UNESCO says that radio helps to shape our lives. But in MamaYe, radio does more than shaping; it saves lives.
In the northern states of Nigeria, transistor radio is ubiquitous. The way that the northerners clutch their transistor radios makes one feel as if they listen to radio more than the rest of the nation. But, it is a good attitude because they have access to information as radio broadcasts reach them in the market, on their farms, under the coolness that shades from tree leaves provide, and just anywhere they may be.
This realisation played a critical role in series of advocacy activities that led to why, in 2016, Bauchi State allocated 15% of their total budget to health, fulfilling the Abuja +12 declaration of allocation of 15% to health. Nigeria signed the declaration with other Heads of African Union countries in 2001.
Bauchi State is in the northeast of Nigeria, and it has one of the worst maternal and newborn mortality statistics, with maternal mortality ratio of 1,549/100,000 live births, compared to 165/100,000 live births in the southwest (DHS 2013). Successful call to reverse and improve this ratio was partly contributed via radio, and hugely impacted people’s consciousness influenced by radio.
Before he was transferred to another radio station in Yola, Dahiru Garba Muhammed was the General Manager of Globe FM, Bauchi. He was a member of Bauchi State Accountability for Maternal and Newborn Health (BASAM), which MamaYe Nigeria convened. As part of contributing to the call on the Bauchi State government to allocate 15% of the State’s budget to health, Dahiru used live radio debate with governorship aspirants to secure commitment on key issues as health.
I understand the need to set the agenda for the incoming administration.
Immediately the governor, Muhammad Abdullahi Abubakar came into office, one of the lines he toed was setting up a 5-point agenda for health in Bauchi State. This was a direct indication of the influence advocacies such as the live radio debate had.
Although Dahiru warned that one should not rule out the genuine commitment and interest of the executive, he worked even harder to drive home the commitment to maternal and newborn health. After the governor set up his 5-point health agenda, Dahiru, twice, provided free radio airtime to BASAM to continue their advocacy efforts, to give the government the reason to allocate 15% to health.
Listeners phoned in, spoke to their representatives, asked questions and demanded government’s commitment to maternal and newborn health improvement.
The radio broadcasts had members from the BASAM activists, the Bauchi State Chairmen of Committee on Health and Budget and Appropriation. Dahiru said the government was convinced on the platform, especially after listening to the cry of their people.
Dahiru said he could confirm that the radio advocacies contributed but there could be other factors.
"I don’t have a specific tool to gauge the influence of radio affecting the allocation, but our live transmissions, free airtime and other interactions contributed because the government was able to hear the concerns of the citizens as we pushed issues that had electoral valueshe said. We have somehow influenced this (allocation)".
Radio has the capacity to influence beyond boundaries. According to Dahiru, Globe FM is the most listened to in northeast Nigeria, with the signal received in other States. When asked if such advocacy activities for maternal and newborn health on his radio station could have influenced the conscience of people in the neighbouring States, he responded that
I wouldn’t know if the activities influenced other State governments but there were calls from those other States while our programme was going on live.
So if there were calls from other States, it was only a matter of time those States would be calling on their governments too to follow the good example in Bauchi State.
Similar issue cut for Abdullahi, the man manning the gate at the MamaYe Office in Kano in 2012. Abdullahi said
I listen to news over the radio always, and programmes that concern women and child delivery and other issues about babies.
Abdullahi was a father of 5 who didn’t really know about the importance of antenatal care attendance for pregnant women or having babies delivered at a healthcare facility. But when his wife got pregnant for the 6th time, he decided that antenatal care and facility-based delivery were mandatory for her.
But one would ask why it was necessary to decide at the point he did. When all his 5 children were safely born at home, what advantage would antenatal care and facility-based delivery add?
Not many people have been lucky like me and my wife. When you become informed, you should do what is right and stop counting on luck.
Two things motivated Dahiru to champion the cause for adequate budget allocation to the health sector. He said, "I am a convert for this cause as I come face to face with the needs of the health sector. I realise that we cannot leave the government and the NGOs to it alone. As a media man, I realised that I have a greater role than the government because while government is transient, I remain here. Secondly I have the tool to influence public opinion on maternal and newborn health".
In 2017, Bauchi State went 1% higher, allocating 16% to health!
While this has worked on the government side, this story is a manifestation of how a journalist used radio to develop communities on health.
For MamaYe, radio is significant in public accountability and community advocacy to improve maternal and newborn health. The significance of the World Radio Day 2017 is the realisation that radio continues to be strong and relevant in the communities where we work. It will continue to shape opinions and save lives.