The role of the Media-Climate Change and Environmental investigation
Presentation made at the 2-Day Workshop by Lagos State Government and United Nations Development Programme-Celebrating Environmental Journalism in Nigeria on 20th and 21st November, 2012
By Tunde Akingbade
Investigative Journalism over the years has been one of the hallmarks of the Nigerian Media. Nigerian Journalists have been dogged, resolute and resourceful when it comes to unraveling the truth in the pursuit of their constitutional and traditional roles which are; to inform, educate and entertain the public. In the beginning, the Iwe – Iroyin published by Reverend Henry Townsend in Abeokuta was created by the Christian Missionary to inform members of the public on various issues of interest. That was the 1840s and that newspaper opened the new chapter of journalism in Nigeria.
However, since then, the Nigerian Media had published stories on politics, colonialism, business and wars etc. There were also environment and weather related stories. But they were not specific in those beats. They were also not specialized and there were no specialized reporters reporting particular beats relating to science. It’s pertinent to mention that the most notable news items in recent memory where adequate average coverage was given to the problem of drought or changing weather was in Niger, Chad and Somalia where the effects of famine on the populace and landscape stared the world in the face. That demanded media and global attention. A one-time Daily Times correspondent, Mr. Femi Ogunleye, (Formerly PRO), defunct Nigerian Airways, now a king in Abeokuta area covered the problem of drought in Nigeria in 1967. There were also reports of drought when many parts of Northern Nigeria were ravaged with dryness and their cattle and livestock died. However, many did not zero in on the changing climate until the late 1980s. There was the problem of El Nino current in the Pacific which was later fingered to be one of the culprits in the cause of drought. Many journalists had also reported the advancement of Sahara Desert but it was a topic that was hardly hitting the front pages or cover of magazines. I remember the story of a correspondent who during one of the periods he did not have a story wrote to his editor that there was heavy downpour somewhere in the Northern part of Nigeria. The story in the first edition hit the front page and got people wondering where it rained.
MODERN ENVIRONMENT PROTECTION REPORTING
There were forms of focus on reporting certain specialized beats. But environmental protection reporting in Nigeria was raised to a high pedestal in the early 1980s with the establishment of The Guardian Newspaper. Seun Ogunseitan, the first Science Editor of The Guardian who investigated and wrote the story which was on the Onne Fertilizer Company in Rivers State.
The storm was based on how the Government and those who established the company over looked the wind direction when they cited the company. The story earned him the First UAC / UNILEVER prestigious Award. That was in 1987. The following year was the landmark story written by the same Ogunseitan with Emeka Ogbeide on the dumping of toxic waste at Koko by a dubious Italian waste merchant, Mr Giafranco Rafaelli. Some Nigerian students had alerted Nigerian Media about proceedings in the Italian Parliament about possible shipment of toxic waste to Nigeria with false label. When the story got to the Vanguard Newspaper, it merely queried the possibility of the dumping with a question mark that Wednesday morning in 1988. Secretly Seun Ogunseitan and Emeka Ogbeide travelled to Koko. Ms. Ama Ogan was the Editor of the Guardian on Sunday. It was a rude shock to the administration of General. Ibrahim Babangida who at OAU had called on African Leaders not to accept toxic waste when it was learned that toxic waste in our backyard at Koko port. This led to the creation of Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA) by Decree 58 of December 1988. I was one of those reporters who shuttled to Koko thereafter, saw Sunday Nana, the landlord of the toxic waste and reported the shipment of the waste with the contaminated soil back to Italy. I have won many awards thereafter. The first I won was the German Government’s Ministry of Economic Cooperation Scholarship to train as the first Environment Journalist in Berlin in 1990. Then in 1993, I got the United States’ government’s IVLP/Young African Leaders scholarship to study environmental protection efforts in the USA institutions such as Harvard, MIT, Research Park Triangle, North Carolina, Muir Woods, Yosemite Institute, EPA Regional Labs in Athens and Atlanta. I was already the Editor of African Science Monitor which was founded by Chief M.K.O Abiola. We had 13 Professors from diverse disciplines on our board and we had cover stories on the climate problem as far as 1992. We also ran cover on desertification and Ozone layer depletion.
MY STORY / THE CNN 2012 AWARDS
The story that won in the CNN nomination out of about 1800 entries in Africa was done on Eko Atlantic City. It was published in the Guardian on Sunday on November 6, 2011, it was entitled Eko Atlantic City-Rumbles in the sea. The story took nine months of investigation and it took the encouragement of Mr. Jahman Anikulapo, Editor, The Guardian on Sunday for me to finalize the investigation. The idea of the story was actually got in Abuja and not Lagos itself, but it shifted to Lagos and I shuttled between Lagos and Abuja to put finishing touches to the story. It was actually borne out of my curiosity and attempt to see the other side of the coin.
EKO ATLANTIC CITY THE INVESTIGATIONS
To be candid, no one was willing to talk on these projects. Experts told me categorically it was a no go area. I was at an event where the Commissioner for Waterfront Infrastructure and Development had mentioned that EIA of this project was done in Denmark. To be candid, I was convinced at first. Then I had a second thought on the EIA wondering why there were no local inputs especially from many local experts who over the years I knew had done studies on Nigeria’s coastline and erosion. The more I probed, the more I got. I will rather not reveal more. The rest they say is history. However, standing here today is indeed an honour. And it’s an irony. An Irony in the sense that that story questioned one of the dream projects of the Government who is partnering to honour us. In retrospect, I remember the unique qualities of Mr. Tunji, the Environment Commissioner who once as an editor loved my environment stories. I also remember the support of Mr. Janthomas Hiemistra and the UNDP for their support in form of travels within and outside Nigeria. These supports had given me the impetus, the drive to investigate, to educate and entertain with my environment and climate change stories. And of course the crowning which came with the Highly Commended Recognition from the CNN who has welcomed me and others to the CNN family in Lusaka, Zambia in July this year.