Nigerian Press and the Challenge of Investigating Powers: A Case for Collaborative Journalism

Media historians have recorded the radical role played by the press to end the oppressive regime of the British colonial power in Nigeria. Individuals such as John Payne Jackson, publisher of Lagos Weekly Record; Herbert Macaulay, publisher of Lagos Daily News; Nnamdi of Azikwe, publisher of West African Pilot, Obafemi Awolowo, publisher of The Nigerian Tribune and others were celebrated for their contributions to the struggle for the Nigerian independence through their respective publications.

Of course, there are “sell-outs” like Kitoye Ajasa, publisher of The Nigerian Pioneer, Richard Akinwande Savage, publisher of Spectator and a few others whose publications aligned with the interests of the colonial power. Regardless of their oppositional view to end the British rule, the colonial masters eventually bowed to the will of Nigerians, and left.

So, the exit of the British power in Nigeria cannot be contemplated outside the understanding of the role played by the press.
Then came the military regime: Aguyi-Ironsi, Gowon, Murtala/Obasanjo, Buhari/Idiagbon, Babangida and Abacha. Again, the press rose to the occasion, as a watchdog and advocate for democratic principles.

Journalists such as Dele Giwa, Bayo Onanuga, Dapo Olorunyomi , Kunle Ajibade, Chris Anyanwu, Onome Osifo-Whiskey, Babafemi Ojudu and others courageously confronted the military regimes through their investigative reporting, often at great personal risk. They fought the military with mere pen and paper. Today, the military is back to the barrack!

But since the return of the civil rule, it appears the press has gone into deep slumber. Of course, there was a flash in the pan called 234Next, an ambitious journalism project led by the first African Pulitzer Prize Winner, Dele Olojede.

Next was however rested too quickly in the midst of political intimidation, economic sabotage and lacklustre management.
PREMIUM TIMES emerged from the ashes of Next to continue the hard-nose journalism that set Olojede’s project apart. But the newspaper is yet to reach the peak that Next attained in less than two years.

Several other journalism projects have emerged to imitate PREMIUM TIMES’ brand of journalism. The list includes International Centre for Investigative Reporting, ICIR, TheCable, and a few other recent experiments.

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These new outfits, in their own way, have caused some dents here and there.

But in the present-day Nigerian Republic, power abuse manifests in subtler and more opaque ways, posing substantial obstacles to investigative journalism. Exposing misconduct within public office now demands well-funded newsrooms equipped with highly skilled journalists and editors, a resource that is scarce in Nigeria.

Just take the case of case of oil subsidy as an example. There was no news outlet that was able to investigate the subsidy scam that later ruined the economy of the millions of the Nigerian families. To date, majority of Nigerians including the elites are befuddled by the intricacies of the Fuel Subsidy Economy. The ignorance of subsidy economy led President Bola Tinubu to announce “Subsidy is gone” on his inaugural speech in May last year.

Since that unfortunate declaration, things have gone South in the country. And the presidency has been trying several policies to reverse the adverse effect of that indiscretion to no avail.

In an ideal condition, the press would have provided a solid knowledge-base for the president to make an informed decision. But the Nigeria press is as confused as the public. No single newsroom was able to invest in deep investigation that could have illuminated the opacity surrounding the oil and gas sector in Nigeria. Till today, the accounting of oil expenditure and earning remain a black hole.
Even if individual news organizations attempted to thoroughly investigate subsidy scams, they might not succeed. Investigating the oil and gas industry in Nigeria is both costly and perilous, making it a daunting task for any single outlet to tackle effectively.
Therefore, there is a compelling argument for collaboration among newsrooms to pool resources, share expertise, and mitigate risks in investigating complex issues.

Imagine The Guardian newspaper, PREMIUM TIMES and Arise TV collaborating on investigating corruption and other wrongdoings in the energy industry sector. Imagine Punch collaborating with ICIR, TheCable and Channels to investigate scam that led to the collapse of steel industry in Nigeria. Such investigations cannot be ignored by policymakers and other stakeholders for too long.

Furthermore, when the power class that we investigate are colluding to pilfer the collective resources of the people, journalists and news organisations cannot afford to refrain from collaboration.

Therefore, here is my proposal for collaboration and for transforming journalism practice in Nigeria:

  1. News organizations must identify areas of mutual interest with other outlets where collaboration can lead to impactful investigative journalism.
  2. At the time of scarcity of resources, they must seek funding opportunities through partnerships with local and international news organizations.
  3. They must encourage their reporters to collaborate on investigative projects freely, while ensuring proper credit and recognition for their contributions.
  4. They also can collaborate by facilitating experience sharing and skill development among journalists to navigate the challenges of investigating powerful vested interests.
    Ajibola Amzat is Africa Editor for Centre for Collaborative Investigative Journalism, CCIJ. He is a PhD student at Stellenbosch University, South Africa


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