Lusaka — Sensing the near absence of Nigerian journalists in the list of eventual winners, the consensus among some editors from Nigeria at last week's CNN MultiChoice African Journalist Awards 2012 in Lusaka, Zambia was that this must have happened either because journalists in the country were not doing enough investigative reports or because most of them did not file their stories for the awards. Emerging the CNN MultiChoice African Journalist of the Year like Declan Okpalaeke in 1999 (the first Nigerian to achieve the feat), Ibiba DonPedro in 2003 and Shola Oshunkeye in 2006 is a major accomplishment.
Winning the award offers an opportunity to share the big stage with the best and brightest in the profession. And it comes with all kinds of perks. It makes a huge difference to journalists'careers. Last year, Fatumo Noor, an investigative reporter with The Star newspaper in Kenya, won the award. She has had the opportunity of attending many fellowship programmes and would soon pursue a masters degree at the Boston University in the United States.
But this year, Nigerian journalists not only failed to grab the ultimate prize, they also failed to feature in the final winners list, save for Ahaoma Kanu of the National Daily Newspaper who won in the Tourism category. The panel of judges reviewed a record entries from 42 countries from the continent out of which 34 were chosen. Six Nigerian journalists, including Kanu; Tunde Akingbade, a freelance with The Guardian on Sunday; Peter Nkanga, Elor Nkereuwem, Musikilu Mojeed and Idris Akinbajo, all of the rested NEXT on Sunday, were among the 2012 finalists, those whose stories were shortlisted for the awards. In the end it was the Kenya TV journalist Tom Mboya who emerged the CNN MultiChoice African Journalist of The Year.
The auditorium hall of the Government Complex Convention Centre in Lusaka, Zambia roared to life in celebation of Mboya of Citizen TV Kenya and his cameraman Evanson Nyaga. Mboya and Nyaga won with their work on African tribe in India. It was a moving story in which they went in search of the Kenyan tribe in India living with their culture and tradition. The visuals were sharp, entertaining and complimented the story. As the video of their entry was being shown I knew it was a winnable one.
Free Press Africa Award
Though Nigeria didn't win the big prize, the media in the country won something equally noble. It was the Free Press Africa Award. It was given to Nigerian journalists in appreciation of their resilience and steadfastness in the face of debilitating attacks from the Boko Haram Islamic sect in which they have become a target.
The Free Press Africa Award recognises excellence ad provides support to African journalists who report at continuing risk to their lives and safety. In the 12month period from May 2011, 139 journalists and media workers paid the ultimate price, killed whilst bringing their stories to the world. The panel of judges for the 2012 awards reviewed a large number of nominees for the Free Press Africa Award. "One case that came to the fore was the plight of Nigerian journalists and editors," Ferial Haffajee, Chairperson of the judging panel said.
"The judges recognised that in spite of facing the threat of terrorist groups operating across West Africa and in the Sahel, they continue to report and bring the stories to their audiences and the world. They have faced threats, intimidation, attacks on their offices and staff and journalists have lost their lives," she added. Two journalists who lost their lives to the Boko Haram attacks-Zakariya Isa, a cameraman with the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) who was killed in October 2011, and Enenche Akogwu, a news reporter with Channels Television who was shot and killed while covering the bomb blasts in Kano in January this year.
A deafening silence descended on the hall as the names of the two journalists were mentioned. "Our thoughts are with their families this evening. We commend all journalists who continue to bravely report on issues and stories around the world," Haffajee said.
That award was received on behalf of the Nigerian journalists, especially in the name of the two slain journalists, by the President of the Guild of Editors Gbenga Adefaye. As he stood up and walked towards the podium, he was accompanied by a thunderous applause. His words were carefully chosen while accepting the award.
It was a profound speech. According to him, the Nigerian press is too sophisticated to be cowed. Journalists would continue to discharge their responsibilities without fear or favour, he said. His speech was entitled-"No Terror can Subsume Our Press".
Adefaye: Nigerian Press, Too Sophisticated to Be Intimidated
Adefaye began: "Nine months ago, insurgents struck with terror at journalism practice in my country- Nigeria. Zakariya Isa, a journalist with the government-owned Nigerian Television Authority was shot dead in front of his home in Maiduguri. Zakariya left widows, children and other dependants. Three months later, Eneche Akogwu, the 31-year-old, set-to- wed vibrant reporter with a private television station, Channels TV, Lagos was also shot dead while covering the activities of the insurgents in another city - Kano. Eneche left aged parents and a distraught fiancée. I doubt if those gentlemen had life insurance cover."
He said: "It is a running story: in April, three newspapers, THISDAY, The Sun and The Moment were bombed simultaneously in Abuja and Kaduna. Boko Haram have claimed responsibility for the killings and the bombings. They have threatened more assault on free press and free speech. The insurgents want to determine the content of our media. They threatened : you either report our activities wholesale or you do no report on us at all. And if you must keep our stories out of your press, then you are barred from reporting security and government activities concerning us. Otherwise, you are also an enemy.
"The insurgents do not discriminate in their attacks on the press. Practically, everyone who does not perform to their description of what is accurate news report is in danger. Periodically, threats are issued via the Internet against the press."
Adefaye added: "But I tell you, that is a mistake. The Nigerian Press is too sophisticated to be so intimidated. Our story has always been that when the press is threatened, it comes out stronger. Our press which survived the most brutal of military dictatorships and wears the battle scar as a badge of honour, now complemented by a fast-growing social media will surely survive this current assault on free press and write the story thereafter.
"I want to thank CNN and Multichoice sharing of our pains. Thank you for the empathy. Thank you particularly for the symbolic support for those left behind by Eneche and Zakariya. This solidarity can only push our press to be more courageous, daring and professional. On behalf of everyone, I want to make you a promise: the Nigerian press will continue to report the truth and speak truth to power. It is the minimum that we can do to the memory of the courageous two who have fallen, in active service. Thank you for the recognition".