It was a gathering of the eagles in the journalism profession when the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) brought people, mainly from across the country and beyond, to celebrate her 17th year anniversary. Held in Lagos on December 8 and 9, the centre also used the opportunity to honour those that have done well in the reporting profession and encouraged other journalists that there is always reward for hard work.
Recall that WSCIJ is a non-governmental organisation established in 2005 to promote democracy and social justice using investigative journalism techniques and tools to expose corruption, regulatory failures and human rights abuses to galvanise public action and promote accountability. Since its inception, it has not relented in that which it was meant for. Of course this year’s event cum anniversary brought in who is who in journalism and it was a worthwhile experience. Speaking at the event, the executive director of the centre, Motunrayo Alaka disclosed that the two-day event would focus on issues bordering on investigative journalism stating that the work of journalists must be amplified. Stating that journalists influence the outcome of current societal issues such as elections and democracy, she urged journalists to focus on sub-national levels in reporting elections.
Alaka said: “We are celebrating investigative reporters because the work that they do is important and we felt that it was important to gather journalists and other people who are stakeholders in journalism and democracy to speak about the issues that affect us especially ahead of the upcoming elections. “The quality of journalism affects the quality of democracy. Accountability journalism and the democracy it supports, face threats daily. We are also going to celebrate investigative journalists who defy the odds, sacrifice personal interests and risk their lives in the line of duty to make sure that the country is in order. “Despite numerous challenges, many journalists hold both government and citizens accountable. To acknowledge this endeavour which guarantees the sanctity of our civic space, the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism has made it a duty to reward phenomenal works and encourage the culture of investigative journalism.”
Motunrayo Alaka said the 13 finalists were selected out of the 218 applications received for the award. With the theme of the conference/ anniversary as amplify in depth media conference, the keynote speaker, Lai Oso, a Professor School of Communication, Lagos State University who spoke on how investigative journalism shapes election outcome and deepens democracy, said the main goal of investigative journalism was the maintenance of public morality by exposing transgression or immoral behaviour and activities. He highlighted the challenges of investigative journalism which include ethnic, religious polarisation in the Nigerian society which he said tends to question the acceptable moral standard and lack of consensus on basic issues and values. He stated that society’s tolerance or indifference to stories and cases of wrongdoings is not because they are acceptable or approved but because of the attitude which he said is largely related to the government’s lack of appropriate and effective action to sanction those involved in misusing or abusing their positions.
High ethical standards
Lai Oso, however, urged journalists to maintain high ethical standards describing investigative journalism as the highest order of journalism and custodian of conscience. “It is important to observe that the critical or fundamental point is that the media as a major social institution is expected to serve the public by not just providing information but to stand against the abuses of power. For an election to be judged as credible it must not only be free and transparent, but it must also engender a high level of citizen participation. “The main goal of investigative journalism is the maintenance of public morality by exposing transgression or immoral behaviour and activities. Such exposure is expected to lead to change or policy reforms,” Oso said. Acclaimed Ghanaian undercover journalist, Anas Anas, advised investigative journalists to step up, investigate and report all presidential candidates adding that people should be able to understand how or what these people can do. He said “Proper investigative journalism is not easy. There are bound to be attacks but if we focus on selecting and making a proper analysis of these people, I’m sure that the Nigerian citizens will be happy.” Speaking the second day of the event before announcing the winners, the chairman of panel of judges, Professor Abigail Ogwezzy-Ndisika said: “The Wole Soyinka Award for Investigative Reporting honours outstanding journalists in the print, radio, television, photo, cartoon and online categories who focus on titles from failures, corruption in the public and corporate agencies. “The top story is a series on politicians and public officers (elected, appointed and employed) who abuse trust and the sensibilities of Nigerians. “Generally, all the entries are strong, because they drew attention to major national issues and most of the stories are real indictments on so many national and sub-national issues, accountability, governance and media independence. “They point to inclusivity by drawing our attention to minorities, women, youths, people with disabilities and hard to reach areas not discounting the rot in the public and private sectors and the three levels of government. “Only one radio report made it to the shortlist. A television story on banditry won the television category. While many of the entries in the photo category raised issues of concern, two are newsworthy and creative. “Although some of the stories were not awarded, they brought to the fore important issues which are warning signs for action in the country.” She said the committee cleared 109 finalists, 56 Soyinka laureates, and 12 investigative journalists adding that journalists who made the list for the awards have shown ethical journalistic courage in the course of their duty.
Winner of the 2022 Award
Hassan Adebayo of Premium Times won the overall award of the Investigative Journalist of the Year and the Best Investigative Story for the online category with his ‘Pandora Papers’ series article; while Juliana Francis of New Telegraph newspapers won the print category with her work: ‘For filthy lucre, police truncate defilement, rape cases, deny victims justice’.
Victor Asowata won the cartoon category with his cartoon work which illustrated how politicians use poverty to trap the people to manipulate elections published in ‘The Will’ newspaper. Chukwuemeka Emenike New Telegraph’s Assistant Chief Cartoonist was the runner up with his work of how the status of an individual determines the type of judgment he or she gets in Nigeria rather than the offence.
In radio category, Babatunde Okunlola won with his documentary titled: ‘Gold rushes and land grabs’ aired on ‘Diamond 885 FM’ while AbdulAziz AbdulAziz of ‘Trust TV’ won the television category with his work on Nigeria’s banditry and Amadi Uyi of ‘News Central TV’ was the runner up with his work ‘Abuja land racketeering, government officials turn blind eye’. Also the honorary award of Human Rights Defender went to Abiola Akiode of WARDC while the lifetime award for journalistic excellence went to Stella Din-Jacob, Director of News at ‘TVC’. Photo category went to Deji Lambo with his pictures on ‘Poisonous pomo, how Lagos traders sell cow-skin meat roasted with tyres, plastic pellets to unsuspecting Nigerians’ published in ‘Punch’ newspaper. Speaking one of the winners, Juliana Francis thanked the organisers for the award adding that ordinarily she doesn’t know how to speak but: “I know how to write and I’m doing it very well.”