ABUJA, NIGERIA — Voice of America has launched a new SMS news service in Nigeria that allows cell phone users to get up-to-date VOA news headlines and emergency messages through three of the country’s major mobile providers.
The agreement was signed at a news conference in Abuja, Nigeria presented by VOA Director David Ensor and Osamede Umweni, CEO of the SMS content aggregator, 70th Precinct Limited.
“SMS is one of the most popular forms of mobile communication in Nigeria,” Ensor said, “and VOA is one of the most popular international broadcasters in the country. By putting our Hausa language news updates out as SMS messages on mobile phones, we give our audience the news they want on a platform they like.”
The SMS headline service has been undergoing tests in Nigeria for the past month. The VOA regional and international headlines are now updated three times a day, seven days a week, and are available on mobile providers MTN, Airtel, and Etisalat.
Stephen Ferri, the VOA Africa Division’s Senior Web Editor, says SMS is not only a popular way of communicating; it is one of the most reliable in an emergency. “When other communications systems break down, SMS will probably still work. We have seen this in other countries where our audience expanded sharply in a crisis, because SMS was the only way to get news.”
Rob Bole, the Director of the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ Office of Digital Design and Innovation, who is traveling with the VOA director, called mobile “one of the most important new ways for international broadcasters to reach audiences.” Bole is exploring ways to expand the use of mobile to reach African audiences across the range of platforms, from simple feature phones to high-bandwidth Internet-capable devices.
In addition to mobile service, VOA broadcasts to Nigeria on radio, television and the Internet. Many affiliate stations carry VOA Hausa language programs. Research conducted for the BBG shows that one in three Hausa language speakers listen to VOA radio at least once a week.
While in Nigeria, Ensor also signed a new affiliation agreement with Nagarta Radio in Kaduna, north of the Nigerian capital. Alhaji Lawal Yusuf Saulawa, Nagarta Radio’s Managing Director, told the VOA chief that the station’s powerful AM transmitter reaches most of the northern part of Nigeria, Niger and even into Sudan.
About 20 participants in a two-day training course in health reporting, organized by VOA at Radio Nagarta, were congratulated by Ensor. The major health story in the region has been the government’s campaign to eradicate polio, and threats made against polio vaccination workers. Even covering the news exposes journalists to risk, and the course advised them on how best to get the story out while minimizing risk. The training course was funded by the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC).
Ensor also met with Nigerian Vice President Namadi Sambo and Minister of Health Onyebuchi Chukwu, and visited the building where VOA will soon open an office in Abuja.