Wednesday, 31st May 2023

Remembering Frances Adebajo (1931-2021) : An ace broadcaster

By Kunle Adebajo
09 April 2022   |   1:51 am
One year on, we remember the life of one of the nation’s broadcasting pioneers, the late Chief (Mrs.) Frances Adesunmola Adebajo. She was born on June 8, 1931 and died on April 9, 2021.

One year on, we remember the life of one of the nation’s broadcasting pioneers, the late Chief (Mrs.) Frances Adesunmola Adebajo. She was born on June 8, 1931 and died on April 9, 2021.

We also reflect on the unexpected career path of someone, who as a young girl considered herself to be very shy, but ended up being beamed on television into the homes of thousands of people.

At the age of 19, the then shy brilliant Miss Frances Adekoya had obtained her Grade II Teachers’ Certificate. This rare feat at such an early age seemed to be a predictor of a bright teaching and educational career ahead. Teaching required advance preparation, which was a skill. Frances possessed and she excelled in her teaching career, leading to her even being posted to teach in her teacher training alma mater, the United Missionary College. However, after 14 years of teaching, further studies and working for a few months as an education officer in the civil service, her professional trajectory took a totally different course.

In 1964, Frances having been married for just over seven years to her beloved husband, the late Chief Samson Afolabi Adebajo, returned from the United Kingdom who had been posted there for about four years. On getting back to their base in Ibadan, Mrs. Frances Adebajo opted to join her husband in the Western region civil service and work as an education officer. This would give her time to find her feet and help settle the family before continuing her teaching career. One day, her husband came home saying that he had heard that they were recruiting for the new first in Africa broadcasting stations, Western Nigeria Television and Western Nigeria Broadcasting Service (WNTV/WNBS), and encouraged her to apply. Although Frances was up for an adventure, she couldn’t quite imagine herself on screen, however with much persuasion from her husband she put in an application. She was called for an interview on September 15, 1964 at WNTV.

Prior to the interview she had been told that there were no vacancies, however she made such an excellent impression at the interview that a role was immediately created for her.

How would this shy young lady take on this new challenge? She had no previous formal media training and, with less than a handful of female Nigerian broadcasters, there was no one to emulate. Suffice to say, unknown to her, God had already prepared her and was working out His purpose for her life. She often said: “My background as a teacher helped me tremendously as I was used to writing lesson notes, so writing a script in preparation for the TV presentation was for me no big deal. Besides, I had grown to know, through my mother, the beauty of hard work and I had by then developed the philosophy that any assignment well prepared is half accomplished.”

Indeed, it was not surprising that her broadcasting career flourished: her hard work, the combination of her teaching skills, diction, wit, and personable nature were the perfect ingredients for broadcasting and the shyness immediately disappeared.

Frances Adebajo had found her niche – her God destined career.
She started off in charge of women and children’s programmes. She produced and hosted a range of programmes both on radio and television. She delivered them with great precision, recognising that with them being mostly broadcast live there was no margin for error. She recounted her first time on air presenting a programme designed for children; it was called “One with Children”. Apart from feeling at ease in relating and interacting well with the children due to her teaching experience, she did not find being on air as daunting since she recognised it was all about team work. This is what
she took on board when hosting that first programme, and when asked about the experience said:

“Before I went on air, I remembered that I was not the only one in the studio, you have people in front and at the back. I happen to just be in front of the camera at that time, but you can imagine those who are behind; not only the person holding the camera but those who are in the control room; punching buttons, saying stand by camera one, stand by camera two, coming unto you camera one and so on. Many people were working behind the scenes, so it wasn’t too frightening.”

In 1967, she was one of the first female Nigerians to officially attend a broadcasting course in Australia and her career continued to grow. Based on her excellent performance, the confidence she exuded, and the way she shone in the midst of a male dominated workforce, her suggestion to create a feature programme for women was fully supported. She was already a well known face on children’s programmes, she took the simplicity required for working with children blending it with her teaching skills of drawing out the best of those she interviewed, as well as her home economics training, and crafted the WNTV “It’s a Woman’s World!”. This programme became her hallmark at WNTV and was extremely popular. The programme had a bit of everything in it, current and documentary affairs, family and professional issues and practical home-keeping, often including a cooking demonstration.

During her time in WNTV/WNBS, she was one of a few black women on radio and television globally, and was specially invited by the United States President Richard Nixon to the White House as part of the 20th anniversary celebrations of American women on radio and television.

After 10 years at WNTV/WNBS, she moved to Lagos with her husband who had been appointed the first non-expatriate executive Director of Dunlop Nigeria Industries Ltd. She continued her broadcasting career by joining the NTV-NBC/NTA Headquarters, Lagos. Again, she was able to create a new fan base in Lagos through her hosting, producing, and directing children and youth programmes among which was the popular “Animal Games”.

Mr Wole Akinosho, creator of the game show, acknowledged that it was Mrs. Adebajo who not only chose the Animal Games proposal over another one, but scheduled in this new children’s programme that became an instant hit. Once more, Mrs. Adebajo created a women’s current affairs programme, “Feminine Fancies”, which was a great favourite for women (and men!). Her dedication and attention to detail earned her the name “Mama Meticulous” by NTA colleagues.

Her sense of fulfillment in her broadcasting career banished every hint of shyness in her and pushed her into the limelight. She met people from all walks of life – young, old, rich, not so rich, globally renowned, and just “ordinary” people. She was at ease with everyone regardless of their background.

After her retirement from NTA in 1987 as Director of Programmes, she provided cameo appearances on programmes and continued to offer advice and mentorship to young up and coming broadcasters. Her contribution to the broadcasting profession has been invaluable. She was a trailblazer on every front; the content of the programmes she produced enriched the minds of viewers and broadened the outlook of new and aspiring broadcasters. One year on, we continue to remember and celebrate the legacy of an exemplary pioneer broadcaster, Chief (Mrs.) Frances Adesunmola Adebajo.

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