Amazing: My voice is more popular than my face –Jire Kuforiji

Jire Kuforiji
Veteran broadcaster, Jire Kuforiji, tells Punchng about her career and background
What attracted you to journalism?
It was actually fate that made me become a journalist. I never really thought about being on television or becoming a journalist. Growing up, I hardly watched television and it was a surprise to me that I went into the profession.
So how exactly did fate come into play here?
When I was in high school, during my West African Senior Certificate Exam, we had oral English exam and I met a professor from the University of Ibadan. He only asked candidates two questions and the answer was either A or B. During the oral exam, we would go into the office one after the other and people outside already knew the question he was going to ask. When I got in, the professor heard my voice; he stopped what he was doing and looked at me. My interview went in a different direction and he did not ask me two questions like the rest. He asked me what my plans were after high school but I told him I did not have any. I just knew I wanted to go to the university.
He asked me what I would do if my brain did not cope with the university curriculum and I told him it was impossible. He said he was just assuming and I told him I would find any kind of job and he asked me to be specific. Back then, the only job I knew about was the printing press behind our house, so I told the professor that as a last resort, I could work at the printing press. He laughed at me and asked if I ever thought of going into broadcasting. Prior to that time, I never thought about it. Back then, you really did not need to have so much qualification to be on television. All you needed was a good voice, face, carriage and poise. It is now that there is a lot of competition in the industry. The man then told me that if I changed my mind, I should let him know.
So did you let him know?
I did not give it a second thought. That is why I said it is by fate because it happened even before I ever thought of becoming a journalist. I studied Linguistics at the University of Ibadan but I got posted to Ogun State Television for my National Youth Service Corps. That was in 1984. When I got to the television station, I was posted to the production department. Three of us were posted to the department but they did not know what to do with us. All we did was to report for duty and go home at the close of work. One day, I was walking through the lobby and the general manager then, late Mr. Onabolu, passed and I greeted him. When he heard my voice, he stopped and he turned back. He asked who I was and I told him I was a youth corps member. He asked what department I was and I told him I was in production department. He asked what I was doing there and I told him I didn’t know. He said I should be on television and sent for the head of presentation to audition me. He said I was meant to be on the television. I never thought I would ever be on television.
What do you think they saw in you that made them direct you towards broadcasting?
I think it is the voice because through the years, I have seen the voice as a gift. Sometimes when I go out, people don’t easily recognise me but when I open my mouth, they take a second look and they would recognise me. I think my voice is more popular than my face.
How did you get to AIT from OGTV?
After my youth service, I got an automatic employment and I stayed there for a while. I was in Abeokuta for a while and I got married there. Eventually, we moved to Lagos where I did some other businesses and that was when I had my two boys. I got a job with Channels Television before I moved to AIT.
But broadcasters were paid stipends then, what motivated you to stick to the job?
The country was fun back then. My first salary was N350 and I could do a lot with it. I had a flat before I got married. I had a sister who was in the university and she kept telling me that back then, she was one of the richest girls in the university because I used to give her N50 monthly. That was a lot of money then.
You spent your early years in Osun State, how were you able to develop a good diction?
I would say it was because of the kind of family I was born into. Not too long after I was born, my parents went to the United States to study, so I stayed with my grandparent for a while in Osun State. My parents later took us along with them. My formative years were basically in the US and it helped my spoken English. Even when I got on television, occasionally, they had to tell me to tone down my accent. They said I sounded too American.
How were your early years?
Growing up was fun for me. Some of our children do not seem to comprehend the way Nigeria was before. Nigeria was fun; there were no hassles or stress. Your parents did not have to run after money all the time. Children did not need to be kept in the care of nannies and house helps. It was not too bad, growing up was fun. I was a very quiet girl while growing up. When my parents kept us with our grandparents, I was my grandmother’s favourite and while they were processing my papers, my grandfather did not let my grandmother know because he knew she would be heartbroken. She was not at home when I travelled and by the time she came home and heard the news, she was so sad. All she said was that they had taken her joy away.
Thirty years down the line, was there ever any time you felt like quitting?
Not really. There have been highs and lows. There have been times I did not want to walk out of my door but basically I think the high moments have been more than the low points. In this profession, we do it for the love and passion we have for the job. I am praying that in future, those coming after us would be able to really reap the reward of the job. I can speak on behalf of a lot of people and this is something we love doing and that is what keeps us going.
How were you able to rise to the top in a male dominated field?
It is no longer male dominated. I would not really say it was a male dominated industry even when I started out. If you are good at what you are doing, you cannot be pushed behind. I have a gift which is my voice and when I come out, people recognise it.
What are the pains and gains of being a popular face on television?
Some of the gains are that when you go to a place like the market, people recognise you. Some are nice enough to give you a good discount for the goods being purchased. There is something about television that makes people love you; they do not know you but once they see you, they feel they can relate with you. The major pain is that there is no privacy. A lot of people feel they have a right to your business. There is no privacy at all. Also, you always try to live up to some standards and that can be very stressful.
Why do you love wearing native attire?
It is because most places I have worked, we have had to wear traditional attire. From OGTV to AIT, especially if you are reading the news; I have been at AIT since 1997 and our slogan is ‘Sharing the African Experience.’ I take a lot of pride in it now. It looks good. It is refreshing and it is African, urban African style.
How have you been able to combine your demanding career with being a mother?
It is easier now than the earlier days in the profession. Even when our headquarters was in Abuja and I had to go there, I came to Lagos very often because my children were in high school. I hardly missed their visiting days. I remember one visiting day the principal of the school my sons attended told me that they were watching me on television while I was in Abuja the previous night and his wife pitied me because she felt I would not make the visiting day. The principal told me that he told his wife that I would not miss it. I was on the first flight to Lagos. You have to find a way to balance your life. It takes the grace of God. This job is time consuming and you need a very understanding husband. Maybe these days, the men are more understanding. Our job is not like the regular job where an average woman closes work by 4pm and gets home latest 5pm. For us, we have to stay back at work till probably after the news by 10pm. Not many men are that understanding.
Aren’t there times you feel frustrated?
There are a lot of times that I just feel frustrated but at the end of the day, I just sit down and take a few breaths.
When you feel that way, how do you let off steam?
I like listening to music. Most times when I feel like I am boxed into a corner, I just listen to music. Although I am on television, I don’t talk much in reality. When I have tensed moments, I retreat to my comfort zone, take in a deep breath and listen to music. I love music.
What type of music calms your nerves?
Any type of music as far as it sounds good and it has a good message.
Did you attempt becoming an actress at any point in your life?
When I was in OGTV, I played a role in a soap opera where someone with American accent was required. I was a youth corps member then and the extra cash was not a bad idea. I acted an episode with them but I don’t think I would make a good actress.
Why do you say that?
When some people see me, they are confused about how to place me but they are always certain that they have seen my face on television. They begin to wonder if I am an actress. I don’t think I am cut out to be a good actress.
How do you cope with amorous advances from men?
There would always be advances from men even when you are not on television. I guess you have to know what you want and what you are doing and don’t let it get to your head that you are on television. I know a lot of women that tell me till date that whenever I am on the news, their husbands demand absolute silence at home. They say that their husbands would say I am reading the news tonight, so whatever they want to say should be discussed before I come on air. Once I am on air, they say their husbands don’t want to hear any other thing until I am through with reading the news. They tell me all this and we all joke about it. We laugh at the way men could be sometimes. They say when they get home, they would tell their husbands that they met their girlfriend. They tell me things like their husbands love and appreciate my work. I would say it is the grace of God. It is nice to know that you are appreciated.

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