Musikilu Mojeed, the editor-in-chief of Premium Times, has appealed to Nigerian journalists to step up their games and be ready to check abuse of office by public officials.
Mr Mojeed, who spoke on Friday in Uyo at a workshop organised by the Correspondents’ Chapel of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Akwa Ibom State Council, said journalists should be powerful agents of change and progress.
Mr Mojeed was a guest lecturer at the workshop.
“In a profound sense, you must be ready to take on powerful interests on behalf of the people who have no access to authentic information or influence,” Mr Mojeed told journalists who were present at the workshop.
“You must try to be beholden to no one but the public you serve. No matter whose ox is gored, you must remain committed to providing your audience with essential news and information they need to make informed decisions.”
He said correspondents serving in Akwa Ibom should not reduce their media houses to “public relations platforms or megaphones” for government and its officials.
“Your responsibilities include the ruffling of entrenched feathers, exposing official corruption, abuses and government inefficiency and negligence.
“You must offer the people informed, balanced and well-sourced reporting about this state while also sticking to and defending the highest standards of journalistic ethics in an environment characterised by pervasive ethical slippages and entrapment.”
He gave his assessment of the performance of journalists who are members of the Correspondents’ Chapel.
“Looking at the stories on your various platforms as filed by you, it is difficult for me to say you are faring well.
“In fact, I hold the view that because state correspondents are not doing their jobs well, state and local government politicians are getting away with murders across the country.
“Governors who do not fix hospitals and people keep dying of malaria, cholera, and other diseases that have been eradicated elsewhere have blood on their hands.
“Governors who do not fix potholes on their roads thereby leading to fatal accidents have blood on their hands.”
Mr Mojeed zeroed in on the Akwa Ibom government.
“For instance, between 2001 and 2018, Akwa Ibom received about N2.4 trillion from the Federation Account. Yet journalists in this state hardly hold the government accountable over how this huge amount was spent, even in the face of widespread poverty and dilapidated school and hospital infrastructure.
“You once had a governor here who was either doling out public funds to a musician marrying a daughter of the state or distributing funds to party members to eat at Mr Biggs.
“So, to be considered correspondents worth your salt, you must be telling us how the government has spent or is spending this money.
“The Akwa Ibom government is notorious for operating in secrecy. Its budgets and annual accounts are hardly public while its contract-award processes remain unclear. I don’t know how many of you here are sure about how much tax-payers’ money went into the building of the Godswill Akpabio Stadium.
“Colleagues, you have a huge responsibility to end this regime of fiscal irresponsibility and secrecy,” Mr Mojeed said.
Ekerete Udoh, the spokesperson for Governor Udom Emmanuel, however, faulted Mr Mojeed’s remarks on the government.
“Governor Emmanuel takes the issue of transparency seriously,” said Mr Udoh who was present at the workshop, also as a guest speaker.
He said the budget of Akwa Ibom state was online and could be accessed by anyone. He said Akwa Ibom’s internally generated revenue has increased “exponentially” and that the state now ranks as one of the top three viable states in Nigeria.
“I am not saying you should be our cheerleaders. But where we have done well, please say so. Where we have not done well, please say so. But let the language of engagement be civil,” Mr Udoh said to journalists.