The International Press Centre (IPC), Lagos, in partnership with Media Rights Agenda (MRA) held a two-day Media Training Workshop on Using the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act for Investigative Reports on Campaign Finance and Covid-19 Accountability Issues on Wednesday August 5 and Thursday August 6, 2020 in Lagos.
The training workshop was supported by the European Union through Component 4b: Support to the media of the EU Support to Democratic Governance in Nigeria (EU-SDGN) Project being implemented by the International Press Centre (IPC).
The workshop brought together female and male print, broadcast and online journalists including investigative reporters, political reporters, state house correspondents and editors from the public and private media in Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Ondo, Ekiti, Osun and Edo States.
The workshop featured presentations on Understanding and Reporting Campaign Finance and Political Expenditure Frameworks and Issues, by Mr. Jide Ojo, Executive Director, OJA Development Consult; Using Investigative Reporting Techniques to Monitor Compliance with Campaign Finance and Political Expenditure Regulations by Ms. Tobore Ovuorie, Freelance Investigative Journalist; and Deploying the FOI Act and Other Investigative Tools/Methodologies in Reporting Covid-19 Funds in the Public Interest by Mr. Dayo Aiyetan, Executive Director, International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR).
Other presentations were: Understanding the Key Features of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 by Mr. Edetaen Ojo, MRA’s Executive Director; and The Role of the Media in Ensuring Good Governance and Government Accountability by Mr. Lanre Arogundade, Executive Director of IPC.
The workshop had plenary sessions at which participants brainstormed on the matters arising from the presentations and came up with various story ideas on campaign finance and Covid-19 accountability issues that they will investigate using the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.
Participants observed that:
- The media was not doing enough to unravel the mysteries surrounding political and campaign finance in Nigeria as many issues of importance and significant implications for governance remain uninvestigated and unreported;
- The media’s performance in holding Federal and State Governments accountable for the receipt and expenditure of Covid-19 funds has been grossly inadequate;
- Investigative reporting remains a painstaking process of gathering evidence which may require journalists to submit several requests for information to different public institutions and possibly private entities;
- The FOI Act is a potent tool as it makes investigative reporting much more feasible as it reduces the risks associated with obtaining information through other means while also making the process of information gathering easier;
- To be able to meaningfully report on campaign finance, a journalist must be conversant with all the laws, regulations and policies which guide campaign financing;
- Investigative journalism never provides an instant story, rather it goes through recognised stages of planning, investigation and information gathering as well as reporting, and has to work to accepted standards of accuracy and evidence;
- Investigative journalism is a process, not an event and is not intended for use in daily reporting, leak journalism, single source reporting, misuse of information, or “paparazzi journalism”;
- The media can play a vanguard role in overcoming the barriers that often militate against disadvantaged groups like women, youths and persons living with disabilities and their participation in elections;
- For journalists to be able to do investigative reports they must be creative, inquisitive and constantly on the lookout for opportunities that exist for those in authority to profit from the system.
In order to attain the objectives of the workshop, participants resolved to:
- Familiarise themselves with the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act in order to effectively use it for verification or fact checking in the course of investigations;
- Read and digest relevant sections of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Electoral Act 2010 (as ammended) so as to be able to report on the state of compliance with campaign finance disclosure and accounting obligations by political parties and candidates;
- Read and digest the Companies and Allied Matters, the Public Procurement Act, Fiscal Responsibility Act and other relevant instruments in order to assess the state of compliance with such legislation, regulations and laws guiding budgeting and the award of contracts;
- Familiarise themselves with the provisions of media regulatory frameworks including the Nigeria Broadcasting Code, the Code of Ethics for Nigerian Journalists and the Nigerian Media Code of Election Coverage in order to ensure that they stick to ethical and professional standards while reporting transparency and accountability issues in governance;
- Upgrade their investigative and reportorial skills by exploring and making use of local and international opportunities including training programmes and fellowships;
- Embark on collaboration in order to conduct in-depth investigations which may require more time and resources if individually conducted;
- Work on the various story ideas identified at the workshop in order to promote good governance and accountability
Participants brainstormed on various ideas that they will investigate both individually and collaboratively and agreed to set up a platform to share further ideas and experiences on carrying out these investigations. They thanked the European Union which supported the workshop through Component 4b: Support to the media of the EU Support to Democratic Governance in Nigeria (EU-SDGN) Project.