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Flying Miles To Applaud Great Stories

“Attention, please. Max Air VM1623 to Abuja is ready for boarding. Passengers checked in on this service should please proceed for boarding.” I sighed with relief as I proceeded to board.
The time was 12: 45pm on 1 December 2022.

This was not my first time flying to Abuja, but everything about this trip was new for me.
The flight attendant was audible, unlike some of her colleagues who speak in accents described by one Nigerian-American professor as “inaudible babbles.”

I once asked several passengers whether they comprehend what most Nigerian flight attendants are saying, and to my surprise, the responses were disheartening. Most of them hardly grasp what is said clearly until it is repeated. One of my co-passengers even commended the Ethiopian Airlines crew for speaking clearly on board and using their local languages to communicate.

As an ordinary Nigerian who wants her country to prosper, I urge flight attendants to speak to communicate and not impress. If you ask me, I will say I still do not know how to use a “life jacket” with all my flying here and there.

Welcome To Abuja

After flying for an hour and some minutes from Maiduguri, Borno State, where I am a student of mass communication at the University of Maiduguri (Unimaid) as well as a freelance journalist, we landed at the only airport in Nigeria’s capital city, named after Nigeria’s first President, Nnamdi Azikiwe – Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja. Like always, passengers were asked to start disembarking from the front row, but only a few abided by this. Where are we rushing to?

After collecting my baggage, I stepped out of the Arrival Hall and walked to the Taxi Park in search of a cab to take me to Statement Hotel, located in the city’s Maitama District. Now, the fares they were calling were sky-high because they claimed that getting fuel for their vehicles was herculean. There have been long queues at the few filling stations dispensing fuel, making many vehicle owners and drivers resort to buying fuel from the “Black market” sellers at outrageous prices. Still, the national oil company, the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL), has insisted that there is sufficient stock of petrol to last the country for at least a month. But independent petroleum marketers have also maintained that NNPC depots have no fuel. Who is to be believed?

I finally arrived at the hotel. As one of the Campus Reporter (CR) journalists from the University of Maiduguri who has never set her eye on their Coordinator, Mrs Busola Ajibola, since the Introduction of the CR project, an initiative for undergraduates across tertiary institutions in Africa, I put a call through to inform her I have checked in.

Mrs Ajibola gladly received me with love as she had always done to every student virtually. She was happy seeing us all from different institutions as I moved out to exchange pleasantries with my co-students.

Abdulwaheed Sofiullah and Abdulganiyu Abdulrahman from Usman Dan-Fodio University and Muhammad Auwal Ibrahim from Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria were the first sets of students I saw before I met the others.

Then came a little confusion. The duo of Sofiullah and Ibrahim separately talked to me about the CR’s 2022 Alfred Opubor Next Gen Awards, the reason for my trip to Abuja: “See, we are not all winners here. There will only be one or two winners to be announced tomorrow at the Award and Dinner night.” I kept asking them one rhetorical question: “Who told you we are not winners, and why will the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID) bring us all here if we are not winners?”

I told myself, all the same, that even if I were just there without any award, I would clap and rejoice with everyone who emerged winners.

An Evening Of Glamour And Awards

By 03:30 pm, I was already dressed up for the event. I wore a baby nude pink fitted gown with the same colour high heel shoes. I called Ibrahim and Sofiullah as I made to go to the venue for the Awards. Luckily, I met Rabiu Musa from Bayero University, Kano and Muhammad Buhari from ABU at the reception. We all made our way to the venue, which is a five-minute walk outside the lodge.

The ambience in Taraba Hall at Treasure Suites was dazzling. Colourful lights were radiating from every corner of the hall. These lights blended with the tables’ golden and white decoration meant to accommodate six people per table. I could sense that the night ahead would be wonderful. Kudos to the handlers, Mr Adeniyi Nicholas, Ms Osaruonamen Ibizugbe and Ms Glory Chike.

Almost everyone was gaily dressed.

The attendees moved around for the next 30 minutes, chatting to themselves and catching up.  Then, the Master of Occasion, Asari Ndem, moved to the podium and commenced the event, which started with opening remarks presented by the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the CJID and the Publisher of Premium Times, Dapo Olorunyomi and followed quickly by goodwill messages from CJID partners and well-wishers.

Olorunyomi’s words still echo in my ear. He said: “Journalists on campus are unique newsroom leaders tomorrow.”

Some minutes later, Abdulwasiu Mujeeb Idowu, the second runner-up for the Best Budgetary Tracking/procurement story, was called to the stage, followed by Rabiu Musa, the first runner-up and Sunday Awosoro, overall winner of the category, all with plaques and cash prizes.

The award presentation continued with two more categories before making way for a panel discussion titled “Nation building: empowering youths as vanguards of sustainable development,” which was moderated by Mrs Ajibola.

Soon after, it was the turn of the Health Reporting category, in which I was a nominee.
The second runner-up, Tijani Abdulkabeer, was called to the stage, followed by the first runner-up Abdulwaheed Sofiullah. And the winner was…Zainab Yetunde Adam. Oh wow! For this, I received a N100,000 cash prize, a framed certificate and a plaque. Abdulkabeer received N40,000, while Sofiullah received N60,000 with certificates.

Mariam Hamzat from Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH) topped the Best Gender Story category. I was the first runner-up, while Abdulganiyu Abdulrahman was the second runner-up.

Still, another award came my way as the Best Campus Investigative Reporter of the Year for a health story I did with support from the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), titled: Lack of Ambulance, Emergency Services Hamper Universal Health Coverage In Rural Borno Communities.

What will I do with my cash prizes? Be on the lookout.

As it turned out, Sofiullahi and Ibrahim were wrong with their statement that “there will only be one or two winners to be announced tomorrow at the Award and Dinner night.” That was misinformation.

The support I got from Mr Abdulkareem Haruna of HumAngle, Dr Abdulmutalib Ado Abubakar, Dr Sharafa Dauda and other staff of the Mass Communication Department, Unimaid, and this trip to Abuja will forever stand out for me in the history of my journalism career because CJID’s Campus Reporters platform has always been there for me through mentorship, internship and training.

May God bless the day the platform was created for younger minds to build themselves, especially the day the team visited and introduced the initiative in my school on 19 August 2019 for students to attain their potential. Amen.

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