Oluwatoyosi Ogunseye’s journalism journey began while she was still in the University and she has continued to invest in her craft. After a 7-year stint at Nigeria’s biggest circulating newspaper, The Punch, Ogunseye left as Editor of its Sunday paper. Currently, she is the head of West Africa at the BBC World Service. She has won numerous local and international awards. Ogunseye is a two-time recipient of the CNN/MultiChoice African Journalist of the Year Award and the first Nigerian to receive the Knight International Journalism Award. She was also awarded the Presidential Precinct Award along with Madeline Albright, America’s first female Secretary of State. In addition to this, Ms. Ogunseye was recently elected to serve as the Vice President of the World Editors Forum at the WAN-IFRA conference in Scotland. We really couldn’t have had a better cover for our June edition than the beauty and brains, Ogunseye. In her interview with us, she shares her leadership challenges with heading BBC West Africa, her life’s fears, the story behind her becoming a Punch Newspaper editor, her thoughts on feminism, her type of man and her plans for the future among others. It’s such an interesting discussion, do have fun reading:
Tell us more about your career and how it all started I started
my writing career while a student at the University of Lagos. I had an older friend, Ms. Yinka Omage who tried to get me a writing gig at Genevieve Magazine where she was an editor at the time but it didn’t work out. She later introduced me to the news editor of the Sun Newspaper, Mr. Musa Ebomhiana. So this 19-year-old girl walked into the Sun newsroom and asked for the editor. He looked at me and said, “Yes, how may I help you?” and I said, “I want to write for you”. He replied, “Are you a journalist” and I said “No, but I love to write”. I had this journal where I wrote my thoughts and I gave it to him. He read it and said to me, “I need journalism from you, go back to school and bring me two stories before Friday”. It was a Tuesday and I said okay. I went back to school, wrote about two things that happened in school and went back to The Sun Newspaper in Apapa and submitted them. The editor read them and asked me if I was the one that wrote them and I said yes. He called the then Crime Editor, Mr. Dipo Kehinde and showed him what I wrote. Mr. Kehinde said he would publish them and encouraged me to keep writing for them. I was delighted that The Sun Newspaper which was the biggest tabloid at that time was publishing my stories. So after the first publication I kept bringing in stories. It must have been after the third time when Mr. Musa took me to Mr. Femi Adesina who was the editor of the paper then. He said “Sir, I think we should give this young lady a chance.” Mr. Adesina said since I was still in school, I should come back after my graduation. When I stepped out of the office, Mr. Musa said, “Just keep writing for us, I’ll keep publishing them and make sure you’re paid.” I went back to school and kept writing for them because I was just happy to see my name in the newspaper. About March of that same year, there was an accident in school involving students returning from a party. I remembered that I had seen the four of them take a picture in front of my faculty the previous day. I went to the photographer and paid him to get their picture. I wrote the story, attached the picture and ran to my news editor at Sun Newspaper. The next day it was the cover of The Sun Newspaper. Mr. Adesina called me and said, “You’ve earned it, come work for us.’ I worked at the Sun for about three years; I moved to NewStar Newspaper for two years as a senior correspondent and later moved to the Punch Newspaper where I became the Sunday Editor. A year and half ago, I joined the BBC as the Head of West Africa.
Tell us how you became the Sunday Editor at the Punch Newspaper
Many people don’t know that the Punch did an examination and conducted an interview for all the assistant editors across the country in order to qualify for the roles of Sunday Editor, Daily Editor and Saturday Editor. The top three of us got the three jobs. The result was pasted in the Punch newsroom notice board. I was 28 years old and was about turning 29 then. I edited Sunday Punch for five years.
Tell us how you won CNN awards
I actually tried eight times before I won the first one. If I had given up the first time it wouldn’t have happened. It’s all about perseverance and surrounding yourself with people who believe in you. I must say I have had supportive bosses who gave me all the tools I required. Also, because I wanted to stand out, I did stories that added value and brought about positive change. Those were the kind of stories CNN wanted.
What’s your major challenge as the head of BBC West Africa?
My major challenge is getting audiences to engage better with content in the other languages the way they do with English. Over a year ago, the BBC introduced three new language services (Igbo, Pidgin and Yoruba) in Nigeria. Before then, there was only BBC Hausa and English which were bringing in millions of audiences to the BBC weekly. We believe everybody should have a say in the governance of their country and be able to interact irrespective of their language. At the BBC we are of the opinion that English should not be a barrier to people getting access to information that can improve their lives, health and more. We therefore decided to bridge this gap by producing content in local languages.
Tell us how you got to BBC?
I was going to work one morning when I got a call from the BBC that they were recruiting for the role of Head, West Africa, and was this something I was willing to consider? At that point I wasn’t ready to leave the Punch but at same time it was an exciting opportunity. I felt like it was a challenge that I needed to take up.
How do you handle junior staff who are older than you?
It’s not as challenging as it was when I just started. It’s better now because my work speaks for me. Just know your craft well enough to earn respect even if people don’t like you.
Are you a feminist? What’s your take on feminism?
Yes, I am a feminist and my favourite definition of feminism by Mo Augusto is “a woman’s right to choose.” Why is the agency of women even a debate? We need to understand that women are equally human beings. No human being should tell another human being how to live his or her life, especially when it diminishes the other party.
What’s your advice to younger generation of women?
Understand that you are worthy of whatever you desire. You must work hard, be smart and persevere. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, be patient, be with people that make you better and continue seeking for opportunities. If you must compromise on your dreams, carefully consider the cost.
What do you think about the Nigerian Media and how we tell our stories to the world?
Given the infrastructure available to journalists in Nigeria, I think we are not doing badly. You can imagine if the resources were better, how much we could achieve.
Do you think that social media is taking over journalism?
No. I see social media as a platform to showcase our journalism skills. The fact that everyone is blogging does not make them journalists. What makes a journalist stand out is the ability to deliver objective, factual, ethical and value adding stories and not everyone can do that.
How do we handle the increasing cases of suicide in Nigeria?
There is a need to create more awareness on mental health and stop the stigmatization of those suffering from depression and all forms of mental disorders. There is also need to provide support for people facing this challenge. I think one of the biggest problems is that we live in a superficial society and we place unhealthy value on material things. I think focus needs to shift to the innate qualities of human beings.
What do we do to address the numerous cases of child abuse?
We are seeing an Increase in the cases of child abuse in Nigeria, so something has gone wrong and we need to address it as soon as possible. In Africa, a child was looked after by community and whether the parent was there or not, the child was often protected. It is important that society develops practical ways of providing care for victims of child abuse. Many grow up with stigma and long-term effects even in adulthood. It is also apparent that many people don’t fully understand what sexual abuse is. Some cases go unreported. So there’s need for a total re-education and appropriate punishment taken against those who are found guilty of child abuse.
What’s your biggest fear? Not living my purpose.
Not doing what God created me to do.
What’s the biggest lesson life has taught you?
Life has taught me to pray always, to take good care of myself, to be patient and humble, to be extremely focused, to seize opportunities, to surround myself with people that care for me, and to constantly re-train myself.
Have you always wanted to be a journalist?
I wanted to be a surgeon and a writer. Hence my writing led me to journalism
Are there things you still desire in life?
Absolutely. My life has just started.
What’s your biggest mistake in life?
It’s the summary of all the mistakes I have made. That’s putting myself in situations where I didn’t value myself enough. I call it self-sabotage. But I am learning from them.
Tell us about your formative years
I am the first child, so I have what some call the first-child syndrome that makes me feel responsible for everybody and everything. But the good thing is that it made me a leader early. However, it comes with putting so much pressure oneself if not managed well. I’m from a middle class family and my parents gave us good education.
When should we expect wedding bells from Toyosi?
What’s your leisure like?
I sleep, travel, go to the spa, cook and hang out with friends.
What kind of outfits do you relax more in?
Dresses! I love dresses, they are easy to wear.
Who is your kind of man?
A man I can love, honour and respect not because of what he has, but because of who he is. A self-aware, responsible man that can lead our family and is constantly working on himself. A man who has empathy; someone who is respectful and kind. A man who loves God with all his heart and with whom I share similar values and is pro-women.
Can you marry a musician?
I am not answering that question, Lol.
Do you like music?
I listen to a lot of Gospel music these days. Every night I listen to Prospa Ochimana’s Ekueme, Nathaniel Bassey, Mercy Chinwo and others. I believe that the music I listen to has a powerful influence over my life.
Do you watch Nigerian movies?
No, I hardly watch movies.
What does style mean to you?
Comfort and understanding your body structure.
What’s your favorite meal?
I really like Okro soup, I don’t recall ever saying no to Okro, lol. I like rice and seafood meals. I eat a lot beans if I cook it myself. I like cakes too, that’s another thing I don’t say no to.
What about your favourite colour?
I really don’t have a favourite colour, if an outfit looks nice on me, I’ll wear it.
Do you have a nickname?
Yes, I do. My friends call me TY.
Do you have a favourite designer?
I wear a lot of LadyMaker and some DFL. I also love Lanre DaSilva but I haven’t really worn her designs until now. Even though these are my favourite designers, I am open to exploring new and upcoming designers.