Damilola Banjo, an investigative journalist and staffer of the BBC Pidgin service, has suffered what officials described as ‘victimisation’ from her employer who accused her of speaking to PREMIUM TIMES on the lingering controversies regarding the sex-for-grades documentary.
The British media organisation has been in the news lately after one of its staff, Ogechi Obidiebube, attempted suicide for not being ‘credited’ for her role in the documentary.
Rather than mention her name in the closing credits section of the documentary, a pseudonym “Kemi Alabi” was credited. This did not augur well with her.
The British media investigative team, Africa Eye, in 2019, released an investigative piece, which exposed how academics target vulnerable female students – those struggling with studies, seeking admission or in search of mentors – for harassment and sex.i
Through the use of secret cameras, the undercover reporters captured the dialogues of four lecturers of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) and the University of Ghana, as they attempted to cajole and manipulate the undercover journalists into engaging in sexual acts with them.
Some of the lecturers were later suspended and sanctioned by their school authorities.
Apart from the impacts the documentary generated, it put Kiki Mordi, the lead reporter, in the spotlight as she became the face of the exposè on pages of newspapers and magazines. She was widely celebrated around the world as a woman who produced a ground-breaking film exposing sexual predators.
The documentary was later nominated in the current affairs category of the 48th International Emmy Awards for television programming as well as for the Grierson Awards, also known at The British Documentary Awards.
Recently, Ms Mordi was named the 2020 winner of the Michael Elliott Award for Excellence in African Storytelling for her role in the story.
But Ms Mordi’s recent win became controversial after a former BBC reporter, Ruona Meyer, in a series of tweets, revealed that Ms Obidiebube, who allegedly deserved even more credits for the reporting she did for the documentary, was sidelined.
Ms Obidiebube, a graduate of UNILAG and staffer of BBC, had previously accused someone of hijacking the product of her creativity, a day after the Emmy nomination was announced in August but she did not mention names.
In her reaction to the call-out, Ms Mordi restated that she was the lead reporter on the project, accusing Ms Meyer of mischief.
The face-off between the two journalists degenerated to the point that Ms Meyer threatened a lawsuit against the BBC over her work history, which she alleged was misrepresented by Ms Mordi.
Ms Mordi later deactivated her social media accounts after news of Ms Obidiebube’s suicide attempt broke.
PREMIUM TIMES found out Ms Obidiebube did not adopt a pseudonym out of her will but as a result of internal politics and the ‘overwhelming’ influence of the organisation’s Head of West African Language Services, Toyosi Ogunseye.
It became the only option after Ms Ogunseye’s request that Ms Obidiebube’s input be removed could not fly. Ms Obidiebube works with the pidgin service, which Ms Ogunseye supervises, hence her influence in the reporter’s case.
This paper had also reported that Ms Obidiebube’s experience is not the first involving Ms Ogunseye.
An earlier incident involved Ms Meyer, a former staffer of the pidgin service, while the team was rounding off its production of “Sweet Codeine”, another BBC Africa Eye investigation revealing the drug abuse problem in Nigeria, in 2018.
Ms Ogunseye reportedly tried taking Ms Meyer, the lead reporter, off the project. The conflict eventually led to the resignation of Ms Meyer hours after the release of the Sweet Codeine documentary on April 30, 2018.
The same scenario played out with Ms Banjo during the production of the Africa Eye team investigation into the Abule-Ado explosion that claimed 23 lives in Lagos, earlier this year.
PREMIUM TIMES learned that the story idea was conceived by Bethram Hills, an Open-source intelligence expert, with the support of Ms Banjo.
Along the line, after Ms Banjo had made contacts with some of the victims, Ms Ogunseye demanded that she should be replaced with Fisayo Soyombo, a freelance investigative journalist.
This did not go well with the journalist, who sources claimed, had done a significant part of the work – tracing survivors.
Shortly after PREMIUM TIMES published insiders’ accounts of how Ms Obidiebube got a pseudonym, Ms Banjo was removed from the WhatsApp platform of the organisation and denied access to the office in Lagos, sources said.
Ms Banjo, who was on leave when the crisis broke out, was told not to resume.
The report had caused a kerfuffle in the office and Ms Ogunseye was looking for a scapegoat, an official said.
Those familiar with the development said Ms Banjo was later served a letter, notifying her that an investigation was ongoing over her breach of confidentiality.
Although it was not clear if she had tendered a resignation letter at the time the management commenced the investigation, PREMIUM TIMES confirmed that she has resigned her employment with the pidgin service.
In the heat of the crisis, the editor of BBC Africa, Solomon Mugera, also sent an email to the staff, cautioning them from speaking to the press and threatening that such can lead to a disciplinary action.
Mr Mugera hinged his warning on the contract of confidentiality that forbids them from addressing the press, adding that they should refer such to the press arm of the organisation.
He also noted that the management will not hold back in sanctioning anyone culpable of this.
When PREMIUM TIMES reached out for comments, Ms Banjo neither picked calls or responded to text messages from our reporter.
BBC also declined comments when contacted. “We aren’t commenting on this,” someone from its press arm responded to PREMIUM TIMES’s enquiries on Tuesday evening.
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