Jumping off my cliff of fears: How NGIJ rekindled my optimism in journalism

I entered Journalism school with the bare bones of hope, belief and confidence that hinged not on any material backing.

With the verve of the naïve, I jumped on any career-advancing opportunity while on the campus of the Ghana Institute of Journalism. It didn’t take long for me to realize that to excel as a journalist, I would have to write consistently. At first, I wrote for myself, then for a very obscure blog. On January 16 2019, I had an op-ed published on a national news website.

After publishing many articles on several national news websites, my enthusiasm began to fade. The problems of my country seemed more daunting to be conquered by mere words. Matter of fact, realizing that one was writing about what had been written about decades ago, created a depressing block on the mind. It dawned on me that even though the goal of a writer is to alter the world, the numbness of the heart of those who sat on horses leading the population seemed intractable.

But after several detours, I found out I was condemned to be a writer. For me, the future didn’t exist without words; without intellectual work. And the substitutes I ran to only engendered despair.

A revival of my interest.

It was during such moments when I couldn’t have a glimpse of the future that I saw the call by the Media Foundation for West Africa for applicants for the 2022 Next Generation Investigative Journalism Fellowship.

Instinctively, the future became colourful. Making the cut to the final 13 was elating.

Experience sharing sessions 

After I was selected to be part of the second cohort, one of my major expectations was to be impacted by the experiences and personalities of astute journalists.

This expectation was met exceedingly as the Editor-in-Chief of The Fourth Estate, Manasseh Azure Awuni, affected me with his sense of purpose, humility and resilience. The stories he had told about his journey made me realize how easily the ills in our society dwarfed my vision. Both his successes and trials made it clear to me that this is what I wanted to do; a daunting, perilous but essential task.

Sessions with Adwoa Adobea-Owusu and Francisca Enchil, both female investigative journalists in Ghana, propelled my desire to pursue investigative journalism.

Then another opportunity to listen to the Founder of MFWA, Prof. Kwame Karikari, and a longtime BBC correspondent for Sierra Leone, Umaru Fofana, share their experiences brought some crucial considerations to the fore that will stay with me forever.

At the very beginning of the Fellowship, Prof. Karikari drummed home the need for us to focus on journalism that benefits our society and the need for us to rise above religious, ethnic and other sectorial and artificial differences carved by society that often prejudice the work of journalists.

Although he has been approached by Sierra Leonean governments on several occasions to take up political appointments, Umaru Fofana has declined such offers regardless of how lucrative they are. A cardinal remark I picked from him is the fact that if we do not relentlessly pursue critical journalism, as we have been taught, “the world is finished”.

These thoughts brought forth some wise words from the late American novelist and essayist, James Baldwin, who once said that “the world is held together, it is really held together, by the love and passion of a very few people”.

I have wondered, on countless occasions, what the world would be if all those who have sold their conscience to power and money were allowed to rape their societies without looking over their shoulders. The few who dare to stop this bunch, no matter how minute their actions may have on this decadent world, are those who are keeping this planet together.

Implementing investigative tools on the field  

Being equipped to carry out investigative projects from scratch, learning how to protect myself from intimidation and physical harm, fact-checking authorities and using the Right to Information law to access information are tools that wouldn’t have been in my grips but for the Fellowship.

In November 2022, my colleagues and I had the opportunity to practice what we have been taught over the period on the field. Finding out the sickening and entrenched unaccountable manner of our governments only convinced me that what I have been impacted within the past five months must be utilized. With great guidance and coordination, alone on the field, I got all my information and returned safely.

Commitment to real journalism

Knowing that my decision to commit to real journalism will have an avenue to flourish after this Fellowship is one thing that warms my soul.

This is crucial to me because I have been tormented, while in journalism school and afterwards, by the words of the late American writer and journalist, Hunter S. Thompson. In his book Fear and Loathing in America, he wrote: “The real horror, to me, lies in the fact that there is absolutely no vehicle in American journalism for the kind of “sensitive” and “intellectual” and essentially moral/merciless reporting that we all understand is necessary – not only for the survival of good journalism in this country but for the dying idea that you can walk up to a newsstand and find something that will tell you what is really happening.”

The majority of journalism work produced in Ghana is not any different from Hunter’s blunt words; one barely finds what is really happening at the newsstands in our country.

But to know that platforms such as The Fourth Estate and Fact-Check Ghana are not mere messengers of the myths and legends of established powers, is comforting. To know that I have the privilege to contribute to critical journalism through this platform is heaven.  And heaven, to me, is the haven we must create for the unborn generation.

Like Napoleon Bonaparte burned his boats to send an uncompromising message to his soldiers in one of his defining battles, I set ablaze a comforting but mediocre employment to be part of the 2022 NGIJ Fellowship. And I don’t regret it.

Napoleon’s actions influenced mine because as he knew he was about to approach a great foe, whose men outnumbered his, he needed to jump off his cliff of fears; to have no safe cave to ran back to.

His message, I believe, was simple: “We now have no choice – we win – or we perish!”

With NGIJ, we shall surely win.

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