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Take Interest In Investigative Reporting On COVID-19, MRA Urges Journalists

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By ERIC OJO

(AFRICAN EXAMINER) – Media Rights Agenda (MRA) has harped on the need for journalists in Nigeria to take more interest in investigative reporting on issues underpinning the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are currently a lot of gray areas in the government response to the pandemic both at the national and sub-national level which has resulted in the litany of speculations, allegations and counter-allegations, particularly on the funding component of the interventions.

The Executive Director of MRA, Mr. Edetaen Ojo said journalists should endeavour to engage actively with the process by doing more investigative reports on the contending issues in order to ensure transparency and accountability in the government’s response to the pandemic.

Mr. Ojo made the observation at the two-day Media Training Workshop on Using the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act for Investigative Reports on Campaign Finance and Covid-19 Accountability Issues, organized in Abuja by International Press Centre (IPC), MRA with support from the European Union (EU) through its Support to Democratic Governance in Nigeria (EU-SDGN) Project.

The objective of the workshop which was attended by journalists from northern states as well as the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), is to equip journalists with appropriate skills to engage in the reporting of democratic accountability in order to check impunity in the electoral process and ensure that elected politicians are made to account for their campaign promises.

The pandemic, according to him, has more than anything else provided sufficient motivation for every Nigerian to be engaged in the governance process in order the guide against misappropriation of the funds met for the response.

“If we are not vigilant and the funds meant for COVID-19 response are stolen, misappropriated, misapplied or in any other way diverted to other purposes, then the objectives of the response will obviously not be achieved. In such a situation, the consequences are better imagined than experienced and all of us, journalists or not, will be at risk”, he said.

He noted that the essence of the workshop is to encourage journalists to take an interest in reporting these issues, particularly with the objective of bringing some sanity into the regulation of political campaign financing and ensuring transparency and accountability in the government’s response to the CIVID-19 pandemic.

He added that while the effective regulation of political campaign financing is essential to the success of Nigeria’s quest to ensure free, fair and credible elections, transparency and accountability are imperative for the effectiveness of the measures taken by governments at Federal and State levels to curtail the spread of the COVID-19 and to mitigate the negative economic impact on citizens brought about by both the virus itself and the government’s measures to check its spread.

“Besides encouraging you to take an interest in these issues, we are also hoping to use the training to sharpen your investigative reporting skills and build the confidence and ability of those of you for whom the Freedom of Information Act is still new, to use it as a tool for facilitating transparent, free, fair and credible elections as well as monitoring how funds received and allocated for the COVID-19 response are being managed and utilized.

“However, we also expect that the skills and knowledge that you will, hopefully, acquire in the course of this workshop will also come in handy in your routine journalistic work, regardless of the nature of the other issues that may be of interest to you or that you are focused on at any point in time”, he stressed.

Mr. Ojo further explained that as journalists the nature of the work that they do makes them ideally suited to play this critical role, adding that Section 22 of the Constitution also specifically given them the task of upholding the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy under Chapter Two of the Constitution as well as upholding the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people.

“It is your task also to galvanize the wider media community and the society at large to action. We therefore expect the workshop to engender interventions by journalists that will sensitize and enlighten Nigerian citizens about the core issues of concern as well to raise the awareness of media practitioners and ordinary citizens alike about the existence, benefits and the use the FOI Act. 

“We see the workshop as part of a process of building the capacity of the media, civil society organizations and other key stakeholders to effectively use the FOI Act to hold all relevant agencies and actors accountable during electoral processes and in the context of new realities of operating in a COVID-19 environment”, he added.

Earlier in his welcome address, the Executive Director of IPC, Mr. Lanre Arogundade noted that the workshop is aimed at amplifying the need for journalists to embrace investigative methods in the reporting of COVID-19 issues, largely because of the perception, and perhaps the reality, that the funding aspect of the fight against the pandemic is not meeting the requirements of transparency and accountability.

Mr. Arogundade said the government response to the pandemic is presently fraught with so many questions hanging out there such as, how much has been deployed to the fight by the federal government and what is the breakdown? How much have the state governments deployed to the fight and what are the details?

Other questions begging for answers, according to him, are what are the sources of the funding and who are the donors? What is the cost of the isolation centres built around the country? Who are the contractors?  Were they selected in accordance with procurement laws?

“The need to ensure that these issues are properly addressed at this workshop has made us to assemble an array of resource persons who we expect to bring their diverse expertise to bear on the discourse”, he added.


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