Finally, this series (Coronavirus Diary)’s intended dozen is complete (plus GYARA, the Hausa business word for that free ‘topping’ to retain a customer, which Yorubas have also appropriated as JARA), that one extra of A Baker’s Dozen.
This is the 13th episode, and we end it with a piece: “Rayuwa Da Korona: How Two Local Radio Stations are Responding to COVID-19 in Kano State” penned by a budding-writer student of mine Misbahu El-Hamza (firstname.lastname@example.org). It is an assessment of radio programmes on air in Kano during the pandemic. It is edited for space:
On April 11, 2020, exactly one month after the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic, Kano State confirmed its first positive case. In the same month, the state witnessed what was described as “mysterious deaths”, claiming hundreds of lives including the Emir of Rano and seven professors from Bayero University Kano (BUK).
Hajara Ibrahim (Umma), 47, is a mourning mother of five who lost her husband amidst the mysterious deaths. Initially, Umma didn’t believe COVID-19 was real. “Haven’t you heard what the scholars said?” asked Umma before her husband’s demise, referring to a video she had watched on her son smartphone. In the video, a scholarly-looking man was saying, “COVID-19 is a scam and a grand plot against Muslims.” Sadly, now she knows better.
In a state like Kano, which was once the epicentre of the disease in Northern Nigeria, the risks of fake news and misinformation cannot be overemphasised. Misinformation spreads widely on social media and majority of the victims are local people like Umma who usually do not even have direct access to this misinformation. Yet, it has shaped their thoughts to develop beliefs like “COVID-19 is a scam”, “It will not survive Kano’s hot temperature”, “It affects and kills only the old”, which made them rebuff guidelines of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
Freedom Radio (the first indigenous private radio station in this region) and Arewa Radio (the 24-hour all Hausa station) are two influential radio stations in Kano. According to GeoPoll Radio Ratings, both stations compete with BBC Hausa, with each attracting 623,000 unique listeners and 64% reach in rural Kano in 2018. In urban Kano, Freedom Radio ranked first with 2.5 million unique listeners, while Arewa Radio had 2.4 million unique listeners.
In February 2020, Arewa Radio 93.1FM and Freedom Radio 99.5FM began broadcasting public awareness messaging on COVID-19, even before the index case in the country. “We understood that from the nature of the spread in other countries, it was only a matter of time before it struck us here in Nigeria. Having one of the highest populations in the country, we did not want to take chances,” said Ado Sa’idu Warawa of Freedom Radio Kano.
Between February and April, when Lagos and Kano states recorded their first cases, there was a lot fake news that led to panic, mistrust and misinformed decisions. Therefore, according to Bashir Sarki, a presenter at Arewa Radio, they saw the need to do more than just reading figures on how far the virus had spread. They developed new strategies to demystify the virus, debunk false information and build trust and confidence between public health officials and the community.
Warawa noted that the influence of religious and traditional leaders in Kano is huge. “The first thing we did was to engage clerics, traditional leaders and other stakeholders. We dedicated ‘Duniyarmu A Yau’ (Our World Today), our two-hour afternoon flagship programme, to host these stakeholders where they dispel rumours, advise people to only listen to experts, and take measures to prevent the disease,” he said. The station also dedicated more time playing jingles informing listeners on safety guidelines set by the NCDC and the WHO.
On the day Kano confirmed its index case, April 11, 2020, the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), an organisation promoting democratic values in partnership with Freedom Radio, began broadcasting a one-hour programme daily (except Thursdays) titled “Fadakarwa Kan Cutar Korona”(Demystifying COVID-19). Organisations such as UNICEF, McArthur Foundation and Kano Concerned Citizens Initiative (KCCI) also sponsored jingles and programmes on COVID-19 in Kano.
One programme sponsored by Mambayya House of BUK in partnership with McArthur Foundation had sociologists and psychologists discuss mental health, where they took people through coping mechanisms during the lockdown to avoid depression. The 30-minute programme also had dieticians guiding people especially pregnant women and nursing mothers on nutritious food they need despite the markets being closed. As part of Freedom Radio’s corporate social responsibility, Warawa said they gave a 50% discount to partners for COVID-19 programmes.
Arewa Radio introduced a one-hour programme “Mu Kawar da Korona” (Let’s Eradicate COVID-19) which focuses on ways in which everyone can be part of the response against the disease. “Mu Kawar da Korona” is aired twice a day – 8am and 4pm. “The choice of time was purposeful. Most Northerners listen to the radio at these times, a habit they developed for decades from listening to BBC Hausa”, Sarki said.
Bashir Ishaq, a journalist, enjoys Freedom Radio’s “Rayuwa da Korona” (Living with COVID-19) and wished it was accessible online. “I wish it is live on Facebook so that I don’t have to carry my Kchibo transistor around.” Significantly, Freedom’s “Rayuwa da Korona” has an international segment as it reaches out to and collates reports from Cameroon, Ghana, Niger and Benin Republic, and also neighbouring states such as Katsina, Kaduna, Jigawa and Plateau.
During the programme, listeners are able to ask questions which are answered by Dr. Ibrahim Musa, Consultant Epidemiologist at Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital (AKTH). The programme also includes a segment where Freedom Radio’s Digital Media Coordinator, Bashir Sharfadi, counters trending fake news on COVID-19. The segment, “Labaran Kanzon Kurege” (Fake News Digest) is then exported for dissemination to engage audiences on WhatsApp and other social media platforms.
Misinformation poses a challenge to media houses as they may receive news stories from fake sources. For accuracy, radio stations rely on the NCDC and Federal Ministry of Health as their sources on COVID-19. Freedom also partners with Africa Check, an independent non-profit fact-checking organisation, for verification of information.
All in all, these programmes have immensely helped people to live with the disease, or, as the title implies, “Rayuwa Da Korona.”