Ndidi Osaka was employed as a librarian at te Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) in 1978, fresh out of secondary school. But for as long as she could recall, she had dreamed of a career in broadcasting and she didn’t plan to settle for less. “I didn’t find my calling in the library,” she told The Daily Report’s Ify Onyegbule, who led a team to interview her. “I wasn’t challenged.”
Within a short time, and after featuring in a few programmes, she got her dream job. Her superiors approved her crossover to the studio at Radio Nigeria and she was put through the necessary training. Shortly, she earned her place behind the microphone, hosting or co-hosting different light entertainment programmes, a few of them in Pidgin English.
“Join the Bandwagon was one of the programmes that brought me to limelight,” she recalls. “My Character was called Mama Caro, and John Chukwu of blessed memory was a part of it. I was the only woman then.”
A series of other programmes followed, including I salute Una and Longthroat Junction, a radio drama set in a typical Lagos canteen that attempted to mirror everyday society, while entertaining and educating the audience. The fact that the station operated out of the very busy Martins Street in the Balogun/ Idumota area provided lots of materials for scripting the shows.
“Especially when you get on the 7t floor, you will see Lagos at its best—the city on another level,” Osaka says.
And though fully engaged day to day, Osaka remained restless. She had a drive that needed to be tapped. She wanted to do more on air. “You know, as a broadcaster you just wanted to get the attention of everybody, to look for something to keep people busy, something they can be happy about,” she says. “So I was always looking for something to ginger me up, something that would affect a fellow human being.”
She was essentially motivated by happenings in Lagos. On her daily commute from and to the office, she encountered many situations that bothered her: residents destroying public infrastructure; Lagosians defecating in public spaces; street urchins attacking and robbing innocent people. Landlords were so wicked: if a tenant owed rent, they would remove the roof, usually in the rainy season. In the market, the traders were cheating on you.”
And there were the institutional failures. “When you got home, there would be no light. Water was not running; and then the roads were bad. Everywhere was dirty. The police were cheating on people, arresting people and collecting money illegally. These things were happening, but who was talking about them? I realised that bringing all of these to the public’s knowledge and that of government was my own way of campaigning about the ills of the society, to give the downtrodden a voice. And that was how I came up with the idea for I Beg Una.”
So Osaka wrote a proposal, detailing her vision and motivation for a 30-minute pidgin programme, which she submitted to management. She was invited to defend it at a planning conference, which was standard practice.
“The Director-General at the time Atilade Atoyebi approved, but he had a concern about who was to host it, which was me. He wanted to know if I was mature enough to handle the public on my own; my bosses in Lagos said yes. That was how I Beg Una came to be. It was first aired on 1st October, 1995 –25 years ago.”
Osaka shared her encounters across Lagos on the listenership, some of whom also called into the studio to complain about sundry issues in their neighbourhoods. The show was an instant hit.
“The very first day, it aired for 30 minutes. On that first day, we received over 35 calls during the programme and even after it had ended. Even after the programme, people trooped to 45 Martins Street. They wanted to see who the lady hosting the programme was. By the following week, management increased the slot to one hour. And soon after, it aired twice weekly, so I was advised to get a co-host.”
Besides the commendations that poured in from the public, I Beg Una also impressed a newly-appointed Director-General years later, in the person of Eddie Iroh.
“I beg Una was on Metro FM the first day he resumed as DG at the Broadcasting House in Ikoyi, so he listened. Afterwards, he said: ‘This is the most beautiful programme on air. It’s a fearless programme. Two years after I Beg Una started, it won an award. That was when the entire Lagos knew that there was a programme like that. And other FM stations began to join the show.”
With the applause also came institutions fighting back, all of which the programmed weathered and remains on air to date. Osaka says she plans to mark the 25th anniversary of the show later in October.
“I thank God for bringing it this far.”