On 15 April 2023, Wadata Media Advocacy Centre (WAMAC) held a town hall meeting in Minna, the capital of Niger State, Nigeria. Bringing together members of the media, Civil Society organizations, government functionaries, and legal luminaries to brainstorm and review some of the successes the WAMAC team has recorded over the years, and chart a new course in the advocacy for Transparency and Accountability in the Public and Private sector.
The event with the theme – “Strengthening Investigative Data-driven Journalism In The Campaign Against Corruption, And Demand For Accountability In Nigeria’s Local Languages” was funded by the MacArthur Foundation.
It is against this backdrop that the WADATA Media and Advocacy Centre urged Nigerians to take ownership of the fight against corruption in the country.
In his address at the event, Executive Director of WAMAC, Zubair Idris Abdurra’uf said the engagement was “for the betterment of our society and the nation at large”.
In his opinion, citizens must always come out to own public projects. “This inability of Nigerians to own projects is what has also made corruption even more endemic. When people began to go after public office holders in the form of open government policies, I think it will also help, also the citizens to participate in the fight against corruption”, he said.
Link Between Corruption and Domestic Violence
The Guest speaker at the event, Barrister Mairo Mann, presented a paper titled, Social Corruption, Demand for Public Concern and Efforts to End Domestic Violence.
Mann who is a director in the Niger State Ministry of Justice on gender-based and domestic violence, said the smallest form of corruption that we know, when we talk about corruption is stealing, diversion of public funds in the hands of few against the majority. She, however, pointed out that corruption is wider than those perceptions.
“If we look at it simply to say what is corruption itself, there’s an abuse – an abuse of office, an abuse of an opportunity given to you. So that instead of you to use that opportunity for the purpose that it was given, you are using it to do otherwise. If we look at it in the public sector, in that wise, we would say that you have been entrusted with public funds, with an office, with a description of what to do for the betterment of that society. But you have decided on your own to do otherwise. If we look at it from the domestic aspect, the domestic violence, like I will say, in this scenario, you have also been entrusted with a partner who is supposed to be your wife, who is supposed to be your partner, whom you are supposed to protect. But instead of doing that, what do you do? You turn her into your punching bag. You neglect her. You ignore her and refuse to see her as a partner but you promised to when you went to marry her.
“Again, as the journey progresses, you are again blessed with children. These children, we know, are also a gift from God. They are just entrusted to you for a while. And whether a Christian or Muslim, we all believe in the day of resurrection. And we know that Almighty God will ask us, I gave you this, what did you do with it? So that the product of every child is the manifestation of where he or she is coming from.
“The manifestation of every society is a manifestation of your family background. That’s the truth. Whatever is the outcome we are seeing today is coming from within. Because your upbringing has so much to impact in the society.”
“And so, if we want a reasonable, corruption-free society, we must start working within our own families. It is very important. But most times, people choose to treat issues from the top. And when you cut off a leaf and you don’t treat an issue from the root, it will grow again. So you end up not getting any results”, she noted.
Communal Upbringing of Children as an Anti-corruption Measure
On his part, a Niger State-based legal practitioner, Barrister Shehu Abdullah said “When we talk about corruption, we see corruption as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. We see corruption as eroding trust, which weakens democracy and hampers the economic growth of every society. Now, when we look at corruption, we only see politicians, public office holders, security men or security agencies, our schools, hospitals, the marketplace, every aspect of our life. Corruption has eaten deep into our daily lives.
He, however, said that when making efforts to curb corruption, it has to do with coming back to our grassroots, to our society, to our communities, to our families, to our households, and our parents.
“We parents or our parents need to do more by learning how to allow the community help in training of our wards or our children. By not coming out blindly to defend the activities or actions of our children, even when we know that truly he actually committed that offense or that act, but because he’s our son or he’s our daughter or our children, we come out to defend them.
Abdullah said communal child upbringing should be taken as a way to reduce crimes in the society “We have to, as a community, as a society, come up. Nobody should tell you he’s my own or he’s, my son. Nobody. No. The moment you give birth to a child, he becomes the problem of the society because when he’s bad, he first affects the nearest neighbors, nearest community, nearest society. So maybe he might decide not even be a problem for his own household or for his own family, but he’ll go out disturbing every other household in that community or in that society, believing that whenever he does something wrong, his parents are there to protect him. The community, I mean the ward heads, have to come up and stand up against that”, he stated.
Public Interest Journalism Needed
In a goodwill message, a veteran broadcaster Sony Otache, said journalists may have to take extra measures in order to obtain data related to corrupt practices, stressing that many at the disposal of such information may not be willing to offer them free of charge.
“We’ve to also go the extra mile to dig in, bury ourselves, go undercover, and in most cases, this data because the people who are beneath the people in places of authority are hungry and so with a little token to them”
“Sometimes you take this data because it is simple, the people who are in possession of this know, where these data could have leaked from. When they come and sometimes you take it and you have to do a decoy to give them a different impression of where you get such information from, in a bid to protect your source, he advised.
Loss of Confidence in the Authorities
On the need to be courageous in digging out facts about corruption, Otache said “But beyond that, after all of this is done, those responsible to investigate and prosecute those you have exposed, will do nothing about it, which he said is demoralizing. And then the people who you have investigated and exposed would meet you at forums like this when you go out and tell you that, yes we saw what you did, you did a good job but we are coming for you and this will continue to occur and reoccur and we look them in the faces, if you’re coming for us we’re waiting for you so come bring it on”.
Societal Cooperation Needed for Journalists to Fight Corruption
On his part, Chairman of the State Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Abu Modu opined that for journalists to fight corruption, they must adopt a bigger measure of investigation. “It must not be through normal reportage, it must be through investigation.
“For you to unveil corruption, you must go extra mile. Again, by going extra mile, it exposes journalists to danger also. So, journalists, one, must get the buy in of the society. The society must cooperate with the journalists, provide the necessary information in a bid to help to exposed corruption in the society.
Journalists have been doing very well over the years. For instance, Prestige FM severally has exposed corrupt practices which has drawn the attention of those concerned to take action. So, I somewhat believe that the MacArthur Foundation, through our data communication, are helping in raising the awareness and the consciousness of journalists in the state. And they are going to make use of, especially, the Freedom of Information Act, and also ensure that they work in accordance with their conscience, with the law provided to protect their daily activities, and also in line with the divine injunction”, he said.
The event ended with far-reaching recommendations in a communique unanimously adopted by all participants and stakeholders, which include, but are not limited to holding political leaders accountable to change the ugly narratives of corrupt practices in the society, and a call on those in authority to investigate and prosecute all alleged corrupt cases exposed by the media.
The Media is also charged to remain steadfast in performing its constitutional responsibility of educating and exposing corruption, the emphases that communities must do more to mitigate domestic violence and corruption, as well as the charge on Parents to wake up to their responsibility of instilling good morals and values in their children and wards to make society a better place thereby minimizing corrupt practices.
Participants also called on community/religious leaders, Non-governmental organizations, and civil society organizations to collaborate with the media to fight corruption and demand accountability, urging Nigerians, especially anti-graft agencies to be more proactive in fighting corruption, and for Government agencies to provide data and information demanded by Journalists through the use of the FOI Act.
Participants further called for more advocacy to demand accountability, fight corruption and promote transparency, commended the organizers of the WADATA Media and Advocacy Centre for organizing the town hall with the funding from MacArthur Foundation, and stressed the need for all hands to be on deck to provide credible information that will help the NDLEA curb drug Abuse and anti-graft agencies to fight corruption in the society.
They finally urged people to stop covering up or sweeping under the carpet, corrupt practices, no matter who is involved.