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‘Training at CNN was a great experience’

By Gregory Austin Nwakunor
28 October 2017   |   3:48 am
The lady, who won the ELOY Presenter of the Year (Radio) in 2013, and also, the Honor Award for Africa Development in 2016, says being very close to her family has contributed to her success.

Tolulope Adeleru Balogun

In the last few years, talented young Nigerians have stormed the media industry, with a few of them standing out. Tolulope Adeleru Balogun is one of them. Since graduating top of her class with an honours degree in Mass Communication, she has continued to improve her skills with training. She is a CNN Journalism fellow and has also completed training with some of the best in the field, from organisations such as the BBC, VOA and Al-Jazeera. Understanding the role of social media in today’s journalism, she has received training on ‘Journalism and the New Media Tools’. Tolulope widened her scope of knowledge, particularly concerning conflict and uprisings around the world, with a certificate in ‘Peace and Conflict Resolution’ from the Kofi Annan International Peace-Keeping Training Centre. The young and beautiful lady speaks with GREGORY AUSTIN NWAKUNOR on her experience and success as a broadcaster.

Lollying on a sofa, her legs tucked beneath, Tolulope Adeleru Balogun focused her eyes on the programme on air. She wore a floral print gown, which made her look like a teenager. If you didn’t look closely, you would hardly notice that the lady is a mother. But sure, she is. She has one kid.

The youngest of four girls born to Rev. (Dr.) and Mrs. Adeleru in Ogbomoso, Oyo State, Tolulope grew up mainly in the US and came back to Nigeria some years ago. She started her education in the United States, because her family moved there when she was very young.

“It was an absolute culture shock to be honest,” she gushes in earthly, soulful tunes. Her telephone beeps, and she takes permission to receive the call.

She adds, “I did primary and secondary or rather high school in the US. We started off living in Kentucky, but then moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where we stayed till we returned to Nigeria. I attended Hume-Fogg Academic Magnet High School, a school for gifted students and I’m a very proud alumnus of the school.”

She continues, “it is one of the best 50 high schools to attend in the US for years running. Laid a fantastic foundation that I’ve built my work ethic and success on. When we returned to Nigeria I entered Bowen University in Iwo, Osun State. I graduated best in my department and second best in my faculty. It was a challenging experience because the school was new and facilities were just being built, but those challenges helped shape me. Bowen has developed incredibly since then, and I’m very proud to be part of the school’s pioneer set.”

The lady, who won the ELOY Presenter of the Year (Radio) in 2013, and also, the Honor Award for Africa Development in 2016, says being very close to her family has contributed to her success.

Tolulope, who is currently head of presenters for the Lagos station of Nigeria Info, says her main job is hosting Morning Crossfire, which is the station’s flagship. “It’s a programme that delves into political, economic, social, educational, health issues and discussions as it concerns Nigerians. We work to connect the dots and give Nigerians the ability to air their thoughts on all issues.”

Working with NN24 was ‘truly amazing’. She says, “the training was first class. I haven’t seen training of that kind for any startup media organisation in Nigeria. We built a family with my NN24 colleagues. There was this beautiful dream we all bought into.”

While at NN24, she was chosen for an exchange programme with CNN. She reveals, “CNN partners with media organisations around the world. And a few times a year, those organisations pick people to go to the head office and do a three-week fellowship, learning the ins and outs of CNN. No holds barred, all access to shows, producers, anchors, everything. That experience was truly like no other. I got to interview Richard Quest, have a session with Christiane Amanpour, and go behind the scenes with Aisha Sesay and Hala Gorani, and more. We sat in on production meetings. The work that goes on in producing one of their shows is amazing. We really don’t have a full appreciation of what they do unless we get that access. I met Ted Turner, the founder of CNN and he took us to dinner and answered all our questions. I really solidified my desire to work in TV news.”

Referred to as a full package by one of her NN24 trainers, she says, “it basically means I do it, but more importantly, I do it all well. I script, produce, edit my shows myself. I can report on a story and turn my hat and become a newscaster. I produce for others as well and am a content creator. There’s nowhere you put me in the newsroom that I cannot perform. NN24 taught us to shoot and edit our own stories, basically be all-rounders. Those learning experiences are things I have built on up to today.”

Tolulope hosts a political radio show on Nigeria Info that has been enjoyed critical reviews and high ratings by listeners. You’ll wonder whether she has any political experience prior to hosting the show. “I’ve always been more interested in politics and hard news stories than entertainment and lifestyle. I have my dad to thank for that. During my internships in school, I was covering political beats and the diplomatic scene later on for ITV Abuja, when I worked there after NYSC. So, I had had experience before becoming host of Morning Crossfire.”

For Tolulope, politics in Nigeria doesn’t give the best of the best. She reveals there are some many behind the scenes things at play, which Nigerians have to take more active note of. “We can’t be only concerned about voting and think our duty as citizens is done when we vote every four years. But to be honest, I have seen a change in that. Nigerians are demanding more accountability and transparency. There is progress on how political involved Nigerians are but the road is long and steep.”

On women participation in politics in Nigeria, she says, “it is not as good as it could be, at all. We, as a country, are only slowing our progress denying women the ability to participate in politics. Even the percentage we gave ourselves to meet, we haven’t met. That being said, women have to become more vocal and demanding. No one will give you a seat at the table, even when you show that you belong. You have to take that seat sometimes.”

Does she believe there are gender issues when it comes to female journalism in Nigeria?
She has this to say: “I believe the gender issues are the same women face in journalism around the world. I don’t believe it’s particularly any different.”

She, however, says the Nigerian media industry needs to do some self-evaluation. According to the lady, “the time has come for practitioners and media owners to look at where we’re coming from, what’s in front of them now, and what’s ahead of them and work. Nigeria’s media has a great history, but what has been passed down to the next generation of reporters, editors, newscasters, etc.? Social media has brought a new dimension to the space and it has to be embraced but also done so that journalistic integrity and what media organizations stand for is not thrown out the door. Training and retraining has to be emphasized. Salary and welfare has to be looked out. Pay your staff better, take care of them. There has been some progress, but truth is with the tools available to us now, it should be better. So there is much to be done.”

For Tolulope, in her 10 years career as a broadcaster, her interview with the governor of Kaduna State, Nasir el-Rufai stands out. That was early in 2017. The interview was one of the highlights of Social Media Week and was in a packed hall. I took him up on his infamous tweet and I believe that was the first time the governor had gone a record with some sort of explanation regarding the tweet. Asked him questions on some highly charged issues and also had to moderate when the audience was also to ask him questions. Definitely memorable. Another one is interviewing then governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola a few years ago. Another is that interviewing CNN’s Richard Quest twice. First during my CNN Fellowship and then when he came to Nigeria. I’m probably one of the few people who got to put him on the hot seat.”

Aside from her media duties, Tolulope loves cooking and eating. She says, “my friends claim I make them gain weight, because I’m always saying ‘let’s go try this new place I just heard about.’ I love reading. It is a gift that my father bestowed on me. It is something I will always cherish. It takes you away from your own life and gives you an escape, especially when it’s authors like James Patterson or Collen McCullough.”

Embarrassing moment in front of the camera on a live show?
“Wow, let me see. I remember when NN24 had the Presidential Debate and I was the anchor in the studio. My mic battery pack was placed at the back on my pants and was jabbing me and was very uncomfortable. So I thought they had gone back to the debate in Abuja, but apparently I was live on air. And I reached behind me to adjust the battery pack and it looked like another thing. I was also monitoring social media that day and people had a field day. They said the anchor (me) was scratching her butt on live TV. I was so pissed that MCR didn’t warn me that I was live. Very horrific moment there,” she says.