Fisayo Soyombo: What Does a Country Do with all these Investigations?
By: Deji Yesufu
Fisayo Soyombo is a household name in Nigerian journalism. It however appears to me that we are all wasting this young man’s efforts; perhaps some other country that appreciates investigative journalism could poach him and use him to better the lot of their nation. Fisayo will be the first person to jettison such an idea – it remains a suggestion that he may still implement whenever the opportunity comes to him and if Nigeria continues to waste his efforts.
Soyombo came to my notice after his dare-devil investigation of the Nigerian police that nearly cost him his life. Soyombo had instigated his own arrest and was shut up in detention with the sole aim of reporting the fraud, extortion and bribery inherent in the Nigerian Police system. He went into detention with his camera on him – unfortunately this was what gave him away. Even with the camera in their hand, some of the policemen there could not figure out what he was doing – they were that plain stupid. Fisayo’s cover was blown in prison a few days into his detention but this had followed his being savagely beaten by an officer on duty. It does not matter the undercover work, the sheer thoughts of enduring such beating would have made many (including this writer) own up quickly as to what brought them there; but not Fisayo. Soyombo’s cover was blown open and everyone knew he had come to investigate happenings in the Nigerian Police. He would eventually be released but not after efforts had been made to neutralize him in detention for daring to do such a thing. Unfortunately nothing came out of that investigation.
Fisayo seem to have a liking for the Nigerian Police. I don’t blame him. The truth is that if one wants to document real life corruption, a trip to an average police station in this country will be more than helpful. One day, Soyombo sought to find out how much it would cost to smuggle a stolen vehicle across Nigerian. He drove a car without plate number or any registration paper from Abuja to Lagos; and also went from Lagos back to Abuja. For the two trips, it cost him N46,000. That investigation revealed so much: faces of corrupt policemen were taken; videos of police officers taking bribes; etc. Yet there appears to be no effort by the Nigerian police to curb extortion of motorist on our roads; nor has there been any move to reform the police system in general. This is the reason why sometimes I think that Fisayo is simply wasting his time with Nigeria.
There were some investigations he did into the Nigerian medical systems too. Fisayo invaded Nigeria’s mortuary and revealed the sorry state Nigerians find themselves when they die. That report was terrible and it broke my heart because everyone of us will die and the thought of what fellow Nigerians will do with our corpse is not what one wants to imagine. Someone may say that when living Nigerians are not being taken care of, why do we begin to bother ourselves with those who die. I cannot agree more but we must do something with these investigations. In another occasion, Fisayo admits himself at “Yaba Left” – a famous psychiatry center in Lagos, Nigeria. His findings were horrendous. I am not sure whether things have improved in that institution and I would not be surprised if things have simply continued as usual.
The latest investigation by Soyombo, published just yesterday, is concerning the corruption and rot in the rail system that the Nigerian government has managed to restore back to the country. Only recently, President Buhari and the minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi, commissioned the new rail system between Abuja and Kaduna. Pictures flooded the internet of Buhari and Amaechi riding the train in first class coaches. The train stations themselves were built to taste and everyone felt that this was a new beginning in the transportation system in the country. In fact, we had all been looking forward to a similar commissioning of the Ibadan/Lagos rail system – before Fisayo unveiled his can of worms. The rail system that was only recently commissioned has been taken over by corruption. Because the express way between Kaduna and Abuja has become largely unsafe, most travelers prefer to use the train. In the process the volume of users of the train had gone. Then came in corruption also. Tickets that should sell for N1,500 end up being sold for N4,000. Even at that price tickets are still not available. Fisayo reports on how police and military men connive with workers at the station to hoard tickets and sell them at black market rates to people. Yet, we have a government in the country and nothing is being done. I would be heartbroken if this report simply goes the same route that the other investigations by this great Nigerian man go: government does nothing with it. I think there are reasons why Soyombo’s investigations are not hitting the mark and I would use the rest of this essay to discuss them.
Soyombo’s investigations reveal that the architects of Nigeria’s problem are Nigerians themselves. The next time you gather with your fellow Nigerians and they begin to blame government for the woes of this country, pull out a report by Soyombo and show them. Nigerians are their own enemies. In all the investigations that Soyombo carried out, you can see Nigerians taking advantage of the lull in the system. It is true things are not the way they are supposed to be but Nigerians need to know that nothing will get better until everyone of us begin to make the effort to fix things in our own little corner.
Soyombo, in a Facebook post, which was actually not an investigative effort, declared that he had removed himself from the national grid. Why? PHCN had continued to bring estimated bills to his house and every effort to get a meter has failed. It appears that some electricity workers would rather have Nigerians without pre-paid meters, so that they could take advantage of the system. This means that PHCN workers will still have the opportunity of collecting bribe monies from people in different localities who use power without paying. I know this for a fact because in recent weeks, government increased electricity tariff. In my neighborhood, the cost of electricity went as high as 110% . This has led to me shouting myself hoarse in the house, calling on my children to switch off light bulbs they are not using. My deep freezer is almost on total lockdown now and the pumping machine is used very sparingly. Yet, my neighbors use power as if it is about to go into extinction. While we have changed all our bulbs to energy savers, people use 100 watt bulbs freely in their shops and they leave these lighting points on all day. It is obvious that folks like these are not paying electricity bill; they are the ones that bribe PHCN officials when they come to cut-off their power lines. Obviously, all these persons and the PHCN people are not government; they are fellow Nigerian bent on milking the country dry. When government cannot recoup its investment in power, it increases tariff electricity. But this only causes for the circle to begin again: Nigerians would cut corners; they will bribe PHCN workers; and folks like us, good Nigerians, will be the ones paying for the electricity everyone is using. Nigerians are there number enemies.
Another reason why Fisayo’s report has failed to hit the mark is because of government ineptitude. Here again, what I have in mind is not Muhammadu Buhari or the ministers working under him; but the ineptitude of government agencies that should handle these reports and work on them. I am talking about civil servants. One thing we must understand as a people is that there is nowhere in the world where a President or even his ministers do everything as far governance is concerned. The best that they can do is to put policies in place that would allow for the smoot functioning of society. Government would still have to rely on agencies, mostly manned by civil servants, to do their jobs. No matter the investigation Soyombo carries out on the police, the inspector general of police will still have to take the initiative and set up machineries within the police to curb extortion and bribery in police stations. I do not know how many times road blocks have been abolished in the country; yet they still keep coming back. The truth of the matter is that road blocks have their place in a society like ours. I have seen the stolen vehicle of a friend recovered by the Nigerian police at a road block here in Ibadan. It is rare but these things happen. The road blocks are not the problem; the average Nigerian police need to understand that it is simply morally wrong to collect money from people on the road. If a policeman is gifted with cash, that is another thing entirely. But to cock your gun and aim at a motorist, forcing him to part with money is armed robbery. Buhari will not do this for us; neithe will the inspector general of police. Each police station in the country must have a head that would say to his officers that cases of extortion will not happen under his/her watch. When this happen, these evil report will dwindle. I am again going back to the whole issue of Nigerian owning their problem and seeking to fix it in their own little corner.
Then there is the matter of our moral compass as a people. I would never understand how Nigerians are so incredibly religious, yet we are known around the world for all kinds of ills and evil. When people despise religion because of the way religious people behave, one cannot blame them. Some of us who have investigated the kind of religion we practice in this country, particularly the Christian religion, have discovered that the base morality that Nigerians manifest in public starts actually among the clergy. There is the need for a total overhaul of religion in this clime and there is the need for religion to begin to manifest in the way our people behave.
Finally, one other reason Fisayo investigations may not be making a difference is that it has not brought sufficient embarrassment to Nigeria. And here I blame our leaders. Sometimes one want to believe the testimony of Prof. Wole Soyinka who says that it appears Nigeria has no leadership. Apparently until something brings this country a great deal of embarrassment, no one sees the need to attend to it. If Soyombo’s report had been published in an international newspapers, maybegovernment would have done something about it. Soyomobo’s investigations are sponsored by online news portals. The recent was done by BuisnessDay. If the Punch, Vanguard, The Nation, and other leading print Medias take this report and serialize them, things will change in the country. But probably because of competition between media houses, and forgetting the advantage of a united front, they ignore each other’s works and we all continue to suffer for it.
A few days ago, Soyombo joined the reporting team of the BBC in unveiling what really happened at a blast that occurred in Lagos last year and that led to the death of a number of people. The report indicted the Nigerian National Petroleum Cooperation (NNPC) but, as usual, the matter will die a natural death. No one will talk about it until the next explosion occurs and more people die.
Why does Fisayo Soyombo continue with his investigation despite the fact that government and Nigerian behave as if they do not exist? I don’t know. But I have the feeling that this good Nigerian possess an optimism that some of us have and that has made us to continue in the shores of this country despite opportunities to flee. “Everything good will come…”, my good friend and another journalist, Edmund Obilo, will always say on his radio station. The blessing of life is that death comes. There is an old guard that is gradually being eroded from the scene by the arm of death and they are being replaced by “a new breed without greed”, like Tunde Bakare will say. These men and women, a few of them, will take position in this country and they fix will this country. Soyombo’s reports are written and they will outlast all of us. A new generation will take them and use them to bring about a better Nigerian. While this generation may do nothing with Soyombo reports, another will. Optimism is what keeps Soyombo in business; it is what keeps a few of us in this country doing what we do.