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‘With Foundation for Investigative Journalism, we want to break new grounds’

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Soyombo

Fisayo Soyombo is a renowned investigative journalist with many years of experience. He spoke with SUNDAY AIKULOLA on his new project, Foundation for Investigative Journalism (FIJ) and other issues.

What is Foundation for Investigative Journalism (FIJ) all about?
On Wednesday, January 20, 2021, we’ll be launching the Foundation for Investigative Journalism (FIJ). Two things we want to do with the foundation: Help people have access to social justice, and also, engage in investigative reports that speak for the voiceless and expose injustice. For instance, one of the first stories we intend to run is that of a woman who went to hospital and was diagnosed of cancer and her breast was removed. Subsequent tests showed she never had cancer but the breast is gone. This is a woman in her early 30s, not yet married and no kids. So, how do you want that kind of person to live? Her breast is never going to come back and she is depressed. And guess what, the hospital in question hasn’t as much as said ‘sorry’ to her.

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What informed your decision to start FIJ?
I always wanted to live my life for causes that are beyond me, that are beyond personal interests such as, enriching myself. I want to be useful to people who cannot say, ‘thank you’ to me. It is a passion. I got into journalism thinking ‘let’s use journalism to make the society better’. I was never idealistic but now I am even less so. I realise that you cannot change the society because life, by design, is an unfair world. You can’t use journalism to stop kidnapping or corruption but you can use journalism to pressure the government into going after the kidnappers. You can’t end insurgency with journalism but you can use good journalist to graphically show the pains of insurgency and possibly attract help to victims; you can slow down the wheels of injustice. For instance, in 2016, I did a four-part series, Forgotten Soldiers, on the plight of soldiers who suffered injuries while fighting Boko Haram but was abandoned, afterwards, and a particular soldier whose leg was amputated and had been begging the Army for prosthesis for 44 months, finally, got one. So, FIJ still won’t be able to prevent other soldiers from being shot but we can’t make a case for why they deserved proper care afterwards.

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What informed your interest in investigative reports?
As I said, I came into journalism to push certain ideals. I didn’t start out as an investigative journalist. It took me a few years to discover that if I wanted to realise that ambition, the way forward had to be investigative reporting.

Who is financing this project?
This is what I have always wanted to do. I wrote the first draft of this project in 2017, so, I’ve had a good number of years to prepare for the financial investment I needed to make. I have longtime friends who trust the work that we do, and there is the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), our development partner.

Are you working with civil societies?
We’re not working with any, currently, but we’re willing to work with anyone who shares our ideals and interests. We’re open to working with anyone. What’s the driving force for your investigative journalism practice ?

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I was born by a courageous woman, a woman who wants something and goes after it even if the whole word says no; and by a man who lives by such principles as honesty, integrity and contentment. When you mix these things with the spirit of activism in me that hates injustice, it should be no surprise that investigative journalism is the result. For me, if there is a cause you believe in, do it while you can, because you are not guaranteed life. Make your life count!

How do the voiceless or oppressed reach you?
They simply need to send an email to: justice@fij.ng and we take the conversation from there.

What are your expectations after some years?
Only one expectation — that we are able to genuinely reduce suffering of people who don’t deserve to suffer. Once we are able to count just a few people whom we have helped get access to social justice, we are fulfilled. At the end of the day, it may be just a drop in the ocean. We will rather take that than nothing.

Would you say the your foundation as animal scientist helped your investigative journalism?
Indirectly. My science background has helped me to realize that I can get whatever I want from life; I only need to pursue it passionately and vigorously. I was an active campus journalist but because I was studying Animal Science, I told myself I needed to work harder than other students to prove I deserved to be there. The Guardian is the first mainstream newsroom I stepped in to. As a corps member, I worked as though I was a full-time employee. It was the same as an intern. The first day I was robbed in Lagos, it was because I left The Guardian at 9:35pm. But guess what? I was only an intern. I have worked every single day for the last 16 years, and one of the reasons is my science background. I always knew I had to work really hard if I wanted to succeed as a journalist.

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