Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, May 14, 2010

Independent journalist in NIgeria

Thanks to Jeremy Weate writing at Naijablog for pointing out this article.

The Huffington Post is a liberal online op-ed source in the US, but it's difficult to recognize liberal bias in this story on a Nigerian journalist, except in its argument for a free press. The article does offer insight into Nigerian politics.

Phillip van Niekerk, the writer of this piece, is the former editor of South Africa’s Mail & Guardian newspaper. He has 30 years experience working in Africa as an award-winning investigative journalist.

Why the Developing World Needs Brave Journalists
The newspaper that precipitated a change in government by exposing the true story of the state of health of Nigeria's President Umaru Yar'adua -- who died on Wednesday -- is now fighting for its own survival.

Next, an upstart of a newspaper launched in Lagos 15 months ago by Dele Olojede, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and former foreign editor of New York Newsday, reported in January that the President of that oil-rich country of 150 million people was brain dead and would not be returning to office…

But Next will always be remembered for the lead story on its January 10th edition, informing the nation that its long-absent President Umaru Yar'Adua was no longer able to recognize anyone, including his wife, and could therefore no longer perform his duties. Scandalously, the newspaper reported that the truth was being concealed from the public through "an elaborate scam orchestrated directly by the First Lady, Turai Yar'Adua."…

Yar'Adua's absence precipitated a constitutional crisis as he had not empowered the Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan, to step into the breach. Leaderless, the country lurched from crisis to crisis.

The cabal around the First Lady retained their grip on the patronage machine while maintaining the fiction that the President was recovering and would be back any day. Most of the political elite were complicit in this sham…

Rumors were regularly fed through the mill that the President is about to appear in public - moves designed to destabilize the Jonathan Administration's attempts to fight corruption and get the country moving again. But on Wednesday the President finally gave up the ghost and passed away in the presidential villa.

Next's influence has extended well be beyond that story. The paper has covered every twist in the extraordinary power play in the country with insight, independence and tenacity, and its reporting and editorial commentary is taken extremely seriously in Abuja. "It has been gratifying and energizing," says Olojede. "When you have this kind of impact it reminds you why you became a journalist in the first place."

Olojede, who won the Pulitzer for foreign reporting in 2004 for his coverage of Rwanda a decade after the genocide, adopted a policy of zero tolerance for corruption - something of a shock for Nigerian bigwigs who are used being able to buy publishers and reporters…

The imperative for Next is enormous. The political conflict in Abuja, which has a scary regional and religious dimension, remains unresolved and the country has a trillion stories that require exposure and a population hungry for information…

The need for honest, brave journalism is huge and far overshadows the many millions of dollars of well-meaning aid and support for democracy and civil society that usually comes from foreign donors. This is one paper that can't afford to die.

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