How Investigative Journalists and Informants Could Be Protected

How Investigative Journalists and Informants Could Be Protected

There’s this news on Sahara Reporters of 27 October, 2019, about one Mr. Afiz Jamiu, who claims that he is threatened by the Department of State Services (DSS) because he revealed to one of the national dailies that one Mr. Abdullahi Ahmadu has been in DSS detention since 2013 without trial and access to his lawyer and relatives. According to Mr. Jamiu, he was able to find out about this unlawful detention because he shared the same cell with Ahmadu when he (Mr. Jamiu) was in DSS custody.

This claim sounds similar to that of Mr. Fisayo Soyombo, who now claims to have gone into hiding because, according to Sahara Reporter of October 22, 2019, “Nigerian security operatives hunt for him”. This “hunt” was declared (if it is so, anyway) because Mr. Soyombo exposed the corrupt practices that exist in Nigerian judicial and executive arms. He gathered this knowledge when spent two weeks as a detainee – five days in a police cell and eight days as in inmate in a Nigerian prison. Unknown to his detainers, Mr. Soyombo is an investigative reporter, who sorts to have a firsthand experience of the corrupt practices that exist in “Nigeria’s criminal justice system,” (Sahara Reporters). 

The ‘bomb’ he released is now asking for his head on a ‘tray’ (I’ve never seen a platter in Naija, so tray is where his head will be displayed). It is believed that whenever Fisayo is caught, he will be tried by whatever, whatever law that is found in Nigerian Correctional Service Act (kindly search for and read up the post on this).

Another claim that isn’t so far from this type is from Kiki Mordi, the undercover journalist that raised the ‘Sex-for-Grade’ dusts some weeks ago. She claimed to have received “subtle” threats since she featured in the documentary. She, however, claimed to have trust in the BBC to protect her. Well, several people have told her not to put all her trust in BBC because they didn’t protect Late Ahmed Hussein-Sule, a Ghanaian investigative reporter who collaborated with the BBC to reveal the rate of corruption among Ghanaian top government officials and other crimes in his country.

I know that attempts to ‘silence’ investigative journalism exist in every country of the world, but it seems Nigeria hasn’t really done much to stop that. Truth is that investigative journalism is very necessary because it is one aspect of journalism that corrupt officials are truly afraid of. But I believe there are other ways through which this job could be done without the undercover journalists being put in danger.

My Suggestions

  1. Hidden Identity

The more I think about these reporters, the more I wonder at their reasons for being exposed. I mean, does it mean they take joy being known for doing such risky jobs? Isn’t it possible that they can reveal these secrets without their identity being revealed? I believe they have lots of lessons to learn from the undercover agents who work as intelligence officers. This group of people (the intelligence officers) live and work in different sectors of the economy as they carry out their investigative roles. They make no noise and they seek for no glory in their work. They have one goal in mind – to get the job done.

Maybe these investigative reporters should keep their vanity aside and think of their security and that of their loved ones. They should focus more on doing their jobs and not creating many followers, because most of their followers may not be their fans but their predators.

If their employers are the ones that insist that their identity be revealed (obviously to avoid lawsuits), then they (the reporters) should consider working with other media houses that will protect them, or look for other subtle ways to reveal their information. There is no need for exposing themselves to danger – even their employers and numerous ‘fans’ won’t protect them.

  1. Responsibility of Media Houses

I believe it is wrong for media houses to reveal the identity of their undercover reporters. Now, let’s look at this. What is the essence of being an undercover agent when the world knows you already? How can you go back into investigative journalism when the ‘harm’ you caused has been tagged on you?

I don’t really know if I’m making any sense here, but I believe the careers of these revealed undercover reporters have been ruined – at least to a large extent. Unless these people go for serious plastic surgery that will change all their physical features, they are stuck with ‘normal’ news reporting, where they may have to run after events. Besides, they are going to face hostilities from their respondents because people will be wary of them. In other words, the reports they will gather may not be authentic because it is possible that their respondents may ‘doctor’ what they reveal to them.

So, I’ll suggest that media houses – in whatever form they come – should open columns and programmes for anonymous investigative reports. The only thing I will say is that they should make sure that these reports have enough evidence to prove them correct so that they can avoid facing some legal music and dance.

  1. Constitutional Backing

This one may not really hold water because if the interpreters of the law are themselves the law breakers, I don’t know how this will work out. But it is worth a try. So, let Naija enact a law that will protect these journalists – I mean investigative reporters. I don’t know if a law like this already exists, but it should be reviewed and necessary additions and subtractions done to it. For example, there should be a law that demands that every media house puts something in place to protect their reporters from harm. There should also be laws that will ban reporters using their names in publishing high-risk information (whether the name is real or not, it is still a name).

I know some people will say that some of these reporters enjoy the ‘adventure’ that comes from the risk of being revealed to the world as undercover agents that dealt the massive blow, I still want to state it here that these reporters aren’t the only ones facing the risk. Most of their close relatives that have no ‘hand’ in the investigation are also affected. For that, there is a need to protect these reporters, whether they like it or not.

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