When I went to start my Ph.D. programme in September 2018, it was a chance to further explore my interest in democracy and the media. Leaving a banking job for a full-time research programme at the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg was a challenging but fulfilling journey.
After an interesting and flying start in 2019, the first full year that I spent in South Africa; the following year proved more challenging. The COVID year grounded everything including on-site teaching and supervision; and when the university took lectures and supervision online, you had to be extremely rugged to be able to continue research and writing during total lockdown.
Before COVID, one in five PhD students were expected to disengage (that is taking extended leave, suspending their study, or dropping out entirely). 2020 worsened those statistics with 45% of PhD students expected to disengage. Yet COVID could not stop my own progress. A complete draft of my thesis was completed as early as August 2020, just a month shy of two years of starting the programme.
That’s when the story became more interesting. Spending fifteen months on corrections was quite an experience in patience and resilience. You won’t understand unless you have ever been within touching distance of finishing a long-distance race but then have to re-run some of the laps.
There were moments that would have discouraged and disillusioned the unprepared but there was only one possible outcome. That outcome came one Friday in February 2022; three years and five months after that first trip to Johannesburg. The arrival of a much-awaited email confirming that the Senate of the University had agreed to award me the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Media Studies followed the feedback from three examiners.
Final submission of my thesis on May 11 brought the Ph.D. programme to a successful completion. All said and done, the last three years and eighth months have been a wonderful experience; seeing South Africa through its best and worst. My research titled ‘FROM IWE IROYIN TO SAHARAREPORTERS: HARDCODING CITIZEN JOURNALISM IN NIGERIA’ gave me the privilege to interview some of Nigeria’s finest journalists like my Egbon in the business, Dapo Olorunyomi (Publisher, Premium Times); wonderful friends like Omoyele Sowore (Sahara Reporters); Simon Kolawole (The Cable); Ambassador Debo Adesina (then Editor-In-Chief, Guardian but now Nigeria’s Ambassador to Togo); Alabi Williams (The Guardian); Nike Sotade (The Guardian); Edward Dickson (Nigerian Tribune); Dr. Lasisi Olagunju (Nigerian Tribune); Shina Oladeinde (Nigerian Tribune); Joseph Adeyeye (The Punch); Demola Oni (The Punch) and Sola Ayo Adenrele (then of The Punch).
Their insights into the Nigerian media and the impact of new media on the political process have been invaluable to my research and I really appreciate them for being willing to share those with me. Those insights will inform my future engagement with media development issues; especially in the interesting but largely misunderstood area of new media, citizen journalism and how they impact Nigeria’s political process.
Akin Olaniyan (Ph.D., Wits University)