Participants at a media webinar in Lagos have called on journalists to hold the three tiers of government accountable for funds received toward the fight against COVID-19 pandemic.
In a communique released at the end of the two-day workshop on “Using the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act for Investigative Reports on Campaign Finance and COVID-19 Accountability Issues,’’ the participants said that media performance in holding government accountable for COVID-19 proceeds was “grossly inadequate”.
The workshop was organised by the International Press Centre (IPC) in partnership with the Media Rights Agenda (MRA) and European Union Support to Democratic Governance in Nigeria (EU-SDGN).
According to the communique, the media is also not doing enough to unravel the mysteries surrounding political and campaign finance in Nigeria, like many issues of importance and significant implications for governance, remain uninvestigated and unreported.
“Investigative reporting remains a painstaking process of gathering evidence which may require journalists to submit several requests for information to different public institutions and possibly private entities.
“The FOI Act is a potent tool as it makes investigative reporting much more feasible as it reduces the risk associated with obtaining information through other means while also making the process of information gathering easier.
“To be able to meaningfully report on campaign finance, a journalist must be conversant with all the laws, regulations and policies which guide campaign financing,’’ it said.
The communique pointed out that the media could play a vanguard role in overcoming the barriers that often militate against disadvantaged groups such as women, youths and persons living with disabilities and their participation in elections.
It noted that for journalists to embark on investigative reports, they must be creative, inquisitive and constantly on the lookout for opportunities that exist for those in authority to profit from the system.
The participants, who were drawn from the public and private media in Lagos, Oyo, Osun, Ekiti, Ondo, Ogun and the Edo States resolved to familiarise themselves with the provision of the FOI Act to effectively use it for verification or fact-checking in the course of investigations.
They agreed to read and digest relevant sections of the Nigerian Constitution and the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended),
so as to be able to report on the state of compliance with campaign finance disclosure and accounting obligations by political parties and candidates.
They also agreed to read and digest the Companies and Allied Matters Act, the Public Procurement Act,
Fiscal Responsibility Act and other relevant instruments to assess the state of compliance with such legislation, regulations and laws guiding budgeting and award of contract.
The participants resolved to individually and collaboratively undertake investigative reports, share ideas and experiences going forward.