Samuel Ogundipe: “It’s very rare in Nigeria to find a journalist that does not take bribes”

Clara Zid, September 2021

Samuel Ogundipe

Samuel Ogundipe is a Nigerian investigative journalist, founder of the independent media outlet Peoples Gazette. For Samuel, journalism is a way to fight corruption and injustice. In 2018, Samuel was arrested for refusing to disclose the source of a story he published on Premium Times Nigeria, and two years later he was persecuted because of another controversial investigative story he published.

In 2020, Samuel founded People’s Gazette. After only a few months in operations, the Peoples Gazette’s news site was blocked by authorities in Nigeria, which shows the power of his reporting. In collaboration with Qurium, Samuel and his team responded by deploying a Bifrost mirror to circumvent the blocking. Peoples Gazette publishes news stories that no one dares to publish, investigative reports on those in power. In a country where everyone is corrupt, including many journalists, Samuel demonstrates a strong character.

What do you advise to young Nigerians that want to become investigative journalists?
Young Nigerians do have to understand, first of all, that journalism is not a lucrative profession. In Nigeria, it is even worse because it’s a bad economy. People should know that when they come into the media, they are coming for the “glory of service”. You have to ensure that you have a passion to expose injustice, to expose corruption.

So there is no money for journalists in Nigeria?
It’s very rare in Nigeria to find a journalist that does not take bribes. They call many journalists corrupt but that’s because the society itself is corrupt. When you find journalists who are not corrupt, it’s just like finding public officials who are not corrupt. It may be rare but there are.

How come you decided to be an investigative journalist?
I’ve never been comfortable with injustice and corruption so I decided to go into journalism hoping I could make a change. Nigerian journalists are always afraid of the investigation part of journalism. They think that what they have to do is to just report things as they are rather than going deep into critical issues and exposing corruption and injustice at high positions.

“Corruption is a part of the Nigerian society in terms of culture”

About corruption, what is the trend the past few years in this matter?
Well, corruption is getting worse in Nigeria, unfortunately. I think the reason is because corruption is a part of the Nigerian society in terms of culture. People take bribery as if, “Oh, I am being compensated”. That’s “petty corruption” but in terms of actual government corruption of public officials, like impunity, looting the public treasury and racketeering, it is getting worse.

In your opinion, what is the best way to combat corruption?
There’s only one way: there is law in Nigeria, but it’s not being enforced. You still see corruption, officials looting the country, and the anti-corruption agencies are unable to act. The only way we can resolve corruption issues in Nigeria is when we know, when every official realizes that there will be harsh consequences of the law.

What have you learned from corruption?
It’s in a way a very simplistic way of seeing a society. A corrupt official does not realize that it is better to use the commonwealth of the people to develop a society than to keep the commonwealth of the people in your own pockets, because if you reinvest it in the economy, in infrastructure, in health, in education, and all that, you will then be able to even invest your own money in the economy. That’s the critical issue that I see in corruption in Nigeria, the inability of people in positions of power to actually see that it is better to invest public funds into public infrastructure than to loot the public funds into your own private pockets.

You were arrested in 2018 because police wanted you to disclosure the source for a story. Can you tell us about this incident?
There was an incident at the Nigerian parliament. The national parliament in Abuja was attacked by the State Security Service, the secret police of Nigeria. The vice president gave an order to the head of the police to prepare a report of what had happened in the parliament. As a journalist, I happened to get a copy of the report and published it before it even reached the president’s office. The police got angry about the fact that the report was leaked, as it was an embarrassing document for the government, and wanted to know who gave me the copy.

Two years later, there was another incident with leaked documents…
Yes, in 2020 I received another set of sensitive documents. They were from the State Security Services again and concerned the Chief of Staff to the President, the National Security Adviser, and the Chief of Army Staff, which are all very high positions within government. Between the three of them, they were fighting amongst themselves for power. I got copy of the document and I published it.

Did it have consequences?
Shortly after that, I started to receive threats which I reported to my superiors at Premium Times. A couple of days later, I started getting hints that the secret service was looking for me, so I went into hiding. I told the office also and I didn’t get immediate response about how to keep myself safe, so a human rights NGO in Abuja gave me shelter. While I was in the shelter, the secret services went to my residence and also to the Editor in Chief’s house to look for him. A couple of weeks after, I returned to work. We had disagreements over a story relating to Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest man, and another about Nasir El-Rufai, the governor of Nigeria’s Kaduna State. That’s when I decided to launch my own media outlet, Peoples Gazette.

“We are not entrenched in the Nigerian political and economic circle, so we are able to be independent”

What is the mission of Peoples Gazette?
Peoples Gazette is a newsroom of young journalists. We are not entrenched in the Nigerian political and economic circle, so we are able to be independent, we don’t have the kind of tentacles that all these other newspaper publishers have. They have friends everywhere, so they are no longer courageous enough to publish stories against people in the power. What makes Peoples Gazette different is that we are able to do any story about anybody. If you are corrupt, if you are into injustice, we will expose you.

Do you work with other media?
In some cases, editors from other newsrooms have been passing stories to us, because they cannot touch such stories, they don’t have the courage.

Peoples Gazette is blocked in Nigeria. Why do you think you were targeted?
We were blocked because we did a story about the new Chief of Staff, how his son had taken over power, and he was not happy about the details of the story. That was how he ordered that our website should be blocked by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) which is the communication regulator. He just gave the instruction to the networks operating in Nigeria and because there are no consequences for whatever they do, they just blocked without any court order, nothing. They just did it by administrative fiat and that was it. But thankfully, with the support of Qurium we have our website functional.

What are your future plans for Peoples Gazette?
This government is out of power in two years, 2023. We just want to survive this administration and we hope that a better government will come. What we just want to do is to ensure that we are running a newsroom that does not need to be profit-oriented, as long as we are able to deliver on the expectations of Nigerians which is for us to shine light in the darkest corners of the Nigerian society, continue to make impacts, correcting injustice and corruption.

People’s Gazette is hosted with and Qurium provides a Bifrost mirror since February 2021 to circumvent the blocking.