The Toyin Falola Interviews: Premium Times: The Nation's Conscience
Ọkùnrin wà wà wò wò
Chukwu ńlá bí Ìrókò
I woke up that very morning still brooding on the tragedy that occurred in my country, Nigeria. I was reflecting in my usual way on the mountainous problems battling it when the October 10 incident gave me more bitter pills, the taste of which my esophagus refused to relieve me. With lack of energy in me, I picked up my handset, skimmed through notifications until I saw one, an investigation into the Lekki Tollgate incident. I had always loved and followed Premium Times reporting and given that they were the publishing investigator, I braced myself for a good read. Lo and behold! I was not disappointed. At least, not at them. But I was fuming at the Nigerian state, for the many lies and denials. However, Premium Times’ daring venture to expose the devil in these lies appeals to my own investigative spirit, the interviews with people. This is offered as a pre-interview, when the voices of Dapo Olorunyomi and his dedicated companions will be made available to you. This preliminary work is long due.
Nigeria and the print media have both come a long way and undergone several transformations since November 23, 1859, when the first newspaper publication in the state, i.e. the tabloid, Iwe Irohin Fun Awon Ara Egba, was published in Abeokuta. Over the next 161 years, Nigeria achieved its independence, fought a three-year civil war, suffered through a series of military dictatorships, and witnessed a return back to democracy that has not been without its peculiar upheavals. And during all these phases of its evolution, the print media—which itself has evolved from a sectional to national and global coverage—has always been present to record, report, and sometimes lead these change processes.
In the golden days of nationalism, journalism (print media) provided the platform for national figures, especially the likes of Herbert Macauley, Dr. Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe (the West African Pilot), and Chief Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo (the Tribune), who relied on its broad reach and influence to pursue nationalism and agitate for self-government in the struggle for the emancipation of Africa and Nigeria especially from the shackles of colonialism. They were the voices of the people, actively engaging colonial governments and exposing the evil of colonialism. Their importance transcended colonial struggle; they were also very loud and clear in opposing the muted transfer of some African states to Germany for appeasement. Indeed, these newspapers, like some others, were the much-needed consciousness of the people.
Following their struggle to attain independence which was successful, they were crucial in politically educating the masses. In the successive periods of military interjections into the nation’s democratic experiment, the press’ sword switched focus—there was a need to return to an equitable system of government, where the rights and wishes of the “majority” were upheld. In response, the press was faced with censorship, oppression, target strikes and assassination. Amidst these dark times in Nigerian history, the press (albeit, very few) continued to speak up against the tyranny, dictatorship, and abuse of human rights, as they are called for a return to democratic practices.
Even with the attainment of democracy, the press (unfortunately some more than others) did not relent and continued to withstand pressures from hegemonic forces, going ahead to provide the masses with enlightening reports of events as they unfolded in the polity. Hence, the history of journalism (print media) in Nigeria can be described as one of longstanding commitment, resilience, and personal sacrifices symbolized by individuals like the late Dele Giwa, whose belief in a free, fair, and just country was unwavering till his assassination by a letter bomb.
Idiomatically conferred with the title of “The Fourth Estate of the Realm” for the social influence it wields, its capacity for advocacy, and for molding public perception and opinion, journalism constitutes investigating, gathering, and publishing unbiased, verifiable information, i.e., information which is based on available evidence and provable facts. This noble profession, journalism, has also been rightly alluded to as “the heartbeat of democracy,” anchored as it were on liberty, a core value of the political theory. It has grown to embody the expression of such rights and liberties—freedom of speech, expression, congregation, and fraternization—provided under it.
The press is the elixir that sustains democracy. As a “force for progressive social change,” it represents an intangible link between the leadership and the led (masses), facilitating a constant exchange of information—both as a source and as a means of dissemination—that engenders a sense of transparency, as well as feelings of belonging and of being carried along. In keeping the masses abreast of social developments, the press aids popular participation in and fulfillment of public (democratic) obligations. As the ever-present gaze of posterity, not only does it serve as a general check on the various branches of government, but it is also the mirror upon which society appraises itself. It is an excellent gauge of the pulse of the polity.
There is no doubt that a profession with such monumental responsibility in maintaining political order has to operate with the highest standards, based on well-grounded journalistic ethics of five core principles: “truth and accuracy, independence, fairness and impartiality, humanity, and accountability.” And since the inception of the Premium Times news media in 2011, only a few of the journalism outfits in the Nigerian space have distinguished themselves comparably as news reporting agencies that embody the aspirations of the founding fathers of this noblest of professions. Premium Times, as it is astutely dubbed, has placed much premium on delivering to the public information that is a true reflection of the Nigerian condition, and it also has managed to do so in a timely and accessible fashion.
As the “conscience of the nation,” this Abuja-based paper, which is available only online, has over the years kept to its pledge to “help strengthen Nigeria’s democracy, advance the socio-economic wellbeing and rights of the people, promote and enrich their cultural practices, and advocate for best practices, good governance, transparency, and human rights, in line with the values expected of a modern democratic state.” It has provided an avenue for concerned voices from within and outside the shores of Nigeria to contribute to improving our democratic practices and processes by making observations and recommendations where necessary.
From an array of experienced and outstanding multiple-award-winning officials, which include but are not limited to: the Chairman, Nasiru Abubakar Abdullahi; Publisher/Chief Executive Officer, Dapo Olorunyomi; Editor-in-Chief/Chief Operating Officer, Musikilu Mojeed; and Managing Director, Idris Akinbajo, the paper has been able to deliver trendy information on a wide variety of topics from different aspects of the Nigerian society, as well as from abroad, in Africa, and around the globe. It covers political events, sports, health, business, agriculture, and arts, and it operates an “opinion” platform, famous for its feature of globally recognized voices.
The “opinion” column is incredibly impactful, as it presents the opinions of highly regarded people for excellence in their given fields of endeavor. Here, featured personalities apply their expertise in addressing a range of social issues in publications that serve to keep the reader informed, all while promoting messages of hope and aspiration for the marginalized. Thus, there are articles on a wide range of topics, either of national, continental, and/or global consequences. The medium has mostly availed itself as a conduit for expressing Africa’s message of peace, unity, and development, in the spirit of Pan-Africanism.
Perhaps, the most intriguing aspect of Premium Times journalism is their knack for investigative reporting. I have been able to follow-up on going-ons in the “hollowed chamber” of the Nigerian National Assembly with a click on the Premium Times website. Indeed, the outstanding media will have my endorsement if it prides itself as Nigeria’s number one platform for investigative reporting. This is especially the case with its commitment to the exposure of salient truth about events evident in its establishment of Dubawa—a factchecking platform to combat the spread of fake news at a time it became a cheap commodity in Nigeria—through the Premium Times Center for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ).
Via the above-mentioned platforms, Premium Times has consistently delivered timely reports on an extensive range of issues: human rights, civil unrest, labor actions, economic developments, insurgency, governance practices, and entertainment. Its investigative and balanced journalism style has always made it a point of call for any who seek a more rounded account of developments, drawn from the statements of the parties involved. You can’t get more of this from elsewhere!
In this era of the internet and social media, with the attendant explosion of information dissemination sources, information authenticity has been of increasing concern, which further emphasizes the criticality of the sterling service Premium Times is known to deliver. The impact of the spread of rumor and other unfounded information (“fake news”) is felt now more than ever, due to the proliferation of media devices that deliver this information to the country's remotest corners in a matter of seconds after publication. In turn, this has led to increasing talk of legislation to enact laws that would stipulate an array of penalties for peddlers of “fake news,” even if a lot of grey areas are yet to be adequately cleared for a consensus to be achieved.
The Premium Times has also enriched me in the area of sustainability and development. This is where I reserve my undiluted praise for the visionary in the CEO (who doubles as founder) and his team of administrators. In an era where many newspapers and online media go through financial crisis and an inability to pay staff, Premium Times, with its large staffing, has continued to stand shoulder-high in this regard and even serve as model to other media in this crisis. Also, the penchant for giving young undergraduates a platform to exhibit their talent in the field and hone their skills in journalism is nothing short of admirable. Beyond just giving them the platform, many have proceeded to ride on this platform to become fully paid staff, albeit when proven. Keeping government accountable and massively contributing to social development, what more could you ask from this noble medium? My findings also reveal its provision of financial support and nationwide training to student journalism clubs across the country—adding benevolence to its abundance of stripes.
We would agree that, in a society where excellence is not celebrated, mediocrity prevails. This particular situation has been one persistent bane that has haunted Nigeria’s progress. Nigeria has a bad track record in identifying and acknowledging those who have made meaningful contributions and sacrifices that have provided it with the relative freedom and advancement it now enjoys. It is in admitting that such a trend must end, that we must not wait until our heroes are either dead or on their deathbeds before we celebrate them for the remarkable feats they have displayed. It is in light of this that I have elected to take this opportunity to say kudos to Premium Times and give honor to whom honor is due.
Perhaps, I am just among the last to do so in almost its decade of existence. Over the years since its inception, Premium Times has gained recognition in the highest echelons of the profession through its exemplary journalism. In 2013, the medium was nominated for the “Website/Blog of the Year Award” at the Nigerian Broadcasters Merit Award. In 2017, reporters from the outfit shared in the Pulitzer Prize for taking part in the international consortium that investigated the Panama Papers, exposing the corruption and offshore tax havens patronized by highly placed thieving elements. In November of the same year (2017), at the Global Investigative Journalism Network Awards held in Johannesburg, South Africa, Premium Times was again awarded the “Global Shining Light Award” for its investigative work on the extrajudicial killings in the South-eastern parts of Nigeria. These awards speak to the extensive appreciation the work of this exemplary Nigerian media outfit commands.
This is, therefore, a short appreciation note in recognition of the enormous task the Premium Times has taken up and has so far handled with inspiring professionalism and dogged commitment. It is our way of saying we understand what it means to stand as the nation’s conscience in an era when it appears to have been sold in exchange for personal riches, vendettas, and aggrandizement. This is also to implore that you (Premium Times) continue to contribute to the strengthening of our democracy and nationhood by ensuring, as you always do, that transparency and accountability are not mere options in the business of governance.