I am Betty Abah, a Nigerian journalist and human rights campaigner. I am 46 years old. I am the founder of the Centre for Children’s Health Education, Orientation and Protection (CEE-HOPE), a child’s rights non-profit working for the rights and development of marginalised young people in Nigeria.
In a way, I kick-started my activism career as a teenager, rallying other children together in motivational clubs in Otukpo, North Central Nigeria where I was born, while also writing about issues around me especially in poetry form. After obtaining my first degree in English and Literary Studies from the University of Calabar in 1999, I first ventured into journalism and practised with Newswatch and TELL magazines in Lagos, and later briefly at the Rocky Mountain News in Colorado, USA (on a media fellowship).
My reports which drew attention to poverty, diseases and injustices earned me both local and international awards including the Nigeria Media Merit Awards, Diamond Awards for Media Excellence, Red Ribbon Awards for HIV Reporting, Wole Soyinka Award for Investigative Reporting, etc. My international awards and fellowships include the Alfred Friendly Press Fellowships, USA, and the John Knight Health Reporting Fellowship, USA, among others.
But I had often wondered about the possibility of ‘jumping right into the ditch to get things done’ rather than merely reporting especially amidst a culture of impunity in which laws and policies are slow to be effected. My ‘official’ journey into activism came in 2008, about two years after I returned to Nigeria following a six-month media fellowship in the USA. One of my trainings as a health reporter was at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia (a one-week boot camp by the John Knight Health Reporting program) with one of the courses being on international tobacco control. It was an eye-opener into how serious governments around the world were implementing stringent legislations and policies against the use of tobacco products which has been a major threat to global public health. Back home in Nigeria, however, I observed that it was a different story entirely what with weak or barely existent legislations, compromised officials and multinational tobacco manufacturers seeing Nigeria as fertile soil to market their controversial products while riding roughshod on all known laws and logics on public safety. I then started a series of reports on tobacco control and the global trends. It attracted the attention of the NGO Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria which had incidentally just started a major and unprecedented tobacco control campaign. They promptly ‘conscripted’ me into their ‘army’ of campaigners, and the rest, as we would say, is activism history.
They promptly ‘conscripted’ me into their ‘army’ of campaigners, and the rest, as we would say, is activism history.
We succeeded in creating a major national sensitization and a groundswell of opposition against tobacco use, including running a novel ‘Tobacco Control radio show and blog, which I presented. The entire campaign climaxed in the passing of the National Tobacco Control Bill and a drastic reduction in advertisements and the hitherto rampant flouting of rules by the tobacco multinationals. It wasn’t without threats though, but we were resolute and besides the passing of the bill, our team won the maiden Bloomberg Award for International Tobacco Control in 2012. I then also headed the women’s campaign desk and coordinated projects on women’s environmental rights across Nigeria and the African sub-region, galvanising oppressed women in impoverished local communities hosting environmentally hostile extractive companies, to stand up for their women and environmental rights and also to exert themselves in the face of patriarchal traditions which continually oppressed them.
Being continually drawn to children’s issues (my first love), I started CEE-HOPE in 2013 to address the rampant cases of child abuse, child poverty and multiple endangerments of young people by exposing abuses through advocacy and multiple media searchlights as again, not many persons or groups were addressing these violations including rising cases of child rape.
Over the years I have been involved in major campaigns for the rights of women and children in Nigeria including the #JusticeForOchanya, #BringBackOurGirls (on the school girls abducted by Boko Haram in 2014), Ese Oruru, #JusticeForEjigboThree and others, sometimes utilising the highly effective social media platforms including Twitter and Facebook. Through CEE-HOPE I also regularly campaign for the human and housing rights of children and young people who are regular victims of forced evictions and multifaceted abuses by the government in the sprawling informal settlements in Lagos.
Over the years, some of my human rights campaigns have ruffled powerful elements and posed definite threats to my life, including my 2019 exposé of alleged high-level graft in the UN system in Nigeria.
In beautiful York, I intend to do a comparative study of the child protection system in the United Kingdom vis-a-vis Nigeria and adapt same the process, especially with regard to how our systems can be strengthened to make existing laws effective. That is in addition to relaxing and overcoming burnout.