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Lanni Smith taught me optimism: A tribute by Ahmed Maiyaki

Lanni Smith was the first Director, Radio France Internationale Hausa service. We pioneered the project together in 2007.

My experience with her was indeed eventful that last a lifetime. Lanni was not only an experienced broadcaster but indeed an administrator. She led and gave opportunity to all. She literarily taught me optimism.

When the station advertised to build a team, the requirement wanted reporters with Tripartate language skills; fluency in English, Hausa and French. Unfortunately for me, aside ‘bonjour’ in french, I neither speak nor write the language, yet I applied.

Subsequently, Lanni wrote me an email, commending me for my interest to work with the France funded project inspite the fact I have inadequacy in speaking or writing french. But for my requisite experiece in radio production, she offered that I should come to Lagos but at my own expense since I didnt meet all the required skills .

With pessimism, I went to Lagos. And after the interview sessions for the invited qualified applicants; mostly senior Nigerian Radio Gurus, Niger Republic, Cameroun and other French speaking countries, I was introduced to the panel as the ‘unqualified’ but courageous applicant. I was at first intimadated by the caliber of some of the applicants. Some of them have been in the media industry for over 2 dacades.

At the panel, I was asked some technical questions and thereafter I was tasked to translate an english text to Hausa and produce a 10 minute radio magazine. With my experience, I produced what was later rated as qualitative content.

Shortly after, the panel invited me where Lanni told me the Vulture-Elephant story. ‘Do you know a vulture and an elephant’ she asked. And I simply said ‘yes madam’

She asked again, ‘is it possible for a vulture to hunt and kill an elephant? Imagening their sizes, I said ‘no madam, it is not possible’.

And then Lanni smiled and narrated a story on how a vulture hunted and killed an elephant. According to her, ‘there lived an aged elephant that sluggishly walked in a forest while a vulture sighted the elephant from a distance.

While ‘mighty’ elephant moves, the ‘tiny’ vulture with pessimism tried some courageous attempts to hit at its ‘prey’, the elephant. Surprisingly the elephant fell and died. The vulture hurriedly mobilised other vultures to enjoy the ‘big catch’. And while the feast was on, the vulture ‘hunter’, smiled and said ‘if not for my courageous hunts, I would have missed the big catch’.

Lanni then said to me, ‘this is how a vulture hunted and killed an elephant’. She concluded, ‘Ahmed you are the ‘vulture’, while the RFI project is the ‘elephant’.

The panel congratulated and offered me a job as against other ‘qualified’ applicants that speak all the languages required. I was reimbursed for all my expenses to Lagos. And that was how I joined the Radio France Project as a pioneer reporter based in Kaduna.

The morals of the story is that one should not be discouraged by some imagined mighty tasks. Be optimistic at all times. I learned so working with Lanni. Over the years, I built skills and experience that I continue to use to date.

Lanni returned to the English service in Paris after making a mark at the Hausa service. Though the station is not doing badly, but perhaps the station would have propelled beyond what it is today, if she had stayed longer.

Lanni Smith gave up the ghost after a battle with cancer. My sincere and heartfelt condolences to her immediate family and the enitre RFI family for this great lost. I will live to remember you Lanni, as long as I breath on earth.

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