By James Ezema
It was a refreshing time for journalists in the northern parts of Nigeria who formed the participats during the second training in a series of workshops organised by the International Press Centre (IPC) in partnership with Media Rights Agenda (MRA).
The two-day workshop centred on the effective Use of the Freedom of Information Act (FOI Act) for investigative reports on campaign finance and COVID-19 accountability issues.
The Street Reporters Newspaper gathered that the first of the workshops was held in Lagos on August 5 and 6, 2020 for journalists from the southern part of the country.
The workshop for journalists in northern part of the country as well as the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, held on Tuesday, September 22 and Wednesday, September 23, 2020
in the FCT.
According to the organisers, “the workshop was funded by the European Union through Component 4b: which is Support to the media of the EU Support to Democratic Governance in Nigeria (EU-SDGN) Project.”
In his remarks at the training, the Executive Director, Media Rights Agenda, Mr. Edetaen Ojo, noted that the critical importance of the workshop necessitated putting it together as an in-person event rather than online, despite the challenges of organising a physical meeting at the pandemic period in the country.
Mr. Ojo noted that the organisers obviously had “a number of objectives that we hope to achieve through this activity.
“Firstly, for those of you who have not previously done any reporting in the areas we are focusing on, we hope to encourage you to take an interest in reporting these issues, namely political campaign finance issues as well as the Coronavirus pandemic, particularly with the objectives of bringing some sanity into the regulation of political campaign financing and ensuring transparency and accountability in the government’s response to the CIVID-19 pandemic.
“While the effective regulation of political campaign financing is essential to the success of our quest as a country to ensure free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria, transparency and accountability are imperative for the effectiveness of the measures taken by Governments at Federal and State levels to curtail the spread of the COVID-19 and to mitigate the negative economic impact on citizens brought about by both the virus itself and the government’s measures to check its spread.
“Besides encouraging you to take an interest in these issues, we are also hoping to use the training to sharpen your investigative reporting skills and build the confidence and ability of those of you for whom the Freedom of Information Act (FOI Act) is still new, to use it as a tool for facilitating transparent, free, fair and credible elections as well as monitoring how funds received and allocated for the COVID-19 response are being managed and utilized.
“However, we also expect that the skills and knowledge that you will, hopefully, acquire in the course of this workshop will also come in handy in your routine journalistic work, regardless of the nature of the other issues that may be of interest to you or that you are focused on at any point in time.
“Our ultimate goal in organizing the workshop is to contribute to improving government accountability to citizens across board”, the Executive Director of MRA explained.
On his part, the Executive Director of International Press Centre (IPC), Mr. Lanre Arogundade spoke on the need for journalists to embrace investigative methods in their reportage, particularly as regards campaign financing and COVID-19 issues, using the FOI Act.
He noted that one of the ways Nigerian media can regain public trust in view of widespread insinuations that the Nigerian media has been compromised is to monitor governance and hold government accountable to the people.
He said, “While not being oblivious of the obstacles that daily confronts us including all forms of threats by the government and the political class, media professional associations and bodies should be proactive and must realise that our best defense lies in sticking to good journalism”.
The resource persons who spoke on various topics practically exceeded the expectations of many of the participants as the organisers hoped that the COVID-19 pandemic would offer sufficient motivation for the participants to be engaged in the governance process, insisting that if the media are not vigilant and the funds meant for COVID-19 response are stolen, misappropriated, misapplied or in any other way diverted to other purposes, then the objectives of the response will obviously not be achieved.
The x-stray of the FOI Act at the training, clearly identifying its limitations and the strength of the law, gave the participants a better understanding of how to deploy the Act in campaign financing and COVID-19 investigations for public good.
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