A former permanent representative of Nigeria to the United Nations, Ibrahim Gambari, has charged journalists to focus on investigations to help in resolving conflicts across the country.
Delivering the keynote speech at the 10th Wole Soyinka Center for Investigative Journalism Media Lecture Series in Lagos, Friday, Mr Gambari said there is an urgent need to “separate noise from reason because Nigeria is gradually accelerating to political chaos.
“There are all sorts of conflict, religious conflict, tribal conflict and others,” said Mr Gambari, a professor and former minister of external affairs.
“There is nothing wrong with diversity, but with the absence of institutions and structures to create unity out of diversity or to prevent people from misusing our institutions from working against us. Amidst these challenges are those who are using the media to fan the flames of distrust and confusion in the country.
“We need ruthless investigative journalists to expose facts about Nigeria, who is doing what to who and this should be targeted at transparency and accountability.
“Investigative journalists need to create a knowledge system that enables them to write beyond mere reportage of events and personalities, rather, go into investigative reporting.
“We need both strong men and strong institutions in Nigeria. If we have weak men, they will subvert strong institutions.
“Also, reading news headline and the avalanche of the media, one can see that we are approaching 2019 elections with trepidation.”
This year’s lecture, titled ‘Sheathing the Drawn Daggers: Conversations on Investigative Reporting and Accountability in Times of Conflict’ aimed at stimulating debate and enriching discussions on critical issues affecting the nation, according to the organisers.
Ropo Sekoni, the WSCIJ’s board chair, said there is a pressing need to answer burning questions in the minds of many Nigerian citizens.
“Apart from the civil war and the annulment of M.K.O Abiola’s June 12 mandate, no other time are we afflicted with conflicts as it is today,” said Mr Sekoni, a professor.
Speaking during a panel discussion at the event, Eugenia Abu, one of Nigeria’s front line broadcast journalists, called for capacity building for journalists.
“The media provides us with information, documents, ideologies but there is need to filter some of the things coming through the media because there is a problem with ownership and commercialization of the media,” said Ms Abu, who anchored the Nigerian Television Authority’s flagship news broadcast for 17 years.
“If the media does not understand conflict, it won’t work well. The media must remember our cultural details, we are not a homogeneous society, so, there is a need for journalists to balance their stories in a way that captures all groups in the country.
“The media has to do more in terms of capacity building, conflict is changing, the journalist must also change with it, otherwise, it will set our country ablaze.”
Another panelist, Mnguember Sylvester, said although the country needs strong leaders and institutions, it needs even more stronger journalists.
“They need courage, objectivity, and attention to details, there are conflicts we face everyday and journalists need these qualities to do investigative reporting,” Ms Sylvester, a professor of literature and gender studies at the University of Abuja, said.
“Journalists need to go in depth into investigative reporting and go to places where there are conflicts in order to investigate.”
The pioneer dean of the faculty of communication at the Bayero University, Kano, Umar Pate, said a failure to understand Nigeria’s strength in diversity has often led to crisis in the country.
“In the absence of giving people a space to express their grievances, their response is to retaliate,” said Mr Pate, a professor of media and society.
“Instead of individuals to identify that in their communities, different kinds of people exist, they ignore, this leads to a collapse of ethics and launching attacks on those that are not in their groups.”
Another panelist, Joe Abah, described investigative journalism as an actual conflict resolution mechanism.
“In terms of accountability, the government must not forget that sovereignty belongs to the people where government derives all of its powers,” said Mr Abah, who served as head of the Bureau for Public Sector Reform.
“If as a minister, you are accused of forgery, you are expected to speak to the people and not keep quiet.
“The press are hereby enjoined to engage in investigative reporting as there are many issues that need to be investigated in our country.”
Earlier, the coordinator of the WSCIJ, Motunrayo Alaka, said the decade-long journey of the Wole Soyinka Lecture Series had been fraught with challenges.
“The WSCIJ remains deeply indebted to the invaluable goodwill and support we continue to receive from all shades and shapes of partners that have contributed to the impact we have made.
“The previous nine editions of the lecture sought to raise timely debates on some crucial issues affecting Nigeria, ranging from elections, to freedom of information, to local governance, to taxation and to education and electricity.
“We have examined different topical issues along with their effects on the perceived performance of the media on the health of our democracy and country at large.”