Author ~ Dami Vera-Cruz
“Investigative reporting is the bone structure without which the journalistic body collapses.” – Alma Guillermoprieto.
Lagos, Saturday, 09 December, 2017 – Investigative journalism/reporting plays a vital role in any democracy. This should most times call the powerful to account, and expose corruption, give the public a ‘heads up” about certain people who are not obeying the law, and so on. However, the journalists who risk their lives to carry out such investigations are rarely rewarded.
In October 2005, the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) – a non-governmental organisation with a vision to stimulate the emergence of a socially just community defined by the ethics of inclusion, transparency and accountability through the mechanism of investigative journalism, launched “The Wole Soyinka Award for Investigative Reporting”, to encourage the development of an investigative tradition in the Nigerian media through rigorous scrutiny of human rights violations, regulatory failures and corruption in the public and corporate sectors of the nation’s life. In the twelfth edition of the awards ceremony which held at NECA House, Ikeja, Lagos, WSCIJ played host to several dignitaries such as Professor Wole Soyinka, Grand Patron, WSCIJ, Dr. Obiageli Ezekwesili, Senior Economic Advisor, Africa Economic Development Policy Initiative and various journalists from the Nigerian media space.
Since October 2015, the award has rewarded 83 finalists. Of these 83 finalists, there has been 83 finalists, 28 runners-ups, 16 commended works (those who did not win awards but were creative and exceptional and received commendations for their works), 6 investigative journalists for the year and 18 honourary awards.
The awards ceremony started with a dance performance by Footprints of David on Performance of All Correct Licence (A musical drama). The ceremony was compered by Mike Okwoche, Senior Anchor, TVC News.
Professor Ropo Sekoni, the Board Chair, WSCIJ, gave the opening speech in which he spoke about the activities that have been carried out by WSCIJ during the year. First, he mentioned the Annual Lecture which held on the Birthday Anniversary of Wole Soyinka. He also emphasised on the unfortunate return of slave trade and mentions the need for thorough investigation of the Nigerian side of the faces behind human trafficking.
Head, Influencing and Public Engagement, Oxfam in Nigeria, Abudulazzez Musa, gave the goodwill message where he mentioned that the partnership with WSCIJ would help journalists highlight the genuine issues affecting agriculture and food security in Nigeria. This partnership brought about the newly introduced special prize for Agriculture and Food Security.
Footprints of David reappeared on stage during an interlude to charge the ambience of the award programme with a dance drama. The performance was a satire on the men in uniform, who jump queues in filling stations, drive against traffic, and unacceptably trample on the rights of the citizens who dare raise the eyebrow on their brutality. The group pleaded that the journalists use their pen to help Nigerians regain their freedom, affirming that the pen is mightier than sword.
Motunrayo Alaka, the Coordinator of the WSCIJ presented a Statement on brutality of citizens by state security agents in which she noted that the centre has since inception supported investigations on the brutality of armed security agents on Nigerians. She mentioned some investigative stories ranging from extra-judicial killings, to torture of Nigerians, done by some of the centre’s Soyinka Laureates. She then called on the government to put an end to the ‘reign of terror’ on citizens by those with the constitutional mandate of protecting them.
The highlight of the event was the presentation of cheques, plaques and commendation to the different winners. The winners got cash prizes of Two Hundred Thousand Naira, award plaque, two terra-byte hard drives, certificate of commendation and will proceed on an international study tour in 2018.
For the honourary awards, Edetaen Ojo, Executive Director, Media Rights Agenda, received the Lifetime Award for Journalistic Excellence for his leadership of issues that enshrine freedom of expression, including his significant contribution towards the passage and implementation of the Freedom of Information Act in Nigeria. While Dr. Obiageli Ezekwesili, was conferred the Anti-Corruption Defender Award. Fondly referred to as ‘Madam due process’, Dr. Ezekwesili is the ninth recipient of the award.
Adekunle Yusuf emerged the winner of the print category and the 2017 WSCIJ-Nigerian Investigative Reporter of the Year award for his story – Exposed: How corruption, favouritism thrive in UNILORIN, published in The Nation Newspaper. Adekunle is a second-time winner, as he won the award in 2015. His story is an uncovering of over four years of hidden corruption cases in the University of Ilorin. The piece, Nyanya blasts: victims’ agonies live on, saw Mojeed Alabi of New Telegraph emerging as the runner-up while Chinwe Agbeze of Businessday was commended for her story, Cheese Balls Company where slavery goes on.
Soyombo Olufisayo, a third-time winner of the award, with a story published on The Cable, Undercover: in Borno, children are dying at IDP camps, foodstuffs are ‘disappearing’ at SEMA store, won the online category. Premium Times’ Kemi Busari emerged the runner-up for the piece, Investigation: corruption, extortion reign at Nigeria Immigration passport office. Ebere Ndukwu of Ripples Nigeria on the other hand, was commended for his work, Investigation: Aregbesola and the scam called Opon-Imo.
For the photo category, Ayodele Ojo, a 2016 runner-up, won for his photo, Law of jackboot published in Daily SunNewspaper. VIO being molested by hoodlums for trying to arrest a traffic offender, a picture published in Leadership Newspaper made Kolawole Aliu the runner-up. Ayodele Adeniran of The Guardian Newspaper was commended for his entry, Tragedy as another three-storey building collapses in Lagos. Local rice: the bitter, sweet side of an economy driven by women by Ujorha Tadaferua of Daily Trust Newspaper won the newly introduced Special prize for Agriculture and Food Security.
However, the editorial cartoon, television and radio categories failed to produce winners.
In his Keynote address, Wole Soyinka congratulated the winners, adding that the Nigerian media is considered one of the foremost and most interesting all over the world.
The closing remark and vote of thanks was given by Jiti Ogunye, Board Secretary, WSCIJ.