‘Media owners should provide insurance cover for investigative journalists’

By Risikat Ramoni

Fisayo Soyombo, editor of The Cable, an online newspaper, was adjudged the best investigative reporter in 2016. Soyombo studied Animal Science in the university but his love and passion for journalism has led him to become an investigative reporter. In this interview, Soyombo discusses the challenges of investigative journalism in Nigeria

Fisayo Soyombo, editor of The Cable

What are some of the controversial stories you have written?

In 2013, I went to Plateau State to find out the cause of the unrest there. It was the same situation as that of Southern Kaduna today. I discovered that mostly, the Igbira and Fulani were causing serious issues based on a tussle for land by both cattle and non-cattle rearers. There were lots of killings.

When The Cable started in 2014, I was too busy to travel in search of detailed news. But in 2015, I travelled to Liberia for five days to see how the country was recovering from its Ebola crisis. I succeeded in establishing that a lot of corruption took place during that time. While many were dying and the whole world was sympathising with them, some of the officials there were embezzling funds.

Also in 2015, I investigated corruption among Customs officials at Nigerian ports. I discovered that the average Nigerian trying to do import business is exploited by the corrupt officials at the ports.

In 2016, I went to the North-East to investigate the abandonment of soldiers who sustained injuries while fighting against Boko Haram. The Army claimed they did not abandon them, yet some were lying in the hospital for six months or more. I went undercover to two hospitals. One is at the cantonment in Maiduguri, which was where freshly wounded soldiers were taken to. I also went to the 44 Military Hospital in Kaduna, which was where the most serious cases were taken to. I saw a soldier who had been blinded for over two years and they kept telling him they were waiting for directives to fly him out of the country. A fragment of grenade hit him in the eye in 2014 and ever since he had been abandoned there, all in the name of directives. In 2016, the eye was still plastered. Initially, the Army authorities denied, but they later went to the hospital to settle some of the cases. There was an impact, a positive response from the Army after the story.

Later in 2016, I went to the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in the North-East. I was able to establish the fact that there was so much corruption going on in the management of the foodstuffs of the IDPs by the people who should pity those in severe hardship. The camp officials either sold or diverted the food for personal use.

What societal impact does your investigative story have?

Sometimes, there will be attempted change, but not in all cases. For instance, after my Customs story, the Customs boss directed officials to declare their assets. Sometimes, there is the willingness to act. Even when there will be no visible impact, it is still worth doing, if just to bring to the fore certain irregularities and let people know what is happening.

What are the challenges you have encountered in the course of investigative journalism?

In many cases, people warn me not to do it. Then, getting a contact is not always so easy. You never can tell if your contact will actually help you or even alert the people you are investigating.

Whoever is working to expose societal ills will work the extra mile because people are doing a lot to cover their tracks. It is always difficult getting the stories. When I went to do the IDPs story, in my first few days, I achieved nothing. Invariably, investigative stories are not always easy to get. It is tough, but then, I have chosen to become a journalist to use my work to make the life of some other people better. Despite the challenges, one must continue

Are you never afraid of threats to your life?

Cowards die many times before their death and the courageous die but once. I know someone who sat in front of his shop and a car hit him there and he died. If that is one way to die, why should the fear of death stop someone from pursuing one’s passion. I know why I’m doing this and I know that one of the reasons I do this is to make the lives of certain people better. If it’s worth the risk, why relent?

As an investigative journalist, you are around risk, and the biggest of it is death, bodily harm, threats and many others. I have not experienced serious cases of threat, minus the Army saying I practise subversion, minus someone calling me after the Customs story to say he would deal with me. What I try to do is to balance, prove and show evidence that this is not made up.

What are the awards you have won so far and on what stories?

I won two of the three awards in the online category. I was second runner-up in the online category for my Customs story and winner in the overall category for the forgotten soldiers. And I was adjudged the best investigative journalist of the year.

What can media organisations do to guarantee the safety of staff who risk their lives to expose societal ills?

Media organisations can assist their journalists by sending them abroad for training on how to become better writers and also on how to protect themselves. It won’t also be a bad idea to have an insurance cover for journalists. The foreign journalists who come here to work have many back-ups. I was somewhere when a soldier was relating the Liberia civil war and how a CNN journalist was shot and he was airlifted immediately for medical treatment. In Nigeria today, I doubt if a journalist will have that kind of opportunity.

More companies can do more and better than they currently do, but looking at the financial situation of most media houses, it may not be possible. Protection of the journalists is beyond what media owners alone can do.

The society also has a role in this. The soldiers should guarantee the safety of journalists who travel to troubled zones for investigation. Right now, if a journalist approaches the military that he wants to go to the Sambisa forest to do a story on Boko Haram, they will say, no way. The work of an investigative journalist has a public interest dimension. In a way, we are life savers, either directly or indirectly. Writing investigative stories is service to humanity and we can’t allow impediments to stop us.

How has it been combining investigative reporting with your job as Editor?

It’s 100 per cent tough, but a man has to do what he has to do while he can. When I went to Chibok, five weeks after the abduction of the Chibok girls, I saw a lot. Whenever I have an investigative story idea, I have to stretch myself more. Sometimes, when I return from my trip, I leave the story and concentrate on my editing. There are times it takes four to five weeks to write the story.

Daily Trust

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