TYPES OF REPORTING III : INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING

Introduction:
When you mention Investigative Reporting, the first thing that comes to the mind of your listener is: Is there any reporting that does not involve investigation? What then sets a particular method apart from others as Investigative Reporting. In this third post in our series on types or methods of reporting, we shall examine the characteristics of investigative reports, who can make an excellent investigative reporter, the role of the media investigative reporting plays and the availability/popularity of this method of reporting in Nigeria.

Three Main Characteristics of Investigative Reports
The three main characteristics of investigative reports that put them in a class by themselves above the routine investigation and verification process required for most stories are:

They concern matters, often of a negative or illegal nature, that some people or organisations want to keep hidden. Those concerned are usually highly-placed people and organisations who have the resources to stifle attempts to learn anything concrete about the matters in question. This is why investigative stories are called exposés.

Below are examples of issues that call for such stories:
***Admission rackets in schools
***Job rackets, especially in the public service
***Embezzlement of funds and other forms of fraud in the public and private sector
***Sales of expired products
***Production and sales of contaminated food/drinks and other substandard products
***Scams using charitable organisations as fronts
***Human and sex trafficking

Investigative reports are primarily the result of the journalist’s original efforts and enterprise. They are not based on second-hand information or the work done by others. For example, a reporter gets a tip that a state’s ministry of agriculture is selling at exorbitant prices in cities fertiliser that the government has directed should be distributed at highly subsidised prices to rural farmers. He then pursues the tip, organises a sting operation with the support of his organisation (with or without the collaboration of the police) and blows the illegal diversion wide open.

Investigative reports concern matters of public interest. The investigative reporter does not go about invading people’s privacy unless he gets wind that they are doing something that could compromise public health and safety or that could be of public concern in some other ways. If, for example, a celebrity or public official frequents a night club, it does not become the subject of an investigative report unless something criminal goes on at the club, like sex with minors in the back rooms or dealing in controlled substances.

Other Characteristics of Investigative Reports
As seen above, investigative reports are written about important matters of public concern. The difference between them and the issues addressed by straight news and interpretative reports is that they focus on important matters pertaining to wrongdoing by people in positions of responsibility.

In language and organisation, intvestigative reports resemble interpretative reports rather than straight news reports. In other words, they call for more creative writing skills than mere use of the simplest language possible, summary lead and the inverted pyramid.

Investigative reports also tend to be long because a lot of investigations are complex and take many weeks or longer to complete. Some of the stories are presented in a series to cover the various angles and stages of the investigation. Some are long enough to become the subjects of books and movies, like the Watergate story- All the President’s Men– by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.

An investigative report would have a viewpoint based on the outcome of the investigation. What would be wrong would be to make up one’s mind, then skew the investigation and doctor the evidence to fit one’s preconceived judgment. Sidestepping lines of inquiry that might invalidate one’s initial hypothesis or omitting evidence thereto from the story is unethical. So is overstretching available facts and pushing unwarranted conclusions therefrom.

Following from the first and last points in this section (Other Characteristics …), we can say that investigative reports offer information and persuasion that the rot in the system needs to be excised and those responsible for it brought to book.

What would Make a Journalist an Excellent Investigative Reporter?
The foregoing has shown that investigative reporting is more demanding than everyday reporting. What qualities, therefore, does a journalist need to excel at it beyond the regular nose for news, mastery in the use of language and openness?

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Desire for reform: Without a longing to see positive change in society, a journalist will lack the drive to pursue investigations. When someone feels terrible about institutional failure, corruption, injustice and the like, and wants to contribute his quota to righting the wrongs in various sectors of society, he will be committed to taking on the extra work required for pursuing leads that could blossom into major exposés.
Some people dabbled into journalism because they couldn’t land their dream jobs. They merely see reporting as a meal ticket, not a vocation or calling through which they can change society for good. Such people are only concerned about wrongdoing when it personally affects them or those close to them. They lack the passion to fight for the disadvantaged, disenfranchised and disillusioned in society. But the one who sees journalism as his calling sees himself as a social reformer and considers it a privilege to be the voice of the voiceless and the watchdog of society, keeping the wealthy and powerful accountable to the rest of society.

Doggedness: Investigative stories are not low-hanging fruit. They require a lot of work and perseverance. The reporter may have to knock on some important doors repeatedly, he may need to spend hours and days poring over books and documents, he may conduct surveillance for days and weeks without result until the story breaks.
Some journalists are content to cover events assigned to them and pay perfunctory visits to their beats. Such reporters are definitely not cut out for investigative reporting. It requires people who are willing to go the extra mile and people who don’t easily give in to discouragement.

Courage: Investigative reporting can be very dangerous because of the possibility of pre-emptive strikes or vengeance from highly-placed people whose status and livelihoods may be negatively affected by what it unearths. Threats to the reporters’ and his family’s life, livelihood and property are common. In a very famous case in Nigeria, Dele Giwa, the first Editor-in-Chief of Newswatch magazine was killed by a letter bomb on October  19, 1986. This is widely believed to be related to his knack for doing investigative pieces exposing corruption in government circles. Investigative reporting is, therefore, not for the lily-livered.

Integrity: A lot of sordid stuff can be uncovered in the course of investigative reporting. A greedy person may see this as an opportunity to enrich himself through blackmail or yield to bribery offers from those who would wish to see the reports and evidence buried. A principled mind that is not easily swayed by such temptations is, therefore, called for.
Similarly, a lot of confidential sources are courted in investigative reporting. The reporter needs to be someone who handles information as he promised his sources, keeping certain things off the record, maintaining the anonymity of sources who will be endangered if revealed, no matter the pressure. Two reporters for The Guardian newspaper, Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor, were jailed under Decree 4 of 1884 for purportedly reporting inaccurately and bringing government officials to disrepute. In spite of pressure from security officials, they refused to reveal their sources when this was offered as grounds for regaining their freedom.

Fairness: It is easy to lay blame but an investigative reporter must not rush to judgment or apportion blame subjectively. In the example about sale of fertiliser, the reporter may discover that the particular fertiliser he was tipped about is no longer in stock or that what is being sold in the city is not government-supplied fertiliser. It would amount to an actionable offence to go ahead and report as tipped, especially if there is malicious intent or the reporter is doing a hatchet job. This is becoming standard practice in mainstream media (MSM) abroad which publish lies from so-called anonymous sources or push narratives ostensibly on the basis of investigations which are shams at best and quietly issue corrections which receive nowhere near the publicity the original stories received.

Discipline and foresight: A good investigative reporter does not allow himself to be carried away by every clue and open multiple fronts of investigations simultaneously. He works on the most credible leads and actually submits stories at optimal cost. Living in hotels indefinitely at an organisation’s expense and racking up bills without results is an invitation to dismissal from one’s job. So having the foresight to know when an investigation is going nowhere and calling it quits is also important.

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Research skills and critical thinking: Investigative reporting requires more than the usual amount of legwork and desk work. It needs someone who knows how to utilise resources to track down sources, gain their co-operation and confidence, elicit any relevant information at their disposal and file it properly for when it will be needed.
Assessing the validity or otherwise of the huge volume of material gathered during investigations, weighing how substantive claims and assertions by sources are (factoring in their possible motivations), discovering the connections between seemingly unrelated bits of evidence and players in the unfolding story are some of the ways in which critical thinking is called for in investigative reporting. It needs someone with an analytical mind. Anyone who only sees the obvious or addresses matters superficially will not do well as an investigative reporter.

Exceptional writing skills: Putting together the investigative report requires superb writing skills so that the reader is not overwhelmed with material, the story does not become unwieldy and boring and the story is evocative enough to move those that matter to action.


Screenshot of a Premium Times’ Special Report

Role of the Media Investigative Reporting Fulfils
It is through investigative reporting that the media can serve as watchdogs of society, keeping guard and censuring those who abuse their positions, thereby compromising public safety and welfare. Investigating reporting is like a beam of light that exposes the illicit dealings of those who would deceive the public and selfishly appropriate our collective patrimony or enrich themselves in other ways at public expense. It is like a sanitiser that is sprayed on the odoriferous aspects of public life to curb their harmful impact and deter future perpetrators of such pernicious conduct.

Availability/Popularity of Investigative Reporting in Nigeria
Investigative reporting was more prevalent in previous decades when we had a more fiery brand of journalism in Nigeria. News magazines like Newswatch and TheNEWS were some of the outlets that furnished readers with exposés. But as these magazines became well established, their founders all but became part of the Establishment and their bark diminished to a whimper.

Currently, one online newspaper, Premium Times, claims to be dedicated to investigative reporting. It conducts training in this brand of journalism through the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ) and often publishes the fruit of its investigations in what it calls “SPECIAL REPORTS.” The bulk of the Nigerian press (including broadcast media) occasionally publish investigative reports but they are largely engaged in self-censorship to escape punitive fines and clampdowns since Muhammadu Buhari came to power in 2015.

Review Questions:
***What are the three main differences between investigative reporting and other methods of reporting?

***Distinguish between a straight news story and an investigative report on the following grounds:  a. Objectivity   b. Language   c. Length

***Paint a verbal portrait of the ideal investigative reporter.

***Assess the effectiveness of Premium Times in its assumed position as an investigative newspaper.

***In five to eight hundred words, buttress the importance of investigative journalism in the 21st Century.

Further reading:
Nwabueze, C. (2012). The art of investigative reporting: A practical guide. Owerri, Nigeria: TopShelve Publishers.

Uwakwe, O. (2015). Specialised journalism: Investigative reporting, interpretative reporting, photo journalism, beat reporting. Enugu, Nigeria: Cecta Nigeria Ltd.

Spark, D. (1999). Investigative reporting: A study in technique. Abingdon, Oxfordshire: Routledge.

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I am a university lecturer. I teach Mass Communication, mostly writing courses like Feature and Interpretative Writing, Magazine Article Writing and News Writing, and let’s just say I’ve been doing this for a long time. As you have probably guessed, I am a born-again Christian.

76 comments

  • Nice one Prof. So educative. Need more of this. Thanks a bunch

  • Adumike Winifred Munachi

    Investigative reporting, I think it’s good defence against invasion of privacy.
    Does investigative reporting about a particular person, say a kidnapped child, also count as matter of public interest?

    • Yes, it does! The welfare of our fellow citizens, especially the young and vulnerable ones among us, is a matter of public interest. Any inquiry that helps secure the release of the child will be of interest to every normal person. Besides, kidnapping is a crime (which often graduates to murder), and as long as kidnappers are on the loose, who knows who the next victim might be?

  • Isaac sopuruchi peace

    The first line on the paragraph was actually what came to my mind.
    Can all journalist perform this investigative report, or is it assigned?

    • An independent journalist can choose to do an investigative story but if you’re working somewhere, you need permission and funding because it takes up much time and resources which would have been devoted to other things. Your organisation or superiors would therefore need to approve your quest. But as the post shows, beyond approval or freedom to do it, not everyone can do well in investigative reporting.

  • Orisakwe Ezinne amarachukwu

    Carrying out an investigative report in this our present day society would be very difficult. It will definitely take a lot of courage.

    • You’re right. We’ve got comfortable since the return of civilian rule, but with the Internet, those that know how to hide their IP addresses can do it without detection. Regular journalists who do embark on investigative reporting become heroes.

  • Ugwu chinonso John

    I am amazed because this is one of the most educative write ups I have seen in a long time… God bless you ma for this kind act.

  • CHUKWU ROSE. CHIAMAKA

    Investigative reporting can be done easily in Nigeria if one is courageous enough do it and has great writing/ reporting skill (and other execellent skills mentioned above) . We hardly see good investigative reports nowadays

  • Paschal Odigonma Victoria

    Amongst other types of reporting, I can say investigative reporting requires more in-depth research. And takes longer time to finish. You almost become the police and reporter all at once.

    I remember during my IT, the reporter for investigative journalism could work on a particular report for complete two months.

  • Ejiofor Emmanuel

    An investigative journalist is not your regular type of journalist. Call him the Sherlock Holmes of news reporting because he always on the move trying to uncover the wrong doings of public workers to the public.

    He is passionate about the welfare of his country which is what drives him not to give up when it seems all hope is lost.

    He is patient and very observant. He doesn’t rush into things. He examines the whole situation and tries to connect dots together.

    He is very careful and fearless. He must be ready for the worst as culprits will always try to eliminate him.

    This is how I can describe an investigative journalist.

    What a lesson this article is! This is my best read on investigative journalism so far.

  • Nkwocha chibueze Innocent

    Investigative journalism as stated above is a risk kind of reporting that anyone embarking on it should be well prepared, my lecturer in Federal Polytechnic Nekede Owerri, once told us a story of how he nearly died on an investigative reporting assignment, it can cost the journalist his/her life maybe that is why it is not common in Nigeria, and also our country is filled with deadly politicians that won’t want their covers to be blown by all means, and also the media organizations might be sanctioned by the government, there are so much limitations of investigative journalism in Nigeria

  • Ezeja talent chimezugorom

    Investigative journalism is so much needed in Nigeria, for instance the 30 billion that was swallowed by a snake I think calls for this kind of reporting, but then even in the era of civil rule and democracy, there are still great element of dictatorship and press limitations

  • Pamela Chigbu

    Investigative reporting entails risk-taking and he or she must be very careful when undergoing this process so as not to be misled. It’s a shame how journalists sometimes lose their lives in the process of uncovering the truth. Reading this just gave me more insight on what this investigative reporting is all about. Ma, my question is- If an organisation sends a reporter to go and investigate and get evidence of someone that did an evil deed and the investigator is aware that he might lose his life in the process, does he have the choice to accept or decline the investigation?

    • I don’t think organisations are in the habit of jeopardising the life and safety of their staff. They usually weigh the options carefully and explain the risks involved to the staff concerned. Usually, there are people who love adventures and are better suited to these kinds of assignments. The organisation will usually offer the assignment to them first. When pressed and others are called upon, I think it would be reasonable to start the project until the danger level is too high to continue, rather than just refuse from the outset. Except, of course, the reporter won’t mind getting sacked.

  • AUWAL isa

    Thank you Ma for this scholarly piece. Gods blessings and FAVOURS always

  • Ossai Chidimma Linda

    An ideal reporter is one who is committed to finding out the truth in situations involving the public, uncovering the facts that would otherwise stay hidden. Uncompromising, no matter the subjects entangled in his investigations and ready to be ridiculed, abused and even die in the process of carrying out his or her duties.

  • CHUKWU MICHAEL

    The investigative journalist should serve the public in matters of interest but should imbibe the ethics of the profession.. except it’s for the good of the society and not just selfish reasons..he should make sure all maters that constitute disorderly and corrupt practice should be investigated and reported.as fourth estate of the realm..we have a goal and it’s channelled towards the common good of mankind.

  • Nwoye Chiamaka Favour

    An investigative journalist in Nigeria must be a very bold individual and strong one at that also disciplined because of the nature of our country. I personally see it as the most difficult type of journalism.

  • Personally I feel it’s going to be hard to have an investigative reporter that has all the attributes stated above. Some are scared for their lives while some are just there waiting for the brown envelopes and they are just going to do whatsoever is asked of them.

  • Clifford Faithful Onuorah

    Thank you so much Ma for this. It was quite Educating.

    Please, I have a question Ma.

    As an investigative journalist, what can I do when a story am working on poses
    a threat to my life and that of my family or loved ones.?

    Thank u

    • It depends on the resources available to you to protect your life and your loved ones. For instance, if your organisation can hire private security for you or you have the means to go into hiding with your family. In this digital era, that means going blind on all your devices, social media and the Internet in general to avoid being traced. It also depends on how effective and efficient law enforcement is to investigate and apprehend those behind the threats. So you see, there is so much to consider. You can pass the ball to more powerful and better connected journalists to complete if the answer to the foregoing is negative.

  • Ugwu, Chinagorom Joseph

    Nice write up, Ma. For the benefit of other students, I would like to add the following:

    1. Many sources are not willing to talk to investigative reporters for fear of possible victimization by, perhaps, the people at the top. Sometimes, their unwillingness can be connected to the fact they are involved in the corrupt deal or their neighbour, friend or relative is.

    2. To address this reportorial conundrum, investigative reporters sometime resort to what is called “Undercover reporting.” This is the type of reporting usually in investigative journalism that involves the journalist pretending to be somebody other than a journalist.

    3. Although arguments are currently rife among scholars as to whether or not it conforms to the ethics of the profession, the style of reporting has proven to be effective, less time consuming and cost effective. Some media organisations currently renowned in this type of reporting are: Thecableng, ICIR, Premium times and sometimes Ripplesng.

  • Azowue Christabel chidimma

    Thank you very ma go this write up

  • Nkan David

    Another good one Ma. After carefully going through the 3 various types of reports posted, a good journalist should know when and where to employ any of them, and most importantly stay away from brown envelopes (bribes) when embarking on any news report, cos this is what takes away most hidden facts the public is meant to be aware of in time….

  • Ugochi

    It takes courage and perseverance to be an investigative journalist.

  • Chukwuemeka uchechukwu pepertua

    Thank you ma’am, from this lecture I have learnt that investigative reporting requires courage.
    Under the role of investigative reporting fulfils you said that “it is through investigative reporting that the media serve as watchdog of society” does it mean that it only through this reporting that the media serve as watchdog?
    My other question is Investigative reporting is it only the wrong doings by the people in responsibility that it focus on?

    • Every form of reporting can play watchdog to a certain extent but investigative journalists devote more time to digging into hidden stuff and exposing them. And yes, it’s mostly insalubrious stuff that they investigate, just like police officers investigate crime, not lawful deeds. Most prominent people and others hide the bad things they do, not the good ones.

  • Chukwu Joy Chioma

    I’ve learnt that investigative journalism requires more skills and critical thinking and that such stories are known as exposés.
    Can it be said that it necessary for all news organizations to possess investigative reporters?

  • Eze Chinalurumogu Success

    Investigative reporting. Having seen some journalists in movies that are so relentless in going down to unravel a situation and bring perpetrators to book, the picture of the qualities of an investigative reporter you listed just played in my mind.
    Now, I have a question (s). Can we say that Nigeria has a free press? If we can, are investigative reporters covered with immunity and are free to investigate on “anything” and publish?

    • Freedom of the press in Nigeria has never been absolute. The extent has always depended on how far the government in power is willing to uphold democratic norms. Journalists can do whatever they like, but agents of a brutal government won’t be far behind to exact punishment, deserving or not.

  • Agbowo Emmanuel chiagozie

    Courage is one of the most daring qualities to me.
    I feel like that’s why most journalists take bribes in the course of an investigation.

  • Ekechukwu Francisca

    This is really expository ma. Investigative reporting among other types of reporting deals with negative issues of public interests and should be carried out by journalists who have the desire and discipline to reform.

  • I learnt that investigative stories are called exposés.
    Is there any type of protection for an investigative journalist in the event of him publishing an exposé that could put him or his loved ones in harm’s way?

    • Beyond available legal remedies and moral pressure on his persecutors, none. The organisation can hire protection for him though, or should in fact if they are behind the assignment.

  • Abiayi Ifeonuchukwu

    Amongst other types of reporting,this seems to be the hardest for me because it takes longer to cover. It’s more like being an undercover journalist. This type of reporting would take a lot of in-depth knowledge and passion for the reforming of the society. It will also require smartness too. Thank you so much and God bless you

  • Odumuko Oluchukwu Victoria

    Passion is definitely the driving force behind this type of reporting. Thank you for enlightening us ma.

  • Adebanjo Adenike Rebecca

    There is this programme called Journalist Hangout in one of the well know media organization situated in Lagos name “Television Continental”(Tvc) is the only media organization that I could say by far has what this investigative reporting you clearly with preciseness explained here….I just hope with kind of ours being an upcoming Journalists we will venture in this part of reporting more, I think it will help Nigeria bring to book the looters of her wealth only for their self gain.

  • Ezema Johnmartins Kelechi

    The fact that there’s no special law protecting the journalists (investigative) unlike the legislators and lawyers is discouraging. I mean, who would after reading the story of Dele Giwa, Minere Amakiri and others would still have the courage to continue even when the passion is there? And this has left many things to remain covered while top public officials go scot-free for some of their unlawful acts. It’s sad this is happening in Nigeria ?

  • Investigative reporting is quite demanding. One does not just wake up one day and decide to enter it, it requires a lot of passion, courage, and above all grace.
    Investigative reporting is and will be very hard in Nigeria because no one is willing to die or get injured in the course of the work. Evil continues to triumph over good because no one is willing to speak
    So Sad!!!

  • Fortune

    The passion for it all is prior.
    Isn’t it possible that the reporter mandatorily needs the police before pursuing a tip – Especially if anything comes up? As against (with or without the police).

  • Aroh Anthonia Ifeoma

    Thank you very much for this piece ma. Please can you give an example of how an investigative journalist can overstretch facts?

    • An accusation is not a confirmation of wrongdoing. If the reporter declares a subject of his story guilty simply because he got a tip of wrong conduct, that is an example of overstretching the facts. Even if he’s shown some evidence, only law enforcement can, after proper investigation, decide to charge the person or not, and only the courts can render a guilty verdict or acquit.

  • Sambo Deborah Friday

    Investigative reporting really requires someone who can withstand negative conditions, because there will be so many things that can stand as an hindrance.
    This type of reporting also needs a lot of time to finish because you have to deeply search for evidence to support your story which may be very hard to get.
    But when one is determined, it becomes easy.

  • Obiosa Oluchukwu Reward

    What differentiate an investigative writing from other form of writing is the research skills it requires and critical thinking.
    Thank you ma, for this wonderful piece. this is really the best on investigative reporting I could understand.

  • Eze Nelson Emeka

    Investigative journalism entails a dogged and courageous individual who trials to unravel a hidden fact or story. Nice one ma .

  • John Adoyi

    Investigative reporting sounds like what needs a lot of focus. I usually listen toaA BBC investigative program called the Assignment and i have learnt a lot.

  • Okochi Chinonso

    Investigative writing is an extremely versatile form of writing. The writer may spend years or months preparing a single report,it takes great skill to do this. Thanks for the insight ma

  • Ebeyi Emmanuel

    I think investigating journalist should be placed on insurance scheme, so that highly-placed politicians won’t take advantage of them.

  • Ekeh Maryann C

    An investigative reporting from what I’ve learnt here is one of the ways this country can be helped following the high rate of corruption.

  • Ebeyi Emmanuel

    This type of reporting would take a lot of in-depth knowledge and passion for the reforming of the society. It will also require smartness too…. Thanks you very much ma cause I haven’t learnt a lot from this…

  • Phillips faith

    I didn’t realise investigative reporting required such thorough, extensive and in depth digging, almost like a detective work.
    This is an interesting type of reporting, albeit a risky one.

  • Ibrahim Mariam

    Amazing…I think considering an investigative journalist one has to be ready for the worst as he would try to be eliminated, it is very educative atleast now I know that reporting and investigative reporting are two different things.thanks mam.

  • Obiaghanwa Paul

    An investigative writer should be disciplined and also write with fairness. Investigative journalism will help to expose the ills in our society especially corruption among our politicians.

  • UTAZI PATIENCE

    I never knew that investigative reporting can also be called Exposes, thank you ma.

  • Manifest Eja

    Investigative reporting is not easy task.
    If you don’t have the integrity and patience, you can’t going into it.
    Thank you so much Auntie Edith.

  • Investigative reporting is not for the lily-livered . It requires bravery because it is quite demanding and dangerous. Investigative reporters are always on the edge trying to uncover crimes and other hidden vices. It is really a job for the bold and brave. I think I will go for this as a mass communication student. I love this post?

  • Ugwuanyi Charity Ugochukwu

    This piece will go a long way in helping people like us that are aspiring to be a reporter.
    Thank you ma for this piece

  • Chinenye Enwerem

    After reading this wonderful article I must say ma’am we are really blessed to have you. Some of these things are barely thought in schools these days and I feel really fortunate to have come across this on your blog. You’re blessed with immense wisdom and make God continue to bless you for blessing us with knowledge. I’ve come to realize that as an investigative reporter we shouldn’t be quick to judge.

  • Aguguesi God'sfavour Idimmachukwu

    Investigative Reporting is another strategy we can use to develop and help our country and it will work so well if we decide to be diligent

  • Oluchi Abonyi

    Investigative reporting will surely take a lot of courage to venture into, especially in a country like ours where the leaders do not want to let any form of truth come out. This piece was educative. Thank you ma

  • Chinonyere Emeka

    Wow!!!! Okay so today I learnt that investigative Reporting is called expos’es . Cool!!! Plus investigative Reporting sounds like lots of fun to me. Thanks ma’am 👍😊.

  • Olenyi Nnamdi Paul

    How do we go about this investigating report knowing fully well that in Nigeria there is freedom of speech but freedom after speeche is not assured?

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