Award-winning Okechukwu Effoduh is the male voice on the BBC Media Action radio programme called Flava, the most popular radio programme in West Africa aired on over 95 radio stations in Nigeria and with more than 24 million listeners tuning in every week!
Flava addresses issues on HIV/AIDS, sexual reproductive health and youth lifestyle. A self-proclaimed foodie, Okechukwu, 25, is a human rights activist and lawyer who is involved in intellectual property law, alternative dispute resolution, litigation and commercial practice.
He graduated from the University of Abuja in 2010 and was called to the Nigerian Bar in 2012. He was awarded the “Best Community Show Presenter in Nigeria” by the 2012 Nigeria Radio Awards.
Okechukwu speaks about his passion for serving humanity and gives us a heads up on the new radio programme he would be presenting later in the year.
Where did you grow up and how has it impacted on the person you are today?
I was born in Lagos but have lived in Abuja for the past 19 years. Growing up here was so much fun for me. Although I grew up as a part of a devout Catholic family, all my childhood friends were Muslims from the north so I got attracted to northern cuisine, Hausa music and folklore. I remember going for Islamiyya(Islamic school) after regular school hours with my friends. I even had my own slate so I could write in Arabic and recite the Quran fluently! Sometimes I would follow my friends to the mosque especially when there would be Sadakka – you know, people brought food to share sometimes after prayers. My childhood helped me appreciate the basic teachings of Islam and I can speak some Hausa now.
What attracted you to Radio presenting?
Hunger! (Laughs) Well, I needed a job to finance my university education but my drive to do community programming through radio presenting is something I had earnestly awaited. I believe in the power of the media and its influence. The ability to pass information through radio especially in Nigeria is far-reaching. I am very passionate about Nigeria and our people, and being a part of the youth population, there’s nothing as fulfilling as doing a programme that will educate, inform and give young people like myself a platform to access information that is lifesaving, life-changing and transformational.
How did you get the place on Flava?
A few months before I began studying at the university, I heard that the BBC Media Action (formally the BBC World Service Trust) was auditioning for a male presenter for the show “Flava”. Although I was a fan of the show I had neither done anything on radio nor did I have any experience as a programme presenter but I convinced myself to go for the audition. There were over 62 candidates present at the audition and I kept wondering how they would pick just one person out of the 62 of us. Amongst us were some big radio presenters and personalities from Lagos, Jos, Kaduna and all. Some guys even came with demos, people had scripts in their hands and some people were already rehearsing, I heard people speak in different voices and tones.
It was my first ever audition and I was nervous, but since I had spent cab money to the venue and I was already there, I gingered myself to give it my best shot. We were paired and asked us to act as though we were on radio and each pair was given one minute to present. I was paired with some guy who didn’t even let me speak but I was able to still get into the flow of the programme. I did my bit and left the audition location happy that I had experienced what auditioning felt like but not feeling too confident of the outcome. A few weeks later I was called for an interview and after the interview was asked to start presenting the show!
Tell us about some of the unique experiences that working on Flava has given you?
Wow, I can write a book! First, it accorded me the opportunity to have travelled to all the 36 states of the country and I have visited 214 local government areas. The people I have met, places I have seen and experiences I have witnessed cannot be compared to anything in this world! When people complain about Nigeria, I tell them go round, meet its people, see its places and you will fall so in love!
Secondly, it’s very refreshing and rewarding to know that you are actually reaching out to people and they are listening and following the programme. I can’t count how many taxi drivers have recognized my voice just by speaking to them or demanding change, conductors, market women, recharge card sellers, name it! Even my customer in Wuse market who sells provisions has been listening to Flava for four years before she met me. Many times when I travel for recordings and I am doing a roving report in a bus stop or mechanic workshop, they are all excited to see the voice they listen to on radio. it’s a great feeling I must tell you – that you can do a programme right here and people all over this country will listen to you and relate to what you are talking about. There are just many experiences I wish I could share.
Many Nigerians have stopped stigmatizing against people living with HIV; people now know how to protect themselves with the use of condoms – correctly and consistently, many young people now see the benefits of abstaining from sex and they say they learn all these and even much more from Flava. It’s still very mystical to me how people’s voices on radio can tell and reveal so much. It’s amazing how you can take your audience to a new location, take them through a new experience and change their mindset on certain issues.
Did you get special training to become a radio presenter?
I did not get any special training but when I started presenting, I researched on how to conduct interviews and learned some rules in radio presenting. As insignificant as it sounds, it really helped me on the job. The good thing about Flava is that I didn’t have to learn to speak like the British or the Americans. Flava is Nigerian. It’s very real, that’s why we speak our pidgin and simple English. I love the programme and I am always excited presenting it. I totally relate to it on all levels, so when I am recording I am myself; just as I would be with my friends, and that’s effortless.
Another good thing is that people tend to answer you when you are doing a report on the streets because Nigerians are friendly and responsive and since there is no camera involved in radio programming, respondents feel more comfortable.
Why did you decide to study law?
Although I am much inclined to the arts, one of my passions is advocating for people. I have always desired the pursuit of true justice and the protection of people irrespective of their social standing. I wanted to drive towards a cause in eliminating or diminishing some of the prejudices and bigotry apparent in our society. Also, I love the nobility and gallantry of the legal profession.
What have been your greatest challenges as a radio presenter?
As a radio presenter, a challenge I personally have is that I have a stutter so sometimes I will need to stamp my feet on the ground for the words to come out of my mouth. I don’t see that as a problem anyway.
As a Flava presenter, I am committed to travelling around Nigeria and you know the condition of our roads. Travelling is fun and I love to travel! There are places in this country that can be too hot or too cold or too windy or too humid, all in this our country but in the long run you get to adjust and fall in love with it.
Then there’s the security issue but it’s not what they paint it in the news. In my opinion, Nigeria is a lot safer than it is portrayed to be.
What are some of the most popular issues you talk about on Flava?
Recurrent themes have been on sexual abstinence, being faithful to one partner, condom use, topics on modes of HIV transmission, HIV prevention, sexually transmitted infections and the likes but we have also done very interesting programmes on dressing, alcohol, drug use, rape, social media, spending, shopping, dating, to mention but a few. We interview celebrities, play the latest songs and visit the coolest places, all on the radio!
After seven years, have you not run out of things to talk about on the programme?
Flava is all about sexual reproductive health and lifestyle. We talk about other social issues too but sexual reproductive health issues are myriad so we can never run out of things to talk about. These concerns are from things that happen every day in our society. For example, the UNFPA released a statistical report that revealed that every day in Nigeria about 800 people or more become infected with HIV. How? Why? What can we do about it? These are the kind of questions we confront on Flava.
Very few schools and parents in Nigeria discuss sexual health with their children; do you think that this should change?
Research shows that when young people are armed with the right knowledge about sexual and reproductive health, especially at an early age, they tend to make the best choices. If there is any school that has not inculcated sexual reproductive health into their curriculum then they are lagging behind because I know schools now teach pupils and students about sexual health.
Although my parents didn’t teach me about sexual reproductive health, but they used style-style to tell me some things sha, but it wasn’t enough. That is why some of us learned the good, the bad and the ugly from schoolmates and television. Research also show that children who learn about these issues from their parents, build trust, learn the right things and are able to delay sexual début.
What are some of the biggest concerns young people have when it comes to sexual and reproductive health?
Young people need quality mentorship, the right to access sincere and up-to-date information about sexual reproductive health and lifestyle, a right to express themselves fully and be respected for the decisions that they make and most importantly access to treatment and counselling without fear or discrimination.
How are you able to juggle legal practice and presenting Flava?
Both legal practice and radio programming are two fields that I have fallen in love with. I don’t have to juggle; they blend and flow well with my passion and even though one may take some time out of another, I enjoy both. I see them as a medium to serve people.
So, other than being a lawyer and your job as the Flava presenter, what else takes your time?
Currently I serve as the vice president of the Sickle Cell Aid Foundation (SCAF). It is a non-governmental organization established to amplify awareness on Sickle Cell Anaemia and to provide quality medical care for affected persons, especially for the indigent.
I am also a member of the Nigerian Red Cross and I teach kids in Local Education Authority primary schools when I have the time.
Some lawyers and I recently started an NGO – Lawyers League for Minorities in Nigeria (LLM). We provide pro bono legal services for the human rights protection of victimized or oppressed minorities viz – sex workers, people living with HIV/AIDS, LGBTI persons, refugees and disabled persons in Nigeria. We are just starting so we do not have a website yet.
What motivates you?
The people I have met in my life have been the greatest motivation. I am a people person. Aside from the fact that I am a human rights lawyer and I advocate for the equality and respect of all persons, I love to be around positive people, I love to hear and share stories and I have learned to respect every human no matter who they are or where they are from.
Before you go, what are some of the stations we can listen to Flava on? How often does it air and what time?
Flava airs every week! In fact every day in Nigeria in one state or more Flava is being aired. Sometimes as many as 6 times in a day, the drill is to know the date and time it is aired on your favourite radio station and stick to it.
After Flava, what next?
I will be anchoring a new programme still under the BBC Media Action titled “Talk Your Own”. It’s on governance issues, giving people everywhere in Nigeria a platform to talk their own on different governance issues in Nigeria! Trust me; you have never heard a programme like this before so watch out for it.
I will also be commencing my new job as a research assistant with the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies.
You can listen to Flava on the following stations