Investigative Reporting and Press Coverage of Corruption in Nigeria (1999-2012)

Suleiman, Suleiman Amu (2017) Investigative Reporting and Press Coverage of Corruption in Nigeria (1999-2012). Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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For African countries like Nigeria, democratic transition is conceived as not only in terms of advancing human rights and political freedoms, but also for improving political accountability, or quite simply, reducing corruption; and the role of the press is said to be central to both through watchdog and investigative journalism (Lynch and Crawford, 2011; Adebanwi and Obadare, 2011b). This research therefore asks: How and to what extent do Nigerian newspapers cover corruption and what specific role does investigative reporting play in that coverage?

For answer, I content analysed front page news coverage in a sample of 2746 newspapers from four national dailies over twelve years by selecting every 6th edition in each publication from 1 January 2001 to 31 December 2012. This is supplemented with a total of 8 weeks of two newsroom observation in two of the dailies in Abuja and Lagos, and in-depth interviews with 24 respondents, including investigative reporters, political reporters, editors, two members of staff of anticorruption agencies, and one official of an NGO promoting investigative journalism in Nigeria.

I find three types of corruption stories in the newspapers. First, corruption scandals of real or alleged instances of corruption and in which persons and sums involved are clearly named in the stories. These constitute 45.72% of the total or slightly less than half. But corruption scandals tend to generate follow-up stories, or subsequent reports of the arrest, trial or conviction of officials involved in previously reported scandals. Finally, corruption talk which are stories of corruption but without involving any specific instances of corrupt act by any person. Corruption is the subject of the story but without the act itself, as the statements by two Nigerian presidents indicate above. Furthermore, I find that corruption is extensively and prominently reported in the press, accounting for over 8% of total front page news coverage, or an average over two corruption stories every week throughout the 12-year the period. Indeed, nearly 10% of newspapers in the sample carry two or more different stories of corruption on the same front page, further indicating a high extent of coverage. However, only a small fraction (4.76%) of this coverage issues from independent journalism by the four newspapers combined. Almost 90% of scandals, or stories of actual or alleged corruption is generated by official or state-level sources such as anti-corruption agencies, parliamentary investigations, commissions of inquiry and sometimes foreign media, through various practices of information subsidy like press releases and conferences. Equally significant, corruption stories subsidized for the press tends to involve higher a scale of corruption than those independently reported by the newspapers through investigative journalism.

However, whereas existing research conceives information subsidy as having the potential to compromise the fourth estate role of the press, I argue that this is not the case in the specific instance of corruption stories in Nigerian newspapers. Indeed, information subsidy supplied by corruption investigating agencies may in fact be a necessary condition for more watchdog journalism investigated by newspapers. Watchdog role of the press with regards to exposing corruption is positively served, rather than harmed, by information subsidy resulting from horizontal accountability functions of state agencies. Furthermore, I argue that in the specific context of corruption stories in Nigerian newspapers, information subsidy itself should be understood, not only as a strategic agenda of sources for gaining coverage, but that it reflects a deeply entrenched ‘anti-corruption culture’ in Nigerian politics and society. That is, the general tendency for virtually all Nigerian governments to make ‘the fight against corruption’ the centre of policy or political action, and for citizens to demand that their governments fight corruption. With the onset of democracy over a long period never witnessed before in Nigeria however, this tendency finds free expression. This manifests, first, in the establishment of more anticorruption agencies, investigative committees, and probe panels, across all levels of government, and then in their high-profile investigations and reports which then generates most of the news about corruption in the newspapers. I illustrate these arguments in chapters four through seven and examine the role of the press in these processes, that is, the press as strong watchdogs but weak investigators.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Politics, Philosophy, Language and Communication Studies
Depositing User: Bruce Beckett
Date Deposited: 26 Jul 2018 08:16
Last Modified: 29 Sep 2020 00:38


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