Bukola Coker is a journalist whose gentle mien could easily fool you, but don’t be mistaken by it. As a presenter, reporter, and producer with Channels TV, her media trajectory across national TV stations in Nigeria is a blazing trail of success one media story at a time. An Award Winner of the Report Women Leadership Programme by the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism, she takes us on her journey in the media space, how she tackles online harassment, exposes how many journalists are their own self-saboteurs, and a wealth of other great tips in this Special Exclusive Series on Nigerian Women in Media Project by LightRay Media.
At what point growing up did it strike you that journalism was going to be your passion and career?
One day when I was about 18 and I was at home watching lunch break on AIT. As I watched, I was greatly impressed by the totality of the Presenter’s style. And I said to myself, I can do this too.
When did you begin to feel your career was no longer just a job you showed up to? How did you pivot or even change the course of your career?
I doubt that I have ever felt that way about my career. My career has always been a second home to me. I have always said that I could read scripts free of charge. I know deep down inside that I was born to read. Reading comes to me naturally. About changing my initial course, well, let’s say I didn’t have a say in the matter. I really wanted to be an actress, but my mum would have none of it. So I put in for law but didn’t secure the cut-off mark in my jamb exam. So I settled for my second option History and international studies. I really would say that broadcasting found me.
On online harassment, if you court controversy often, you are bound to court online harassment often and it does not have to be sexual online or offline. But if you are known for a success pattern and you are hardly on social media, I doubt that those distractions will find their way to your space that much.
Any struggles that stood out for you in the early stages of your career? And how did you overcome them?
I started my career as a teenager without a degree where I worked in the civil service while going to school at the same time. That’s like climbing a mountain. It was a long and arduous process because I had to learn everything on my own. And getting things done was always a challenge, because being younger than everyone around you meant you had to defer to everyone, most of whom were also trying to get their own tasks done. I overcame them by staying humble and at the same time retaining a huge dose of confidence in myself.
Starting young also meant meeting people who engaged you without honoring their commitment to you, or honoring their commitment for some time and then breaching the agreement along the line. I guess this was inevitable for a young, budding presenter. But when I look back now, I don’t regret starting young, because all those opportunities helped to shape and help me become seasoned.
Do you still have any current challenges you’re trying to overcome?
Of course, we all have to deal with one challenge or the other daily. And they could be work-related or personal. It’s a steep climb up the success hill.
I have also come to realize that sometimes, we are the barrier. And we become our own stumbling block when we align ourselves with the short-sightedness of people and situations that constitute obstacles to our success. We must rise above them. The high point of my career success came when I rode on the wings of God’s grace to surmount some of the steepest opposition to my career success. I am grateful to God for helping me believe in myself and not in the opposition during those difficult years.
What will be your approach to overcoming future barriers?
In the same way, I overcame challenges in the past, and look for fresh opportunities. Look elsewhere where no one else is looking to solve other problems. Problems are opportunities for success-minded people.
What are some of the stories or projects you’ve done that were the most impactful in the course of your career?
Ha! (she laughs, filled with joy). Just thinking of those stories excites me. There’s a long list but let me just mention those I consider to be the high points: my story on how the cassava bread fund under former President Jonathan was bungled by the Bank of Industry; the other story on Egba history, my story on depression and suicide that earned me a commendation slot and treasured frame from the Wole Soyinka Center for investigative journalism, and then the big one on child sexual abuse that earned me the winner, TV category in the 2020 edition of the Wole Soyinka awards for investigative journalism and of course the exciting years I spent presenting fireworks on TVC.
Online harassment? I use my block button well for unhealthy people given to unhealthy talk, downers and Snipers on social media. Of course, there’s always opposition on the job. I deal with it by focusing on my goals. Success is judged by her children.
What are some of the stories or projects you’ve done that were the most impactful in the course of your career?
I really spent time on these projects. They were very demanding in terms of research and analytical thinking but they brought out the best in me. I am grateful for the privilege to have been the one to pilot those story and presentation projects.
Fireworks earned me the City People Entertainment Award for Best Presenter of the Year in the year 2017 and the Nigeria Media Merit award for Best Presenter of the Year nomination in the year 2020 or 21 which was clinched by Seun Okinbaloye.
What career projection are you setting up for yourself you intend to meet up?
Big question! It’s not all clear right now I must say. I want to be so many things. And I know I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. I want to do so many things that I am still seeking clarity for in the presence of God right now. But what I can say is that I want to excel even more at what I am currently doing. I am working on a book, I also do quite well with teaching. But the big project is what I am still defining from within.
What training programmes or short courses have you attended, which you applied on the job that made the most impact for you?
That’s another long list, I may have attended nearly a dozen in the course of my career. I recall a British Council training on climate change, and quite a number of workshops on the campaign against HIV/AIDS, perhaps the ones that resonate with me most are the Report Women Female reporters leadership, FRLP programme of 2021on sexual and gender-based violence and the one by Women FM on gender reporting.
These programmes have resonated with me so much perhaps because they touch on a core in me that rebels against injustice. I wish we had more broadcast airtime dedicated to addressing sexual and gender-based violence and on a broader level all forms of rights abuses. Because curbing the excesses of the evil-minded segment of the population begins with the conversation. As they say, bullies thrive amid silence. My bible puts it better: evil thrives when good men keep quiet.
What suggestions will you give media owners or heads of media businesses to help boost morale, effectiveness, and reduce toxicity in the workplace?
Nothing boosts the morale of a journalist better than incentives, and incentives don’t have to come in the form of financial rewards alone. Commendation does so much good to the soul of a journalist that it fires them to do a large extra on the required. Media owners should not wait for external awarding organisations to help them identify and reward their best. They should develop an internal rewards system that would engender loyalty to their brand and by extension, stability within their organization.
Any other aspect media owners can still do better?
Of course, regular review of salaries, allowances, and promotion also produces the same rewards, but these may not be as regular as expected in the light of current economic realities, so Media owners must learn to think outside the box if they must thrive in the highly competitive market.
If you were to reimagine your career, what would you do differently, starting today?
Well, I could say I wish I did this earlier. I wish my eyes opened to this fast enough. I wish I got on this train soon enough, but if I just pause and take a step back and remember that I started this broadcast journey at only 19, and nearly two decades later, I am where I am, I am grateful to God. I couldn’t have designed this walk better than the author and finisher of my faith. But upon reflection, I could do with some extra training and prepare for the future, all in good time.
How would you describe the media landscape and the disruptions that will affect the role of women and men in the media industry?
Think outside the box. Develop a problem-solving approach toward journalism. Or what we know as solution journalism for social reconstruction. There’s always a story to tell, we don’t always have to sit pretty with lucrative beats.
How and what can women in media begin to do differently and better to hold their own space within the media industry?
The media landscape is competitive as it is global and innovation has broken the monopoly of the traditional media, which, unfortunately, has ensured the sad reality of an easy entry of more untrained practitioners who have found comfort and gain in the new media space. This has expectedly ensured and narrowed the opportunities for both men and women as most newsrooms now only require a lean workforce. But it has only also created space for the entrepreneurship experiment or what some call enterprise journalism. Enterprise journalism must also be well thought out to address specific societal problems as there’s so much shovel journalism out there.
What tips in personal development, career pursuit, network strategies, and wealth creation would you advise other women in media, including men, to tap into?
Have a continuous sense of self-improvement. Return to school as much as God gives you the grace to do. Invest in properties and other ventures that do not constitute a conflict of interest to their organisation or start something in the media field of your own outright and show the emerging bloggers how it’s done.
How do you balance your personal life, work, and family expectations? Which aspects give you the most challenges, and how were you able to overcome them?
Well, I compartmentalise my tasks. I set out time for my prayers, time for studying, time for my children, and time for me as much as possible, slim as that can get.
Tell us something about the media industry you would like to see change for the better and why is this change important?
I would like to see more investigative stories, I would like to see journalists hold elected and appointed government officials accountable to the social contract. I think we give them too much space to get away with so much abuse of office. And the reasons are not far-fetched, there’s the problem of media ownership, self-censorship and as a result the general lack of regard for Nigerian Media practices due to the aforementioned reasons. This narrative can only be changed by Nigerian journalists themselves.
In the next 3-5 years, where do you see yourself?
As a media executive, an opinion molder, and a change agent…. as I said earlier, it gets clearer along the way.
I would like to see journalists hold elected and appointed government officials accountable to the social contract. I think we give them too much space to get away with so much abuse of office. And the reasons are not far-fetched, there’s the problem of media ownership, self-censorship and as a result the general lack of regard for Nigerian Media practices due to the aforementioned reasons. This narrative can only be changed by Nigerian journalists themselves.
In your years on the job, have you ever experienced burnout, mental fatigue, or mental health crisis? How did you handle it? How can women and men in the media reduce burnout or prevent it?
I am guilty as charged (we both smile because we know how the terrain would blindside anyone). I don’t prioritise self-care as often as I ought to. I may have had burnout many times over to the point that I have become accustomed to it, and as we say in Yoruba, oti di baraku (she goes off in Yourba to drive home her point which got us laughing). The best way u can interpret that is to say, become accustomed to it.
What most Nigerian journalists earn does not even take them to the bus stop for the onward public transport that takes them home. So the all-important vacation culture to address burnout is non-existent. We must do better for ourselves. I am learning to spend my annual leaves or spiritual retreats. That’s my place of rest. In the presence of my ABBA.
Let’s talk about online harassment… have you experienced it in any form? Or any other threats on the job? How did you deal with it? What steps can women in media take to prevent or deal with online harassment, etc?
Well, I have. I don’t suffer fools gladly. So I use my block button well for unhealthy people given to unhealthy talk, downers, and Snipers on social media. Of course, there’s always opposition on the job. I deal with it by focusing on my goals. Success is judged by her children. Women should do the same, focus on what’s important, and ignore distractions. I mean what’s online harassment compared to the destination you are headed?
One more thing though, if you court controversy often, you are bound to court online harassment often and it does not have to be sexual online or offline. But if you are known for a success pattern and you are hardly on social media, I doubt that those distractions will find their way to your space that much.