An undercover Reporter, Fisayo Soyombo who is also the founder of the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), says he will be donating the N500,000 attached to the People Journalism Prize for Africa 2019 (PJPA) to help in the release of inmates awaiting trial.
Soyombo and Kiki Mordi of BBC had been announced as co-winners of the prize for their undercover investigation exposing bribery and impunity in Nigeria’s criminal justice system, and investigation on sex for grades in some West African universities, respectively.
In his speech on Thursday, Soyombo said the money will go into paying for the services of lawyers who would track the cases of the inmates and see to their eventual release.
According to him, the fund would be managed by The Justice Project (TJP) by Touch The World Foundation, a social initiative of Lagos-based church, Ecclesia Hills.
“I like to announce that I am donating the N500,000 cash reward to The Justice Project (TJP), a cause for the release of awaiting-trial inmates who have no business in prison. And, trust me, there are scores of them. My three-part investigation may have focused on the deep-seated corruption tarnishing the administration of criminal justice in Nigeria, but that isn’t the only frailty of the system,” Soyombo said.
“One other is the huge population of awaiting-trial inmates, many of them actually in prison for trivial offences and others not even deserving of detention much less imprisonment in the first place. At Ikoyi Prison, for example, more than 3,000 inmates inhabit a prison built for 800. Of these 3,000, less than 500 are convicts; the number of awaiting-trial inmates usually hovers around 2,500.
“While I am not in a position to help the prisons service clean up its corrupt house, by donating this money, I can at least help to kick-start a process I’m hoping can snowball into prison decongestion through the freedom of scores of awaiting-trial inmates. The funds, to be managed by TJP, will be used to pay stipends to lawyers who will visit prisons to track the cases, ensure more inmates have their days in court, represent the inmates, settle fines where necessary and provide support to the inmates.
“Aside focusing on the possibility of innocence and frivolity of cases against inmates, women with babies and inmates with young families back home will receive special consideration.”
Soyombo, who said he lives “more or less like a fugitive these days”, thanked those who housed him when he went into hiding over alleged plans to arrest him.
He also expressed his gratitude to his parents, senior colleagues and all those who helped him with the investigation.
“I like to thank two of my former bosses, Mr. Simon Kolawole, CEO of TheCable, and Mr. Dayo Aiyetan, the Executive Director of the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), whose newspapers co-funded the story, and who have both been integral to the evolution of my career in recent years,” he said.
“I am grateful to those who housed me interchangeably when I went into hiding in October following the threat of arrest, and those who’ve done it afterwards, as I live more or less like a fugitive these days. To have housed a wanted man is the height of friendship and belief in what I do. I cannot mention your names but you all know yourselves. Thank you!
“I’m also grateful to all those who have supported my work for ages — the likes of Dr. Laz Ude Eze, the man who convinced me to join the campus press in my first year studying Agriculture at the University of Ibadan; Mr. Jahman Anikulapo, my first mainstream newspaper editor who has now become my mentor; Mr. Omoyele Sowore, Publisher of SaharaReporters and my immediate past boss and, of course, my family. Specifically, I thank my father, my hero, the biggest exponent of the values and ideals that define my work, and my mother, whose fearlessness resides in my spirit. On October 22, 2019, my mum sent me a Whatsapp message asking God to bless me with “good health and long life”. What she didn’t know was that she sent that message hours after I found out about the meeting where my arrest was first mooted. That’s the kind of mother I have, a prayerful woman.
“To have housed a wanted man is the height of friendship and belief in what I do. I cannot mention your names but you all know yourselves. Thank you! Today’s announcement is only the first of two; the second will be revealed in the next few days.”