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Reminiscences with Alhaji Yusuf Ladan

Alhaji Yusuf Ladan is one of the first set of broadcasters in Northern Nigeria having worked with the Broadcasting Company of Northern Nigeria (BCNN) since…

Alhaji Yusuf Ladan is one of the first set of broadcasters in Northern Nigeria having worked with the Broadcasting Company of Northern Nigeria (BCNN) since the early 1960s. Now 82 years, the retired broadcaster holds the traditional title of Dan Iyan Zazzau. He recalls his early days as a broadcaster, the challenges and compares the practice in his days to what is happening presently. He also speaks on other current national issues as well.


How did you get into broadcasting?

I was a staff of Northern Nigerian Ministry of Education before I was transferred to Ilorin. While in Ilorin, there was a circular from the Northern Nigerian government that civil servants should be transferred to their states of origin because of the cost of transportation and things like that. So, when I returned from Ilorin, I was posted to the broadcasting unit of the ministry and I participated in its programs. 

Later, the Broadcasting Company of Northern Nigeria (BCNN) was established and I decided to apply and was employed. I was employed as a librarian because of my nature. I applied as librarian because I was not fluent in English or Hausa and because of my experience in record keeping. Two years later, I was transferred from the library to the continuity unit where we had announcers and after sometime again, I was transferred to the production unit. That was where I started broadcasting programs. But before then I was made an Assistant Producer, Children Programme. So, I continued doing children’s and other programmes alongside other senior broadcasters. Later on, after my superiors saw my interest in broadcasting, they promoted me to become a full producer. That was how I started.

 There is this story of how you were given an informal interview by a white man who recommended you as a broadcaster. What actually happened? 

Oh, yes. When we started broadcasting in the BCNN, it was at a hall at the Government College, because at that time, the studio was not ready and the government was anxious to start broadcasting. So I was employed and posted to the Independence Hall at the Government College and we started broadcasting there. That was where I started producing children’s programmes. The headquarters at that time was near the secretariat along Lafia road. The managing director, Diamond, gave me a lift to the main studio and was asking me questions and I was answering him not knowing that he was interviewing me. When we came back two days after, I was promoted to a producer and started producing children’s programmes and other’s. 


How did you feel being interviewed without knowing it?

I was not informed that I was being interviewed and nobody told me I was being interviewed; it was my gut feeling that I was being interviewed because when I was promoted I remembered my chat with the managing director in the car so I knew it was an interview. 


Are you the only person it happened to or was it the process of doing promotional interviews at that time?

 No, I think it happened only in my case because when being interviewed for the librarian position I was interviewed formally. But the second one was not a formal interview.


You said you applied to serve at the library because you felt you didn’t have the voice of a broadcaster but later you became a duty continuity announcer, how did you adapt?

I was not eloquent enough to be a broadcaster. Even when I was going into broadcasting, my grandmother asked me ‘how can you go into broadcasting when you cannot even talk fluently in any language?’ I told her I’m going to work in a library where people don’t talk but keep records. Later, I was identified as somebody with a voice that can be tested and was tested first as a continuity announcer and later as junior producer. The salary of a librarian at that time was equivalent to that of an announcer and that of a junior producer. So I was transferred from one section to another because I was identified to have a voice for broadcasting.


But did you go for any formal training in broadcasting?

 No I didn’t go for any formal training until I became a senior officer. We were sent to India for first graduate diploma in journalism. That was how I got my formal training but before that time I was being trained by producers and announcers in the station.


Your father was also into broadcasting, did that influence your choice? 

Well, I will say, ‘I took after him because he was a broadcaster then.’ He was controller Northern region of Nigerian Broadcasting Cooperation of Northern Nigeria; he took over the position from a white man. So, that was an inheritance per se but I was never trained by him. I got my formal training when I started the job.


You were at BCNN during the civil war, what role did the station play in informing the populace? 

 At the station we encouraged people to broadcast messages to our people here and to the military men at the warfront. There were people from the South-East who were employed and they knew the background of all the problems of Nigeria between the North and the South and they were giving commentaries on the activities in the South.


How did the South-easterners working at the station cope?

They were very much at home because we accepted them; we were friends and they were very happy working with us.


You talked about a children’s program, what was it all about and how did you start? 

 It was very interesting how I started the drama. It was when we were at the Independence Hall that I started producing children programmes. I was bringing junior primary school pupils to perform in plays but this brought about some controversies within the station. I was told I was ridiculing some politicians and should stop. That was how I stopped that programme, even now some of the characters I chose are still alive. They are big men now.


Were you mimicking some of the politicians at the time?

 No I was not, it was just a coincidence. A certain student from the University of Ibadan, I think a drama student, came to the BCNN for temporary job and collaborated with a television producer, Patrick Ityohegh, and started producing Hausa plays but when his holiday ended, he decided to go back to school and Ityohegh came to me saying, that he was in trouble. I asked what kind of trouble and he told me his producer has decided to go back to the University of Ibadan. So I asked if I can help him and he said, ‘why not?’ This was how I started the program. I became the producer and he was the director. But along the way, I told my boss, the head of sound broadcasting, that I wanted to go to television and produce drama because we used to have a location outside the station. He said you’ve always appeared on television, why not produce for radio? So, I said I will and I started producing for radio as well. He said the first titled I gave the play was too long but I told him when people hear it they will accept it so he said I should go ahead. That was how it started. 


Which of the two gives you more fulfillment, radio or television?

 Radio because there was a radio section from the beginning though we equally had a television section.


Looking at how broadcasting has transformed over the years, will you say Nigeria has utilized the technological advancement in the broadcasting industry?

 Yes, I will say so because in the past people did not accept broadcasting; they had no idea what was talking in the small box. Some imagined it was from the air. But later on we managed to convince people that there were people in the studio who were doing the talking. They later accepted the idea of people speaking from a station as against the idea that they were in the small box in front of them. 


You retired early. Why?

What happened was that I sought for transfer from the BCNN because I was appointed General Manager Kaduna State Broadcasting Corporation. I didn’t want to go there directly so I asked for secondment. When it was approved, I went there only to find the task very challenging, so I asked for transfer so that I can give full time to my new job. So I retired in 1991. 


Is that to say you set up Kaduna Broadcasting Corporation?

 I didn’t set it up. What happened was that the commissioner came to my station and by that time I already told my board of directors that I intended to retire. But they said I was strong enough and cannot retire but I said, ‘No, it was the policy of the government that after 35 years of service one must retire, so I’m going to retire.’ The commissioner came to my office and I told him I’m going to retire in a month. He now asked why I wanted to retire when he had said they were trying to establish not only radio but television station and a newspaper. He said I will advise you to choose the name of the station, so I said that since it was a radio and television station it can remain as broadcasting corporation but when you have a newspaper, then it can be called media corporation. This, I suggested to him.


So that was how the name changed to Kaduna State Broadcasting Cooperation?   

 Yes, I was in the background but I am not the person that made the policy.


When you retired, did you at any point miss the job to the point of regretting your early retirement? 

No I didn’t regret because I did it at my own will. I made up my mind to retire and I retired. I enjoyed my retirement but I didn’t leave broadcasting I was always with them offering my experience. I used to go to KSMC. 


But did you produce any programs for them?

No, I did not produce any program for them.


The Ibrahim Babangida administration gave licenses to independent broadcasters which led to proliferation of media stations in the country. Do you think it was a step in the right direction?

 That time I didn’t like it because when we were with the BCNN and the KSBC we were government media, because of that we tried to censor ourselves but private radio stations are free to air whatever they want. So, I thought about that and was not excited about it. 


Now that it has happened do you think it has been a blessing to the broadcast industry?

 It is a blessing in a way because it provides opportunities for people to get jobs, without the private media organizations many people will not get a chance to become broadcasters. 


During the 2015 elections, some private media organizations were used to relay hate campaign messages against political opponents. How did you feel when that was happening? 

I was not happy with the way people were being attacked on the radio. We used to entertain and educate people and provide them with information about their localities but now people use broadcasting to cast aspersions on other people. I don’t like that. Even now, I dislike the habit of abusing political opponents. You know how politicians are; they always want to spoil their opponents but I don’t like it.


Was there anything like that during your time?

It started at that time. I was a manager programmes in the BCNN for about 16 years when there was a story that the ban on politics would be lifted. So I called all my producers and told them that we were now going to enter the period of politics but we had to educate the people on politics and the name of the programme in Hausa was “Mecece siyasa?” in English “What is politics?” I selected one of the producers and told him to handle the program.  I selected some eminent politicians and asked him to go and ask them what politics is. That is how we started and when the ban was lifted we produced another programme on political news but we never abused anybody, never cast aspersions on any politician or drag the name of any politician in the mud as is happening now.


Did you experience cases where politicians come to your station to make abusive comments against their opponents?

 We experienced it but they were stopped.


How did you handle it? 

We told them we don’t like that kind of language, just speak what you know and we will air it. If you don’t speak good language we will not air it.


At that time it was said that politicians usually rush to either radio or TV stations with their own results after elections without waiting for the electoral commissions to do so as to give them an edge. Did you experience that too?

No we didn’t experience that because we would not allow that to happen. We always waited for the electoral commission to announce the results.


Another challenge then was the coup announcements, where soldiers walk into the studios to compel staff to air their broadcast…

 That was normal for them whenever they take over power they rushed to radio stations. They came with their guns. We couldn’t stop them from broadcasting what they wanted to broadcast because they came with force and we are civilian without weapons except pens and tape recorders. The people that suffered from this kind of things were the announcers on duty. This is because when the military would come it would be in the middle of the night or early in the morning to ask them to give then chance to broadcast whatever they wanted to broadcast. 


Non-payment of salaries is another problem facing broadcasters in the country. Did you experience that during your era?

 No. When I was with the BCNN we used to receive our salary on time. When I went to Kaduna State Media Broadcasting Corporation, I requested the board to allow me have an account where I can take some advert revenue so that when the time comes to pay salary and the government was not ready, I will go to the bank and collect that money and pay the staff their salary so that when the money comes we will return the money into the account. So, during my time we did not experience non-payment of salaries.


What do you think is responsible for the failure of broadcast organizations to pay staff salary?

 I don’t know why.


Did you ever imaging in your lifetime there would be a 24-hour broadcast station in Nigeria? 

We started during out time gradually because we started with 5 hours, 10 hours and 18 hours, which is the biggest even now in Radio Nigeria. But the private stations broadcast for 24 hours. 


 Do you still listen to the radio?

 Yes, sometimes I listen to news after news I close. 


How do you assess the content?

 You know time changes. During our time, the mood of the people was different. Presently too, people’s mood has changed so broadcasters now produce programmes to suit people’s ways of life.  


 Do you listen to drama or children’s programmes on radio? 

Yes, I listen sometimes but during my time I chose to write my plays myself, rehearse them with the artists. So I was a playwright and also a producer.


As a broadcaster you must have worked with different gadgets, many your age find it difficult to adapt to modern communication gadgets. Is it the same with you?

 I only use my phone to make calls and send text messages, other things are beyond my experience (Laughs). I can’t do Whatsapp, Twitter or Facebook. You want to speak with me, call me and I will answer or call you back or send you a text message.


We learnt one of your sons is a broadcaster, did you in anyway influence his choice of career? 

No, I didn’t. He just felt that is what he wanted and I gave him the go ahead. I will not prevent young men from doing what they wanted if it’s good. When he said he wanted to go into broadcasting, I said, ‘Go ahead.’ At first he was not employed, I told him to apply again and he did and was lucky to be employed.


You didn’t at any point in your life venture into politics?

 I didn’t, even when one of my brothers indicated interest to go into it I advised him against going into it.


Why? You don’t like politics?

 It’s not that I don’t like politics. I don’t mind if it’s done the proper way because people express their minds on how they want the country to be governed, so, it’s good. But as I said earlier, abusing opponents is what I don’t like. 


 Are you in a position to speak on the recent measures taken by Governor El’rufai’s administration to reduce the number of traditional title holders in the state?

 No, I’m not in a position to speak about that.


What do you think of the agitation in the South-East for Biafra?

 Those who are agitating for secession are people who don’t even know what civil war is. They don’t know the experience of people dying, people losing homes, so why should we think of breaking up Nigeria again? But if they think breaking away from Nigeria is the right thing for them, we can’t prevent them. Sometimes they are encouraged by outsiders. So, we are not afraid of the Biafrans or whatever they call themselves.


Some youths also gave the Igbo in the North quit notice…

 They also said northerners in the South-East should also come back. We have people in the South too, so it’s a reciprocal statement. We should live together as one Nigeria but everybody should be going to his hometown. 


So you are in support of the quit notice?

 It’s okay to say that our people should come back and for our people too to ask their own to go back. But deep in our hearts we know that their being here is very important and our people too staying there is very important. 


Have you published any of your work?

 I published only three plays. One of them is “ Zaman Duniya Iyawa ne”.


 Which is your favourite station?

 Federal Radio of Nigeria FRCN is my favourite.


Which is your favourite programme? 



What is your favourite dish?

 Tuwon masara or tuwon dawa and miyan kuka


Do you use cutlery to eat? 

 Yes I use spoon to eat tuwo and rice but I prefer eating tuwo every evening. I hope you know tuwo (laughs). 


What is your advice to present broadcasters and politicians in the country?

 The advice I’m going to give is that politicians should play politics with decorum so also the broadcasters they should do their work with decorum. Politicians have so many ways of expressing their feelings to public but they should do so with decorum.

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