By Adam Alqali
I was seated at home in Kano, at around 8pm on Saturday, March 12, when my phone rang; the person at the other end was Temitope Shaba, the Nigeria Project Manager of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, IWPR. Mr Shaba had called to inform me that, alongside 10 other reporters, I had been selected to participate in the 2nd round of IWPR’s investigative journalism training; billed for between March 14 and 18, 2016 in Abuja.
The London-headquartered IWPR is one of the world’s leading media development nonprofits founded in 1991 “to support local reporters, citizen journalists and civil society activists in countries in conflict, crisis and transition around the world.” And the Accountable Governance for Justice and Security (Access NG-SL) program is an anti-corruption project, being implemented in Nigeria and Sierra Leone, by IWPR and other partners.
Earlier on, in October 2015, I had applied to participate in the 1st lap of the IJ training but couldn’t get enlisted due to the highly competitive nature of the training exercise. As destiny would have it, one of the participants in the 1st lap, a friend and award-wining freelance journalist, Chika Oduah, couldn’t make it to the 2nd phase of the training, as she was away in Ghana working for the satellite news channel, Al Jazeera English. I was therefore asked to replace Chika.
As such, I got the notice of my participation only 36 hours to the kick-off of the training and so had to travel to Abuja the next day (Sunday) but couldn’t get petrol to fuel my car and embark on the over 440km-long journey; courtesy of the seemingly unending and ever-lingering fuel scarcity that has become part and parcel of life in Africa’s largest and world’s 6th biggest oil producer. What an unbelievable irony?
By Sunday evening, after an exhaustive yet unsuccessful effort to get fuel at petrol stations, I had to resort to the much more expensive “black market” and hit the road at 6am on Monday. By 11am I was in Abuja and God so kind, I arrived the venue of the training while the first session on model stories and how to do them, by Mojeed Musikilu, was still on.
Access NG is supported by the US Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, INL. And as well as IWPR, the project is being implemented in Nigeria by Partners for Democratic Change and other partners (CLEEN Foundation, BudgIT, Public and Private Development Centre and the Centre for Democracy and Development).
The project aims to improve the media’s capacity to produce investigative journalism reports regarding corruption in the security sector. Its strategy is to enhance institutional transparency and prevent impunity to tackle both weak governance and transnational organized crime, TOC, as well as address issues of transparency and accountability in Nigeria’s justice and security sectors. Although I have participated in several journalism training exercises, IWPR’s 5-day long intensive IJ training exercise was an entirely different experience; for its comprehensiveness, coverage of wide-range of issues about IJ, and also worthy of note, amiability of the trainers who painstakingly took us through all the sessions in an interactive nature – which left indelible memories in our psyche as young reporters.
Therefore, although it was time-consuming especially for us reporters who are used to always moving from one assignment venue to another, filing stories for publication and trying to meet deadlines, the 5-day (9am to 5pm) training experience left on some of us exciting memories that will remain with us till the end of our carrier. The experience was worth the time invested into it.
IWPR couldn’t have chosen better hands to facilitate the training than the duo of Dayo Aiyetan, founding executive director of the Abuja-based International Centre for Investigative Reporting, ICIR, (the lead trainer) and Mojeed Musikilu, managing editor of Premium Times, Nigeria’s leading digital newspaper famous for its breaking news and deep IJ reporting. The duo is undoubtedly some of Nigeria and Africa’s finest IJ reporters.
As well as Nkemdilim ILO, Tobi Soniyi, Gen. Ishola Williams (rtd), Peter Nkanga and Joshua Olufemi, the duo took us through sessions as diverse as investigating corruption using online tools; budget tracking investigations; legal loopholes in investigative reporting and procurement tracking. Other sessions were on investigating security sector financing; digital security for journalists; undercover reporting; and data journalism, amongst others.
On the 4th day of the training, we were divided into two groups and asked to go in the field and practice what we have learnt in the 3 previous days. The crux of our investigation was finding out whether or not Abuja, as a capital city, was working. I therefore drove colleagues in my group around the city where we, among others, examined the city’s infrastructure including street-lighting, environmental sanitation and hygiene, urban mass transport system and security.
Although some of my journalistic works have appeared in international publications, I must confess that I went to the IWPR’s IJ training as a complete greenhorn in investigative journalism who saw IJ as a preserve of a special breed of journalists, but by the end of the 5-day training, I have been exposed to the nitty-gritty of IJ including how to use online tools and resources to investigate issues, find loopholes in government budgets as well as track public procurement processes.Interestingly, for the first time in my 6-year old career, I learnt how to avoid litigation as a journalist; I was made to realize that as a journalist, I wasn’t immune to prosecution. I also learnt how to secure my online communication by encrypting my email exchanges, which will safeguard and make it nearly impossible for the government to monitor and tap into my conversation with sources.
Now, more than ever, I am convinced I could also produce investigative reports. For me, one of the biggest take-away from the IJ training was the session on data journalism, by Premium Times’ Joshua Olufemi.
According to Olufemi, data journalism is the future of journalism and so the earlier we (journalists) up our game, the better for us. He said, as journalists, we have either of two options: embrace data journalism or choose another profession. Period!
Personally, I will henceforth begin to produce stories that are data-driven, including of course, investigative stories.
Adam Alqali, an independent journalist, is reachable via email@example.com
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