The International Centre for Development Reporting (ICDR) has trained 19 journalists on how to investigate corruption in the private sector. It also inducted five mid-level private sector practitioners into newsroom freelance reporting.
The capacity-building workshop with the theme: “How to Read Company Documents” was held under the Collaborative Media Engagement for Development, Inclusivity and Accountability (CMEDIA) Project, an initiative of the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ), funded by the MacArthur Foundation. The Collaborative Media Engagement is aimed to strengthen media independence and presence, especially at state and local government levels and the private sector, in a bid to improve public awareness and the ecosystem for transparency, accountability and good governance.
Multiple award-winning journalist and Executive Director of ICDR, Emmanuel Mayah, in his opening remarks said investigative journalism had focused almost entirely on government actors and agencies and Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs) over the decades and hardly gives a glance to the private sector where, according to him, over 80% of corruption in Nigeria is hosted.
Mr. Mayah said the private sector must be recognized as a key partner for the development of any nation and that to achieve good governance in Nigeria deliberate efforts must be made to identify and bring to citizens attention, private sector actors whose stock in trade is sabotaging fiscal policies in Nigeria through rent seeking, trade malpractices, tax credit fraud and sundry convoluted schemes, all of mindboggling scale, leading to huge losses in government revenues.
He said the Federal Inland Revenue service (FIRS) figures in 2019 show that Nigeria on an annual basis loses over six trillion naira to tax evasion alone, one of the numerous schemes employed mostly by multinationals to undermine the Nigerian economy.
Sample company documents analysed during the two-day workshop included those obtained from the shipping sector, banking, insurance, the money market, commodity trading companies, aviation and seaport terminal operations.
Speaking further, Mr. Mayah said: “We must make this important intersection. The whole idea is aimed at strengthening collaboration and ultimately the fight against corruption. Some of our friends here have worked with me before as members of a whistleblowing network. But we want more. I am hoping that their physical presence in our team will shorten the learning curve for journalists here eager to have more than a textbook grasp of the workings and dynamics of the corporate sector.”
“The whole idea too is to transition journalists from reporting corruption in the public sector to investigating corruption in the private sector, an opaque ecosystem with a higher index of corruption and commercial malpractices than in the government circle. Lastly, I am also hoping to transition whistleblowers from being mere bell ringers to becoming what I would call special reporters, who in the course of their daily work in their different sub-sectors in the corporate world would begin to see and hear things with the eyes and ears of a journalist,” he added.
One of the resource persons, Mr. Francis Ikechukwu Obiajuru, a maritime trade expert took participants through an insightful presentation on cloning of shipping documents, particularly the cloning of Form M. He also availed the journalists with links to important trade databases across the world.
A second resource person, Peter Kwayindagami, who is a former banker showed, in his presentation, with documents how commercial banks aid corporate clients to carry out financial crimes and trade malpractices. He added that accounting firms, “including the so-called Big 4” are sometimes part of the corruption loop in the private sector.
Introducing the five private sector practitioners, Mr. Mayah said that the workshop doubled as an immersion programme for the non-journalists while serving as a mentoring programme for newsroom practitioners. The five private sector practitioners – three males and two females – were part of a total of 19 journalists who participated in the two-day media training workshop which was held on May 30 and 31, 2022 at the All-Saints House, Wuse Zone 3 in Abuja, Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Mr. Mayah also used the occasion of the capacity building workshop to introduce Business Leaks (www.businessleaksng.com) a sister publication of Satellite Times which he said was dedicated to business investigations. Participants were journalists drawn from Satellite Times and other newsrooms in Abuja.
ICDR is an NGO which focuses special attention on issues relating to investigative reporting, development reporting, media training, research and publishing. It also publishes Satellite Times.