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Nigerian Print Media and the Fight against Corruption

By ALAWODE, Oyewole M.
The Federal Polytechnic Offa

 

A PAPER PRESENTED

At The

4TH NATIONAL CONFERENCE

Of

SCHOOL OF ARTS AND SOCIAL SCIENCES,

THE OSUN STATE COLLEGE OF EDUCATION, ILESHA

November 18th – 21st 2008

Abstract

This paper examines the efforts of the print media, the newspapers and news magazine in fighting corruption, especially since the establishment of the two Anti Corruption agencies; the ICPC and the EFCC by the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. How have the print media assisted in the fight against corruption especially in reporting and exposing the scourge as well as helping to propagate the role of the anti-corruption agencies? Simple content analysis of newspapers and news magazines since the beginning of the current civilian dispensation in Nigeria, especially news reports and analyses shows indeed that an appreciable space are devoted to anticorruption reporting. The effects of these reports are manifest in the improvement in Nigeria’s ranking by the Transparency International and in other areas. The paper considers the constraints being faced by the media industry in waging effective war against corruption and make recommendations.

Introduction

The destructive impacts of corruption in the live of nations throughout the world is ackowledged. Corruption is perharps the most important factor that is impeding the accelerated socio-economic transformation of developing or less developing countries (LDCs) of the world. Infact, it is recognised by development scholars that the level of reduction in corruption has a very direct link to the level of economic development of nations in the world.

The media and Civil Society groups have been identified as the two very important weapons to fight the scourge of corruption worldwide. In Nigeria, the independent press, by which we refer to the newspapers and the newsmagazines, have been actively involved in checking the excesses of governments and as well as others in positions of authorities. Of course, the story of the Nigerian mass media, especially the printed press, can be said to be a story of stuggle since the the late nineteenth century when the first newspaper Iwe Iroyin Yoruba was established in Abeokuta, present day Ogun State. The coming of newspapers like the Comet of Mr. Ali, the Egyptian, the West African Pilot founded by the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and later the Nigerian Tribune of late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, among others, notched up the opposition to colonial struggle especially against perceived undue dominance, bad governance, injustice and corruption of the time. So, from the stuggle against colonial lordship, civilian misgovernance of the first republic, military dictorship to the seeming lackluster performance in the current civilian dispensation, the Nigerian print media, especially privately owned, could be said to have indeed come a long way.

Corruption Defined

Corruption is coined from the Latin word; corruptus which in essence means ‘to destroy’. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia offered that Corruption is essentially an impairment of integrity, virtue or moral principle; depravity, decay, and/or an inducement to wrong by improper or unlawful means, a departure from the original or from what is pure or correct, and/or an agency or influence that corrupts. The Encyclopaedia listed diffrerent types of curroption. Two types relevant to this paper are;

Institutional corruption, as corrupt actions or policies within an organization that break the law, serve to subjugate humans in unlawful manners, discriminate against humans based upon race, ethnicity, culture, or orientation, or serve to degrade other humans or groups for that institution's own profit; and

Political corruption, as the dysfunction of a political system or institution in which government officials, political officials or employees seek illegitimate personal gain through actions such as bribery, extortion, cronyism, nepotism, patronage, graft, and embezzlement. Political corruption is a specific form of rent seeking, where access to politics is organized with limited transparency, limited competition and directed towards promoting narrow interests (rent seeking is not to be confused with property rental).

I will add ‘Econonmic Corruption’ to the list for the purpose of clarity only, as the definiton (2) above also incorporates its main ingredients.

Curroption, Media and Development: A Review

It is true that corruption is a world wide phenomenon, elements of corruption are found in almost all countries of the world. However, it must be said that the incidences of corruption are much more prevalent in developing countries like Nigeria. As noted by Anderson, James H. et al (1999) in ‘The Impact of Corruption on the Poor in Transition Countries’, "The conditions of these countries are such that corruption is likely to have different causes and consequences than in more developed countries. The socio-economic conditions in low income countries are more conducive to the growth of corruption. Corruption is a symptom of deep-rooted economic and political weaknesses and shortcomings in the legislative and judicial system of the country. To aggravate the situation, accountability in these countries is generally weak, the chances of being caught are small and the penalties when caught are light"

The inference is that it is almost impossible for the LDCs or low income country to join the league of developed nations if corruption is not effectively tackled. In a corrupt system, characteristics such as infrastructural decay, lack of patriotism, subjugation of collective interests, improper implementation of policies and programmes and a disconnect between vision and its realization are prevalent. So, for Nigeria hoping to become one of the 20 most developed economies in the world by the year 2020, the fight against corruption must be one of the topmost priorities of the Government at all levels.

Instructively, it has been noted by scholars that the position of Nigeria as the sixth largest exporter of oil in the world is a big contradiction to the unacceptable level of poverty and squalor in the land. Indeed, the major reason for this sorry level of the nation’s development could be easily traced to the high incidence of corruption in the country. Mr. Bayo Onanuga, Editor-in-Chief of The News and PM News noted recently that in many studies conducted on Nigeria, corruption has been found to be the greatest problem militating against the nation’s social and economic progress.

Awoonor-Gordon O. R., editor PEEP Newsletter Online, a Sierra Leone's news and satirical magazine, is however of the opinion that the media in developing countries have a special task of explaining to the people the link between corruption and their present state of backwardness and under-development.
He also reiterated the need to educate and inform those in control of the nation's resources as to the correct way resources must be allocated and disbursed. I agree with him.

James D. Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank in a speech to the World Press Freedom Committee Washington, D.C., (1999) also observed that "Free Press is not a luxury" According to him, a free Press is at the absolute core of equitable development because if you cannot enfranchise poor people, if they do not have a right to expression, if there is no searchlight on corruption and inequitable practices, you cannot build the public consensus needed to bring about change.

One tends to agree totally with Rick Stapenhurst (2000) that corruption is a negative factor which must not be allowed to grow. He said in his paper ‘The Media Role in Curbing Corruption’ that "available evidence shows that if corruption is not contained, it will grow. Once a pattern of successful bribes is institutionalized, corrupt officials have an incentive to demand larger bribes, engendering a "culture" of illegality that in turn breeds market inefficiency"

The foregoing assertions have shown to us clearly that Corruption is an evil which must be combated as fiercely as possible with all the resources available. The press must however be in the fore front in this fight,. Indeed, Section 22 of the Nigeria’s 1999 constitution gave this specific assignment of serving as the watchdog of the society to the media.

Tools for Effective Media War Against Corruption

The World Anti-corruption Watchdog, The Transparency International, reported in its recent anti-corruption handbook that a free and independent media is one of the principal vehicles for informing the public about corrupt activity. TI noted that by investigating and reporting on corruption, the media provides an important counterpoint to the abuse of entrusted power for private gain, shedding light on the wrongdoings of public office holders and corporate executives alike. As such, it significantly contributes to the basis of knowledge with which citizens can hold both public and private institutions to account.

However, for the media to effectively discharge these important duties as indicated above and wage a successful war against corruption, it must necessarily be armed with the tools and ingredients of the profession.

Independence of the media is not only desirable but a very important factor in the fight against corruption. The Political leadership of a nation desirous of fighting corruption must ensure that legislations are put in place to ensure free and unfettered press. This also explains why the national assembly must pass the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill without delay. A media that is to be in vanguard of enthroning corruption free society must also not be encumbered by Ownership, Political and economic interests.

Journalists must be well kitted with adequate Investigative Journalism skills in order to navigate the complex web of highly sophisticated corruption crimes. Since corruption perpetrators are more often than not the highly positioned individuals, journalists must have the necessary training to obtain facts and figures to blow whistle on corrupt practices. The World Bank Institute should be commended in this regard. It is reported that the Institute apart from helping countries design and implement anti-corruption programs, has for some years now through its Governance and Finance Division (WBIGF) been facilitating investigative journalism workshops in Africa, Central and Eastern Europe and more recently, in Latin America and South Asia.

Journalism obviously requires lots of financial and human resources to function. Media workers must be adequately remunerated to get the best from them and to reduce the possibilities of their being compromised. Media Practitioners are very vulnerable to attacks from people who will want to prevent them from reporting certain occurrence when they perceive such occurrence as capable of affecting their political and business interests negatively. Many journalists have been killed or maimed in the course of their duties; some have been threatened into self censorship. Those reporting corruptions are especially in danger of various forms of attacks and threats. Adequate protection from law enforcement agencies must exist to protect the journalists and to create a conducive atmosphere for freedom of expression to flourish.

Closely related is Adequate Legal Framework under which journalists perform there roles. Existence of draconian laws can also impede the performance of their duties. One will recall the sad effects of the obnoxious Decree Number 4 of 1984 under the regime of Buhari/Idiagbon military junta. Such laws curtailing freedom of expression will not allow free flow of information and will greatly impede the media war against corruption and related offences.

Nigerian Press Reports and the Effects on Anti graft War (1999 – 2008)

The most focused and far-reaching war against corruption in Nigeria could be said to have started during the regime of the earstwhile president of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo especiallly with the establishment ot the two Anti-graft bodies; The Independent Curropt Practices and Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The establishment of the two bodies provided great impetus for the press to perfom the constitutionally orddined role of effectively watching over the activies of the government so as to ensure efficient servive delivery. Despite the strident criticism that the war was biased and the agencies were being used to withchunt enemies of the government, the press still provided great support to the antigraft agencies in its activites. A seach through Nigerian Newspapers and Magazines in the last nine years of new democratic experiment show that curruption and corruption related matters are among issues that take up sizeable persentage of spaces available in newspaers and news magazines. Major Nigerian Newspapers usually carry between five to ten corruption related newstories per edition. Most of editorial opinions and news features also deal with issues of fighting the scourge of coruption and enthroning transparency in government businesses. News Magazines such as The News and Tell and some newspapers including The Guardian, the Nation, Punch, Tribune, Vanguard, This Day and indeed virtually all Nigeria’s independent dailies have been in the fore front of exposing corruption in high places through, obtaining hard facts through painstaking investigative journalism.

The effect of the relentless media war on corruption in Nigeria was the report by the Transparent International (TI) that Nigeria has improved noticeably in its Corruption Perception Index (CPI). Latest report of the TI, the global CPI 2008 indicated that, Nigeria ranked 121 out of 180 countries surveyed by TI, moving seven points up and obtained a score of 2.7 out of a possible 10. Nigeria also ranked 22nd out of the 47 countries. This is an improvement compared to 148 position in 2007 and 153 in 2006 out of 180.

Some of the the various ways the printed media have contributed to the fight against corruption and their effects effects of are examined below:

News Reports and Analysis. The Nigerian news media, especially the Print Media have been unrelenting in carrying news reports on corruption and related matters. Infact this is the most important way the press has helped in the the anticorruption crusade. Through colaboraation with the anti graft and other law enforcement agencies, the press has exposed curroption by many highly and lowly placed officials. Such reports in the press have led to removal, resignation and prosecution of highly placed officials including the former Inspector General of Police, Mr. Tafa Balogun, the frormer Senate President, Adulphus Wabara with former Minister Prof. Fabian Osuji and officials of the Federal Ministry of Education on the N50 milllion bribe-for-budget scandai , former Speaker Mrs Patricia Olubunmi Etteh on house refurbishing deal, former Ministers (Prof Grange and Mr. Gabriel Aduku) and officials of The Federal Ministry of Health on the N300 milllion unspent allocation and many more. Although, the daughter of the former President Senator Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello accused along with the health Ministry officials is still functioning as a Senator, she is also charged to court. Several of the immediate past state governors and ministers are already being prosecuted while many others past and serving are still under investigation.

Whistle Blowing. The press has also helped in unearthing corruption through investigative reporting thereby prompting anti graft agencies to launch investigation into such matters. A ready example is the allegation of financial impropriety leveled against the former Deputy National Chairman of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP Chairman. He was alleged to have spearheaded a monumental mismanagement of the funds of the Nigerian Port Authority (NPA) when he was chairman of the authority. Although the investigation was conducted and concluded by EFCC under earstwhile Chairman of EFCC, Malllam Nuhu Ribadu, it is doubtful if the report could see the light of the day given the closeness of the accused to the seat of power, if not for the exposure of the investigation and its conclusions by The News Magazine and related reports by many other newsmedia. Another very relevant case is the allegation of secret telephone conversation against chairman Justice Thomas Naron and members of the Osun State First Elections Tribunal who were said to be involved in secret telephone conversation with one of the counsels in the matter before them. This is regarded as illegal, unethical and a gross misconduct in administration of justice. With the report, The News Magazine has open a new window in investigative journalism from the angle of advantages offered by the GSM technology. The case is currently being investigated by the EFCC and other security agencies.

Reinforcement of Anti Graft Values. The press, through the consistent reports and news analysis on anti corruption issues has helped in reinforcing values of honesty and integrity in the society. The press has constituted itself to a positive force which has etched anti-corruption crusade in the consciousness of the people. Of course, corruption could not be said to have reduced drastically as there are dearth of ready statistics to support this, It could however be said that anti-corruption issues have been brought into the front burner of national discuss.

Curroption Deterrent. The very consciousness among the people that there exists a vibrant press that is ever watching to report curroption could be a deterent to curroption inclined officials and individuals. Transparency International noted recently that "A tradition of hard-hitting investigative journalism may, for instance, place an indirect check on corruption that might otherwise take place in the absence of informed public debate".

Generation and Sustenance of Public Support for Anti-Corruption Agencies. A symbiotic relationship often exists between the press and the anti-graft agencies, ie the ICPC and the EFCC. While the press depends on the agencies’ reports and findings to put together juicy, and often dramatic news reports, the agencies also enjoy adequate public presence and coverage. The reports of activities of the agencies has mobilised support for them and their officers to the extent that they are now seen as heroes and heroines of some sort. The widespread concern that is attending the current travails of Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, the erstwhile Chairman of the EFCC attests to this.

Partnership with Civil Society Groups. The constant exposure of corruption by the Nigerian printed press has emboldened increasing number of the Civil Socety Groups in the country to join and identify with the anti graft war. The reports in the media about curroption have provided these groups with the needed tools to demand prosecution of leaders perceived as corrupt and to demand greater transparency in government businesses.

Identification of Areas of Possible Corruption. The print media in recent years has also been proactive in identifying questionable and unexplained wealth of leaders thereby arousing public interest and concern. It is true that such cases may not be currently under any investigation but it is a veritable reference material for future investigations into such matters. Some government officials and leading Politicians who have acquired properties far above their earnings are being exposed regularly by the Nigerian Press.

Susteinance of Anti Corruption Momentum. The adequate and unrelenting reporting of corruption and activies of anti-corruption aggencies have been sustaining the fight against graft. In fact many ordinary Nigerians believe that, if not for the watchdog role of the press, the anti-graft momentum may have died down. Another way the press has been sustaining the war is the unearthing of anti graft cases which would have been buried. Journalists, especially columnists usualllly make frequent reference to such cases and in a way putting preasure on anti-graft agencies to revisit the case and commence prosecution. A case that comes to mind is that of former NPA chairman refered to earlier.

Observed Limitations of the Nigeran Print Media in the War Against Curroption

Despite the commendable contributions of the media to the anti-graft war, it is however important to point out that the level of development of the Nigerian printed press may constitute hindrance to its effective performance of its roles as a major anti-corruption watchdog. The level of the industry’s economic development, for example is still poor. Most media organizations are under-capitalized. To survive, most media houses depend heavily on advertisements from the same institutions and governments they are to watch. Also, in some media houses, many months of salaries are owed staff and where regularly paid, they are too low for any meaningful existence. This near-beggar status of media houses and their staff can not ensure strict adherence to the ethics of the profession.

Closely related to low economic strength is the issue of corruption in the media itself. The media corruption takes the form of accepting ‘gifts’ from individuals, corporate bodies as well as governments and agencies of governments. Extreme cases are when journalists expect gratifications, especially in form of brown envelopes, for covering assignments and writing reports. These and related unethical conducts are very prevalent in developing countries of the word, constituting a great impediment to the exercise of functions assigned constitutionally to the media. Business, political, group and personal interests of media owners are sometimes very important clog in the wheel. In situations where media ownership is concentrated and not diverse enough, it will be easy to prevent ‘damaging’ news items injurious to the health of such interests from seeing the light of the day.

It is unfortunate that the National Assembly of Nigeria is still dragging its feet on the passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill. Despite the relative press freedom enjoyed in Nigeria, government activities to a large extent are still shrouded in secrecy. Many documents that could be useful in unearthing corrupt practices are easily classified as official secret. This area would have been addressed by the FOI bill. Stapenhurst (2000) observed that"Generally, governments have little difficulty in providing information to the public that reflects well on itself. The problem arises, by contrast, when the information reflects the opposite; here, a "voluntary disclosure by government" approach often does not work as both politicians and bureaucrats often try to hide embarrassing information".

A very important limitation to effective fight against corruption which is often overlooked is the closeness that often develops between the press and anti-graft agencies. It is observed earlier that there is a symbiotic relationship between the two. Such relationship often leads to closeness and the problem is that when corruption creeps into such anti-grafts agencies, of course this is very possible, or other forms of scandal breaks out, it may be difficult for the media to report such with the same commitment and intensity required.

It is also important to point out the need for adequate training is required for many journalists. The fear of some of the opponents of the FOI bill stemmed from the visible quacks in the profession who have been giving journalism a bad name. Such quacks are not necessarily trained in the basics of the profession especially the observance of mass media law and ethics.

Recommendations

This paper recognises the major contributions of the Nigerian Newspapers and magazines in the fight against corruption in the nation. However, to enhance its roles, the following recommendations are made;

The Nigerian print media should continue to maintain its independence in all circumstances, in its relationship with governments and its agencies, including the anti-graft agencies, so as to always maintain balance and keep the ship of anti corruption afloat;

The Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) should vigorously pursue enhanced welfare package for all journalists in other to minimise falling into temptations of unethical conducts;

Media owners should see it as a matter of duty to always seek adequate protection for their staff especially those on sensitive duties in order to forestall various forms of attacks;

Media practitioners, civil society groups and all those interested in a transparent and just society should put adequate pressure on the national assembly members to pass the FOI bill. There may be need to educate the distinguished senators and honourable members on the necessity of the bill and also allay there fears, if any;

The Nigerian Press Council should be strengthened and made more functional and relevant to the need of the profession;

There should be minimum academic requirements for any individual to practice as a journalist. It is here suggested that only BSc, BA or HND holders in relevant disciplines should be certified to practise as journalists. This is to minimise incidences of careless reporting and compromise of integrity;

There is a need to incorporate Corruption Reporting as part of Investigative Reporting in Mass Communication and Journalism curricula;

There is a need for journalists and anti corruption agencies to beam their searchlights on the activities at the Local Government level. The amounts being published regularly as allocation to this important tier of government do not in anyway correspond to the abject poverty and infrastructural decay at the grassroots; and

Also as observed by Prof. Lai Oso of the Olabisi Onabanjo University, in a per titled: the Role of the Media in Anti-corruption Reporting, it is important for journalists to also turn the searchlight on corruption in the corporate sector as much as they were doing on the public sector.

Conclusion

This paper realises that within operational constraints, Nigerian Print media has discharged duties creditably well in reporting corruption and in the fight against corruption generally. The practitioners however need to critically examine the factors identified as militating against a more effective fight against the scourge. This is important that given the magnittude of corruption in the nation, the little successes recorded, especially the improvement in the Transparency Internationa CPI ranking sould not be celebrated. A lot still has to be done to fight corruption especially if Nigeria must join the league of developed nations and most importantly to be among the 20 most developed economies in the world in year 2020 as envisaged by the present administration of President Umar Musa Yar’Adua.

 

REFERENCE

 

Anderson, J.H et al (1999 The Impact of Corruption on the Poor in Transition Countries. World Bank draft. http://www.worldbank.org/wbi/governance/pdf/contribution.pdf

Awoonor-Gordon O. R., (2008) The Effective Use Of The Print Media In The Fight

Against Corruption. http://www.peepsierraleone.com/news/defa... by

Onanuga, Bayo (20008) Media, Corruption Reporting and Governance. http://allafrica.com/stories/200809300369.html. This Day Newspaper, September 29, 2008

Oso L. (2008) The Role of the Media in Anti-corruption Reporting. This Day Newspaper, September 29, 2008 http://allafrica.com/stories/200809300369.htm

Stapenhurst R. (2000) The Media Role in Curbing Corruption World Bank Institute. http://www.worldbank.org/wbi/governance/pdf/media.pdf

Transparency International. (2008) Anti Corruption Handbook http://www.transparency.org/policy_research/ach

Federal Government of Nigeria. (1999) Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999.

Wolfensohn James D., President of the World Bank (1999) In a speech to the World Press Freedom Committee Washington, D.C., http://www.worldbank.org/wbi/governance/pdf/media.pdf

Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopaedia, (2008) Corruption, Wikimedia Foundation US, http://en.wikipedia.org


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