The Press Cannot be the Watchdog of Society Without Vibrant Investigative Journalism

499 views | Ogbu A. Ameh | August 13, 2019

An investigative report is one that reveals new findings, based on the work and research of a reporter. He does some preliminary research before launching an investigation or even pitching it to his editor. He must know the laws so he does not break them and knows how to use them to his benefit. Support his work with documents when possible and thinks about what documents he needs and how he can obtain them. He must not rush into interviews but must get as much information as he can first, so he can ask intelligent questions. When he does get the interview, he is ready to challenge evasive answers.

He must fact-check everything from documents to information obtained through sources. He avoids undercover investigations and ambush interviews unless when necessary. He always allows the subject of his investigation a fair chance to respond. He must not be desperate to write his story in the face of evidence to the contrary. If he finds that his hypothesis is wrong, be prepares to shift gears and change his story. He must keep in touch with his sources regularly and follow-up on stories.

Investigative journalism is capital intensive and can only be perfectly practised in a society with a vibrant economy that is private driven. The much-taunted constitutional role of the press as the Fourth Estate of the Realms and Press Freedom, tantamount to theory lacking pragmatic praxis without investigative journalism. The press in Nigeria and on the African continent in general still has a long way to go to wear the toga provided it by the Grund Norm that is the constitution. As long as the government remains the highest spender through contract awards and business patronage, investigative journalism cannot find strong roots in Nigeria and Africa.

The absence of a vibrant and entrenched culture of investigative journalism in the media space in this part of the world is responsible for the impunities by the State and its actors.

The executive by its control of the state and its coercive apparatuses subjugates the other two arms to compromises leading to weak social institutions. The State under the control of any status group through a political party that forms a government controls the destinies of the entire citizens. This power to control is a reflection of the group’s targets goals as economic rational beings in constant interaction to further their interest within the larger society.

Given the overarching status groups and the ethnoreligious prism through which Nigerian successive governments sees governance, the urgent need for investigative journalism practice becomes very necessary in the media agenda setting. There have been too many conspiracies by different sections of the ruling elites in the process of political power contestations culminating in the breakdown of law and order. Large-scale embezzlement of public funds through unexecuted contracts leading to an acute deficit in social infrastructures is recurrent decimal.

Mismanagement of national resources by state actors and their cronies is a known fact to the common person on the street but accepted as a given in Nigeria. High level of crime waves arising from the inability of the state to stimulate the productive sector of the economy has created insecurity beyond containment. Outright diversion and conversion of public funds into private hands and the use of it to secure justice through litigations is a status symbol in Nigeria. The growing discontent by sections of the socially excluded through lack of opportunities and enabling social-economic environment is manifest in; communal clashes, criminalities, ethnic cum herders farmers violent conflicts, militancy, religious extremism and the call for insurrection and insurgencies.

There are too many of these causal factors of the social anomie situation in Nigeria today that pragmatic investigative journalism can dig deeper to uncover. The fact about such social issues can be researched, investigated by investigative journalists to augment and accentuate the ineffective security agencies shackled by bureaucratic red-tapism. The state is overburden with thick hierarchical responsibilities and often fails to adopt risk management strategies in dealing with social conflicts.

Just like investigative journalists, other professionals in social sciences and management should be allowed to provide their expertise as consultants to various government agencies including the National Assemblies. Government decisions in its ramifications should be based on proven professional inputs and advises. It is often the unintended consequences of events that are harder to deal with especially; violent conflicts, militancy, insurgency, terrorism, crime and social upheaval leading to a revolution.

The state of the nation is a culmination of the absence of responsible governance by successive governments, military and civilian democratic government inclusive. The military era shut a very large section of the citizens out of decision-making inputs. That amounts to total exclusion and the option of pent-up grievances constantly seeking outlets.

The return to democracy threw up political elites that do not have respect for political party supremacy. The political parties as an institution lack internal democracy, therefore the moral rights to rein in erring undisciplined members. The party that invariably ends up forming a government lacks legitimacy due to colossal flaws in the electoral processes.

Hence, the perambulations since Nigeria’s independence and she is still a father from where she started. It is in this miasma of disillusionment that nothing is done as intended or planned, especially government agencies and the social institutions undermined by state actors.

Against the backdrop of this scenario, an anti-corruption agency set up to execute its mandates treats state actors with preference until a member falls out of favour and is served with a bitter dose of the law. Since such agencies reserve the power by the Act of Parliament to carry out such mandates, its monopoly is without competition from independent bodies. This overarching power provides the government who appoints the heads of such agencies the latitudes to manipulates and interfere. This is where the Press role as the Watch Dog of the society becomes imperative to dig deep beyond the façade of officialdom.

Until the press galvanizes itself to reclaim the Media industry and begin to train practitioners in the act of investigative journalism, the society will remain at the mercy of different shades of politicians. The political elites freed from either real division above or significant accountability below can afford to enrich themselves without distraction or retribution. If there was an attempt, it had to do with a clash of the bourgeoisie divergent group interests. Exposure ceases to matter very much as impunity becomes the rule, like Bankers, leading Politicians do not go to jail in Nigeria as they deploy looted funds to fight back tenaciously. Corruption is not just but a function of the decline in the bourgeois political order but a symptom of the economic regime propped by Capital to sustain the State in power.

The political elites or actors do not see any reason for a paradigm shift in governance, planning, policy formulation and implementation. They do not care about liberation and emancipation of their fellow citizens trapped in the vicious cycle of hardship, poverty that underdevelopment has over time wrecked on the continent. They blindly follow in the footsteps of their colonial predecessors as comprador bourgeois who lack the spirit of inventiveness, entrepreneurship and discovery. They gloriously celebrate oppression, exploitation and abuse of power to the detriment of egalitarianism and social justice for all.
Yet the State and its failing emasculate and weaken social institutions which makes it easy and convenient for politicians, military top brass and other state actors in connivance with capitalist agents to plunder the wealth of the nation with impunity.

One characteristic of a capitalist society is that the ruling class is divided among itself. They have common interests like keeping wages down and having the unrestricted right to manage. Different capitalists have a divergent interest as debates and disputes between different sections of capital are the central and irremovable aspect of capitalist society. The media owners and elected Legislators act along these conflicting differences to pursue their respective sectional interests. They resort to diversionary antics and odium to divert the masses attention from the true state of the nation.

It is against this glaring background that we can situate and deconstruct the fight against corruption by successive governments in Nigeria. The anti-corruption agency EFCC should have been supporting journalists by providing training and funding for financial crimes investigations. Such a partnership would have given more credibility and integrity in its mandates fighting corruption. As it were, many observers and critics are of the opinions that the anti-graft agency is a tool in the hands of any incumbent government to emasculate its perceived enemies (oppositions).

They believed strongly that the grand posture by successive governments in the fight against corruption is a selective punishment that requires a paradigm shift now. It has always been a case of one section of the bourgeois using the coercive instrumentalities of the state to advance its group interests to the disadvantage of those outside the corridors of power. Hence, they advocate for a change in the philosophy and modus operandi of this so-called fight without end. They proffer a middle way by raising the bar of transparency in all social institutions of government.

They conclude by speaking to power on behalf of the teeming army of The Voiceless, powerless and underprivileged Nigerian citizens across the socially constructed divide used by the State and it actors to undermine their cohesion. They are reminding the ruling elites that very soon, the veil of ethnoreligious sentiments will be removed by the current of a People’s Revolution to liberate and emancipate the people.

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