The media’s role of exposing corruption in Nigeria is not only limited by lack of funds but the editorial philosophy of newsrooms, journalists at a media dialogue argued.
The Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), a non-governmental organisation advocating for information sharing between legislators and civil society groups, at a one-day dialogue on policies, gaps and alternatives in fiscal transparency, discussed the loopholes in Nigeria’s public finance management and its reportage by the media.
The event was held in Abuja on Thursday.
The programme was in partnership with OXFAM, an international confederation of 19 organisations working to proffer innovative ways for people to lift themselves out of poverty.
Chinedu Bassey, CISLAC’s tax justice and environment programme manager, noted with concern the scanty attention given to reportage of public finance despite the obvious layers of corruption embedded in the system.
He compared NEITI’s audit reports on crude oil earnings in the last 18 years to Nigeria’s budget figures in the same period.
He said Nigeria generated $1 trillion from oil revenue since 1999, meanwhile, its budget figures in the period under review (1999-2020) is about $730.6 billion, according to the NEITI report.
Mr Bassey highlighted low tax revenue, corruption and leakages in public procurement process, weak public institutions, obsolete laws and regulations as some of the core factors responsible for ineffective public finance in Nigeria adding ”that media houses should not get tired of writing about this to actualise good governance.”
“From CAC records, we have over 2.5 million registered companies, let’s take 10 per cent of such that has a turnover, that is over 1million every month. Calculate that, check what we should be making from tax alone every month.
“Also, we have always had unrealistic budget deficit, the question is why do those government agencies put out unrealistic revenue projections? I have also interfaced with the budget office to know why but the answer has always been around the leakages in the system.
“Dr Fowler (former FIRS chief) has also once said that ‘we have only 4,000 high net worth taxpayers in Nigeria’. Meanwhile in Nigeria, we should have more than 10,000 high net worth taxpayers in Abuja alone if the system is effective enough,” Mr Bassey said.
He urged journalists to ask more questions around those leakages in tax and procurement process in the country.
Media limitations, way forward
In another session, selected journalists across print and online media outfits discussed the growing issues limiting the sector’s role in doing good investigative reporting and exposing corruption.
The journalists identified financial constraints, worsening value system and lack of editorial philosophy of investigations in many newsrooms.
Tola Akinmutimi, a business editor with Daily Trust, expressed concerns over ”the bastardised leadership of many media houses in Nigeria.”
He said, “if your publisher is out into the corrupt system gallivanting around the place for money, by the time critical reporting of corruption comes to his table, he may not be comfortable pushing it forward for publication.
“Today, I doubt if up 10 per cent of the media houses leadership is actually committed to investigative reporting. For us, it is a big challenge, your management is not getting funds, where will the money come from? Some of them will need a political alliance to pay salaries,” he said.
Mr Akinmutimi also questioned the effectiveness of the Freedom of Information Act.
“We have the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) which should be a very strong weapon to get across to some of these ministries and parastatals, but the truth is some of these media houses when they write quoting the FOI to those government organisations, you will realise that they are just wasting their time as they will never get a response,” he lamented.
Another reporter, who wanted his name and organisation withheld, argued that journalists ”should not kill their stories even if their media organisations have become compromised.”
He advised that journalists should learn to reach out to their colleagues in other credible media outfits to get their stories published.