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The dearth of investigative journalism in Nigeria: An analysis

  • When we think of ‘investigative journalism’, more often than not, we picture an over-zealous, stubborn journalist who ducks behind trees and hedges to dig up the unsavoury details of intricate plots that can topple governments.

    Yet is investigative journalism always so glamorous? More importantly, does investigative journalism in any form still existent in Nigeria?

    Don’t be in such a hurry to answer those questions as this article will bring to the fore certain issues you did not know earlier.

    Nonetheless, investigative journalism is one of those terms that reverberated through the walls of lecture halls while I was an undergraduate and that we now throw around carelessly in journalistic circles.

    In fact, just last month, during a conference on investigative reporting, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo tasked journalists to hold the government accountable by engaging in investigative journalism.

    However, we must ask: what exactly does it mean?

    Investigative journalism: A closer look

    To avoid ambiguity, you should know that UNESCO says that investigative journalism refers to “unveiling of matters that are concealed either deliberately by someone in a position of power, or accidentally, behind a chaotic mass of facts and circumstances - and the analysis and exposure of all relevant facts to the public.”

    That is how the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) defines it, and this is the United Nations we are talking about, so they know what they are saying.

    Anyway, investigative journalism is an integral part of journalism, and it is one of the major means of the media upholding its role as the fourth estate of the realm. Being the fourth estate means that the press is the institution that stands apart from the rest of society to serve as a watchdog over the other constituents of society.

    One look at the current state of Nigeria and you would agree that the polity must be held accountable. As you can guess, I imagined Investigative Journalism swooping in, dressed in a cape to do the work that must be done. This led me to the big question: Does investigative journalism still exist in Nigeria?

    Investigative journalism in Nigeria today

    I did a quick vox pop to ascertain if people believed that investigative journalism is being practised in Nigeria to date, and most people gave me a resounding ‘no’.

    A few people said that it exists in pockets. They went on to mention people like editor of Daily Nigerian, Jaafar Jaafar who published the famed video in which Abdullahi Ganduje, governor of Kano State was allegedly receiving a bribe.

    Another journalist that has been in the spotlight lately is Abdulaziz Abdulaziz of Premium Times. He investigated the former Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun’s NYSC certificate forgery.

    This pair managed to pull national attention to major issues that would change the status quo in saner climes.

    However, why is it that the average man does not believe that investigate journalism still has a place in Nigeria?

    Once upon a time, as in the days of Dele Giwa, news reportage took on a different form. (Of course, there is no way I will write on investigative reporting in Nigeria without mentioning the martyr).

    News reporting in Newswatch, the magazine he co-owned with other daring reporters was incisive, rich, investigative and had a direct impact on the common man.

    According to International Afro Mass Media: A Reference Guide, Newswatch “changed the format of print journalism in Nigeria [and] introduced bold, investigative formats to news reporting in Nigeria."

    So, why isn’t investigative journalism as prominent now, as it was in the heydays of Newswatch? I believe it has to do with the challenges that journalism as a whole is facing now.

    Related article: Ten notable quotes about the profession of journalism

    Chief among these challenges is media ownership. As the popular saying goes, “He who pays the piper dictates the tune”.

    Most of the media owners in Nigeria are politicians or individuals with clear political affiliations. What this means for journalism is that these individuals attempt to protect their interests through the media organizations that they own.  

    The fact that there is no strong capital base for the media in this country makes news organizations largely dependent on those doling out the money. With this being the prevailing situation, only a fool would bite the fingers that feed him or her. Thus, it is a purely human instinct that makes most journalists steer clear of investigative reporting.

    Another major challenge is the inefficacy of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act. Though it was enacted into law in 2011, it proves that passing a bill into law does not automatically mean that it will find expression in everyday life.

    In spite of the fact that this Act makes it possible for anyone who is interested in requesting access to public records, many journalists have been denied such access that would make their work much easier.

    Furthermore, the fact that the efforts of some investigative journalists have barely yielded the needed change can discourage others. For instance, despite the publication of the video in which Ganduje was reported to be accepting a bribe, he contested for re-election and won. The case is currently losing momentum.

    According to GSDRC, other challenges confronting investigative journalism are:

    1. Inadequate working conditions and training

    Usually, journalists are not trained on the rudiments of proper research that can impact on average people. Even if they know how to go about it, the working conditions and salaries are barely enough to get by. It would take uncommon determination for a journalist to go against the grain and dig up stories that can change the status quo.

    2. Threats of or actual violence against reporters

    Sahara Reporters reports that between 1992 and 2012, at least 18 journalists have been killed in action while many more have been assaulted.

    During the 2015 general elections, there were reports that journalists were attacked while similar reports of harassment trail the 2019 elections as well. 

    In March this year, Jones Abiri, a journalist in Bayelsa, was equally unlawfully taken into custody.

    There is also the case of Samuel Ogundipe who was picked up by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), Musikilu Mojeed and Azeezat Adedigbaas reported by Premium Times.

    The news is rife with stories of how journalists are being harassed, so one would not exactly blame journalists for not going against the government. Besides, most of us in Nigeria believe that you can never win against the government.

    3. Widespread corruption

    Since the present administration came into power, the word ‘corruption’ has clung to our tongues. In truth, it is a systemic and institutionalized problem that has eaten its way into the media.

    Any student of journalism in Nigeria would be familiar with the concept of Brown Envelope, which is just a euphemism for a bribe. Most Nigerian journalists accept bribes to cover certain stories and let’s not forget the money flagrantly shared at events where journalists are invited, in the name of ‘transport fare’.

    Notwithstanding the cankerworm that has made its home in Nigerian journalism, there is yet hope…perhaps.

    Check out the following article for more factors influencing news objectivity in journalism.

    New courses being charted

    One of the respondents of my vox pop opined that the semblance of investigative journalism that exists today in Nigeria is being used for witch-hunts.

    Ebipade Amasuomo said, “Most times, it is only used in trials, a probe or to show when some politician or top official has stolen public funds. I have not seen it being used to hold other people accountable.”

    Indeed, most times, investigative journalism seems to wake up when someone has a personal vendetta. Alternately, we have seen its full swing as a distraction from other national issues.

    However, I have come across a number of journalists who have made strides in uncovering certain irregularities in institutions that are meant to cater to Nigerians’ basic needs.

    One of such is Kemi Busari who posed as someone applying for an international passport so that he could get a close-up of the extortion going at the Lagos immigration office. It was detailed and well-researched.

    Another is by Oladeinde Olawoyin on how official manipulate the process of obtaining a drivers’ license, an issue that has plagued many Nigerian drivers for years.

    Other journalists to watch out for are Ivy Kanu and Mojeed Alabi, and these are just a few of the budding investigative reporters we have.

    Even though the lazy who-said-what form of journalism is what is prevalent in Nigeria, there are a few who are pushing the boundaries and asking relevant questions. For now, this may be all we have, but hopefully, we will keep pushing the frontiers.

    Now what?

    Of course, we cannot just end the conversation on this note. There is always a way to make things better (if the relevant authorities will care enough to listen).

    First of all, it begins with the way our educational system is structured. Let’s take Yours Truly as an example. I didn’t study journalism per se. I did Mass Communication, which comprises of Public Relations and Advertising. I didn’t even get the chance to major in the field that interested me the most. In the end, I became Jackie of all trade.

    Honing my skills as a journalist became a function of my will and determination.

    What this tells us is that the way journalism is taught in Nigeria has to change. The weight of the responsibility of the profession has to be driven home in the minds of students.

    Also, we schools need to ensure they have the equipment and facilities for training young journalists. Most of them have never been in a broadcast studio or worked in a newsroom till they do on their internship. That is just sad. 

    Another way of improving investigative journalism is by creating incentives for it. I recently stumbled upon the Wole Soyinka Award for Investigative Reporting, and it is a step in the right direction.

    If pressmen saw the prestige attached to this branch of investigative journalism, they would be more motivated to venture into it. In fact, wouldn’t it be spectacular to have a Nigerian version of the Pulitzer?

    Also, there is the issue of improving the salary structures of journalists. This is as a result of the state of the economy. It may be a long shot, but it does not hurt to put it out there.

    On a more serious note, if proper regulatory bodies, and not the figureheads we have now, stepped up to closely watch the activities of journalists to stop them from taking bribes, ensure that their take-home packages are attractive and see to it that the harassment of journalists does not go unquestioned, investigative journalism would be in a much better place.

    Away from journalism itself now, a sure route to improving investigative reporting would be to strengthen the judicial system.

    A good number of people have grown disenchanted with the judiciary, and honestly, I don’t blame them because the institution has become a farce in recent times. The way the judiciary has handled the Ganduje scandal depicts lucidly how weak it has become. If the judiciary, being the supposed last hope of the people, is such a joke, then why would journalists even bother with uncovering these twisted schemes?  

    However, if the nation took decisive steps to have the judiciary function as an independent and objective arbiter, then maybe there would be hope for the media. Journalists would not feel as though their efforts are in vain.

    Related: Nigeria and the theory of insane resilience

    Finally, you must know that the buck stops with you. I don’t mean this in the cliché way that the gimmick ‘change begins with me’ was used a few years ago. Beyond that, I am saying that if we, the Nigerian populace, do not imbibe the culture of holding public officers accountable, we may not see the desired results.

    Many years, I have believed that Nigerians are resilient, and though we are strong, we also have a defeatist attitude. We have a way of adapting to whatever is thrown at us by our leaders, forgetting that they are there to serve us. As such, they should be doing our bidding.

    This understanding should prompt to ask questions and not shut down people who may be trying to ask those questions on our behalf.

    The Nigerian people must wake up!

    Investigative journalism is not where it ought to be considering our history and potentials, yet we can get it working again as it should if all hands are on deck.

    Indeed, investigative journalism may not be about ducking and going deep undercover, but in the end, it puts public interest above all else and seeks to answer difficult questions that no one may be asking.

    Dear Nigerians, what difficult question do you think we should be asking right now?

    Courtesy, Default Photo (Dele Giwa, Founder of Newswatch): Sahara Reporters

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