenge of getting everyday people interested in a policy story. It feels good to move a conversation forward. I consume a lot of news and current affairs conversations, and usually, I can predict the talking points. So what I do on Hard Facts is push my listeners to go beyond those basic talking points, and break new ground of thought. It’s always beautiful when that happens, and I think that’s why the show is so successful.

You are quite visible on social media and your Twitter profile clearly says that your tweets are your opinions. It might seem like there is no separation of the art from the artist? How is that dynamic working out?

There is a separation, even though it’s a tough one. My Twitter is my Twitter. It’s not an extension of my show. Sandra on air isn’t Sandra on the TL. Of course, not everyone agrees with this. I think the profession is having a quiet debate about how journalists should treat social media. And you have respected journalists on both sides of the divide – some keep social media handles that are pristine replicas of their on-air work, while others treat social media as “off the job”. I lean towards the latter, but I understand and respect the other opinion. It’s early days yet, and I think eventually some sort of consensus will emerge. Or not.

On the show, do you always keep your personal opinions on the conversation to yourself? Or do you sometimes share these opinions?

Apart from “The Glass Ceiling”, which is an advocacy segment, I keep my personal opinions away from “Hard Facts”. I see my job as presenting the data and context, and letting the listeners decide. Of course, I moderate the conversation. I don’t let anyone misinform, or bring false data if I spot it. And I will question their arguments – whether or not I agree – so that they can fully think them through. It isn’t always easy. When I feel very strongly about a topic, I have to restrain myself.

Visibility comes with attention and that isn’t always positive. How do you handle negative energy, from callers, and randos on the internet?

I do my best to ignore it (I also have friends who seize my phone from time to time). It simply comes with the territory, unfortunately. If I feel threatened or in danger, I report to the relevant authorities.

Have you ever been in a threatening situation?

All the time! I was talking about Tinubu and Mudashiru Obasa one time, and a caller called in to warn me to be very careful and watch my back in this Lagos. It was very sinister. Or was it when I worked at Cool FM in Port Harcourt and had a stalker? He would visit every day with flowers and chocolate. Text me about his sexual preferences. I still have no idea how he got my number. Tell me how my laughter made him feel like I would enjoy anal sex. The stories are plenty. 

I’m so sorry to hear that! Right now, what does the future look like for you?

I currently wear two hats for my station: Journalist and Head Of Strategic Partnerships. I see a future in both roles at Nigeria Info. I really enjoy the market research and deal-making in my front office job and the news research for my on-air role. I hope life leads where it is always one or the other or both.

What is the one thing you want everyone to know and care about?

Everyone living in a country with elections should care more and do more about choosing their government. It goes beyond voting on election day. The earlier we get involved and the more we participate, the more the outcomes will reflect our will. Join a party. Create a voter group. Raise funds to help future candidates you like. In Nigeria, the next elections are in 2023, but I think the choices there are already narrow at most levels. Every Nigerian should be planning to be an actual decision-maker for 2027.

Thank you so much for chatting with me!
I’m with Sandra on this. Electing a government, and the business of politics in general, is too important to be taken nonchalantly.There is an identifiable political apathy among Nigerians, that threatens our democracy. This is why I am grateful for journalists like her, who continue to inspire a political consciousness in the average Nigerian, one talk show at a time.

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