Nigerian freelance journalist Francis Salako isn’t pursuing a journalism-related major. Instead, he’s getting his start in the news industry as a member of the student-run media organization, Union of Campus Journalists, University of Ilorin (UCJ UNILORIN). Alongside 400 other students, he is learning critical reporting skills on the job, helping him earn bylines in outlets beyond Nigeria’s borders.
Founded in 1996 by a group of students who shared the same zeal for journalism, UCJ UNILORIN is one of the oldest campus news outlets in Nigeria. Since its inception, it has served as a voice for students while helping establish professionalism in the country’s news industry. It offers passionate students with little to no experience in journalism an opportunity to develop their talents.
Salako began working for the Union in his second year at the university. “UCJ is a place where you have people doing great things,” he said. “The workshops, events and congresses are like the muscle that piled up to pivot the kind of journalism I am doing today.”
From reporting about on-campus events to holding student leaders accountable, the news outlet has enabled student journalists to gain a grasp of what the profession entails, and how to thrive in it. “UCJ UNILORIN has given me a community of people who are integral to my life, and who have contributed a lot to my skills,” said Salako.
In March 2021, The Cable organized a workshop for the campus journalists to train them on the fundamentals of reporting. These workshops, like this one offered by the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism, help students harness their potential.
Nigerian reporter Adejumo Kabir began his career as a student. His passion for human rights led him to pursue journalism on campus, first writing about protests on campus. “If not for campus journalism, I would have been a journalist who would have been feeding on ‘brown envelopes,’” said Kabir, referring to incentives or bribes given to journalists by politicians at press briefings.
‘Brown envelopes’ are unfortunately commonplace in Nigeria. They are often used to silence journalists, discouraging them from reporting stories that don’t favor government officials. Since many journalists don’t earn much, they can be tempted to accept bribes. To combat this, the Union works to instill objectivity and ethical reporting as core values in its members.
Starting their careers as student reporters has given many of Nigeria’s finest journalists a clear understanding of the profession, and the skills to make a career out of it. By writing for newsrooms across the country as a student, Adejumo gained the skills he needed to flourish as a reporter.
UCJ UNILORIN also runs trainings to equip journalists with knowledge of journalism ethics, and they teach their members the basics of photojournalism, fact-checking, investigative reporting and solutions journalism.
UCJ UNILORIN has faced blowback for its reporting from other university students, said former editor-in-chief, Ridhwan Adetutu. He said he was ambushed once while covering an investigative report that involved the then-president of the students’ union senate council, who had been charged for alleged corruption. On his way home, he was approached by someone who threatened to expel him. He dropped the story, fearing he could lose his studentship.
The current Union president, Adedeji Quayyim, said that he has taken steps to mitigate efforts to quash their reporting by building a network with civil societies and press outlets outside the campus sphere to protect its members.
The Union’s motto – “liberty championed by the pen” – has motivated a strong commitment to uphold core values of integrity, discipline and fairness. Instead of allowing the repression encountered over the years to silence their voices, the student reporters have channeled the energy into improving the quality of their reporting.
This article was updated on January 10, 2022.