Tuesday night marked another milestone for Nigerian investigative journalists as two reporters of NEXT Newspapers and their editor carted away two of the only three awards at the 2011 FAIR (Forum for African Investigative Reporters) African Investigative Journalism Awards in Johannesburg, South Africa.

As Gerard Guedegbe, chairman of the FAIR Awards, declared Peter Nkanga and Idris Akinbajo, the African Investigative Reporters of the Year for their joint work, entitled “Last Minutes Oil Deal that Cost Nigeria Dear” published in the June 12, 2011 edition of NEXT on Sunday, a resounding applause filled the Moyo Zoo Lake Park, the venue of the ceremony.

The duo’s work taken from a six-part series courageously uncovered the clandestine practices  perpetrated in Nigeria’s oil industry involving the petroleum minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke, and senior government officials, who discreetly and unilaterally hijacked the oil industry for themselves by assigning prospecting rights on several oil blocks worth billions of dollars to handpicked individuals, contrary to prevailing  laws.

“An excellent, thorough investigation into an important issue. This is an exceptional piece of journalism,” the judges said of the report. They further decried the situation where President Goodluck Jonathan, despite detailed overwhelming evidence as presented in Messrs. Nkanga and Akinbajo’s investigation, still went ahead to return Mrs Alison-Madueke to his cabinet as petroleum minister. “In most countries, this article would cost the minister her job, if not her freedom. Nigeria’s Next newspaper and website did a great job here.”

A second recognition, the FAIR Editor’s Courage Award, was later to come to NEXT Newspapers Investigative desk editor, Musikilu Mojeed, for exhibiting exemplary courage while remaining unbowed despite death threats, police harassment, bribe offers, and consistent pressure put on him by publicists, agents of the Minister, and top government officials, aimed at deterring him from publishing the six-part serial exposing high level government corruption.

Mr Mojeed who was in Johannesburg to speak at the African Investigative Journalism Conference, organized by FAIR and the University of Witwatersrand had just received the first award on behalf of his reporters when as he made his way back to his seat he was announced the winner of the Editor’s Courage Award.

Visibly surprised and elated, Mr. Mojeed later said: “The award surprised me because you know they are terribly secretive about the awards. I had no inkling at all. But I am pleased, very pleased”.

The second prize went to a journalist with the Kenya Standard newspaper for an investigative report on police killings in his country.

Another NEXT reporter and finalist at the awards, Nicholas Ibekwe, was commended for his detailed investigation into how government officials and several well-known Nigerians were complicit in allowing pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer, to use Nigerian children as guinea pigs to test a new drug, which led to the death of at least 11 infants and several others with permanent disabilities.

Also recognised from Nigeria was Toyosi Ogunseye of the Punch Newspapers for her piece on the terrible state of school toilets in Nigeria which the judges declared, “Ogunseye investigated the ‘death traps’ very well, sourced the issue completely, and produced a totally convincing story”.

This year’s FAIR awards which honour only works considered to be investigative had over 40 entries sent from across Africa. The entries were judged by world renowned investigative journalists, amongst whom include Gwen Ansell, editor of FAIR’s well-regarded Investigative Journalism Manuals; Mark Lee Hunter, co-author of the book “Story Based Enquiry”; Tito Ndombi of Africa News and of the Ifasic Journalism Training Institute in Kinshasa; Joe Hanlon, veteran Investigative Journalist and academic who spent decades investigating Africa from his base in Mozambique, and Brant Houston, who is ex-director of US-based professional body Investigative Reporting & Editors, Knight Chair in Investigative Reporting at the University of  Illinois, and co-founder of the Global Investigative Journalism Network.

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