Q&A with WIN’s first Editorial Leadership Award laureate: Toyosi Ogunseye

One can summarize her as a woman and a half. 
Professionally, she is an internationally recognized journalist with experience in management. She is currently the Head of British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), West Africa and also the Vice President of the World Editors Forum (WEF).

At the age of 36, Toyosi Ogunseye is a confident and inspiring woman who has made her mark in journalism. She has picked up a score of professional and leadership awards, including the Presidential Precinct Inaugural Young Leader award, a Knight International Journalism Award and President Barack Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative Award.

Leah Mushi got a chance to quiz her online about her career and the challenges she faces as a young woman leader…  

Q: Tell me about where you grew up and what your family life was like? 

A: I grew up in Lagos State, Nigeria. I’m the firstborn in a family of four children. My father is a management consultant and my mother a businesswoman. 

I’m from a loving, close-knit family and my parents encouraged us to be the best. It was the typical Nigerian childhood whereby you are loved but not spoilt. Good grades in school and good behaviour were also not negotiable.   

Q: Did your upbringing have any influence on your career? 

A: Yes it did. My father never allowed us to watch much TV so we mostly read novels and newspapers as a way of entertaining ourselves. Reading an average of three newspapers daily made me fall in love with journalism. I had to give my dad a daily summary of the most interesting stories in the newspapers and that’s how I started writing. As a young girl, I had my favourite journalists and columnists and wished to be like them someday. 

Q: You are a young woman holding a high post. This is an achievement; can you please share how your journey has been? 

A: Thank you. I have had a lot of support along the way. I’m a hard worker but more importantly, my bosses always gave me the chance to grow and that is when I seized these opportunities.

I pray to God to help me and I’m quite resilient and determined. I don’t joke with my assignments and I definitely do not give up. I started as a reporter at Sun Newspapers in 2006 then moved to News Star as a senior correspondent before joining the Punch Newspaper where I rose to editor of Sunday Punch. I joined the BBC over two years ago as Head, West Africa.

Q: As a reporter, you did many investigations, what was the riskiest or biggest investigation you ever did, and how did it end?

A: This was a tough one! I think the riskiest investigation I did was about 12 years ago when I investigated a cartel that forged court documents to get criminals out of prison. I couldn’t use my by-line (the name of the reporter) in the story because of the dangers involved. I was able to penetrate the cartel that involved prison and court officials. After the story was published, the government investigated and ended the cartel.

Q: As a woman holding such a position, have you ever faced any challenges while pursuing your job? If yes, how did you manage them? 

A: One of the biggest challenges is that some people don’t like female leaders and may try to sabotage them. Sometimes, it has little to do with what you do or don’t do. I manage it by leaning on my support system, communicating better, making fair decisions, and leading by example.

Q: Did you ever think of giving up in your career?  

A: It’s crossed my mind a few times, lol.  There are days when I think that there surely must be an easier way to earn a living because let’s face it, journalism is a tough profession and there are frustrating days. 

However, the highs are more than the lows. Making positive changes and just speaking for voiceless people make up for the lows.

Q: You have a big role at the BBC. How many people do you lead across West Africa? What does your role entail? 

A: I have over 300 staff in West Africa. I manage the BBC’s operations in Anglophone and Francophone West Africa, and this includes five language services- Afrique, Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba and Pidgin, co-productions, deployments to mention a few. 

My job really is to grow the BBC’s audiences in West Africa with particular emphasis on women and young people while also delivering the best public service journalism that adds value to people.

Q: What has been the most defining moment in your career? 

The most defining moment of my career was when I got the job as Editor at Sunday Punch almost eight years ago. Punch is Nigeria’s biggest newspaper and it never had a female editor. 

The industry was interested in the news. I remain grateful for my bosses, family and friends who were my rock behind the scenes. They encouraged me to shut down the noise and prove everyone wrong. I got to work and worked like my life depended on it. Being a Punch editor opened all the other doors that I have walked through.

Q: With COVID-19, men are leading in decision making leaving out women who are the most affected. How do you ensure there is gender balance in your coverage? 

I am happy that the BBC is an exception, the BBC’s leadership in Africa and some parts of the world is led by women. The BBC is a 50/50 project which ensures that we are continuously striving towards equal representation internally and across our outputs. 

At the end of April, the Director General of the BBC, Tony Hall, announced that two-thirds of the BBC’s teams recorded at least 50 percent women in their output and I think that is remarkable. 

In West Africa, the BBC launched COVID-19 in 60 seconds and COVID-19 Have Your Say. COVID-19 in 60 seconds is a one-minute daily digital video that dispels coronavirus myths and gives useful tips on how to prevent the spread of the virus. 

It is done in five languages in the region and taken up quite well by our partners. Have Your Say is also a digital program on Facebook and Instagram, with a radio version that sees stakeholders involved in the coronavirus war engaging with our audiences and giving the latest information on the virus. These two programmes are huge on gender representation internally and across our outputs. 

Q: What is your advice to young women reporters who are looking up to you and are wishing one day to be Toyosi? 

A: You just have to put in the work, there is no other way. When you put in the work and surround yourself with the right people, recognition will naturally come. When you are new in the newsroom, align yourself with the achievers and don’t be afraid to ask for help. 

Accept challenges and go the extra mile. Pay attention to details and be reliable. Don’t be desperate for fame and fortune, it will come to you when you least expect. It is a combination of these few things. Editors love dependable reporters who have a nose for news, write well and are well-behaved.  In no time, they will begin to trust you with big stories and your big break will come.

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