Ben Shemang is not your everyday radio personality because even as a Nigerian, living in Nigeria, he does not broacast for Nigerians-he rather broadcasts Nigeria to the outside world. He works for Voice Of Nigeria, VON, the country’s voice in the outside world. He does what he knows best with a wealth of experience. He spspeaks to Chinenye Anaemena
My name is Ben, son of Adam, son of Shemang, I am from Kaduna state, Marwa (Sholio) by tribe in Kaura local government. I am a journalist and a radio presenter. I read English Language in Ahmadu Bello University, Kaduna. I also have a diploma in law from University of Jos and a certificate in French Language. I am a deputy director, News in Voice of Nigeria (VON).
How was growing up like?
As a villager, we never lacked and of course we could always go behind the house to get maize, yam or potatoes to roast, not forgetting the usual childhood explorations, going for some expeditions in the bushes. We could go catching fishes, hunting or even farming. It was always fun moving in groups according to age groups and that was also how we played football. Life was a communal thing. It was friendship all through without segregation. If you were hungry, you can always enter a neighbour’s house and all of you will be served in one big bowl. If you are not satisfied you move to the next house till you are full. Our mothers treated us as one, once we entered a house as a group.
Your parents and the influence they had on you
I think I ought to have reared cattle for life. Honestly they had a very great influence but at a point, I decided to get my independence. This is because my dad used to have many herds of cattle but they were with a Fulani man called Gyene and his brother, Jaji who lived in my father’s house and then suddenly, I was told that I will be a cattle rearer. When my friends were going to primary school, I was directed tp join Jaji to learn how to rear cows, for one week I was in the bush with them. The very first day I saw how they were milking cows, as they were squeezing it to extract milk from the cow, flies were all over and they were squeezing flies alongside the milk, I immediately vomited, in fact the whole of that day I couldn’t eat, the following day I went there, and in as much as I was there, I won’t eat because I always remembered. Till date I don’t take Fura da Nunu. That was in January, 1970. After one week, I returned to my dad that I can’t do the job and I need to join my friends who were already two weeks in primary school. My dad who was a local chief agreed and so I joined them and that was how I gained my independence. For my mum who is a core disciplinarian would always insist we have to wake very early go to farm as small as we were before we went to school, but I thank them all the same because all these had great influence on me.
Your first time on radio. What the experience was like?
Nice, I had Yaya Abubakar, who was the then director general VON, I had late Tunji Oseni, Stella Bassey among so many other media moguls who of course are core professionals- you don’t mess up around. I saw that Yaya Abubakar needed me more as a presenter but I needed myself more as a reporter and editor, so the first day I was asked to go for audition, there was this thing called micro-phobia, butterfly in the stomach when you are in front of the microphone, the studio manager will just count one, two, three and signs you on, but I just saw that my reading was not flowing. After dry rehearsal I got it right but entering the studio, I will not just flow. I would miss words. Truly, truly it didn’t flow but the luck I had was that audition was not taken for assessment. God was on my side so rather the next thing was the same Yaya Abubakar asking me how many stories I can cover as a reporter and I said as many as possible, It was a big relief and that was how my journey on radio started and since then I have been sleeping, thinking, talking, eating radio.
Well, I have so many but the few I will mention are; Yaya Abubakar, Ben Ebuna, Monsur Liman, Emma Odu, David Attah, Mohammed Haruna, Mani Onumonu (the man with the honey without the money, Zakari Mohammed (Zak Moo, the flight captain on air); Osaze Iyamu, Robine White of the BBC; William Niba of RFI, and Susan Killick of DW in Germany.
Your most embarrassing moments?
My most embarrassing moment in the job was in an interview with Nenadi Usman who was the then minister of state for Finance, she had agreed for an interview in the State House, scheduled for 7:00am, we waited till 12:00pm,yet it was not possible, then around 2:00pm a lady from BBC came to interview the minister and she was granted audience while we were still waiting till 4:00pm and we were still asked to wait, just when she was ready to grant us an interview at 6:00pm, the then coordinating minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, returned from a trip abroad and suddenly, the minister of state went to see her for briefing, we were still waiting until 8;00pm, only for one of her assistants to come and say that the minister said since the “Big Oga” has returned from her trip abroad, she will not speak when the minister is around. I have never been that embarrassed.
Another embarrassing moment was in London, when we were to be briefed by General Abubakar Abdulsalami after going to 10 Dawning Street and having a meeting with the then Common Wealth secretary-general, my recorder could not just pick any sound, and it refused to work. It was so embarrassing and ever since then I don’t move with one recorder.
If you could change one thing, it would be?
It would be Nigeria, there is too much corruption, favouritism still exists, religion, region and state of origin are dividing us. If I am to change anything, it will be to change state of origin into state of residence. I will restore communal spirit in the country. Promote genuine friendship.
Be bold, patient, know your job, be current, balance your stories, respect people’s opinion and handle security stories with care. Always weigh the impact of your story, if it will divide or unite the country.
Talk about your programme?
As host, I had this Programme called Global Guest on VON. It was for great achievers and It was nice hosting People Like Chief Emeka Anyaoku, as the secretary general of the Commonwealth, the same with Mr Don Mckinnon, another secretary general of the Commonwealth, Hosted General Abdulsalami Abubakar, Admiral Mike Ahigbe, former President Shehu Shagari, Mathew Mbu, among others.
How you connect with your fans?
We have a website, www.von.gov.ng. We also connect through whatsApp, text messages and a functioning online. Nice feedbacks and you know this thing called shortwave, people still write letter and QSL card are all means of connecting with listeners.
Weirdest thing you ever did?
I once walked from Ebute Meta to Broadcasting House in Ikoyi. That was during the June 12 Presidential Election crisis. The Campaign for Democracy had ordered that people should go out into the streets to protest the annulment of the election. I was living in Oba Akinjobi Road, in GRA Ikeja. I was Defence and Crimes correspondent, I felt I should go get the news and as producer of a programme known as VONSCOPE, I managed to go out. The soldiers and police were in the streets. No vehicle for me. I walked, crossed the bridge entered the Lagos Island and continued my long walk up to the office. I inhaled tear gas. I was just fortunate. People were arrested I was not. Youthful exuberance and love for the job, you will always feel you want to be part of history by witnessing i