Law News
Role of the media in anti-graft war

Justice For All programme, an initiative dedicated to anti-graft campaign and funded by the United Kingdon Department for International Development, is of the view that Nigeria cannot win in its fight against corruption, unless the media is alive to its watchdog role and remain efficient at it.

To this end, the initiative, last week, put together a two-day media roundtable on anti-corruption reportage.

The workshop, which held in Lagos between May 14 and 15, 2015, attracted journalists and members of civil society organisations.

The J4A Anti-corruption Programme Manager for Nigeria, Mr. Emmanuel Uche, said the media roundtable was the initiative’s way of cashing in on this auspicious moment in Nigeria, when the fight against corruption seemed to have taken the front burner in national discourse.

Mr. Lanre Arogundade of the International Press Centre, who spoke on the role of the media in fighting corruption, said one way the press can help the society to hold the government accountable is to document all the campaign promises of the government and mark them off as time goes by to assess how well the government has fared.

In order to engender transparency at all levels of governance, Arogundade suggested that the press should ask all the current elected governors in Nigeria if they are willing to toe the line of the President-elect, Muhammadu Buhari, who promised to publicly declare his assets.

“If any one of them says no, then the eyes of the public would be on them,” he said.

Arogundade, who said the press should keep a close watch on the annual budget and its implementation, listed the areas of the budget most prone to corruption to include health, education, infrastructure and poverty alleviation.

He advocated better monitoring and tracking of the procurement process, as well as better focus on exploration of Nigerian oil.

Arogundade recommended that everyone who reported corruption should familiarise themselves with the anti-graft agencies and the Acts that established them in order to reach a fair judgment on their activities.

Noting that corruption cannot be ousted from the nation until there is public re-orientation or adjustment of the public view on corruption, Arogundade advocated a tie-back between the failure in various government parastatals and ministries and the frauds or misappropriations that had been perpetrated within such sectors.

“The media should put corruption in human context,” he said.

Mr. Edetean Ojo of the Media Rights Agenda, who spoke on how the media can use the Freedom of Information Act to fight corruption, noted that in spite of its being enacted, the FOI Act had not found much use in the hands of the media. This, he said, was because many journalists and media houses, which had daily production targets to meet, often lack the luxury of time to request and wait for information.

“How many media houses can leave a reporter for three weeks to pursue one single story,” Ojo wondered.

He, however, said the FOI Act is such a powerful tool that could assist the press in demanding transparency and accountability.

“If we establish a habit of regular use of the FOI Act to seek information from the government, we can bring about reduction in corruption,” he said.

However, Dr. Jide Jimoh of the Department of Journalism, Lagos State University, who spoke on the obstacles to effective media coverage of corruption, said the greatest obstacle to corruption coverage is corruption itself because there is a strong attempt to induce or co-opt even the journalist who is trying to expose corrupt practices.

He said, “By the nature of corruption in public life, it seeks to recruit collaborators by all means possible and, most often, the journalist is a prime target. Very many journalists are unable to resist the bait hence the phenomenon of ‘brown envelop’ and other pseudonyms and means of inducement.”

Jimoh identified the interest of media ownership as a clog in the path of free reportage of corruption.

He stated that journalists have become easy to influence due to low remuneration and welfare packages.

He added, “The failure of media houses to meet the welfare and pecuniary needs of employees have them more susceptible to inducement from established interests and people.”

Another obstacle in the reportage of corruption, as identified by Jimoh, is the inherent danger of doing so because “someone is desperately trying to hide what the corruption reporter is trying to expose.”

Jimoh, who said the challenges are not insurmountable, however said every investigative journalist must be guided by ethical fearlessness.

Meanwhile, there was a call on the incoming administration to consider merging the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission with the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission.

Mrs. Juliet Ibekaku, a former Acting Director of the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit of the EFCC, made a strong advocacy for this while highlighting the factors constraining the anti-graft agencies in their campaign.

She said, “I am of the view that a merger is the best thing for the two bodies. One, when you look at the laws establishing the two agencies, you will find that they are virtually doing the same thing in terms of their mandate. Economic and financial crimes include bribery and corruption; when you look at the ICPC Act, it provides for bribery within the private and the public sectors. In my view, whether you are calling it EFCC or calling it ICPC, the question is what are they set up to do? Is it not to prevent financial crimes and prevent corruption? Then why don’t we just have a single agency that has both mandates.

“Two, when you look at what it costs Nigeria and tax payers to run the two institutions and you look at the output, you will find that we are not getting value for money. And you want to ask, why are we having two agencies, when we have not even been able to fund one adequately; when we have not been able to set up strong law for one; what we have been is rivalry and duplication of mandate. You don’t need two government agencies competing against each other. What we need is one strong institution, with strong leadership and with a better defined law.”

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