Toun Okewale Sonaiya: Voice of women
Toun Okewale Sonaiya is a media entrepreneur and broadcaster who has practised in Nigeria and London. Her WFM 91.7 is the first women-centric radio station in West Africa. In this interview with Guardian Woman, she discusses the motivation behind WFM and the vision she has for the radio station.
At what point did you decide you wanted to start a specialised radio station for women?
Precisely 2010 when 2 of my directors and I decided to activate our vision for a female-centric radio station, something different to complement existing radio stations. We applied to NBC under St. Ives Communications Ltd. In June 2016 we got a license and to the Glory of God within 6 months – on 18th of December 2016 – we launched.
What was the gap that you felt WFM would be filling? Are you satisfied with your achievement so far?
In 2012, we did a study on radio as a tool for women development in Nigeria. We targeted women in the corporate world, businesswomen and female students of tertiary institutions. The study showed a gap for a women radio and identified only 17. 5 percent of existing radio programmes are targeted at women. 73 percent of the women we spoke to complained of unbalanced women programmes. They want more programmes to discuss business, money matters, politics, and career and not just women being seen as victims of domestic violence.
From that study, 75 percent did not like the content on existing stations are prejudiced one-sided and not representative of the total woman. We knew immediately there’s a need for a women radio station and wanted to fill the gap. 77 percent women said if programming focused more on representing a complete picture of the woman, they would not just listen but will participate. They want more women involved in radio management, production, and presentation, particularly women from different backgrounds, which is what we have done here representing the north, south, south-south and east. Our vision is to use radio as a tool for women development with a mission to be the leading, trusted and reliable source on all that pertains to the woman and all that concerns her. We are achieving this through the hard work of colleagues and partners. We are grateful.
You once remarked that you had to re-mortgage your house in London to fund the founding of the station. Would you say the risk has paid off?
The risk I have taken to actualise the dream of WFM91.7 goes beyond just financial. The reference to financials is one that can be quantifiable but other non-quantifiable aspects which is more important and crucial would include the huge sacrifices my family has made in supporting me actualise the dream and they continue to sacrifice to ensure success is achieved. WFM91.7 is privately and 100% funded by its directors. If one factor in the impact of the recession, I would say it will take a little while to break even, but we are thankful for the support.
How easy was it for you to secure the operating license for the station?
“Easy” is not a word I would associate with trying to secure a license to operate a radio station in Nigeria. The journey was very demanding. I was shuttling between London, Lagos and Abuja. The waiting was so long and I was ready to wait for Godot. There were stringent conditions to be met by NBC. I can confirm that I did not have to give a kobo nor gift for the license to be approved. NBC gave guidance and advice to ensure our application was compliant. Sadly, there was neither godfather nor godmother to pull strings for me all through the long wait. Only God Almighty above that made it possible. We made presentations to the government and all stakeholders on the need for a women radio station and the history Nigeria will make in operating the first of its kind.
Running a media business like a radio station does not come cheap. How have you managed to run it successfully for a whole year?
That is absolutely correct. It is not cheap and has taken a lot of hard work especially from colleagues and directors and making tough decisions, which sometimes seem harsh but are very necessary to ensure the survival of WFM91.7. I can talk about various challenges for hours but the crucial one is to convince the corporate world to come along this journey with us. Their support is vital to our survival just like any other commercial organisation but more so that WFM91.7 is so young. We are grateful as some have quickly bought into our vision and support us relentlessly.
St Ives Communications, under 7 which WFM 91.7 was launched, was granted a license to operate in just two states – Ogun and Lagos. Are you planning to establish a physical presence in other parts of Nigeria, apart from live streaming your programmes?
Our target audience is global. Women and their families are not limited to Lagos and Ogun states. We are in Nigeria, Africa, and the world. We will by the grace of God be in all geopolitical zones of Nigeria. If the opportunity comes along, we will be in Africa and the world.
WFM identifies itself as the voice of Nigerian women. Since the start of your operation in 2015, how much of impact do you think WFM has made in championing the cause of the Nigerian woman?
The cause of Women is neither singular nor static. It is a movement. Aside from our radio programmes that focus on different women causes, we engage and partner with various agencies, organisations, and individuals on female-centric workshops and seminars to address female-centric causes. These include gender inequality, financial inclusion and support, access to quality health, child marriage, education, widowhood, vulnerable elders, abuse, domestic violence, displaced women etc. We condemn the abuse of women and children in any form and will continually work with all to fight against it
You are marking the first anniversary of the station with a conference on December 9. What are the talking points to expect?
The theme of Conference is ‘Facing our future together’. The theme itself is hinged on what we called FATE. FATE is an acronym for Finance, Agriculture, Technology and Entertainment, these being the sectors we have to focus on to grow the Nigerian economy. Speakers on the day will be experts and authorities in these fields that will charge and motivate us to collectively and individually make a change in Nigeria and make the country great again. We have our fate in our hands, and coupled with our individual faith, we must work hard to change things for the better. Speakers include Sola David-Borha (StanbicIBTC,) Waheed Olagunju (Bank of Industry), Bolaji Akinboro (Cellulant), Dele Amoda (Eko Disco), Richard Mofe-Damijo, Funke Akindele, Dr Zainab Bagudu and Erelu Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi.
Mrs. Foloruso Alakija is chairperson with Mrs. Aisha Buhari wife of President as the special guest of honour.
What are the growth potentials of WFM as a brand that you will be pursuing in the near future?
Our future ability to generate larger profits, expand our workforce and increase our revenue base is not one of tradition, especially in the present economic downturn.
My expectation for success is driven by hard work, quantitative and qualitative measures for expansion readiness. Job profiling and training is key to achieving this and we are putting this in place. We are a growing company with profitable investment opportunities. WFM91.7 is not just a brand but also a tool for the development of women and her family. The role of the woman as the nucleus of the family gives WFM91.7 the opportunity to influence some of those decisions. Be it through decisions on household budget management, policies, relationships, financial management, preferred schools for the children, family planning on medicals, preferred household brands, banks, telecoms etc. and for advertisers to utilise this.
Who is Toun Okewale Sonaiya?
I’m married with children. The broadcast journey started at age 7 with Ogun Radio, Abeokuta and took me through BCOS, NTA Ibadan, Ray Power and AIT Lagos and Choice FM now Capital radio in London. I have worked with women battling various challenges such as trafficked women, female ex-offenders, singles parents, women fleeing domestic violence etc. for 12 years, which largely influenced the birth of WFM91.7. I have a degree in English. I am the 4th of 5 dynamic children. My dad, my hero, who was a broadcaster, is late. My 80-year-old mum, the disciplinarian and retired teacher, is still very active running a mini-mart, driving herself and still partying. I enjoy a bowl of garri and roasted groundnuts.