Adekunle Yusuf of The Nation Newspaper has emerged the Investigative Journalist of the year at the 12th edition of the Wole Soyinka Award for Investigative Reporting just as Obiageli Ezekwesili, a former Minister of Education, Edetaen Ojo, the Executive Director, Media Rights Agenda,as well as nine other outstanding journalists were honoured.
The event which was held on Saturday, 9 December 2017, at the NECA House, Alausa, Lagos had several dignitaries including Wole Soyinka, Africa’s first Nobel Laureate in Literature and grand patron of the centre; Femi Falana, lawyer and human rights activist; Michel Deelen, Deputy Ambassador to the Kingdom of Netherlands; Abdulazeez Musa, Head, Influencing and Public Engagement, Oxfam in Nigeria; and Nneka Ijeoma, Manager Policy Government and Public Affairs, Chevron Nigeria, among others in attendance.
Held first in October 2005, to develop investigative tradition among journalists, the Wole Soyinka Award for Investigative Reporting has produced 83 finalists, 41 Soyinka laureates, 28 runner-ups, 16 commended works and 18 honorary awards so far. The 2017 edition opened with a speech from Ropo Sekoni, Board Chair WSCIJ, who emphasised, among other things, that the unfortunate return of slave trade, evidenced by the recent occurrence in Libya, requires thorough investigation of the Nigerian side of the faces behind human trafficking. Africa cannot afford a third slave trade, he said.
Adekunle Yusuf emerged the winner of the print category and the 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 Sun Newspaper. 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. Abdulazeez Musa, of Oxfam Nigeria, explained that the partnership with the WSCIJ would help journalists highlight the real issues affecting agriculture and food security in Nigeria.
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. Meanwhile, editorial cartoon, television and radio categories failed to produce winners.
For the honorary awards, Edetaen Ojo, 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. In his acceptance remark, Ojo said he felt honoured to receive the award by his peers who have been involved in the struggle for freedom of information with him. He is the eleventh recipient of the award.
Obiageli Ezekwesili, was conferred the Anti-Corruption Defender Award. Fondly referred to as ‘Madam due process’, Ezekwesili is the ninth recipient of the award. Accepting the award, she said journalists are in a noble profession that is explicitly enshrined in the constitution. She enjoined everyone to assume the office of the citizen and hold government accountable so that officers in elective positions would have no excuse but perform.
In his remark, Wole Soyinka congratulated the winners, adding that the Nigerian media is considered one of the foremost and most interesting all over the world. While also applauding the award recipients, Lai Oso, the Chair, 2017 Judges Board, observed that going by the entries, much needs be done in the continuous education of journalists. He affirmed that mere feature stories are not necessarily synonymous to investigative stories.
In her statement on the brutality of citizens by state security agents in commemoration of the world anti-corruption and human right days, Motunrayo Alaka, the Coordinator of the WSCIJ, noted that the centre has since inception supported investigations on the brutality of armed security agents on Nigerians. She reeled out 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 ‘rain of terror’ on citizens by those with the constitutional mandate of protecting them.
Footprints of David charged 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.