ICIR-funded report wins Ray Ekpu Investigative Journalism Prize

By Ekemini SIMON

AN investigative report commissioned by the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) has won the maiden edition of Ray Ekpu Investigative Journalism Prize.

The investigative journalism prize winner was announced at Dinner and Award Night of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Akwa Ibom State Council, held on Friday, December 10, 2021 in Uyo.

The award instituted by Inoyo Toro Foundation, a non-profit organisation working to promote quality education and boost capacity of Journalists in Akwa Ibom State, is designed to honour Ray Ekpu, a founding member of the renowned Newswatch magazine who hails from Akwa Ibom state.

The award-winning report, ‘Akwa Ibom Governor, SSG in Multi-billion Naira Scandal’ was done by Ekemini Simon and Abasifreke Effiong with funding and support from The ICIR.

The report is an investigation which exposed questionable expenditures to the tune of N10 billion in the 2019 financial report and audited statements of Akwa Ibom State.

The report revealed how the state government published that it bought 15 units of Prado Jeep TXL at the cost N4.864 billion, representing N324.3 million per unit cost at a time the market survey value for the car was N34 million.

The story further highlighted how the state government posted the expenditure of N5.04 billion for the maintenance of the governor’s private jet, a Bombardier Global 5000. This expense was made against the N2.5 billion approved by the House of Assembly and in disregard to the cost published by airline operators which kept the cost for 400 hours a year as approximately N693.88 million.

The investigation also revealed how the state government spent N2.70 billion to run generators and fuel the governor’s and deputy governor’s cars as well as those of their family members and appointees.  This was against the N1.3 billion approved for the item coupled with N689.7 million traced as the actual expenses incurred.

The story further exposed how the state government spent N120 million on the production of ‘security encoded ID card’ for intending pilgrims whereas these reporters found out from Christian pilgrims and the State Pilgrims Management Board that no ID card was produced for pilgrims that year.

The report by Simon and Effiong had caused the Akwa Ibom State government to withdraw her 2019 financial reports and audited account and publish a new one.

The investigation stirred state-wide discussions, petitions by citizen groups, and rose an unusual interest in the state government’s expenditure and caused the House of Assembly to set up a committee to investigate the claims made by the report and also review the 2019 audited statements which it had passed four months earlier.

The report later snowballed into a three-part investigation that exposed loopholes in the new financial report published by the state government and how N1.057 billion posted as expenditure for constituency project in 2019 was diverted.

    They were all published by The ICIR, The Mail and Dune newspapers between November and December 2020.

    The Ray Investigative Journalism award has a prize money of N500,000, and a laptop each to the winners.

    Eighteen entries from print media were received for the award, said Nsikak Essien, a former editor of the defunct Concord newspaper, who chaired the screening committee.

    Prizes for the award were presented to the winners by the Chairman of 2021 press week dinner, Senator Ken Nnamani.

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