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For the record: Being speech delivered by Edetan Ojo Executive Director, Media Rights Agenda at the Media Training Workshop on Using the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act for Investigative Reports on Campaign Finance and Covid-19 Accountability Issues held on Tuesday, September 22 and Wednesday, September 23, 2020 at Grand Pela Hotels and Suites, Durumi, Abuja

Distinguished Colleagues,

Good morning and welcome.

Let me start by thanking you all for making time to participate in this workshop.

I hope that everyone is well and keeping safe by scrupulously observing all the protocols and guidelines put in place by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and other authorities for controlling the spread of the Coronavirus.

The International Press Centre is partnering with Media Rights Agenda in carrying out this two-day workshop on Using the Freedom of Information Act for Investigative Reports on Campaign Finance and Covid-19 Accountability Issues.

This is the second in a series of workshops being organized under this framework. The first of the workshops was held in Lagos on August 5 and 6, 2020 for journalists from the southern part of the country.

This workshop is being attended by journalists from States in the northern part of the country as well as the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja

The workshop is funded by the European Union through Component 4b: which is Support to the media of the EU Support to Democratic Governance in Nigeria (EU-SDGN) Project. We are grateful to the European Union for its financial support for these workshops and other activities under the project.

We believe the workshop to be of critical importance, which is why we have organized it as an in-person event rather than online, despite the challenges of organizing a physical meeting at this time.  We hope that you share our view regarding its importance.

We obviously have a number of objectives that we hope to achieve through this activity.

Firstly, for those of you who have not previously done any reporting in the areas we are focusing on, we hope to encourage you to take an interest in reporting these issues, namely political campaign finance issues as well asthe Coronavirus pandemic, particularly with the objectives of bringing some sanity into the regulation of political campaign financing and ensuring transparency and accountability in the government’s response to the CIVID-19 pandemic.

While the effective regulation of political campaign financing is essential to the success of our quest as a country to ensure free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria, transparency and accountability are imperative for the effectiveness of the measures taken by Governments at Federal and State levels to curtail the spread of the COVID-19and to mitigate the negative economic impact on citizens brought about by both the virus itself and the government’s measures to check its spread.

Besides encouraging you to take an interest in these issues, we are also hoping to use the training to sharpen your investigative reporting skills and build the confidence and ability of those of you for whom the Freedom of Information Act is still new, to use it as a tool for facilitating transparent, free, fair and credible elections as well as monitoring how funds received and allocated for the COVID-19 response are being managed and utilized.

However, we also expect that the skills and knowledge that you will, hopefully, acquire in the course of this workshop will also come in handy in your routine journalistic work, regardless of the nature of the other issues that may be of interest to you or that you are focused on at any point in time.

Our ultimate goal in organizing the workshop is to contribute to improving government accountability to citizens across board.

There is no doubt that as media professionals, you play a primary role in this process.  In addition to the nature of the work that you do which makes you ideally suited to play this role, Section 22 of the Constitution also specifically gives you the task of upholding the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy under Chapter Two of the Constitution as well as upholding the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people.

As you know, Chapter Two of the Constitution captures the basic principles and philosophy of governance in Nigeria while outlining the social and economic objectives of Government.

But no matter how well the media play their role, I do not believe that their efforts can be successful if we do not have citizens that are motivated and engaged with governance processes. So we also need an active citizenry for the media professionals to be effective in playing their role.

It is my hope that if nothing else, that the COVID-19 pandemic provides sufficient motivation for all of us to be engaged in the governance process because if we are not vigilant and the funds meant for COVID-19 response are stolen, misappropriated, misapplied or in any other way diverted to other purposes, then the objectives of the response will obviously not be achieved. In such a situation, the consequences are better imagined than experienced. In such a situation, all of us, journalists or not, will be at risk.

We therefore expect the workshop to engender interventions by journalists that will sensitize and enlighten Nigerian citizens about the core issues of concern as well to raise the awareness of media practitioners and ordinary citizens alike about the existence, benefits and the use the FOI Act.  In other words, it is your task also to galvanize the wider media community and the society at large to action.

We see the workshop as part of a process of building the capacity of the media, civil society organizations and other key stakeholders to effectively use the FOI Act to hold all relevant agencies and actors accountable during electoral processes and in the context of new realities of operating in a COVID-19 environment.

Once again, welcome to this workshop and thank you for your kind attention.

 

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