Author: BBC Media Action's Caroline Chukwura, September 28 2016 - Growing up in Lagos, Nigeria, I had a pen pal far away in Nice, France. I was always excited to receive letters from her – I remember we bonded over photos of our home towns and discussions about our pets. She had dogs, while I had a parrot and 40 pigeons.

I’m older now, and have a daughter of my own whom I hope will have pen pals soon. But just because I’m an adult doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy being in touch with people far away. In fact, I do it daily as part of my work – although my pals are all in Nigeria, and mobile calls and text messages have replaced pen, paper and stamps.

I’m part of the monitoring team for BBC Media Action in Nigeria. Currently, we have over 195 partner radio stations and our six shows are broadcast more than 490 times each week. To gather feedback on all our programming, my colleagues and I rely on a group of independent monitors – or as I like to think of them, my mobile pals.

Independent what?

Independent monitors are audience members from different walks of life who voluntarily listen to our programmes and give us feedback to help us improve our content. We recruit them from among the people who text us independently with comments about the programmes. We then call them back to ask if they would like to help improve the programme they already love.

Uchendu Zeripher – a visually impaired man from Imo State – has been a fan of Story Story for over a decade. The long-running soap-opera helps people in Nigeria know more about their rights.

“Being an independent monitor helps me to be part of Story Story,” says Uchendu, who has monitored for us for over four years.

My colleagues and I are on the phone with our 140 monitors nearly every day. Their valuable feedback gives us insight into established shows but also helps us develop new content.

We recently tried out a new idea for our discussion programme Talk Your Own – Make Naija Better called the “village postcard”. In it, we focus on the daily lives of rural Nigerians, spotlighting anything from agriculture and cooking to traditional birth attendants. We quickly received a positive reaction from our independent monitors, which spurred us to continue in this direction.

Life-saving advice

Sometimes our monitors show us how our programmes have affected their own lives. Wasila Mohammad Inuwa, a 28-year-old from Kano State listens to Ya Take Ne Arewa, our radio show aimed at boosting the health of mothers and their children. Some of our episodes explain how to prevent and treat diarrhoea.

“I used ORS (oral rehydration solution) and zinc to save my little nephew’s life when he [had severe diarrhoea] at night”, Wasila recently told me. Laughing happily at the other end of the line, Wasila added, “now my brother’s wife is a serious fan of Ya Take Ne Arewa [too].”

Staying in touch with our 140 monitors across Nigeria helps me realise how much our programmes are listened to and loved by audiences – and the impact our work is having on people’s lives. And, just like when I was a kid learning about France from my pen pal, talking to monitors like Uchendu from Imo State or Wasila from Kano State helps me better understand my own country too.

Click here to access this BBC Media Action blog and related links on their work in Nigeria.

Image credit: BBC Media Action

BBC Media Action
BBC Media Centre, MC3A, 201 Wood Lane
W12 7TQ
United Kingdom (UK)
Phone: 44 (0) 20 8008 0001
Fax: 44 (0) 20 8008 5970