Excerpt from the Book "Out of The Shadows: Exile and the struggle for freedom & democracy in Nigeria"


Kayode Fayemi

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Funding Radio Kudirat

It is a common denominator in mass communication and there was an estimate of about 40 million radio sets, classified into sets in hi-fis, car and transistors at the time we were establishing Radio Kudirat.

The arrival of the short wave radio with a nation-wide reach was therefore timely even if overdue and it coincided with the deepening of despair within the home based pro-democracy movement following heightened repression by the Nigerian dictatorship as well as a shift of attention from Nigeria in international circles, after the initial outcry which followed the "judicial murder" of Ken Saro Wiwa and his colleagues. In essence, it represented the only ray of hope and the most potent evidence that the Nigerian crisis was not about to disappear overnight, despite the various facades being erected by the Nigerian dictatorship. It was without doubt the most direct message to the military dictatorship, that sooner than later, it will have to dialogue with the real representatives of the Nigerian people. We adhered strictly to the objectives of the radio from the start, namely:

1. To provide an alternative voice to the daily dose of government propaganda that dominated Nigeria?s air-waves under the military regime,
2. To educate and empower the people through well defined messages on democracy, human rights, civic responsibilities and, mass literacy; and,
3. To serve as a means of getting the message across to the military and their supporters that dialogue remains the only option for non-violent change.

With the excitement of our maiden broadcast over, we had to confront the reality of sustaining the operation of Radio Democrat International Nigeria. The first issue to address was the complaint from monitors in Nigeria that reception on the 7125khz, 41-meter band frequency was not clear.

Another immediate feedback received was that the two half-hour broadcast would be better converted to a single hour broadcast. In response to the first problem, we contacted our technical partners, World Radio Network, and they were helpful in securing another frequency - 6205 kilohertz on the 49-meter band, which was deemed to be clearer by our monitors and we kept broadcasting on this frequency until Radio Kudirat rested its operations. After a two half-hour broadcasts, we also changed to a full hour broadcast at 19.00hrs GMT daily (8.p.m. in Nigeria).
With these teething problems sorted, we had to concentrate on management arrangements and the organisational set up. In particular, we had to engage the services of lawyers to assist with establishing an independent charitable foundation to run the operations of the radio in accordance with the agreement reached with our major sponsors, but also because we felt it gave us the opportunity to involve all the major stakeholders. As usual, the fact that NALICON was responsible for setting up the radio and I was primarily the driver of all that was done in establishing the radio, did not go down well with many, particularly some leading players in NADECO. Not that they would have done a better job of it, not that they felt any of the steps taken was wrong but they still felt they had to be involved and grumbled quietly to those who cared to listen to them. As usual, General Alani Akinrinade was as supportive as ever, and always encouraged me to ignore these diversions.

In any case, we had a structure for setting up the independent foundation, which we called Media Empowerment for Africa Foundation. It had Chief Enahoro as the Chair of the Board, Professor Soyinka as a member, the Editor in Chief of Radio Kudirat Nigeria, Mr Johnson as member, myself as Secretary-General of the Foundation and a leading figure in the Norwegian civil society, where the Foundation is registered, as a member. We registered the Foundation in Norway since the bulk of our resources came from the Scandinavia, although the operations remained diverse - encompassing Africa, UK and the Nordic countries particularly. There were those within NADECO who tried to prevail on Chief Enahoro not to accede to chairing the Foundation, except NADECO was put in charge of its running, but good sense prevailed eventually and he was very supportive.

But problems like this did not just come from the political side. There were also legal, technical and financial hiccups at every stage of our operations. In the first place, it turned out that our technical partner - Worldview Rights in Norway wanted to micro-manage our operations, making us totally beholden to it. We didn?t see the point of this, partly because they were being paid for services rendered and the only reason why we needed an intermediary was because Norwegian support was routed through Worldview Rights. Worldview had proposed a Memorandum of Understanding which not only tied us inextricably to it, but also demanded a seat on the Board of the independent Foundation we were to establish to manage the affairs of the Radio. As the key decision makers on these issues, Olaokun and I felt reluctant to allow Worldview a seat on the Board. On our part, we did not see the need for being too closely tied to Worldview, even as we recognised the need to give Worldview sufficient guarantee for the technical services rendered.

This, in our view could be done via an agreement between the procurer and the supplier, between NALICON and Worldview at the start-up phase, and the Foundation and Worldview Rights when established. The fact that funds were routed by one donor through Worldview should not automatically confer the rights of a seat on the Foundation Board to Worldview since none of the donors had requested a seat on the Board. We also noticed that Worldview Rights was enlisting the support of some members of the Radio team whilst using opportunistic argument that their interest was only in ensuring that our perspective represented the views of all stakeholders in the democracy project, not just NALICON?s views. We knew where this came from, and insisted that NALICON was responsible enough to deal with that. After all, it was not Worldview?s business to represent Nigeria?s pro-democrats and we were the ones that approached Worldview Rights for technical services, not any of our colleagues in the movement. Eventually, we solicited and received the support of both the Swedish and Norwegian major funders, who also felt donors, should not dictate the agenda of the democracy movement, and that as long as the resources received were duly accounted for, they (the funders) had no interest seating on the Foundation Board. In any case, since Worldview Rights kept all the resources allocated to the project from the Norwegian side, it was its responsibility to account to Norway for these funds.

Having clarified roles and responsibilities and agreed a Memorandum of Understanding with Worldview Rights though, our technical partner did its best to work with our Radio team, but my own relationship with Worldview was fraught and remained strictly official and professional all through. If nothing else, the help Worldview staff rendered to our radio team was immense and the political support of Worldview Rights?s Board Chairman, Kjell Magne Bondevik (now Norwegian Prime Minister), was immeasurable. I particularly recall my visit with Mr Bondevik to Czechoslovakia for the Charter 77?s twentieth anniversary in January 1997 and the meeting he arranged with George Soros, on that occasion - just to push the case for Soros? support of Radio Kudirat. We knew at the time that Soros was supporting the Burmese opposition radio via Worldview, and indeed, it was my friend, Maureen Aung Thwin, Director of the Soros? Network Burma project, who encouraged me to attend the Prague meeting in the first place. Although our plea for support fell on deaf ear, I was struck by Mr Bondevik?s passion, in spite of the fact that he was leader of opposition and a conservative, ideologically. On the occasion, Mr Soros informed us that he had no intention of extending his involvement in Africa beyond South Africa, and certainly had no interest in our radio project. Barely four years after this encounter, the Soros network began its operation in West Africa with the Open Society Initiative for West Africa, and one of the flagship projects OSIWA embarked upon (still unrealised at the time of writing) was the West Africa Democracy Radio, modelled along the lines of what we had approached him for in 1997. Mr Bondevik was extremely supportive, but Norway didn?t receive any acknowledgement for this support to the democracy movement from a Nigerian government that was the beneficiary of all these efforts, when Mr Bondevik paid an official visit to Nigeria in 2000. Consequently, I wrote an article in The Guardian on the occasion of that visit on "Norway-Nigerian relations", highlighting in a very cryptic manner, all that the Norwegian government and Mr Bondevik, did in pushing the democratic cause in Nigeria.

This said, one of the practical problems we encountered was the duplication of administrative functions between Worldview Rights and the nominal headquarters of the Foundation, MEFA. For the first eighteen months of the project, Worldview largely managed the project finances, and this did not allow MEFA a close enough effective oversight of the overall operations. This meant a decentralisation of certain essential functions such as bookkeeping and synchronising these duplicated efforts affected project management. It also meant that I spent a great deal of my time shuttling between Norway and the UK in the two year period leading to a conclusion on our part that we needed to place both operational and editorial matters under a centralised arrangement that will guarantee sound financial management and operational effectiveness. This eventually happened and the last year of Radio Kudirat?s operations was conducted under this centralised arrangement.

If project management proved an uphill task for reasons highlighted, editorial management proved equally challenging. Our editorial team did a marvellous job under very difficult circumstances, but there was always more that could be done. At the commencement of the project, we recruited two full time radio professionals from Nigeria. Apart from the two, three other people were enlisted in editorial duties. The radio operations maintained two safe houses in Benin republic and Ghana with two key operatives in charge. Inside the country, we had six monitors in the six zones with relevant office equipment - laptops and modems that we purchased and sent to each monitor, although they were also engaged in numerous other activities for the democracy movement. Leaving aside the huge cost of maintaining this complex operation, the cost of running one hour of broadcast was prohibitive and we permanently explored alternative options. So, maintaining the editorial operations was a juggling act, with the need to balance editorial excellence with value for money, always paramount on my mind. We wanted to expand hours of broadcast, on account of the feedback from home, but we knew that we were also dealing with donor fatigue at this stage. So, we decided that it was possible to embark on a gradual but complementary shift from short-wave broadcast to local FM transmission. We also decided to shift to satellite transmission, replacing the more costly ISDN operation and cutting down transmission costs by almost half. The challenge for the editoral side was always how to achieve maximum impact on reduced cost of operations.

All of the challenges we faced hinged on mobilising additional resources as the staff were sufficiently enthusiastic about their work. As already highlighted, the presence of Professor Soyinka helped us significantly in generating interest from a variety of donors, initially. However, even with his involvement, the first year operations of Radio Kudirat Nigeria was funded by just two countries and we knew that this was unsustainable given the capital intensive nature of the project. For us, it was also important that Radio Kudirat maintained a broad and multi-national financial base if we were to function effectively as an independent, professional, democracy radio station dedicated to the promotion of democratic development in Nigeria, in a manner not beholden to any major power or interest group. We were particular about ensuring this diverse base and insisting on a funding constituency that spanned both the public and the private sector - national governments, independent foundations, private companies and individuals. By the second year of operations in 1997, we were able to retain the support of the two countries largely responsible for our operations - Sweden and Norway, but also received some limited support from Wetsminster Foundation for Democracy in the United Kingdom and the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development (now Rights & Democracy) in Canada after I visited their heaquarters in Montreal, Canada.

Prior to this support from the independent foundations though, the late Minister for Special Duties, Alhaji Wada Nas had called a press conference in September 1996 and made a big deal of how the government had finally located Radio Kudirat?s funders. At the time of Wada Nas? press conference, we had not received a dime from either of the two groups mentioned - the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD), even though WFD later contributed to Radio Kudirat in 1997. As usual with the Nigerian government and their agents, the focus was on the big countries, but never the small Nordic countries, yet the Nordic countries had a track record of supporting liberation and democracy movements on the continent, particularly in Southern Africa, even if they never made any noise about their support.

While we made numerous efforts to internationalise and diversify the funding base and reduce our dependence on the original supporters, the clandestine nature of the project had already ruled out some potential funders. Besides, fundraising under normal circumstances is often a highly tasking and expensive business, which often required professional assistance, in terms of application preparation and follow up work. In our case, Olaokun and I were responsible for application preparation most times, with inputs from the radio team, and Professor Soyinka and I were responsible for the follow up with the various funders. I was always reluctant of course to drag Professor Soyinka in until it became absolutely necessary, but he was always ready whenever I called him, even if it meant flying twenty hours, as it did on one particularly desperate occasion, from his base to the destination in question. We also encouraged democracy groups to develop a sense of ownership by organising local fundraising events for the radio. I recall that the African Democratic League, under the leadership of Phillip Ilebareremen held a fundraising event for the radio in 1997, although the bulk of the money raised went on defraying the cost of organising the event. Yet, we felt it was important to organise such events even if only in solidarity.

The problem of funding remained with us all through the period we ran the radio station, but through sheer gut and determination, the radio team weathered this storm. We however knew that the operation was going to be difficult to sustain. In fact, by mid-1997, barely a year after we started broadcasting on short wave, and when we were approaching current and potential funders for support, we realised that the strain was beginning to set in, and questions of sustainability became high on the agenda of the main supporters. Although, Sweden and Norway had agreed to help coordinate a Donor forum in support of the radio, in addition to all the efforts we were making, this did not materialise. Instead, there were insinuations about transparency of the project, even from the most unusual quarters - people who directly managed the funds. Given our peculiar situation, and the fact that Nigerians were generally seen as crooks, regardless of the cause being pursued, we were scrupulous in the way we did things. In mid-June, I paid visits to both Stockholm and Oslo to see the key decision makers in both places, explaining that things were running appropriately, but the operations were just staggeringly expensive. It was only at these meetings that I learned from officials of the Foreign Ministries that Worldview had given them the impression that I was running the operations on my own, and that the leadership of the democracy movement was ?generally unaware? of what was going on, hence the concerns about accountability to the broad democratic movement.

Of course, this did not surprise me. Armed with minutes of meetings held by the Board of the Foundation, after the Media Empowerment for Africa (MEFA), was established and additional information on the central role that Worldview was playing, both in terms of the disbursement and management of the funds on the operations, Mr Jan Egeland, the State Secretary for Foreign Affairs (now the UN UnderSecretary-General for Humanitarian Operations) gave his word that Norway was committed to the project and would continue its support. A similar approach taken assuaged the concerns on the Swedish side, and this was how we secured funding for the second year of our operations. It was however clear to me that our technical partner - Worldview Rights was fuelling this ?divide and rule? campaign even inside our own team and with some elements within NADECO, simply on account of their belief that I was determined to centralise the operations and remove Worldview Rights from direct involvement in MEFA operations and the radio affairs. Worldview was not alone in their disaffection though. They found a good ally in one of our team members who had fallen in love with a Norwegian woman and did not want to leave our base. He therefore sought all manner of excuses to argue for a continuation of our relationship with Worldview as a means of avoiding relocation, but failed to convince me. Although the impression was that I didn?t want Worldview, the reality was more complicated. Our host country had begun to develop cold feet because of its own national interest, not unconnected with the presence of its national oil company - Statoil - in Nigeria, and the Minister, Jan Egeland had requested relocation of our operations and a public acknowledgment of the role Norway was playing in one of the Norwegian newspapers by Professor Soyinka since the NGOs in Norway wanted Statoil out of Nigeria and their campaign was being intensified at the point. In the end, Dele Olawole, the radio team member stayed back after circulating a scurrilous mail to senior figures in the movement about the Secretary-General?s ?lack of accountability and high-handedness? when we relocated, but luckily, my original choice for the position - Gbolahan Olalemi was ready to come on board and he rendered excellent service to the radio team till the end.

I was also not oblivious of the campaign of calumny from certain elements within NADECO, who could not understand why ?this small boy was running the show and sidelining them.? In fact, I had cause to take this up with Chief Enahoro as NADECO leader in May 1997, just before I went to defend the Radio?s second year budget with Mr Egeland in Norway, and as part of the preparation for the meeting planned between UDFN and NADECO leaders at the WCFN II in London the following month. Apart from taking up the radio issue, which some of the NADECO members were urging him not to participate in, I also raised issues concerning the think-tank I was setting up for which I had written to him earlier, but which some people in NADECO now said I was passing off as a NADECO project. I have chosen to reproduce excerpts from the letter written to Chief Enahoro below, and it was only after this that he really warmed up to the idea of functioning as Chair of the Foundation set up to run the radio, even though I could not decipher precisely what transpired.

Dear Papa,

Good day sir. I hope you are well and Mama is in good health. I have been meaning to talk to you for the past three weeks but have been unable to do so for two specific reasons: I have suffered a bout of hay fever and conjunctivitis from which I have only just recovered. Second, I have been cutting down on my international calls because of my huge bill, and have concluded that the best way to deal with my concerns is to put pen to paper, rather than waste money on a lengthy phone conversation. Getting the time to do this has been a problem but I finally got round to doing it today.

The two things I wanted to raise with you concern the radio operations and the think tank - Centre for Democratic Development, which according to Professor Akinyemi, you claim you have no knowledge of. Since I am not exactly sure of what you said to him, I found it hard to believe you actually said you had no knowledge of the Centre. To refresh your memory sir, I wrote to you through Professor Sekoni when I was in San Francisco last November. My letter dealt with two main issues, namely - progress on the Radio and the information about the Centre with a summary of its likely activities. In my letter, I explained the need for the Centre, why it has to be autonomous of the entire democracy movement whilst at the same time carrying out some of the work deemed necessary by constituent organisations, and requested that you be a Patron. I am sure the letter will still be in your file.

When I visited you on December 22, 1996 in the company of Bolaji Aluko, it was one of the issues we discussed. You confirmed receipt of my letter but said you did not see the Radio progress report to which the letter made reference. I promised right there and then that I would get another report to Bolaji for onward transmission to you?which I did.

I have gone to this considerable length to capture the circumstances of our discussing the think tank in order to reassure you that our meeting in Brussels was not the first time you heard of it. I can go further and tell you that Professor Akinyemi knew of the plan more than a year before as he was one of those I shared my initial thoughts with. That is not to say the Centre was not my idea. It is not to say you had given a firm seal of approval to the request that you should be a Patron nor does it signify that NADECO was a full party to it. There was no intention to pass the centre as the handiwork of NADECO, and this I stated very clearly in the letter I wrote to you.

All this I explained to Professor Akinyemi when we spoke after Brussels (Pa Enahoro, Professor Soyinka, myself and Professor Akinyemi had gone on a mission to the EU in Brussels where the issue of the Centre came up in March 1997 - see Part Four ) about the think-tank. Although he expressed his views that he felt I should involve NADECO as a primary player, I told him the original idea was for the Centre to be autonomous of organisations, but that I did not object to NADECO member(s) with requisite experience and qualification in policy development and strategic analysis playing a role in the Centre?s activities. When he later called that he would like to participate in the donor forum organised in Stockholm, Sweden for the Centre, I agreed and said I would discuss with the organisers. I got him an invitation to attend the forum but he eventually declined the invitation for reasons best known to him.

I remain at a loss as to any concrete problem I am supposed to have with NADECO but a lot of people who hear how some leading members talk about me are very worried for my well being. Although I?d discounted these as wild rumours in the past, the first inkling I got of a groundswell of distaste by some members for me was in the course of a conversation last week with Hon. ?Wale Oshun who volunteered that many of their members feel I don?t want to associate with NADECO, hence my "silent campaign" not to allow UDFN collaborate with NADECO. Coming from someone with whom I have been discussing a collaborative effort on sending a joint memorandum by NADECO and UDFN to the Commonwealth, I found this a little bit strange.

In the past, I have heard, among other things, that I am accused of not showing enough respect to my elders, of arrogance, trying to hijack you from NADECO, blocking any cooperation between you and Professor Soyinka and amassing all the publicity outlets in this struggle for myself, whatever that meant.

All of these, of course, are unfounded rantings of lazy minds. It is on record that I was the first person contacted by Professor Akinyemi when he came out of Nigeria to set up an office for NADECO here. I offered my help unflinchingly, even against better judgement. I used to attend their meetings in the early days, introduced them to many of my media, government and NGOs contacts both here and in the United States, and helped with, if not single-handedly did many of the concrete things NADECO has contributed to this struggle since its arrival abroad.

I have done all this without recourse to my own concerns about the commitment of some NADECO personalities to the work that needed to be done and guided always by the goal(s) of our struggle, not the players. I will continue to do so.


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