If you are a Nigerian, and literate, but have never heard of Sahara Reporters or been to its website, something must be seriously wrong. I suggest you rectify that situation today.
SaharaReporters.com is the place to visit if you really want to understand where Nigeria has been, or what it is doing. It is journalism that may be too important to be left to journalists. It is, I suspect, the address that corrupt Nigerian politicians and their privileged criminal brethren detest the most on earth. SaharaReporters is the face of Citizen Journalism.
As a journalist, I believe that the industry thrives on the assumption that it will report society thoroughly and painstakingly. That is not always-or often-the case. Sometimes, journalism is about convenience: speeches and development about which the headlines are bigger than the substance, press conferences or statements.
In other words, not much. After all, while speeches on the floor of the legislature or at a conference may be very important and ought to be reported, publishing their highlights is not really reporting. Speeches often say nothing about the speaker, whose very actions may actually be in contradiction with his public claims.
That is why the most important challenge in journalism is to go beyond and behind the spoken or public word. That is the province of investigative or forensic journalism, because true reporting is about action. In Nigeria, this often poses tremendous difficulty for the mainstream press which may opt for a comfortable compromise.
A comfortable compromise is reporting a murder as committed by someone other than you. However, while it takes courage to report a murder or a theft; the paradox is that the more "important" the murderer or the thief, the more courage it takes to put that story on the front page.
But remember what Aesop once said: "We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office." The man was Greek, but he must have been speaking about Nigeria. While our great thieves have brought the nation to its knees, they are not necessarily in hiding or in jail. The trouble is that when you read the mainstream press, you may not get that impression.
What SaharaReporters has done is to take this task on, and to empower the ordinary Nigerian to report his country. Indeed, the motto of SaharaReporters is: "Report Yourself".
It has provided an opportunity for Nigerian citizens with access to valuable information about Nigeria's leaders and their lifestyle to make a contribution to our understanding of those leaders that the mainstream press and their ownership may be uncomfortable with. In my view, then, SaharaReporters is Nigeria telling the truth to Nigeria. It is journalism by the people for the people.
How has this happened? In the past two decades, some amazing technologies have appeared that are capable of making journalism more cogent, urgent and powerful. These are tools that aid and ease investigation as well as rapid transmission, tools of effective and widespread broadcast or circulation, tools that make it possible for journalism to be more, and do more.
Of these tools has SaharaReporters taken advantage to give journalism in our country a boost, and challenge the mainstream press. With particular focus on corruption, SaharaReporters often sheds some incredible light on the track record of powerful Nigerians that most of us only whisper about in our bedrooms.
A quick search of the website reveals an assortment of such powerful Nigerians, what they have stolen, who their accomplices are, and where the bodies and booty are buried. There is published proof of fake higher degrees and titles being peddled by top Nigerians. There are stories of scam and vice by Nigerians in high office.
I do not know how SaharaReporters operates. But for an outfit that reportedly has such a small staff, it does seem to have the help of Nigerians who keep it persistently supplied with information and materiel.
I know that SaharaReporters has been called names. It is difficult to imagine any of those people about whom it has published unflattering accounts being happy. Strangely though, hardly anyone writes rebuttals to its stories, let alone sues them for inaccurate portrayals. What invariably seems to happen is the old Nigerian ploy of trying to ignore a story in the hope that it will blow over.
Not likely. Through the efforts of SaharaReporters, the nature of the Olusegun Obasanjo administration was made even plainer to the world. SaharaReporters is also monitoring the Umaru Yar'Adua government with an equally critical reporting and analytic eye.
The strength of SaharaReporters is obviously its high principles. Its advocacy is in its unwavering sense of right and wrong, not on the basis of any friends or permanent enemies. In the chaos that is Nigeria, an advocate is often bought off. That is not usually a difficult task, given the vast riches in the hands of many big thieves, and the false advocate soon disappears in his new riches.
SaharaReporters, on the contrary, has stuck to its mission of reporting with determination and courage, particularly in terrain that others avoid. Hopefully, the mainstream media will take advantage of the doors that the website often opens-including breaking stories--rather than dismissing them or considering the site a competitor.
In any case, an enterprise of this nature is never without cost, as patriotism does not pay the bills. Without a committed support base, SaharaReporters is certain to run into problems. Appealing for assistance, in this regard, a link on the site says:
"...We want to remain true to our dream of providing average readers with the tools that can help them make informed decisions about how their nations are run in the Sub-saharan African region..." it says, pledging to "remain the authentic, independent, and investigative citizen reporters who unearth what has remained hidden from the public eye..."
Hopefully, Nigerians who appreciate the patriotic work of SaharaReporters and recognize what is at stake will offer practical support. The future cannot be without cost. Report for duty. Report yourself.