11 April 2017

Nigeria: Celebrations At Premium Times As Panama Papers Win Pulitzer Prize

Photo: Premium Times
Premium Times

It was celebration galore at the offices of PREMIUM TIMES in Nigeria and the United States on Monday after the Pulitzer Prizes, the most prestigious awards in US journalism, honoured the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and its partners, including PREMIUM TIMES, for an investigative series on the Panama Papers.

Panama Papers coverage by Premium Times

The Panama Papers investigation, a series of global investigations into offshore entities, spanning over a year by the ICIJ, German newspaper, Suddeutsche Zeitung, and 100 other media organisations across the world, was awarded The Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting.

The Panama Papers investigation exposed offshore companies linked to more than 140 politicians in more than 50 countries - including 14 current or former world leaders.

It also uncovered offshore hideaways tied to mega-banks, corporate bribery scandals, drug kingpins, Syria's air war on its own citizens and a network of people close to Russian President Vladimir Putin that shuffled as much as $2 billion around the world.

PREMIUM TIMES, Nigeria's leading investigative platform, was the only Nigerian news organisation granted direct access to the files.

In the course of the investigations led by Editor-in-Chief, Musikilu Mojeed, PREMIUM TIMES published more than 30 stories, with damning details revealing the secret offshore asset of many prominent Nigerians.

The newspaper's explosive investigations revealed the secret offshore asset of Senate President Bukola Saraki and his wife Toyin; as well as Mr. Saraki's predecessor, David Mark.

It also revealed how late governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, began looting his state and hiding the funds in offshore structures and how a former governor of Delta State, James Ibori, organised the stealing of the oil-rich state's fund via offshore companies.

The investigations also revealed a network of shell companies in offshore tax havens linked to Africa's richest man, Aliko Dangote, and his brother, Sayyu Dantata; as well as the offshore companies of Wale Tinubu, the chief executive of Nigeria's biggest indigenous oil company, Oando Plc, among others.

Similarly, the stories also exposed the secret offshore company of one of Africa's most influential televangelists, Temitope Joshua, popularly called T.B Joshua.

Other prominent Nigerians named in the investigations are Etisalat boss, Hakeem Bello Osaigie; Globacom CEO, Mike Adenuga; Governor Abubakar Sadiq Sani Bello of Niger State; the late Ooni of Ife, Okunade Sijuwade; Arik Chairman, Joseph Arumemi-Johnson and his wife, Mary, as well as two other serving senators - Andy Uba (Anambra) and Ibrahim Gobir (Sokoto).

Other top business persons, politicians, and their family members werealso found in the infamous database, including those currently holding public offices.

The revelations by PREMIUM TIMES' investigations sparked outrage across the land, with activists, civil society organisations, the Labour movement and the general public calling for extensive probe of the indicted people.

Following the public pressure generated by the investigations, the Nigerian government opened a file on all Nigerians whose names were mentioned as operating offshore accounts in the notorious tax havens.

Similarly, The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, announced it would carry out its independent investigation and involve INTERPOL if necessary.

Expectedly, PREMIUM TIMES also received accolades from the Nigerian public and many people lauded the news outfit by commending its editors and reporters for their courage and painstaking investigations.

Reacting to the announcement of the award Monday, Dapo Olorunyomi, publisher of PREMIUM TIMES, said, "We are truly humbled to be part of this ambitious effort to extend the frontiers of transparency and accountable in our complex and ever-evolving world.

"It is gratifying that this effort is being continuously rewarded. But what we are celebrating here is the power of collaboration. It does appear the era of fierce competition is dying while that of expanding collaboration is gaining ground.

"I thank our amazing staff who gave their all to the project, and ensured that we provided arguably the best coverage in Africa. We remain committed to serving our readers, and we will ensure that they remain the centerpiece of our reporting. We will continue to defend their rights to know even in the face of hazards we face daily."

In his own reaction on Tuesday, Musikilu Mojeed, the newspaper's Editor-in-Chief, said, "What we are celebrating is not necessarily the opportunity to be part of one of the most impactful journalisms in history. It is the rare opportunity to collaborate with colleagues around the world to contribute to the process of making the world a better place than we met it.

"We hope that the Nigerian authorities will summon the political will to prosecute all past and present officials identified in the Panama Papers to have violated the country's laws."

Meanwhile, a former Commissioner for Information in Bayelsa, Dan Kikile, has congratulated PREMIUM TIMES and its partners for the Pulitzer prize win.

In a message sent in on Monday, Mr. Kikile said, "May I congratulate you and the entire PREMIUM TIMES team, and the consortium of journalists who partook in the Panama Papers report that has culminated in the Pulitzer Prize.

"As the most prestigious award in American journalism, PREMIUM TIMES is now in company of eminent and inspiring institutions and individuals who have written their names in gold. Accept my best wishes always."

The Panama Papers reporting team began work in early 2015. Members of the team published and broadcast their first stories in April 2016 and continued producing stories throughout 2016.

They pored over millions of confidential emails and corporate documents written in French, English, Spanish, Russian, Mandarin and Arabic and used shoe-leather reporting to track down additional documents and verify facts on six continents.

ICIJ entered the race in the International Reporting category, but it was later moved to Explanatory Reporting by the Pulitzer board.

The 19-member Pulitzer board is made up of past winners and other distinguished journalists and academics. It chose the winners with the help of 102 jurors.

More than 2,500 entries were submitted this year, competing for 21 prizes. Seven of the awards recognize fiction, drama, history, biographies, poetry, general nonfiction and music.

The Pulitzers began in 1917 after an endowment by newspaper publisher, Joseph Pulitzer.

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