Shall we stand and observe a minute of silence….(1 minute passes)… you may now have your seats.
When I was a journalism undergraduate, we were told that you were not yet a ‘certified’ journalist until you broke a story, a scoop or an exclusive. A real journalist does not sit back in the news-room to re-write press releases or transcribe news stories from CNN and BBC to be broadcast on local television or carry a mic about town recording ‘vox pops’.
The test of a true journalist was in your ability to dig for the story behind the story. Richard Nixon’s WaterGate scandal was every lecturer’s sole point of reference. Our popular maxim in class (which we made loads of joke about) was HAVE A NOSE FOR NEWS.
There is unfortunately a melt-down of investigative journalism in Nigeria, and it’s for one obvious reason among many – the fear of losing one’s life.
Reporters Without Borders recently released their 2010 report on December 30, and here is the summary:
57 Journalists killed (25% fewer than in 2009)
51 Journalists kidnapped
535 Journalists arrested
1374 Physically attacked or threatened
504 Media Censored
127 Journalists fled their country
152 Bloggers and netizens arrested
52 Physically attacked
62 Countries affected by internet censorship
According to Reporters Without Borders, there was an increase in the kidnapping of journalists unlike in previous years; and “journalists were particularly exposed to this kind of risk in Afghanistan and Nigeria in 2010″
The art of investigative journalism no doubt shapes one to become the ‘D’ at the mouth of Danger. In this art, you visit the lion’s den and hope to return with only playful scratches from the lions’ paws; you toy with the cobra’s tail and hope to escape with a simple smacking kiss (not bites). This is just because naturally it is a risk, as the investigated does not want to be exposed and would do anything to safeguard the secret.
However, the benefit it brings to the society cannot be over-emphasized. When a social ill or vice is exposed (with no negative repercussions on the journalist) – it curbs the perpetrators of such acts (at least for a while), it earns the country international accolades as being a free state, it checks and balances excessive use of power by leaders and most importantly, it contributes its quota towards making the world a better place to live in.
In this age of globalization, everything that goes right or wrong in a nation stimulates a chain-reaction by ripple effect.
Unfortunately, when journalists are silenced, and their attackers go scot-free, it creates the exact opposite of those benefits. The enthusiasm of the journalist is not only dampened, but the society will be left at the mercy of tyrants and criminals as no one will be willing to die for a lost cause.
Nigeria has had it fair share of solid investigative journalists – some late, some surviving.Top on my list is Dele Giwa – who died by letter-bomb on October 19, 1986. Till date his killer remains a speculation, and you dare not utter a word.
I will run selected examples from history to date, just to jog our memories on how journalists have risked their lives to release a story, and what they have suffered for it.
Mineire Amakiri, a Port-Harcourt Correspondent with Nigerian Observer, had his head shaved with ‘an old rusty blade’, stripped naked and given twenty-four strokes of cane on his bare back.
Tai Solarin was arrested on October 11, 1974 for his published article, “The beginning of the end”. In the same 1974, Chris Okolie, Newsbreed Magazine, was detained over an article titled, “The War on Corruption: Who Will Bell the cat”.
(1984-1999) Kunle Ajibade of The News was arrested and asked to disclose the source of the story, “No One Guilty: The Commission of Enquiry Presents an Empty File Regarding Suspects in Coup d’etat”.
These are just a few of cases in history. More recent lists from 2010 are on the Committee to Protect Journalists website.
In this past Jos Crisis, Sunday Gyang Bwede and Nathan S. Dabak of The Light Bearer newspaper lost their lives on April 24, 2010.
There is also Bayo Ohu of the Guardian, September 20, 2009, who was gunned down in his apartment at Egbeda, Lagos, Nigeria, according to reports.
The list goes on and on… and this post could stretch forever if I continue.
It is thus obvious why it is tough to continue in the tradition of investigative journalism if we still lose our lives at such high figures in this 21 st century.
However, I am of the opinion that the internet is here to give the culture a new lease of life. It may not be too clear now how we can maximise this new media in developing our society. After all, we would still have the major challenge of scaling computer literacy issues for instance.
It is still my hope that in the near future, there will be an AFRO-LEAKS that would provide the solid platform for I.J and keep the journalists away from the reach of their marauders. This will no doubt bring about a better society.
2010 has finally come to an end… I wish you the best in 2011.
Thanks for staying with me on this Diary.
The Media Junkie
Recommended books, if you are interested in documented stories of Nigerian journalism:
Makers of the Nigerian Press by Dayo Duyile
Hosting the 140th Anniversary of the Nigerian Press edited by Tunji Oseni & Lanre Idowu
The Nigerian Press Under the Military: a Compendium of Press Freedom Violations in Nigeria (1966-1999) by Idris Mabadeje