To what extent is investigative journalism used to uncover allegations of corruption in Nigeria? What are its key challenges? This article from Ecquid Novi: African Journalism Studies uses interviews with journalists to explore the use of investigative journalism in Nigeria. While the press can help to strengthen government institutions, especially through its watchdog role, significant reform is needed to strengthen media organisations, to limit corruption and to restore public confidence in the press. Investigative journalism in Nigeria is limited by low salaries, bad working conditions, corrupt practices by journalists, and clientelism.
Investigative journalism can be distinguished from routine journalism in that it must be in the public interest and relies on extensive research and the follow-up of information. Investigative journalism often involves exposing corruption, as well as acts that violate norms and morals. Allegations of corruption become scandals when they are exposed to the public, most often by the media.
Various Nigerian governments – both civil and military – have been subject to allegations of corruption. However, the extent to which the media has been successful in exposing corruption scandals is open to question. Extensive interviews with Nigerian journalists in 2007 indicate that they understand the concept of investigative journalism, but are unsure about the extent to which it is currently being practiced. Key factors that impede the use of investigative journalism to uncover corruption scandals include the following:
- Pervasive clientelism. Due to the close relationships that develop between the media and public office-holders, journalists often serve political interests rather than those of the public or the common good.
- Inadequate working conditions, salaries, training and equipment
- Widespread corruption within the media: Some journalists accept bribes to cover specific stories or extort public officials.
- Threats of or actual physical violence against journalists and repercussions for journalists in state-owned media organisations.
- A lack of finance and the absence of a strong capital base, encouraging dependence on funding from senior politicians and business people.
The press has an important role to play in strengthening democratic governance, promoting awareness and keeping a check on the misuse of government power. However, significant reforms are required in order for this to become a reality. In Nigeria, an approach based on the press’ responsibility to disclose official wrongdoing may be more appropriate than the ‘ideal’ type of investigative journalism. Key recommendations for strengthening media organisations and reducing corruption within the press include:
- Enhancing training capacities to ensure that journalists have the right standards of professionalism upon recruitment.
- Encouraging the growth of local newspapers by lowering the tariffs on the resources that journalists need to carry out their work. This would help to ensure the production of newspapers beyond urban areas.
- Improving the working conditions and salary structure for journalists. News agencies should be obliged to cover all expenses incurred by journalists rather than relying on sources for bribes and payments. Setting up an independent commission that would regulate media activities, discipline journalists and the owners of news agencies where appropriate, and protect journalists who maintain the integrity of the profession. This would also help to restore public trust in the press.