By Uchenna Igwe
Abuja – Conflict journalist in Abuja, Nigeria, emphasised the need for collaborations between media houses, government authorities and other stakeholders, to achieve a bigger impact when reporting on conflict-related stories in the country.
Speaking during a panel on investigating humanitarian and conflict issues during the 17th African Investigative Journalism Conference 2021, four journalists who cover conflict shared their experiences as well as the challenges they encounter in the course of doing work, particularly in Nigeria.
Kunle Adebajo of Humangle, Kemi Busari of Dubawa, Taiwo Hassan of Premium Times, Amaka Okoye of Arise TV and Abdulaziz Abdulaziz of Daily Trust Newspaper did not hold back when outlining the risks associated with their beats and also shared solutions.
Okoye stressed the need for journalists to be resilient and go the extra mile when telling stories of conflict.
According to her, journalists have the responsibility to amplify and also pay attention to these issues and drive responses and solutions. She describes this as the biggest impact for her.
“When Kagara (kidnapping) happened, there was a lot of misinformation going on because not everybody could go there. Eventually, we were able to go there. Most of those would not have been rescued had we not escalated the story. When I say we, I’m not only referring to Arise TV, but also to other media organisations that were involved.
“Telling these stories and get international attention to issues that ordinarily would not have been out there so that help can come is the biggest impact for me,” said Okoye.
Abdulaziz noted that journalists have had to risk their comfort and safety to tell some of these conflict stories.
Sharing his experience of a visit to the bandits’ den, he said: “I felt that informing the security agents I was travelling to a place like that would have jeopardised the story because they might not want the story to be told and that was why I had to go undercover”.
Hassan laid blame at the door of the country’s media organisations for failing to help the public understand the drivers of conflicts.
“We still have many people who think that these issues are part of a political or religious agenda, for instance the farmers-herders crisis. We are not close to resolving the problem, except of course we have come to grips with the issue of scarcity and other environmental problems,” he said.
Busari noted that distrust between citizens and security agents fueled conflicts.
“The Nigerian media and the populace have somehow normalised stories of extrajudicial killings. Most of the time we don’t give it the required attention. Some of these killings happened when Nigeria was on lockdown. These security agents were given the task of protecting these citizens but they went ahead to kill them in the name of enforcing lockdown.”
Government downplay impacts
Okoye noted that journalists play an essential role in conflict situations, giving hope and a voice to people and letting them know that they are heard and are not alone.
“These men, women and children look up to you (journalists) to tell their stories and you have a responsibility to tell these stories because if you don’t tell them they may never be heard of.
“There is a love-hate relationship between the media and security agencies. Many times we embarked on trips and we didn’t tell the security agents, not because we didn’t want their protection but because we were afraid that if we did, they would not allow us tell these stories,” she said.
Also, Adebajo argued that authorities were not sincere and this affected chances of any collaborative efforts between various stakeholders as well as the people at the grassroots. He urged journalists not to relent when reporting on conflict issues, noting that government authorities and their agents had the habit of denying reports even when there was overwhelming evidence.
“As journalists, we have to note that documenting the problem itself is a win, as it will help to prevent denials or excuses from the government. Authorities prefer to pretend there is no problem than try to address them. For instance, in the North West, one of the state governments insisted they don’t want IDP camps or the intervention of NGOs because there is no problem,” he said.
The speakers also urged conflict journalists to always make an effort to balance their stories by covering victims, government authorities and other actors.
About the Author
Uchenna Igwe is a campus reporter and fact-checker with the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ).