|By Motunrayo Alaka
Amid rising cases of media intimidation and human rights violation in the country, thirteen journalists; Amnesty International Nigeria, a global movement promoting human rights in Nigeria; and Sunmi Smart-Cole, veteran photojournalist, were honoured at the fourteenth Wole Soyinka Award for Investigative Reporting presentation event held at NECA House, Alausa, Ikeja, Lagos, on Monday, 9th December 2019, the World Anti-corruption Day.
In his opening remarks, Ropo Sekoni, Board Chair, WSCIJ, congratulated the category winners and the honorary award recipients for the great work they do in making governance accountable. Sekoni remarked that the time for the award presentation event was appropriate considering the tension in the air about raging controversies between the government and the media on the importance of freedom of expression and the rule of law to consolidation of democracy.
The Next Edition editor, Isine Ibanga won the online category for his two-part serial “How Bribe Taking Security Operatives/Gangs Force Nigerians to Pay Dearly for Food”. Ibanga was a runner-up in the category in 2014. Chikezie Omeje of International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) emerged runner-up in the category for his story “Million meant for combating HIV/AIDS in Nigeria end up in private pockets”. Damilola Banjo of Sahara Reporters was commended in the category for her four-part serial “Blood-Thirsty Demons of Zamfara”.
In the photography category, Odutayo Odusanya of Punch emerged runner-up for his visual story “Child Labour”. He was runner-up in the photo category in 2015. Saheed Olugbon, also of Punch was commended for his photo “Fifteen Years after Retirement, Struggle Continues”. Also, in the category, Ayodele Adeniran of Guardian was commended for his photo entry “Pupils lament pain, long trek in search of knowledge”.
Albert Oham of the Sun Newspaper was commended for his cartoon “N13.5 Million Sitting Allowance for Senators” published in the Sun Newspaper. Albert Oham was first runner-up in the 2012 edition of the award and was commended in 2014. However, the judges’ board did not consider any entry suitable to win the category.
For her five-part entry “Alleged Police Extra-Judicial Killing of Madam Basirat Akinmushire’’, Mary Abayomi-Fatile of Radio Nigeria was the only reporter recognised in the radio category. She was commended for her report. Whereas, there was no winner in the television category, Sharon Ijasan of Television Continental (TVC), a 2018 winner of the category, emerged runner-up for her two-part report, “Child rights, labour laws violated by Chinese companies”. Samuel-Wemimo Bukola, also of TVC was commended for her investigation “Depression and Suicide”.
Samson Folarin of Punch won the print category for his nine-part investigative report “Certificate, plagiarism, scandal rocks UNIZIK”, which revealed an academic fraud, intrigues, poor governance and subterfuge involving, Peter Ekemezie, who masqueraded as a “scholar” for years. Chinwe Agbeze of the Sun Newspaper emerged runner-up for her two-part investigative serial “Corruption ruins FG’s N7bn Unity Schools’ security project”. Chinwe was commended in the category in 2017 and was runner-up in the same category in 2018. Oladimeji Ramon of Punch was commended for his story “Lagos Mobile Court Where the Innocent, Guilty are Sent to Prison”.
The winners and runners-ups got cash prizes of N100,000 and N50,000 respectively, plus a certificate of commendation. In addition, winners got award plaques, and will proceed on an all-expense-paid international study tour in 2019. Reporters whose works were commended also got a certificate of commendation.
The Lifetime Award for Journalistic Excellence was conferred on veteran photojournalist, Sunmi Smart-Cole, for his outstanding contribution to journalism exhibited by his beautiful and evincing pictures particularly during the military era in Nigeria and his dedication to mentoring younger photojournalists. In his acceptance remark, Smart-Cole noted that the memoirs he is current working on will reflect the award.
The Human Rights Specialty of the Anti-Corruption Defender Award went to Amnesty International Nigeria for its remarkable voice against human rights violations and oppressive laws, and its efforts to defend freedom of expression in Nigeria. Amnesty International Nigeria is the 11th recipient of the award. Accepting the award, Osai Ojigho, Director, Amnesty International Nigeria, noted that the award is a challenge to the civil society. ‘When you speak the truth to power, there are people who are watching, who will also reward,’ she said.
Meanwhile, the presentation of award to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was suspended to align with protest against the repression of freedom of speech in recent times, especially the incident between the Department of State Security (DSS) and Omoyele Sowore, Publisher of Sahara Reporters, on Friday 6 December.
Umaru Pate, Chairman, 2019 Judges’ Board, applauded the finalists for the quality of entries received across the six categories. He said, “In spite of all odds in the media sector and particularly in investigative reporting, much is being done by dogged journalists to still uncover issues. He however observed on behalf of the Judges that there is the need for better quality report, through deeper investigation and thorough editing.”
For the tenacity, doggedness and focused handling of his investigative report on the brazen illegality among security operatives on Nigeria’s highways and how this contributes to the high prices of goods in Nigeria, Isine Ibanga was declared the 2019 WSCIJ-Nigerian Investigative Reporters.
Chido Onumah, Executive Director of African Centre for Media & Information Literacy (AFRICIMIL), made a statement on the inhibition of media and civic freedom in Nigeria. According to him the President Buhari-led administration have seen the invasion of the National Assembly by the SSS, abuse of due process, the desecration of courts, and now, the media and civil society. He called for the immediate and unconditional release of Omoyele Sowore, Olawale Bakare, Agba Jalingo and other journalists and civic activists languishing in prisons across the country.
Emphasising the ethics of the journalism profession, Femi Falana, human rights lawyer, demanded an apology from the media aides of the President, for playing on the collective intelligence of Nigerians through false statements issued on the invasion of the court by the men of the Department of State Security (DSS). This is because the DSS has apologised to the Judge on the incident.
In his closing remarks, Jiti Ogunye, WSCIJ’s Board Secretary, who thanked the guests and board of judges, noted that the country is going through a very serious phase in its historic journey, and that the work that journalists do is very important for remaking the country and our democracy.
Held first in October 2005, to develop investigative tradition among journalists, the Wole Soyinka Award for Investigative Reporting has now produced 98 finalists, including 50 laureates, 10 investigative journalists of the year, as well as 20 honorary awards recipients so far.