‘I wanted a platform that can be part of the ‘Online Revolution’ in Nigeria’

Joy Isi Bewaji

Her first entrant into the creative space is a collection of short stories, Eko Dialogue back in 2009. A writer and feminist, Joy Isi Bewaji, is one young, restless soul, who is forever pushing the boundaries to their elastic limits and more. A big feminist campaigner, Bewaji will, in March, feature in ‘The Conversation’ at Harvard University, Boston, U.S. and speak on African Feminism. She is the founder of online radio, and Managing Editor, Happenings magazine. Bewaji previously worked as Assistant Editor at Genevieve magazine, presenter of ‘City Lifestyle with Joy’ at City FM 105.1, a former Editor at Spice and Today’s Woman (TW). Theatre is the new space of creative expression Bewaji is currently appropriating to vent her ideas that are constantly challenging the status quo for society to arrive at a new place of equilibrium for both men and women alike. Story of My Vagina is her first foray into playwriting while Wedding Blues recently won her accolades at the Lagos Theatre Festival 2017 Playwriting Competition sponsored by British Council, Lagos. In this interview, Bewaji gives insight into her projects and her relentless drive for a better country to emerge out of the chaos that currently characterizes her beloved Nigeria

Congratulations on the coming anniversary of Happenings Radio! How does it feel celebrating your first anniversary?
It feels good. Many “Nigerian challenges” but we are standing. And if you stand, you can still accomplish a lot.

What inspired the Internet radio idea and how have you found strength to carry through?
I wanted a platform that can be part of the “online revolution” in Nigeria. We have blogs making a lot of impact. There’s Twitter, which is credited to have played a big role in gathering millenials to vote for Buhari. There’s Facebook and the amazing numbers you can achieve. So an online radio seemed like a good idea, to give voice to all of the opportunities and associations building virtually.

One year in the life of an organisation in today’s Nigeria is an important one. Just how important is it to you?
It is important because it allows you to review your business. You get the opportunity to exhale and make certain decisions moving forward. As a lifestyle media company, we enjoy the privilege of rebranding as often as possible to move with the fast and restless market seeking new attraction every moment. Yes, a year’s anniversary is a big deal in a business clime like Nigeria.

Could you describe the take off point? Just how exhilarating or frustrating was it?
It was crazy, but I was determined. Our frustration rests with electricity and Internet, both abysmal failures and disastrous results in Nigeria. We have bought two generators to make up for a non-existent power sector. Exhilarating because we see our vision come to life, our mission take flight. We want better facilities in the country so we can run bigger dreams… until then we shall continue to stand regardless.

Just how different is Internet radio from terrestrial radio?
Internet radio is the future. Everybody is online. Well, that so-not-exactly true because of the lack of education in Nigeria. Only a paltry 15 million Nigerians are online. In a country of over 170 million people, that is poor. But sit 15 million people, there’s a lot that can be achieved. It’s a number that deserves new entertainment. Nigerians can be found all over the world. Online radio speaks directly to diasporas, bridging the gap with the happenings at home. This nostalgia is attended to via our platform.

Who listens to Internet radio anyway? How much of that demography is Nigerian?
As long as you are on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat… as long as you read blogs and news websites, then you are one click away from subscribing to online radio. It is for a virtual audience, who are already engaging powerfully online.

What are the challenges of running such an outfit?
Electricity and Internet are demons in our lives.

What is your programme schedule and to which target audience?
We target mainly 24 to 35 year olds. The upwardly mobile Nigerians working in a 9-to-5 job; aspirational individuals, enlightened, seeking more knowledge; Nigerians who travel once in a while, who are curious, skeptic, smart, cosmopolitan.

You’re big on feminism and women’s issues. How much of this features in your programming?
I run my own show and my truths come through effortlessly. I do not, however, dictate the content of other presenters.

One year old and still counting. What next do you envision for Happenings Radio, say in five years’ time?
An important voice online. A credible media company. Proper acknowledgment for our work. Respect. A voice to lead a strong message. That message is something we are still working on. We are getting to know ourselves and abilities better everyday.

Any planned collaborations? Will you add Internet TV to the bouquet?
Yes, definitely. That is something we are working on. We are working on building a media empire.

You wrote a book a few years back and it’s been quiet ever since. What’s coming next?
I am putting over 400 of my rants in a book. My social rebellion of sorts will be available in a compilation.

Your recent stage play is Story of My Vagina. Is theatre your newfound love, both for artistic and feminist expressions?
I had a good review of the play I sent in for British Council scriptwriting competition last year. Prof. Ahmed Yerima and Wole Oguntokun had great things to say about my entry. Brenda Uphopho, a very successful producer of stage plays, loved my script. That, of course, is all the push I needed. I find plays to be very useful for the issues I talk about. I have a good friendship with Segun Adefila, and Crown Troupe of Africa has interpreted my rants on stage in the past. So, yes, I am going to make good use of theatre to continue to address the issues that plague society.

What follows next?
We want to take Story of My Vagina around schools and communities. As usual, sponsorship is something we shall explore to make that happen.
You are a regular at book events and festivals. What do you make of Nigerian book environment? Is it living up to the hype? What is exactly wrong with it? Any remedies?

We have brilliant writers. I love the conversations at these festivals. I love the space. Mostly because I can step in and then step out quickly. An overdose would make me critical, and I am already too critical about many things. I may not be the right person to speak to about demerits and remedies of the Nigerian Literati. Apart from the fact that the industry is poor, I am a huge fan of great writing and brilliant sentences… and it is hard for me to fault anyone who comes with that.

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