Junk Journalism as tool for blackmail: Enyinnaya Nwafor’s exampleDon Norman Obinna (Agu Ibeku)


Journalism - the making and diffusion of reports on the interface of happenings, proofs, ideas and people “newsmakers” – is a noble profession. 

News stories, therefore, function to empower the informed. It is of its primary importance. 

Suffice it to say that the drive of journalism is to offer citizens the information they need to make the best possible decisions about their lives, communities, societies, and governments. 

Journalists serve as the people’s trustees and require the perfect application of the FOBA of journalism   - fairness, objectivity, balance and accuracy - in the daily discharge of their jobs, be it an investigation, straight news, editorial or feature writing.  

Regrettably, a few so-called journalists are using this noble profession (that is passe-partout to the world) as a veritable platform to blackmail or give a distorted view of individuals.

More often than not, they hide under investigative reporting to execute the hatchet jobs. For proper understanding, however, the examples of what investigative reporting isn't will help us to understand its actual definition.

Leak journalism is not investigative reporting. It is secret information leaked by aggrieved persons selectively to promote their selfish interests. 
However, investigation can start from there. But, journalists must dig deep to substantiate facts and offer perspective to avoid dishing out a distorted and incomplete report.

Failure to do this means allowing disgruntled elements to use you to manipulate public opinion and to advance their agenda rather than the public interests.

In other words, investigative reporting demands the use of multiple sources – human and documentary – that provide a portrait of misconduct. A single source cannot be considered investigative.

Paparazzi journalism is not investigating reporting. The reason is that it focuses on individuals’ private lives, not the public good.

Investigative reporting is watchdog journalism because it exposes wrongdoing to ensure it is corrected, not because journalists and their patrons will benefit from the revelation.

Investigative journalists are to “lift the veil of secrecy” by uncovering previously unknown facts.

Investigative reporting must provide previously unknown information. It must be the product of the journalist’s initiative. It requires time and effort investment - you cannot do it overnight -. There must be a clear public interest in the investigation. 

With these points adduced to authenticate a news story, investigative reporting, editorial and feature, the story with the headline: The looting of Abia State: how Abia government launders billions of naira through private firm – investigators allege, published by Point Blank News on January 3, 2022, was more of a hatchet job than investigative reporting or news story.

The online news portal - quoting imaginary unnamed sources - accused Mrs Dame Nwafor of using her position in the INEC to influence the 2015 gubernatorial election result.  

It alleged that Governor Okezie Ikpeazu repaid the gesture by awarding Tunnel End – a company owned by her son, Enyinnaya Nwafor – road construction contracts in Abia State. 

It is junk journalism because they reported it without adequate research, investigation or information before publication. 
It failed to tell the readers if the unnamed sources quoted were insiders - INEC or Abia State government officials -.

It also disregarded indispensable components of a news story – fairness, objectivity, balance and accuracy – because the writer did not give Mrs Dame the opportunity of fair/equal hearing in such a grievous allegation of prebendalism.

The story fell short of a news story because it had no verifiable sources, attributions or quotations. It is not investigative reporting because it failed to expose wrongdoing to ensure it is corrected or lifted the veil of secrecy by uncovering previously unknown facts. 

It was simply a smear campaign to benefit the writer and his patron.

Furthermore, citing a bank document, the writer claimed that the Abia State government deposited a sum of N330 million to the Tunnel End Investment UBA account in 11 transactions of N30 million each on November 13, 2018.

The writer also alleged that the Tunnel End Investment received N275 million in 11 deposits of N65.7 million from FAAC on November 1, 2018. 

The Tunnel End Investment was also said to have received N275 million in 11 transfers of N25 million from the Abia government account on December 24, 2018.

According to the report, they deposited N1.5 billion, tagged as loan repayment, from the FAAC account to the UBA account of Tunnel End Investment Ltd in 23 transfers of N65.7 million on December 28, 2018.

The report also alleged that earlier, on December 4, 2018, the Tunnel End Investment got N723.014 million in 11 transfers from FAAC. 

It further stated that on March 27, 2018, N60 million and N40 million correspondingly were wired the same day from Abia State Consolidated IGR account with Access Bank (Account No. 0054708165) to the private firm. 

“In 2018 alone, over N5 billion was said to have changed accounts between the private firm, Abia Government and FAAC,” it concluded.

There are three techniques journalists can use to uncover secret information. These are getting documents or following the paper trail, interviewing sources or following the people trail and personal observation.

(1) Getting documents or following the paper trail: documents represent the soul of investigative reporting. They determine how the investigation can go forward and give clues on how the journalist should proceed. For example, a signature on a document can give the journalist insight on who to interview. Sometimes documents quote other documents and provide intimations on other existing documents that journalists can obtain.

(2) Interviewing sources or following the people trail: people are vital in investigative reporting because they talk and answer questions. They provide anecdotes that can flavour the story and give it depth.

(3) Personal observation helps journalists get the sound and smell of the matter under investigation. This technique involves the use of undercover reporting. Though it has ethical and legal implications, it makes it easier for journalists to get into places or interview people who would not talk to reporters.

In the so-called investigative reporting, the writer did not activate/exhaust any of these techniques. Not obeying these rules made the write up a campaign of calumny against Nana Nwafor. 
In the report, the writer reckoned thus: 

“FAAC does not disburse money to private equities raising suspicion that the said funds from FAAC as captured in the bank documents were at the instance of Abia government.” 

The proper utilisation of these earlier-mentioned techniques would have solved the poser. Since FAAC does not disburse money to private equities, the writer ought to have contacted and interviewed top-ranking officials of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the Abia State Accountant-general, and commissioner for finance to establish fraud. 
 
From the investigative reporting point of view, a single document is not enough to unearth any hidden wrongdoing. It demands the use of multiple sources – human and documentary – that provide a portrait of misconduct. 

To put it nicely, it is embarrassing that Point Blank News failed to interview/probe the bank officials and several other multiple sources further with the single document in their position to unearth any criminality.

Investigative journalists are to “lift the veil of secrecy” by uncovering previously unknown facts. If they did, the story lead would not have started thus:

“Operatives of Nigeria’s anti-graft agency are said to be studying and investigating some strange payments made to a private firm by the Governor Okezie Ikpeazu government of Abia state.” 
The lead would have lifted the veil of secrecy and aided the EFCC to prosecute. 

The so-called write up is Leak Journalism – a piece of secret information leaked by aggrieved public officers, probably from one of the Abia State Assembly principal officers -. The person ended up blackmailing the governor in his obsession with Nana Nwafor.

The report made no effort to establish the illegality of the payments wired into the Tunnel End Accounts to justify fraud/money laundering labelled the deposits. So, where lies the substance in the story? 

Sadly, the story failed to avoid legal pitfalls, observed rules of engagement and ended up misinforming the masses and making fun of the noble profession. 

Mr Jackson, who disseminates the information on Facebook, hails from Nkporo and, I admire his knack for investigative reporting.
Mr Ude should, as a matter of good conscience, investigate the alleged construction of a six KM Nkporo road - from Abiriba junction to Etitiama park - for N2.6 billion by Bulletin Construction Company.  

There’s also an allegation that Heartland Setraco received an initial payment of N4.5 billion to construct the now failed Faulks road Aba. 

It is on record that the twin workers’ secretariat elevator disappeared immediately after the commissioning of the secretariat. Mr Ude needs to investigate and confirm the verity of these allegations and uncover the whereabouts of the missing elevator.   

Except for probing news sources, journalism does not ask questions; it answers questions, makes revelations and exposes corruption with undeniable evidence.
 
Therefore, I frowned at one of Mr Ude Facebook updates – “Who collected N6billion from the N18billion released to Abia Government recently by FG. And why would one person take a chunk of N3billion as his share; what for and why?

Mr Enyinnaya Nwafor is a good-spirited young man with capacity. The attacks on him will endear more sympathisers to him than enemies. His traducers will make a mockery of themselves and the publications by hiding under junk journalism to spew canard against him.

Journalism is not all comers’ business. It is a noble profession that places responsibilities on the practitioners. The world is watching, so let us trade with a bit of savoir-faire

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