Investigative reporting as a running story | Dailytrust

Investigative reporting as a running story


he year of our Common Era 2020 has been a difficult year for everyone. Covid-19 pandemic has taken a toll on individuals, families, businesses and all nations. But through it all, the Daily Trust editors soldiered on and maintained their commitment to robust journalism in the service of the nation, its people and the world in general. They faced difficulties but ironically, this was the year that sharpened their investigative instincts. Almost every week, newspapers in the stable served the reading public with an expose that I found refreshing, truly professional and commendable. I will come to that.

This was the year that bad news chased the news chasers. Death spread its dark wings over the country from the pandemic, to Boko Haram, to kidnappers, to bandits and armed robbers. The year thus witnessed an unusual blood flow in the country, particularly in Northern Nigeria, the most violent and dangerous of the former four regions in the country today. It was the year that Nigerian youths vented their frustrations on police brutality, high-handedness and extortion through peaceful protests with the hashtag, #EndSARS. Official intolerance for the people’s right to engage in a peaceful protest as is the case in other democracies, forcibly ended the protest in violence and killing by the Nigerian Army. Still, the youths managed to draw the line in the sand. They spoke truth to power in a way that our youths had never done before. The protest was not limited to police brutality. Through it, the youths also protested poor governance and incompetence in the country.  Through this singular act, officialdom is now permanently under the people’s watch and scrutiny. It would take more than #EndSARS to end police brutality, extortion and extra-judicial killings as well as poor and incompetent governance in our country but the youths took the first step in the process, however long it may take, in encouraging the people to quite sitting on their haunches and demand good governance and the competent management of our national affairs.

Let me commend the editors and the line editors in the Daily Trust titles for their diligence news presentation: good headlines, good intro and a fairly good use of photographs. This column watches out for both reportorial and editorial errors. I nearly said transgressions. In the recent past, it was quite easy for me to find them on almost every page of the newspapers. It is no longer that easy for me. Some weeks, I searched the newspapers and came up empty-handed. It makes my job difficult but I am glad that some lessons are being learnt and applied to good effect.

The Daily Trust titles have become the leaders in investigative reporting in the country. Again, I commend the editors and their reporters. I know the difficulties editors and their reporters face in investigating stories, especially in developing countries such as where the democratic ethos has not taken root. We are familiar with official attempts to hide and deny the public the right to know about government actions and decisions go wrong or affect their interests as citizens. Democracy thrives in open government but democracy has never succeeded anywhere in keeping the doors of open government open to the public. National interest and security are the normal excuses used to keep the doors closed to the public. Technically, therefore, an open government is an ideal the people in a democracy strive for.

Investigative reporting lends a hand. It stands on the principle that the news media in a democracy are duty bound to constantly pry open the door of open government. The people’s right to know is a sacred duty imposed on the news media. It is a tough media assignment, fraught with enormous dangers to editors, their reporters and their media. Editors and reporters are routinely arrested, imprisoned and even killed by governments intolerant of the people’s right to know. Still, the good news is that brave editors and their reporters refuse to be frightened off their determination to expose wrongs committed by governments, individuals and businesses. It takes courage and it takes commitment and persistence to break through or shake the walls of erected around protected acts of perfidy, deceit and dishonesty.

The importance of investigative reporting cannot and should not be taken for granted. It serves two primary purposes. The first is to expose what is hidden from the public and expand the frontiers of public knowledge in a manner that builds up informed citizenry. The second is to cause certain actions to be taken to right wrongs. Technically, therefore, investigative reporting is a running story. The reporter’s work is not done until his reporting forces those responsible to take steps to right the wrongs. To put it another way, although there might be minor exceptions, an investigative story is not a one-time story. It is multiple stories because an investigation invariably leads to more investigations and more stories.

A good example of this is Watergate, the world’s reference point in investigative reporting. The two Washington Post reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, did not set out to remove President Richard Nixon from office. They set out to find out who authorised the break-in into the Democratic Headquarters in Washington DC. Each step in their investigation led to new information, new angles and new characters until the hands of the president of the United States stuck out from the muck by his aides. Had Woodward and Bernstein stopped their investigation at the end of one story, the history of investigative journalism would have been written differently.

I want to encourage the editors and the reporters of the Daily Trust titles to do more by making their investigative reporting running stories that lead to multiple stories that in turn lead to logical conclusions that force those concerned to take actions to right the wrongs. Let me cite a couple of investigative reporting that should have ended as just one story.

In its issue of December 20, the Daily Trust (Sunday) published its investigation into kidnap cases with this front page banner headline: “50 Foreigners Kidnapped in 3 Years.” It was part of its investigation into insecurity in the country. The story, published in full on page 4, listed Delta, Ebonyi, Cross River, Lagos, Taraba, Ekiti and Oyo as the leading states in kidnap cases in the country. What has been the situation of things in those states since the story was published? Could the paper pursue the angle of the foreign victims of the kidnap? How did the foreign countries react to the kidnap of their citizens? Are there similar cases in other states?

The amnesty programme introduced by late President Umaru Yar’Adua to end the restiveness in the Niger Delta and keep oil production and exportation safe from violence and sabotage, has had an easy ride since the death of the president who initiated it. The Daily Trust investigated what was happening to the programme. It published its findings in its issue of Sunday, October 18, 2020 with the front page headline: “How controversies, Missing Funds Derailed Amnesty Programmes for Militants.” The full story was published on pages 5 and 6 of the issue of the newspaper.

I am not aware that the story has been revisited. The amnesty programme is a very important programme. Peace in the Niger Delta and the fate of our crude oil hang on. Let’s know more. The paper should expose those who may be sabotaging the programme for whatever reasons.

I wish all our editors and reporters a great new year.


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