Migration: Investigative Reporters Must Embrace Common-Sense Journalism
Being a speech delivered by the Ogun State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Abdulwaheed Odusile, the former National President of the Nigeria Union of Journalists and the Federation of West African Journalists, at the West African Media Migration Summit organized by the Journalists International Forum For Migration (JIFORM) in Togo, on Wednesday, June 23, 2021.
It gives me a great pleasure to be with you virtually this afternoon, and it is with utmost humility that I speak with you.
Let me recognize the organisers, JIFORM and some of the people here before standing on the existing protocols…
Migration has become inevitable because it is necessary for the survival of the human race. Migration is an integral aspect of life and people, especially journalists, must move to survive.
There are many reasons why people migrate, there are many ways on how to migrate, but whatever reasons anyone has to migrate must be legal, legitimate, genuine and purpose driven.
It is important to remember first and foremost that migration is about the movement of the people. Human beings have been migrating since the stone age, and no doubt that migration has evolved from journeys of a few miles on donkeys and horse rides to travels of millions of miles across the globe through air, land and sea.
The world has become a global village, as such, adventurers and investigative reporters have sought new areas of relevance. And with the encouragement of international media organisations like the BBC, journalists are now breaking barriers with awards such as that Pulitzer Prize and the BBC Africa Reporter of the Year
What we must understand is that, as journalists, our migration must impact positively on our reportage and by extension, on our societies. I will not just attempt to address this topic as someone presently managing the information system of the Ogun State Government of Nigeria, I will also rely on my background as a former President of the NUJ and Federation of African Journalists.
While in transit or at our various destinations, journalists must imbibe the spirit of oneness and friendliness as we go about in pursuit of our stories. We must embrace common-sense journalism.
Adapting to common sense journalism means that we must practice with utmost safety precautions because one can only be called a practicing journalist while he or she is alive.
We need to understand some peculiarities before setting out on the journey to other countries, we need to know whether our destinations encourage, discourage, or limit investigations as concerns the nation.
And that is why there must be preliminary research before making plans to leave your base.
You must have background knowledge of the culture, language and ways of the people you are visiting. You must know what A, B, C or D means in their language as opposed to what it means in your own culture.
Let me give an example here: There was once a Nigerian Minister who was interviewed by an American reporter. In the cause of the discussion, the journalist asked the Nigerian minister to speak on an election that had just been conducted.
The election was held on April 19 that particular year. I’m talking of many years ago. The Americans have a way of pronouncing dates, using the number of the month as the figure before calling the actual date. An example is the September 11 terrorism attack which is popularly called 9-1-1 attack; 9 being September and 1-1 being eleven.
On the said day, the American journalist asked the Nigerian minister to talk about the 4-1-9 election and the minister got furious, asking the journalist to apologise for calling the election 419. The journalist was baffled, not understanding why he has to apologise and the interview session ended abruptly.
I’m sure you are all baffled as well, as to why there should be an apology. But Nigerians here will understand. In our country, there is a penal code that deals with fraud and related offences. There is a particular section, Section 419 of the code, which borders on Advance Fee Fraud.
As such, the code had been made popular, and anyone or situation seen as corrupt or fraudulent are commonly referred to as 419. You can now imagine that an election was conducted on April 19, a day the American referred to as 4-1-9.
Now, tell me, if you are the minister, won’t you be aggravated that the election that brought your government into office is being called fraudulent?
But if the journalist had understood the Nigerian terrain, he wouldn’t have called the election 4-1-9, though it was held on April 19. He would have used Nigerian language rather than his American dialectical connotations.
You must have a grasp of the report you are working on. Have the background knowledge and study related reports of the situation. For instance, a Nigerian working on Cattle rustling and farmers/herders clash in Ghana should read about the situation very well and not use the Nigerian situation to mirror what is happening in Ghana.
If need be, before you launch into the investigation, you can collaborate with two or three people and share ideas, especially with your editor. You also need to relate with colleagues in the country you are migrating to get as much information as possible on the subject matter, without necessarily blowing away your lead.
Know the Law
You must be acquainted with the laws of the country you are visiting as it relates with the sector you are launching an investigation on. This must be done so that you don’t run foul of the law and also to know how the law can be used to your advantage.
In essence, know your weakness, limitations and strength as provided by the law.
For instance, a Cameroonian or a Togolese journalist visiting NIGERIA to do a story on the recent ban on Twitter must know what the law says about the use of the online platform and know whether he or she can actually use Twitter while in Nigeria or not.
You must ensure that you are armed with relevant paperwork, such as work permits, and friendship of colleagues that can guarantee your peaceful stay throughout your stay, especially when the government of such a country is not media friendly.
You must also support your trip and work with detailed documents to show that you have vast knowledge in the area you are working on. Keep original documents away from security operatives and ensure that you have copies of every important document in your email and other online wallets. Obtain all the documents you need before embarking on your trip.
Don’t rush into your investigations, try and get as much information as you can. You need it because you need to ask intelligent questions in the cause of the investigations. And when you get to a bottleneck, the information at your disposal will aid you to challenge evasive answers.
It is a common parlance in our profession that ‘comments are free, facts are sacred’. So, fact-checking is an integral part of journalism. You must fact-check everything you have been helped with, whether documents or information obtained through sources.
Balancing and fair hearing
Always allow the subject of your investigation a fair chance to respond and avoid ambush interviews unless absolutely necessary. Inform the subject beforehand, let him or be prepared, so as to avoid being ambushed.
Don’t be proud to say; ‘I stand by my story’, in the face of evidence to the contrary. If you find that your opinion is wrong, be prepared to shift gears and change your story.
Always be in touch with your sources and don’t forget to do follow-ups on your stories.