L- R, Communications and Stakeholder Engagement Officer of Policy Alert, Nneka Luke-Ndumere, National Secretary of the APC Special Convention Planning Committee, Senator John Udoedehe, with the Managing Editor, The Dune Newspaper, Abasifreke Effiong, who won the 2021 Data Journalism award and co-won the Ray Ekpu Award for Investigative Journalism at the 2021 NUJ press week in Akwa Ibom State.

By Press Release

Policy Alert, an NGO work on fiscal governance and environmental justice in the Niger Delta, has congratulated The Dune’s Managing Editor, Abasifreke Effiong, for emerging winner of the Policy Alert/NUJ Data Journalist of the Year Award during the 2021 press week celebration of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Akwa Ibom State Council.

According to a letter to the award-winning journalist signed by the organisation’s Executive Director, Tijah Bolton-Akpan, the award was instituted as part of its efforts “to strengthen public accountability in the Niger Delta.”

The letter added that “the award seeks to promote a culture of digging deep to find the stories beneath the numbers in newsrooms”, noting that what is needed now is “stronger collaborations between civil society and the media to enable the conversion of big stories to actions that can enable accountability and social change.”

The organisation also congratulated Ekemini Simon of The Mail Newspaper for emerging joint winner alongside Effiong in another award category, the Ray Ekpu Investigative Journalism Award. The latter, sponsored by the Inoyo Toro Foundation, comes with a joint prize money of N500,000, and a laptop computer for each of the winners.

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The winning story, supported by Policy Alert as part of its Open Budget Project, was published in The Mail and The Dune newspapers as a four-part series between November and December, 2020. Funded by the MacArthur Foundation through the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), the report exposed “several questionable and extra-budgetary expenses” by the government of Akwa Ibom State and eventually caused the government to withdraw a controversial Financial Report and Audited Accounts for 2019 and to publish a new one.

It generated unprecedented discussions in the media on the state government’s expenditure, triggered a number of petitions, and resulted in the House of Assembly setting up a committee to review the 2019 audited statements which it had passed four months earlier.

The letter described the award-winning duo as “worthy ambassadors of Policy Alert’s efforts to build a cadre of investigative journalists with the requisite analytical and reportorial skills to ramp up demand for public accountability in the Niger Delta region.”

Ken Nnamani, a former president of Nigeria’s Senate, who chaired the ceremony and presented the award to the duo, commended the resilience of Nigerian journalists, urging them to continue to place the nation’s interest above every other interest. Earlier while declaring open the week of activities, the state’s NUJ Chairman Comrade Amos Etuk had commended Policy Alert’s partnership with the Union in the area of capacity building for journalists.

Policy Alert has over the years been supporting journalists in Akwa Ibom and other Niger Delta states with capacity building and mini-grants on budget analysis, extractive sector reporting, and data/investigative journalism. “It is no coincidence that both of you who emerged joint winners of this epochal award are alumni of training and field programmes by Policy Alert. We are proud to be associated with your success and the important demand-side work that you do” the organisation’s letter to the two journalists said.

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Shortly after the ceremony, Policy Alert’s Communications and Stakeholder Engagement Officer, Nneka Luke-Ndumere, had told reporters: “We are proud of our role in these winning stories and are excited that our contributions in building the capacity of these award-winning journalists and many others like them across the Niger Delta is yielding results.

“Investigative journalism is an important tool in the struggle for a functional and just society. It is reassuring that journalists in the Niger Delta are waking up to the power in their hands and the Akwa Ibom State NUJ deserves commendation for blazing the trail. This year’s prizes demonstrate that our partnership with the media on investigative and data-driven reporting is already bearing fruit.”