Journalists must deepen their reports on state budgets – Ajibola

The former Managing Director of DailyTrust Newspaper and Akogun of Ife- Olukotun, Alh Isiaq Ajibola, has tasked journalists to deepen their investigation of state governments’ budgets in Nigeria by doing more of the tracking rather than mere reporting.

In a budget tracking and investigation training workshop organised for journalists in North-Central states by DailyTrust Foundation in partnership with MacArthur Foundation on Tuesday in Ilorin, the media professional asked journalists to expose state governments’ unimplemented budgets using evidence-based reports on the amount released vis-a-vis projects executed at a particular time.

Representing the board of the Daily Trust Foundation at the workshop, Ajibola lamented the rate at which state governments deceive the people with bogus annual budgets that are hardly implemented. In the same way, he wondered why journalists merely report budgets without interrogating the process and implementation.

According to him, governments are not held accountable enough, and the media would not have fulfilled its role as the 4th estate of the realm if this was allowed to continue.
Ajibola, who commended the investigative spirit of a few journalists in Nigeria, reminded the participants that he would like them to know that the budget is much more than the headlines we read in newspapers. According to him, “The budget, whether federal or state, determines the fate of the people, the direction of government and its policies; it speaks about the quality of choices being made by those in power; it shows their values; it tells on the quality of life of the people – healthcare, education, water, energy, transportation and infrastructure in general”.

In this regard, therefore, “journalists cannot make any impact except they do investigative reporting. If your journalism is like ‘stenographic reporting, you can hardly stand out. A stenographer goes to his manager with his shorthand notebook, takes down dictated letters, types them on his manual typewriter as accurately as possible, and returns it to his boss to sign. A stenographer has no say; they take pride in reproducing in written form what was dictated verbally”. Many journalists are like stenographers, as “they regurgitate press statements and produce interviews with governors and government personalities verbatim on their platforms. The bitter truth is that it is not how to earn a living”.

In assisting journalists in this task, he charged them to expose corruption within the system by using necessary means like the Freedom of Information (FOI) law to get their reports.
In a recent effort by World Bank to ensure transparency and accountability in the states, the concept of the “Citizens budget” was introduced. This requires governments to involve citizens in determining the projects to be executed in their communities. Similarly, the apex bank introduced measures that could promote transparency and accountability if implemented. However, the meeting of world bank criteria for the budgeting process does not eliminate corruption in its implementation. He says, “The crime is hiding in the award of inflated contracts to the cronies of officials who collect kickbacks”. Therefore, journalists must step up the game in knowing the costs of contracts and collect evidence they could get within and outside the state.

The workshop, which was attended by journalists from both print and electronic media, was facilitated by Alh Abdulganiyu Sanni, the Accountant General of Kwara State, Benjamin Sehinde Fatigun, Former Perm Sec, Min of Finance and staff of UK-based International Budget Partnership.