Campus Journalism Awards 2020: The Road To Abuja

NEWS DIGEST – On one afternoon, in March, 2020, I was traveling back to school from Kaduna when I read one of the most amazing news of the day and or even the most amazing in the year. The news was on the shortlisted finalists for the annual Youth Digest Journalism Awards.

Having applied for the awards, I scrolled down quickly with the anxiety to spot my name. I passed all the thirty (30) without seeing my name. I had to go back and start reading them one after the other. I didn’t trust the first glance. Alhamdulillah. I was luckily selected. The scheduled date was March 28, 2020.

However, I didn’t know that the date was not going to see the event. We were greeted with sadness when we saw the postponement news. This was a result of the global Covid-19 lockdown. As time went on, the sun rose and set, a day came when the awards manager announced that soon our ears would be dancing.

From then onward, I kept anticipating this great event. I paid more attention to the News Digest page on Facebook for the breaking news. However, the news broke on the Youth Digest page. Moreover, I became the first person to take this beautiful news to the finalists WhatsApp group. My fellow finalists were amazed at this news. Fresh counting began. Abuja has called.

This day seemed not to come, as many months after fixing the date for the much anticipated 3rd edition of Campus Journalism Awards (CJA 2020), was not held. It was stalled by the lockdown necessitated by the Covid-19 global pandemic. But Allah willing, 12th December, 2020 saw the event.

Until the day this journey started, I believed that the day has come. The journey began early in the morning. Though the weather was quite foggy, we managed to ply off the road. And this was my first time going to Abuja by road.

I was busy thinking if there would be a difference between the former federal capital territory (Lagos) and the present federal capital territory (Abuja). And if it would be, what could be the difference? I kept these questions for the federal capital territory or city to answer.

Entering Abuja

Right from Jos, the Plateau State capital, I started receiving calls from Mr Mohammed Yaqub, who later won the features category award now a reporter with The Guardian. He was asking whether if I had reached Abuja. But I couldn’t be sure if he was the one speaking until I checked my phone again and saw his name. I spoke in Hausa while he kept responding in the English language. It got to the extent that I had to stop for a while and Identify what’s wrong.

He contacted me again. Until when we were reaching Abuja that I finally spoke in English with him. Unknown to me was that he didn’t speak Hausa fluently, but can read and understand. For all the WhatsApp messages we have been sharing, he would only read my hausa and replied me in English. I didn’t notice this until when I met him again, in Abuja he narrated this.

It was late in the evening when we arrived at the FCT. Reservations were already made for us at a hotel in Wuye, zone 7. It was close to 5 PM when we reached Peace Haven Hotel Abuja, where reservations had been made for us. There I saw a young gentleman coming out from the lobby. I haven’t met him in person before. But I realised that he was Mr. Lanre. He was going to lead Mohammed Yaqub in as we were about to park.

With Covid-19 in town, I shook them in line with the Covid-19 protocols. We exchanged pleasantries with Mohammed Yaqub and Mr. Lanre. We all went in. I was the tenth person on the list. 20 fellow finalists were not in, at the moment. We proceeded to our rooms. Then Mohammed Yaqub narrated how it all happened. And we all laughed.

Touring FCT At Night

After praying Maghrib and Isha’i at a nearby mosque, I joined my dad who is also present to attend my awards ceremony, for a dinner. We went to a restaurant in Nigeria’s capital to dine.

The beauty of the city was like increasing at night. The lights and vehicles’ horns plying the roads accompanied road users to their various destinations joyously. The speed at which the vehicles moved, was another story on its own. The number of road lanes was multiple, thereby allowing adequate speeding.

At each place, we passed, I tried to catch a view of the location and what it has differently. Was it welcoming, surprising, or disappointing? These were how the journo eyes were in the FCT at night.

Upon returning to the hotel, my phone was fed up with messages coming in. I quickly began to reduce some. An Information came in on a task we had to fulfill before 12 AM which was later shifted to 2 AM. This was to show how tasking the career and being shortlisted was. Deadlines were very important in journalism. We didn’t sleep early that very day, despite our long journeys. We had to beat the deadline. A journalist reading this could relate to how important deadlines were in journalism.

A Journey To PR Nigeria Centre

It is not all about the workshop held or the certificates of excellence awarded to all of us. But the books were given to us by the most accomplished international award-winning PR Guru, Mr. Yushau Shuaib. He gave all of us one copy of a book on Disaster Management. I have to thank the person who gave us books for he loved the spread of knowledge and for this, I was known. And in doing so, I have deliberately forgotten to narrate how the journey to PR Nigeria Centre even started.

In the early morning, while returning from Subhi prayer, the awards manager stopped and reminded me of our scheduled workshop. I quickly went in and prepared for the workshop. Before that very 7 o’clock, already some finalists were at the lobby waiting for our departure.

There, I saw a young fashioned guy with eyeglasses. He is by the name Abdulhamid. We were greeted with joy and happiness. I asked of others I was familiar with via our group. Our institutions of study being close, made us focus our discussions on the region.

Not only him but there was also the most celebrated Mr. MD Lawal of our time who is the convener of Arewa Agenda and PR Nigeria staff. We exchanged greetings with many others including Mr. AbdulHaleem Ishaq Ringim, a vibrant young writer from Zaria among others.

We all went out of the hotel, without knowing the exact location of the next venue. But I know it was not going to be far since we were on foot. It must be a trekkable distance. Unknowingly, we were heading to the best award-winning PR firm in Nigeria, Image Merchants Promotion Limited also referred to as the PR Nigeria Centre, publishers of PR Nigeria, Spokesperson Digest, Arewa Agenda, Techdigest, Politics Digest, and Emergency Digest which are all online.

It was the next building after the hotel. We were led by the awards manager, Mr. Olanrewaju Oyedeji. We saw the beauty of Abuja city in the early morning, the sun has just risen. Though it was a weekend. Along the way, I finally met Mr. Yusuf Yusuf, also a journalist with whom I have been communicating. Luckily, he recognised me. But unfortunately, I didn’t.

“Assalamu alaikum” was whispered from behind. I quickly turned to see who was speaking as I answered. It was Mr. Yusuf, the Editor of YBTC News, an outlet I have been contributing to from my end. We shook hands and hugged each other. He introduced himself saying ” I am Yusuf Yusuf”. I finally felt comfortable and smiled acknowledging his kind gesture after having known who he was. He said his farewell and left. But he has promised to meet me later.

As we entered the giant PR firm, we moved directly to the conference room passing through the newsroom. I knew how newsrooms looked in the broadcast stations but didn’t think It was similar to that of online newspapers.

We all got seated at a round table. Mr. Lanre as I learned he was fondly called, addressed us once again ahead of the appearance of the global PR giant in the person of Mr. Yushau Shuaib. Oh, I forgot, the former head of information, federal ministry of finance of the federal republic of Nigeria.

We chatted and discussed amongst ourselves looking forward to what the sessions would look like. Miss Khafilat, the immediate past vice president of the National Union of Campus Journalists was also a finalist. I met her on Facebook before we met in Lagos at the SERAP workshop.

There were also Miss Mariam Ileyemi and Miss Kuburat Lawal, the only hijabites at the final stage of the competition. We celebrated all together. I was happy to see them adorned with their hijabs.

Not forgetting Mr. Sodiq of Platform Times, an online newspaper based in Abeokuta. He had to remind me that I was communicating with him about how to contribute to his paper.

We had our breakfast at the PR Nigeria Centre Abuja. The breakfast could be taken everywhere in Nigeria. It was very rich.

The PR Guru suddenly came in together with Mr. Gidado before they finally ushered in the panel of judges chaired by Malam Jibrin Baba Ndace.

For the first time, I met Jaafar Jaafar the Publisher of the Daily Nigerian newspaper. I recognised him as he entered the conference room. I knew it was him.

We all shared the ideas we have written last night before the panel of judges. They have already edited them but it was more of defense. As a journalist in training, I gave them a bonus of some seconds out of my time. I appreciated all the positions of my colleagues. I learned from their presentations more especially that of MD Lawal. He did well and I agreed with his assertion.

Now, The Long-Awaited Campus Journalism Awards Ceremony

As the schedule stated, the venue was Nicon Luxury Hotel Abuja. As soon as the workshop ended, we were given few minutes to return to the hotel and get set for the awards starting in the next few hours. Being finalists, we were expected to arrive early. Arrangements had been made for our movement.

Like every other guy, it didn’t take much of our time to prepare. But you know what? Mohammed and I were the first finalists to arrived at the lobby. Upon coming down from our rooms, we met again with the vibrant and gentle mind behind the Campus Journalism Awards, Mr. Gidado waiting for all of us. He brought us to Abuja, organised a workshop for us, and gave us certificates of excellence. And so also he was still around to ensure that we were conveyed to the awards’ venue on time. Kudos to this young man. He deserves to be thanked.

Moments later, other finalists started coming out. After the driver of one Costa bus has finished complaining about their delay. We all boarded the Costa bus provided by the organisers. With the exception of others that later came together with Mr. Gidado. Finally, we headed to the awards ceremony venue, Nicon Luxury Hotel Abuja.

From Covid-19 to hand sanitisation. We all had to sanitise our hands at the threshold and masked up with a face mask which was already provided by the organisers. We marched in majestically like award winners smiling from each side of our mouths. Potential winners are winners. Agree with me or not.

We arrived early as planned. We descended into the hall in a unique manner; one after the other. As if we were graduating from a Nigerian varsity. You know it took a thousand miles to graduate here. All were set for the red carpet crossing. We signed in. Camera flashes were making our eyes not see again. It was afternoon but it looked like a night period.

The hall was well arranged and decorated with balloons, flowers amongst other decoration materials. If not because I was aware of the venue I was heading to, I would have thought it was outside Nigeria. The staff themselves were welcoming the nation’s vibrant campus journalists with smiles on their faces. This seemed that they were delighted too to receive these vibrant journalists from various sections of Nigeria.

After all the flashes have finished kissing our eyes, we were allowed to have our seats. We sat and wait for the day to reveal the winners of this long-awaited competition. Dignitaries have started arriving. Jaafar Jaafar, the Publisher of Daily Nigerian, Jibrin Baba Ndace, former Chief Press Secretary to Niger state governor and the chairman of the Panel of Judges, Mr. Hassan Rilwan, Mal. Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, the sponsor of the awards were present.

Unfortunately for us, the person we have been expecting to see, Mallam Garba Shehu, SSA to the President on Media, Federal Republic of Nigeria was however absent at the awards. He was with the President who went to his hometown, Daura, as his representative later revealed.

The day began with a microphone test. It was Haruspice with the mic. We were glad that he moderated the ceremony. Speech upon speech from various persons and dignitaries, ranging from the organiser’s speech on what made him to organise such an award, the chairman panel of judges, stating how they had arrived at their decisions and the book review amongst others. It was aired live by Nigerian Customs Broadcasting Network (NCBN) Nigeria on StarTimes.

Unknowingly, the camera flashes didn’t die. They just went on break. I confirmed. Because they were back. They kissed our retina like tomorrow will not come. I thought at the beginning, that they were dead. No, they were not.

Then the awards were given to various vibrant campus journalists from several tertiary institutions. So also to supporters and partners of the events.

I was delighted to have met with Kunle Adebajo, an international award-winning senior journalist at Humangle, again. He was there to celebrate with us after he has congratulated us on his WhatsApp status. He is the second WAMECA winner I have met. He is a great man. His support for young journalists can’t be overemphasised. He edited my work and offer advice severally. His appointment as an editor at Humangle was not a surprise to me. He deserved it.

CJA2020: A Reunion For Campus Journalists

Youth Digest Campus Journalism Awards 2020 was not only an award ceremony that celebrated vibrant and excellent students journalists on Nigerian campuses but also a semi-reunion for some of the finalists, like yours sincerely.

I could recall vividly that I was in Lagos, Nigeria’s former federal capital territory, for a workshop organised by SERAP earlier last year. There, I met with various vibrant campus journalists from several institutions of learning. Journalists like Hassan, Samuel, Yaqub, and et cetera. All these memories became fresh that day.

We did not sleep that day as people kept on arriving. Though I arrived earlier than others, be closer to the city than them. There are ones that I knew very well and haven’t met them before but have had contact with, online. We met with Mr. Abiodun Jamiu that very day. He could not wait for the awards day before we meet. He informed me of his arrival. I had to briefly go and see him before I departed for my room. It was already late in the night.

New Hopes For NUCJ

After the awards, before the departure, I was invited by Mr. Samuel Ajala now the President, National Union of Campus Journalists, Nigeria. We discussed campus journalism and how we could spread it in the north. We shared ideas on what needs to be done before I left.

For better campus journalism practice, Miss Blessing reached out to me on the departure day via WhatsApp seeking a time to discuss with me on campus journalism. We could not discuss due to tight schedules. She explained that she wanted to know how she could form a Union of Campus Journalists at the University of Nigeria Nsukka before she graduates because she learned that I have experience in doing so. I showed her the way and it surely worked for her. They did very well.

But do you know Miss Blessing? She was a very hard-working journalist that was even arrested by the men in uniform for capturing them on camera while doing a wrong- assaulting a civilian at a checkpoint. Not only this, but she was also a reporter at youth journalism international.

The memories of our gathering in Abuja remained fresh. Good and new always.

Muhammad Auwal Ibrahim is a finalist, Youths Digest Campus Journalism Awards 2020.