In the last couple of weeks, Nigerians were thrown into frenzy with the release of the BBC’s SEXforGrades Documentary, an outcome of a year of intense undercover investigation in two universities in the West African sub region- University of Lagos, Nigeria and University of Ghana, Legon. The one hour documentary revealed how the BBC journalist Kiki Mordi disguised as a 17-year old admission seeker was sexually exploited and harassed in University of Lagos. Since the release of the documentary, a lot of heat has been generated both online and offline. The two institutions concerned had also responded in words and actions. The four lecturers who were caught on camera dangling favours in exchange for sexual relationship had since been suspended while investigative panels have been set up. Despite the prompt action from the two West African ivory towers, the release of the video equally served as a prompt for Nigerian graduates who had either experienced sexual harassment or witnessed the despicable act to name and shame the perpetrators.
Reactions have been generated on BBC, its viral documentary video and the actions of the two universities involved. The general popular opinion had thumbs up for the BBC’s quest to unravel an issue and provide clarity on the extent of sexual impropriety that has for long become prevalent on Nigerian campuses. The popular opinion favours the prompt action taken by UNILAG on the back of the circulation of the video. They contended that sexual exploitation of students by their lecturers in whatever guise and for whatever reason is condemnable. Such infractions, they reasoned, deserved swift and prompt treatment. And no predator should be allowed to go scot free. They argued that until recently, Nigerian institutions have protected perpetrators of sexual predation. Most often, such allegations were not given committed investigations required by such. Rather, the accused enjoyed institutional support and camaraderie from colleagues bent on protecting their own at all cost. So, they commended the BBC for digging up the ethical dirt that appears to be staining the white cloth of our universities.
There is another camp that believed the BBC is on a smear campaign of institutions in West Africa. This group contended that the media conglomerate was on a mission to discredit West African institutions and attract more patronage for universities in the UK due to a number of reasons. One, they posited that recent educational reforms in the UK which had led to cuts in funds have made foreign students a bride to these universities. These foreign students are also sources of foreign exchange that translated into millions of Pounds. Nigerian and Ghanaian students were said to have formed the bulk of those who seek foreign education abroad. This group of people insisted that the BBC goofed by its hasty generalization of incidents in two universities as a West African problem. The camp believed that sexual harassment and predation is a global phenomenon which has even recorded a frightening rise in universities in the UK and the US. They queried the essence of tagging a global issue as a West African phenomenon if the aim was not diabolical. The two universities are not enough to validate the claim, they argued.
As the arguments, narratives and counter narratives rage on, there is a matter arising on the practice of investigative journalism in Nigeria. For journalism scholars and professionals, there is this ongoing debate about investigative journalism practice in the country. Experts are asking why does it take the BBC to open the lid on issues that are considered widespread such as sexual predation and harassment in Nigerian tertiary institutions in a country which was once noted for its deep investigative journalism practice. Is it a signal that the genre of journalism is gradually dying in the country?
Is it an indicator of the socio economic and ownership factors that impede journalism as a profession? These and many more questions have been asked. Media experts and scholars are worried that despite the abundance of competent and capable journalists who could deploy their skills to wring out the facts from the mouth of the lion in the country, most impactful investigative stories are delivered by foreign media outfits such as the BBC. Reasons and factors are explained for this.
Funding has been identified as one of the major reasons for the Nigerian media to have shirked its responsibility of serving as the conscience of the society. In a profession where the general welfare of practitioners has become a burden on media owners, funding covert efforts to open up unethical and sharp practices in both public and private lives in the country is becoming increasingly difficult.
In a research conducted in 2018 to investigate the roles of training and foreign funding in sustaining investigative journalism practice in the country, findings showed a correlation between the level of funding pumped into developing capacities and encouraging journalists to ask questions and hold public officers and corporate bodies in Nigeria accountable and the kind of investigations Nigerian journalists carried out from 2013 to 2018. The study established that media assistance in training and funding enabled the selected media.
The researchers equally observed that the funding bodies’ mission and that of the media outlets seem to meet at a point. The study established the essence of funding for the media to hold the Nigerian society accountable. However, beyond funding, there is a need to train and strengthen the capacity of Nigerian journalists to conduct extensive searches of the country’s public conscience.
Experts have advocated that the frontline media agencies of the federal government should be restructured and repositioned to enable them put their searchlight on the dark corners of our society. They argue that the BBC is also a public media outlet such as FRCN, NTA and VON. And that there was enough capacity for them to carry out such discreet probing as done by the BBC. The key to Nigerian journalism to keep the conscience of the society lies in giving the appropriate funding, structure and training to develop capacity.