At the forefront of Northern Nigerian women making definitive change and breaking boundaries is Salma Phillips. In our interview with her, she talks about her journey towards becoming a TV Host and Film Maker, being recognized on BBC’s African Women, and why persistence is an important trait to have. We hope it inspires you.
How would you describe yourself and what you do Salma?
I’m a Fulani woman from the North-Eastern part of Nigeria precisely Borno State. I’m a wife, mother, talk show host, writer, film maker and the executive producer of The Salma Show and Arewa Ta Yau, an indigenous Hausa Talk Show.
Why did you choose television as a medium of expression, and how did your interest in TV start?
I fell in love with Television when I was eight years old. I remember the first time I saw Femi Oke on CNN as I watched with my dad who was a big fan of hers at the time. He told me she was Nigerian and from that moment the desire to become a TV presenter started to grow in me.
Let’s backtrack a little bit. What were you doing before you started your production company?
I was running a facility management company in Abuja for a few years and had a good number of clients but in all of this, I wasn’t deeply fulfilled and it felt like I was not reaching my full potential. You know that feeling you get when there’s more to be accomplished. It was at this point that I decided to follow my passion in Television.
Wow. Did you feel any fear or anxiety in moving to a completely different field?
Very well yes. I basically did it afraid as I had no clue or idea about Television. I was also so scared of failing. To be honest with you, I wasn’t confident going into the industry but I took the first step anyway; I’m so glad I did as the feedback has been phenomenal so far.
You were the first Nigerian woman to be featured on BBC’s African Women, how did that make you feel?
I must say it was a great honour to be featured on a reputable international platform like the BBC and being the first Nigerian on BBC African women was an out of the body experience for me. I’m so proud of how far I’ve come as I started out in 2013 not knowing the outcome of the journey I was embarking on and I’m grateful for where I am today and the bigger things to come.
Having a northern background, did you receive as much encouragement as you needed from your family to pursue your media dream?
Well, when I was about 16 years old, I told my father I wanted to study theatre or mass communications, he blatantly refused and I was forced to study law. I’m older now and can make my own decisions (laughs). I’m thankful for my husband who has been my greatest support. I’m where I am in my career today because of him and of course God.
What are the 3 key things you’ve learned about being an entrepreneur?
Number one would be Adaptability; the ability to adapt to change is very key to being an entrepreneur.
Then Persistence; never give up, the road may seem bumpy but don’t let anything stop you from pursuing your goals.
Lastly, Good work ethics; taking work very seriously and always looking out for new ways to do things better is also key.
How about the challenges, what are some of the difficulties you faced in your quest to become a TV host, and how did you overcome them?
In my journey to being a talk show host and TV production, I was rejected three times in four years and had to return to school to major in broadcasting. It was then I discovered it is a whole new technical terrain and not as easy as it looks!
As a Northern woman, you are in a field that many would term unconventional. How do you think more women, especially from your part of the country can be encouraged to shatter glass ceilings?
This is one of the reasons I kept pushing! The basic truth is that it is harder for Northern women to pursue a career because of our religion and culture. There are a lot of brilliant, talented and hardworking northern women but these women diminish their achievements in order not to oppress their men. It’s really a hard pill to swallow but it’s the truth. However, I would still advise these women to keep pushing like I did and never give up on their dreams.
In your opinion, how much impact would you say the Salma Show has had on lives?
The feedback so far has been great both locally and internationally. I receive a lot of messages even from young northern girls who reach out to me almost every day and this literally melts my heart.
Who are some of the women who inspire you personally and business wise?
I would say my late mum, she is the strongest woman I’ve ever known and she shaped me into the woman that I am today. I love Omotola Ekeinde, she inspires me with all that she has achieved being married with children and if this didn’t stop her then I have no excuse. Also, Mrs Adesuwa Onyenokwe who has been in the media industry for over 20 years and still keeps soaring. I look up to Femi Oke, Christine Amanpour, Mo Abudu, Betty Irabor and of course Amina Mohammed, the first deputy secretary-general of the United Nations. She is a northern woman I am super proud of.
What are the next steps for the Salma Show, and for you personally?
Well, it’s been quite a busy year as we just wrapped up the recording of the first season of Arewa Ta Yau, an indigenous Hausa Talk Show which would start airing soon. We have also begun filming the second season of The Salma Show which would be totally different from the first so be on the lookout. I can safely say that I’m also going to be part of a series coming to your TV screens soon, shooting has commenced but I’m afraid, I can’t reveal more than this.
Are you working on any big project in particular at the moment?
Sure! But you wait for the announcement.
What advice would you give younger women who want to follow in your footsteps?
Never give up on your dreams! Things may not work out at first but it eventually will in the end. Remember to work hard. Hard work always pays off. In some cases, you may have to create your own opportunities. Stay focused on what you want to achieve in life and go for it. Don’t get distracted by what the next person is doing as we are all running different races in life.It is also necessary to find people who believe in your dreams and at least someone you can be accountable to. Don’t forget to PRAY, this is most important.
How do you balance the roles of wife, mother and business woman, and how do you ensure that you don’t get burned out?
Running a family and a business in Nigeria is very tasking but I’m blessed to have a very supportive spouse and a good team who always fills in for me and ensures that I’m able to balance my work and family life without getting so overwhelmed and burned out. This helps me to ease off all the tension and stay focused.
Favourite holiday destination and why?
The Maldives any day; it’s truly Paradise on Earth.
The Leading Ladies Africa Series is a weekly interview series which focuses on women of African descent, showcases their experiences across all socio-economic sectors, highlights their personal and professional achievements and offers useful advice on how to make life more satisfying for women.
It is an off-shoot of Leading Ladies Africa, a non-profit that promotes women empowerment and gender inclusion for women of African descent.