Journalists, media proprietors and other stakeholders at the fifteenth Wole Soyinka Award for Investigative Reporting presentation ceremony, held on Wednesday, 9 December 2020, in Lagos, asserted that the Nigerian media cannot be silenced, nor its independence diminished by oppression from government, economic challenges or other trials. This was the recurring theme at the event as the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) honoured an array of people.
In his opening remarks, Ropo Sekoni, Board Chair, WSCIJ, acknowledged the MacArthur Foundation for supporting the award and the centre through the difficult year of the coronavirus pandemic. Sekoni also appreciated the members of the board of judges for their sacrifice to make the award event possible, by poring over pages and footages of materials from the candidates to choose the best works annually.
Damilola Banjo won the online category and made the celebrated list of the WSCIJ-Nigerian Investigative Reporter of the Year with her three-part investigation, “Justice for sale”, published on Sahara Reporters. “From Jonathan to Buhari: Inside Nigeria’s multi-billion-naira railway fraud’, a work by Taiwo Hassan Adebayo of Premium Times emerged runner up in the category. The joint investigative piece by Habib Oladapo and Damilola Banjo, “Inside a Lagos state school where A1 can be bought”, published on Sahara Reporters, was commended in the same category.
Both photo and cartoon had only commended works. Ikechukwu Ibe of Daily Trust was commended for his photo, “An armed solider punishing a commercial bike rider at Mararaba in Nasawara State”, and Victor Asowata of The Punch for the editorial cartoon “Canada opens doors for Nigerian professionals, doctors”. While there was no commended work or runner up for television, “Child sexual abuse: How police officers clog the wheels of justice“, Bukola Samuel-Wemimo’s gripping piece published by Television Continental (TVC), emerged winner for the category. Bukola was commended for the category in 2019.
Samson Folarin of the Punch won the print category with his 15-part investigative report, “Against varsity’s pronouncement, ICPC clears embattled FIIRO DG’s PhD”. In his acceptance speech, an excited Samson told the backstory of how he had thought his journalism career was over because an investigation by the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) triggered by his initial story, insisted the Federal Institute of Industrial Research Oshodi (FIIRO) DG’s PhD was authentic. However, he investigated the issue further to establish that the DG was yet to have a PhD. Ibrahim Adeyemi carted the runner up and commended work prizes home with his works titled “Sokoto’s ghost teachers, corrupt school principals, stealing FG’s N-Power funds’’ and “With just N200 bribe per immigration checkpoint, illegal migrants are infiltrating Nigeria through Sokoto” published in BusinessDay newspaper.
According to Abigail Ogwezzy-Ndisika, chair, 2020 judges’ board, the finalists showed uncommon profundity, ethical journalistic courage, individual creativity and public benefit in their reports. She however, observed that many of the online entries were verbose; photo entries were visually and professionally weak; and most of the cartoons lacked wit and humour.
The WSCIJ awarded the Lifetime Award for Journalistic Excellence to Lade Bonuola, founding member and pioneer Associate Editor of the Guardian Newspaper, for his leadership and influence on generations of journalists. Bonuola was elated as he danced to the stage to receive his plaque. In his acceptance remark, he noted that the award crowned his 50-year career in journalism. He recounted his days at The Guardian newspaper citing instances when colleagues were detained for publishing truth that embarrassed political office holders. “What does truth do, if not embarrass?”, he asked rhetorically.
Femi Falana, human rights lawyer, was presented the Human Rights Defender Award for his consistent stance against human rights violations and his efforts to defend freedom of expression in Nigeria. His daughter, Foladele Falana-Ngadi, accepted the award on his behalf. She delivered her father’s appreciation note where he assured the guests that the identity of the people involved in the killing of #ENDSARS protesters in Abuja, Ogbomosho, Lekki and other parts of the country will soon be revealed.
A special part of the 15th award presentation event was the presentation of awards to long-serving members of the award judges committee – Umaru Pate, Professor of Mass Communication, Bayero University Kano (BUK); Theophilus Abbah, Director, Daily Trust Foundation; Ayo Obe, human rights lawyer, columnists, and human rights activist; Lai Oso, Professor of Mass Communication, Lagos State University; Boye Ola, Head of Photography Department, Nigerian Institute of Journalism; Gbile Oshadipe, Director, Picture Perfect; and Abigail Ogwezzy-Ndisika, Professor of Mass Communication, University of Lagos.
The Investigative Media Award introduced to mark the award’s 15th anniversary saw the Punch newspapers, Premium Times and the Sun newspaper emerge first, second and third respectively. The three media organisations in Nigeria have produced the highest number of finalists since the inception of the award.
To reinforce WSCIJ’s three-day in-depth media conference and awards’ campaign on the theme – Masked not silenced, Juliana Francis, the 2014 WSCIJ-Nigerian Investigative Reporter of the Year, made a statement on behalf of the organisation. The statement highlighted the fact that the media has been masked by many challenges, but it remains undaunted and cannot be silenced. Juliana concluded the speech with a call to action for reporters to investigate the death of Pelumi Onifade, the Gboah reporter who died in the custody of officers attached to the Lagos Task Force.
Held first in October 2005, the programme has produced 102 finalists with 11 investigative journalists of the year and 24 honorary awards recipients. This year, the winners, runners-up and commended works were presented cash prizes of N200,000, N100,000 and N50,000 respectively, plus a certificate of commendation. In addition, winners got award plaques and a laptop; runners-up got a smart phone; and commended works got a hard drive.
The promo of “Child sex trade”, a documentary by Sharon Ijasan which will be aired on TVC on Sunday 13 December during the 10pm news, was aired at the award event. Ijasan received an anonymous grant at last year’s edition where she was runner up for her work on child labour. The 2020 ceremony was moderated by Deji Badmus, Executive Director, TV360, and three-time winner of the award. It was enlivened by a musical dance performance by the Kininso Koncepts which faulted the impunity with which politicians and men in uniform attack and harass journalists for speaking the truth to power.