INVESTIGATIVE journalists in Nigeria face being ostracised for unmasking corruption, not only by the government and large corporations they expose but also by their fellow colleagues.
This was the sentiment shared by Nigerian reporters who attended Premium Times editor Idris Akinbajo’s presentation Investigating for Change in Nigerian Oil.
Akinbajo was a key player in exposing the Malabu scandal of Nigeria, a scheme to steal oil money by government officials together with major oil companies Shell and Eni.“It is difficult being an investigative journalist in Nigeria. Journalists are probably even more corrupt than the government officials. But who reports on the reporter?” Akinbajo asked.
He said because he worked on the Malabu report, he was asked by colleagues why he bothered to pursue it. They told him he had nothing to lose from walking away from the investigation.
Akinbajo said the mentality in Nigeria was to go along with corruption as it is the norm. “People feel we are all corrupt. Why expose it? Why do differently? That’s the mentality,” he said.
Akinbajo said it was important for journalists to remember why they entered the profession and not be swayed by money. “Why are you in journalism if it is not to expose people who do wrong?” he asked the crowd.
Akinbajo said he was offered about 100-million naira (about R6.2-million) to drop the investigation but refused to do it as he made a decision to work hard and to be ethical.
“You have to be persistent. You must remain objective, work hard and persevere. Even though you will be ostracised you will also be respected more by others,” he said.
Going the extra mile
Although Akinbajo knows that there are reporters who are corrupt themselves, he does not think that he would report on corrupt journalists. “I would love to but dogs don’t eat dogs,” he joked. “On a serious note, though, the truth is sometimes I see these reporters as victims as well and it is very difficult to blame them.
They have food to put on their tables and children to put through school. I do not see them as the primary cause of the problem and therefore I will pursue the primary cause before I will expose journalists who are the result of bigger issues.”
Tobore Ovuorie, a fellow Nigerian reporter, said she felt the talk was insightful and fantastic.
“He went the extra mile for his story. Journalists in Nigeria do not dedicate time. He’s been an inspiration for me,” she said.
She added that other reporters would have been too scared to report on the Malabu scandal because of the key roleplayers. “They could get corrupted very easily and he refused to take blood money. That is very encouraging,” Ovuorie said.
The Malabu investigation has been ongoing since the year 2000. Akinbajo is still working on it and believes the work of exposing the corruption was possible because Nigeria has become more democratic. “Journalists now have access to more information and more people are willing to talk to us which is why we were able to uncover more,” he said.
When he first started his investigations his aim was for justice to be served. “For me justice is two-fold. One, for those people who broke the law to be punished accordingly. Then two, and for the oil bloc [funds] to be returned to the Nigerian government seeing as it was allocated fraudulently in the first place,” he said.
For further information on Akinbajo’s series visit: premiumtimesng.com