ICIR Dialogue seeks ways for Nigerian media to promote public accountability despite challenge

JOURNALISTS, media scholars and practitioners from all over the country converge in Abuja for the International Centre For Investigative Reporting (ICIR) Media dialogue to discuss the ‘Role of the media in promoting public accountability.’

The event, held at Sandralia hotel in Abuja on Wednesday, dissected the responsibility and role the media play in promoting public accountability. The speakers also highlighted the political economy that influences journalism practice in Nigeria.

Dayo Aiyetan, the Executive director of the ICIR, gave welcome remarks, emphasizing the critical role of the media in a democracy and the need for journalists to actively promote transparency and accountability in public office.

Kole Shettima, the country director of MacArthur Foundation, who delivered the opening remarks, said there is a need to support journalists because of the heavy pressure the job exerted on the journalists, their spouse and their families.

Gloria Agema, Programme Manager at The ICIR gave a brief remark on the Open Contract Reporting (OCR) Project.

While highlighting the project’s impact on society since its inception; she said the OCR project supported with MacArthur funding has trained over two hundred journalists across the country.

Her statement was confirmed by a documentary that spotlighted the successes of the OCR project.

The keynote speaker at the Media Dialogue, Martins Oloja, Managing director and Editor-in-chief of Guardian Newspaper, examined the importance of a robust political economy to sustaining investigative journalism.

He argued that investigative journalism, even though critical to the nurturing of democracy, is unsustainable in a weak economy.

“Investigation, holding government to account, is not a tea party,” he said.

According to Oloja, even if a journalist is well disposed to investigation and has the skill to undertake investigative reporting, the reporter’s right attitude and skill are not enough to deliver hard-nosed investigative reporting.

“We can talk about attitude, we can talk about skill, we can talk about so many things to do with investigation, but at the end of the day, for you to do investigation, it is much more than that. Going to Kano to investigate something, and you know the commissioner for information as a friend, and you ask him to book a room for you, a thorough investigation is unlikely to take place.”

He said investigative journalism is to identify systemic failure and report about it without fear or favour.

“If we cant do something that will cause outrage, then there is something still wrong with our capacity to gather data. If you don’t have money, you can promote press freedom.”

Quoting William Randolph Hearst, he said “News is something somebody doesn’t want to be printed; all  else is advertising.”

“Any press release, any press statement that is given, is advertising; your ability as a journalist to bring out something somebody somewhere is trying to hide is the beginning of investigation.”

He urged Journalists to continue to exercise their constitutional duty of holding power to account.

“The power we exercise is given by the constitution in section 22,” Oloja reminded his audience.

After Oloja’s paper, the panellists discussed various challenges facing the journalism profession and proffer solutions.

The panel comprises of a professor of Mass Communication, University of Lagos, Abigail Ogwezzy; Musikilu Mojeed, Editor-in-Chief, Premium Times, Muskilu Mojeed;  Chairman, Editorial Board, Blueprint Newspaper,  Zainab Okino and Executive Director, Media Rights Agenda, Edetaen Ojo. Managing Editor at Dailytrust Newspapers, Stella Iyaji moderated the session.

Mojeed, draw attention to the need for journalists to put a searchlight on themselves. He wonders why some journalists are rich while the media houses they work for are poor.

“A lot of journalists are doing well but media houses are not. The good life is for the journalist but the media house is bleeding,” he said

Ogwezzy harps on the need for accountability in the journalism profession.

“The key issue here is accountability; if we don’t know what it is, we cant give it.”

According to her, accountability should not be for the government alone but individuals and corporations. “Accountability is at the heart of our work,” she stated.

Edetaen spoke on the need to continue challenging and scrutinizing society and leaders despite the lack of resources.

“Unless the media contribute to sanitizing the society, we will remain in the mess,” Edetaen said.

Okino advocates for the media to continue to hold political actors and non-actors responsible for a better society. She frowned at the idea of journalists serving as megaphones for politicians with narrow interests, insisting that the best role for journalists is to continue holding power accountable.

    The event ended with an award for three outstanding journalists for their report in the Open Contract Reporting.
    The first award was won by Ekemini Simon who investigated the financial scandals in the Akwa Ibom state government. The report reveals that the offices of the State Governor, Emmanuel Udom and the  Secretary to the State Government Emmanuel Ekuwem approved several questionable and extra-budgetary expenses in 2019. These bizarre expenses spent on cars, aircraft maintenance, fuel, government special projects and governor’s hospitality exceed N10 billion.

    Yakubu Salisu took the second position with his report on a failed health project in Kano.

    The third place went to Medinat Kanabe for her report on abandoned projects in the Badagary local government of Lagos state.

    Other guests at the event include acting Chairman of the ICIR Board of Trustees, Oluwafisan Bankale; ICIR Board member Abdul Mahmud; ICIR Board Member, Wale Fatade; the Executive Director of African Centre for Media and Literacy (AFRIMIL),  Chido Onumah; Director-General, Centre for Media Law and Development, Charles Odenigbo amongst others.

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