By About Her Culture
At just 25, Laila Johnson-Salami has been working for over 10 years. The University of Westminster graduate serves her native Nigeria in any and every way she can; whether on the air or through her non-profit, the We Rise Initiative.
A featured journalist and media personality on the Nigerian-owned Arise News network, Laila uses her platform to spotlight women’s issues and support progressive feminist grassroots movements.
In this interview, the multifaceted journalist details her motivation, her accomplishments, combatting Nigerian stereotypes, and the spirituality that guides her.
Undoubtedly, you sit among a pool of leading changemakers in Nigeria, with women’s empowerment and the environment at the forefront of your work. Why have you chosen these causes, and what are the goals for change you’d like to personally help ignite in your lifetime?
Laila: I’ve always tried to focus on reporting that matters and stories that matter. To me, nothing matters more than things that affect humanity’s survival. From severe global gender inequality to drastic climate change effects, these are topics we have to focus on and report on.
These are topics that we can positively affect through reporting. By waking up every day and telling myself to look where it matters most, I think I’ve been able to grow an audience that is both concerned, and looking to educate themselves on certain things.
Life is all about learning. The more I learn, the more I try to share what I’ve learned. My only goal is to keep on doing this.
Even though it’s shifting, there are still stereotypes about Nigeria and Nigerians. You embody the antithesis of these stereotypes. What are your thoughts about the negative perceptions about Nigeria, and if you could send the world a message about your country, what would that be?
Laila: Based on the sheer size of Nigeria, particularly our population, we’re always going to play a huge role in global affairs. I think a lot of stereotypes are often created around large and powerful nations. I don’t see it as our job to dispel these stereotypes. As Nigerians, we have to acknowledge, but not pay too much attention, to it. The harder we work, and the more successful we are, the more these stereotypes change and are changing.
I believe Nigerians are the most successful immigrant group in the United States. We know that we have some of the best doctors in the world. We know that anywhere Nigerians go, Nigerians thrive. While negative perceptions are always upsetting, knowing how great we are is so important and something we should never lose.
What we should never do is contribute to fueling these negative perceptions… I think because of how tiring Nigeria can be sometimes, we often do contribute to them.
Consciously deciding not to, knowing and understanding what comes with being Nigerian in our world today, and choosing to stay focused on individual success, will one day lead to our collective success as a nation.
You are still very young, even though so accomplished! Tell us about the different facets of your work, and what your vision is for your future?
Laila: While I never really enjoyed school, I loved co-curricular activities and being given room to progress, but I couldn’t stand classes and exams. So I just started working when I was very young. I was 15 when I founded my own NGO; 16 when I started internships; and 20 when I got my first graduate job. I actually applied for my first graduate job before graduating, and I moved back to Lagos right after submitting my final dissertation to start work. I didn’t want to work until I had officially graduated. I just wanted to get right into it.
I’ve always been hungry to learn, and learn on the job. I’m an expert on absolutely nothing. But, I enjoy learning, and over the past five years, that’s what I’ve done every single day. Last year, I decided that after two years of studio broadcasting on a primetime news show, I wanted to get more journalism experience in the field. I knew that going to the studio every day and reporting on the news and carrying out interviews, I wasn’t going to learn too much about the production, editing, scripting and filming side of things. I want to be able to do all of it.
I’ve learned so much in just one year of being in the field. My vision for the future is simply one where I can continue storytelling, and continue to report on crucial matters. I’m not sure if I want to report forever, but I’m taking everything day-by-day, and I’m extremely passionate about what I do.
You’ve lived and grown up between the UK and Nigeria. Why was Nigeria your choice as an adult?
Laila: Nigeria is home, and I couldn’t imagine myself living anywhere else. Although I do love being able to move between the UK and Nigeria, because the UK is also home. I think my main reason for moving back was wanting to contribute to Nigeria’s progress and growth as a nation, in my own little way.
It has been frustrating at times, but I haven’t regretted it. The more time goes on, the more I do see myself living in Nigeria forever.
Spirituality and positivity seem to be very important to you. Tell us how these became a part of your life, and how you practice both.
Laila: Life is short and there’s so much more to life than we’re ever going to know. I always say that if a fish in the ocean is what we do know, then the entire ocean is what we don’t. The universe is always going to remain the largest mystery, but I’m a strong believer in energy sitting at the core of everything – who we are, who we become, what we achieve, and the list goes on.
For me, the more positive energy that I can push out there, the better I always feel. As human beings I think we’ve constructed so many things to help us survive. They’re necessary and in our nature… religion being one of them. But, I’ve always tried to look beyond those constructs to what really is. I find that love and kindness are really all that matters. Being loving and kind, giving your life purpose, and simply doing something – these simple things that we often complicate as humans, lie at the core of that energy, and at the core of how we should exist. Life is always going to have its ups and downs, but our energy controls so much about us.