OBITUARY: Safinatu Mohammed, activist and legendary TV, Radio phone-in caller, dies

Safinatu Mohammed [Photo credit: PREMIUM TIMES ]

Safinatu Mohammed is dead and departed to her grave.

The fiery woman who attained legendary status for being the first caller in every radio and television phone-in programme in Lagos was buried on November 24 at her ancestral home in Badagry.

Her family said she died at about 5 a.m. on September 22 in Agbor, where she lived with her relatives, after a protracted illness.

Born October 16, 1948, as Stella Aderemi Johnson to the Johnson Ogungbayike family of Badagry, Lagos State, ‘Sefi,’ as she was fondly called, attended WTC Demonstration School, Enugu, Enugu State; Mary Mount College, Agbor, Delta State; and St. Catherine’s Anglican Girls Grammar School, Owo, Ondo State.

She also studied in Washington DC and was a staff of the Nigerian Embassy in Washington DC, USA.

One of the earliest entrants into the Nigerian fashion industry, Sefi was among the pioneers in fashion shows, anchoring regular events at the Federal Palace Hotel in Victoria Island, Lagos. She was also an advocate for women, widows, and children.

“Fashion was what God gave her and she lived and died in it,” Okwechime Abdul said in a Facebook tribute.

“She made clothes for the high and mighty as her dress sense stood her put. Her tongue put her in many controversies but that is Safinatu for you. No compromises.”

Safi, however, warmed her way into public consciousness with her participation in current affairs programmes in virtually all popular current affairs programmes on radio and television in the 1990s, from MBI’s Open Access to NTA’s Tuesday Live.

“We weren’t close but I knew her voice, whenever there is a phone-in, she was always the first person to call in,” said Precious Eze, a journalist, who also penned a tribute to the late activist, on his Facebook wall.

“She made intelligent contributions on national issues that made her become a voice, in fact, when her voice got diminished, a lot of people got worried.”

More than a decade ago, while working as a producer at Minaj Broadcasting International, Uzonna Ononye, said his path crossed with Safi for the first time.

“I needed her to be a guest on a show because of her exposure to current affairs and her interest in making comments in a national discourse, that was why I sought her and invited her to the programme. She obliged but with a condition that I was going to pick her,” said Mr. Ononye, now the head of news at Silverbird Television.

“My office then was in Ladipo, she stays on the island, so I had to go and pick her and then take her back, but that was not a big deal for the fact that she agreed to be on the show.

“While in the car, she (kept) calling into other radio and TV programmes.”

While she lived, one question always hovered around Safi: how was she able to always be the first caller in any of the radio or television programmes that piqued her interest?

“She seemed to have a passion for a better society, for her to keep tab of all the current affairs programmes that are being followed by people and then always call. Sometimes you wonder how her call would be the first every day,” Mr. Ononye said.

“That would suggest to me that perhaps she will be ready to call and hold on, they pick her call, she will say ‘don’t worry, I’ll wait until the opening of the programme.’

“And then they will open the line so that she will be the first. Because if she’s not the first, she may not be lucky when a lot of calls start coming in. That suggests also that she’s committed to this, for whatever reason.

“Today we have a society that once you see somebody making a lot of sacrifice, you begin to wonder where the money is coming from. In her case, I’m not sure because she talks about the downtrodden, she talks about the poor, the homeless, people that nobody will ordinarily speak for.

“That was the Sefinatu Mohammed I knew within the period I knew and followed her and related with her on that work level.”

Her ardent admirer, Joe Igbokwe, described the late fashion designer as an “activist par excellence.”

“Around that 1999 era, Obasanjo’s era, she was very popular, she would talk loud and clear on any issue at all, any issue with respect to Nigeria, she was always intervening,” said Mr. Igbokwe, the Lagos State Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress.

“An advocate in the people’s court, sometimes she was concerned about the new Nigeria where things work. We mourn here, we miss her typical voice, she has got peace and let her rest in perfect peace.”

If Safi was not at the forefront of campaigning against the closure of media houses in the mid-90s, she was championing for better telephone services during the infant years of the telecommunications industry in the early 2000s.

Or she was running her nongovernmental organizations, Renewed Hope and the Safinatu Mohammed Foundation, aimed at liberating women and girls in conflict zones.

She was also part of a mobilisation effort during the 1998 fire incident in Jesse, Delta State, providing the needed logistics – material as well as financial – to hundreds of victims of one of the most deadly oil pipeline explosion in Nigeria.

In the years preceding her death, Safi developed an ailment that took a toll on her physically and financially.

“Due to her medical condition, she lost virtually all her belongings and was reduced to penury and abject poverty,” Emmanuel Osegi, Safi’s nephew, told PREMIUM TIMES.

In life, Safi was full of energy, championed the cause of the less privileged, and advocated for a better society.

In death, she was unsung.

To help raise funds for her funeral, her family created a memorial post to seek donations to support her burial arrangements as well as for a memorial service.

Safinatu Mohammed was married to the late Abubakar Mohammed, a retired permanent secretary at the Federal Ministry of Education.

She was 69.

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