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Reach and Puzzle of Nagarta Radio 


Mahmud Jega  

It promises to be a big splash. The ceremony slated to begin at Mararraban Jos on Saturday morning [ February 26, 2005 ] for the commissioning of Nagarta Radio station will bring together a whoís who in Nigerian business, politics, government and journalism. Emir of Zazzau Alhaji Shehu Idris will be the Royal Father of the Day. Former Army Chief Lt General Muhammadu Inuwa Wushishi will chair the occasion, while fiery Ahmadu Bello University  historian Dr. Yusuf Bala Usman, who was recently in the news for refusing a government nomination to the Political Reforms Conference, will be the guest speaker. Information and National Orientation Minister Chief Chukwuemeka Chikelu will be the chief launcher. It is not for nothing that so many eminent persons are getting together at Mararraba, along the busy Kaduna-Zaria Expressway, to commission a radio station. For, Nagarta isnít just any radio station. In more ways than one, it is a first in Northern Nigeria, in Nigeria , and even in the entire West African sub-regionís broadcast industry. To begin with, there is the equipment. Nagarta Radioís Digital 60 kilowatt transmitter is the first of its kind to be installed in West Africa . Then there is its license. Although dozens of private radio stations have preceded it into the field, all of them got licenses to broadcast on FM, but Nagarta was the first to obtain a license to broadcast on medium wave. As a result, it can be heard all mover northern Nigeria and all the way to Lagos , Port Harcourt and into Niger and Chad Republics on a clear evening.       

It is good equipment planted on very fertile ground, a private radio station in the heart of the North that broadcasts mainly in Hausa. Fertile ground, you said? Many Nigerian skeptics do not see the North as fertile ground for anything, least of all media outlets. Some of the most promising newspaper titles in Nigeria , Citizen, Reporter, Democrat, Sentinel and Hotline among them, blazed the trail for a while in this region, only to vanish in time. Where is the room for optimism in this situation?

Paradoxically, there is plenty of room for optimism because the very reasons that make the Northern terrain so treacherous for the print media and the ones that make it fertile ground for the electronic media. The literacy rate in the North is far behind that of the South, as is overall economic development. There arenít too many literate Northerners around to read the newspapers, nor are there very many Northern corporations to advertise in them. In any case, who will advertise in the newspaper when the target audience on the whole doesnít read it?       

If Northerners donít read the newspapers all that much, and yet are miles ahead in political awareness, then they must be getting their information from somewhere. It isnít very difficult to see where that is. The old Radio Television Kaduna {RTK], known there days as FRCN, is the most powerful among its regional contemporaries precisely because this is a region where people religiously tune to the radio. Not only the local stations; the BBC Hausa Service, the Voice of America and the German station Deutschwelle have all planted a firm foot in the Nigerian political and social terrain by cashing in on the huge Northern appetite for radio broadcasts. Hence, the market is always there for a very good local radio station to seize.        

Thatís exactly what Nagarta Radio set out to do when it began test-transmission last year. At 11.30am on March 7, last year, Malam Shehu Yusuf Kuraís voice was heard on the Nagarta airwaves, shortly afterwards followed by the voices of Abba Zayyan and Hajiya Fatima Mohamed. Within a year, Nagarta began to make its presence felt in many areas of Northern community life. Itís stated primary goal is the promotion of national unity; its motto is the Muryar Hada Kan Jamaía, or Voice of Unity. Beyond that, the station has aired very educating health, educational, cultural and political programmes. Family hygiene has been much discussed on Nagarta Radio this past year, as was the HIV/AIDS pandemic, tuberculosis, the vexed issue of almajirai, as well as marriage and child upbringing.       

The Nagarta programmes that made the greatest impact, however, are probably the live discussion programmes Kowane allazi [da nasa amanu] and Kasarmu a yau. Kura himself is an expert, flawless and very knowledgeable presenter, as are his top assistants, and they have engaged some of the leading men in Northern politics on a forceful tour around the political terrain while listeners phoned in, often with severely critical questions. Among the political big guns who have appeared on the live programmes were Governors Ahmed Makarfi and Ibrahim Shekarau, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, the late Alhaji Wada Nas, Alhaji Umaru Dikko, Sheikh Ahmed Gummi, Sheikh Dahiru Bauchi, Reverend Samaila Jarumi, Maigwari Alhaji Zubairu Jibrin, Alhaji Ahmadu Chanchangi and Alhaji Tanko Yakassai.       

The North may have millions of eager radio listeners, but it is another thing altogether for advertisers to part with their money. That is a matter that Nagarta Radioís managers are already having to grapple with; General Manager Shehu Kura said they intend to undertake a regional tour to meet with political, business and community leaders in order to generate patronage. They should better hurry it up; the North had in the past produced private media houses that were a smashing editorial success but which were commercial failures.       

The last remaining puzzle about Nagarta Radio is its ownership. The way a Nigerian thinks, there must be some hefty big guys behind something, for it to get a medium-wave license and to acquire such fine equipment. The ownership mystery is encouraged by the managers; in a recent newspaper interview, Shehu Kura, who lived in America for 16 years, said a listener should carry less about the owner and more about the quality service he gets from a radio station. Thatís exactly how an American sees things, but not necessarily how a Nigerian sees it.  

JEGA is editor of the New Nigerian, Kaduna .