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My first month as a Dubawa fellow – one to remember

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So, in 2020, my good friend and colleague, Dr. Raheemat Adeniran, was immersed in this fellowship and she could practically do nothing else. She was either starting a study, gathering data, writing reports or immersing herself in literature. While it sometimes felt exciting, I didn’t envy her at all, especially since she still had academic and administrative work as a media and communications lecturer in Lagos State University. You can therefore imagine my reaction when she sent me information about the call for applications in 2021.

“No way! I’m not able to accommodate that”, I said. But she was not taking no for an answer. She wouldn’t let me breathe until I agreed to submit an application. Guess what, everything changed from that point. Of course, I had to read almost everything on Dubawa (to submit a strong application) and I fell in love immediately. I found it really interesting and I finally told myself this was what I needed.

I left the newsroom for academia about twelve years ago and I know I am rusty. I promised myself I would continue to write and produce media content but I haven’t done much of that. The last content I wrote before Dubawa was in December 2019 and I will have to do serious digging to find the one before that. It’s easy to plan to be effective on all fronts but if you’re not really deliberate; lecturing, marking, project moderation, administrative roles and of course, research, can prevent media lecturers from keeping up with the industry.

I was proud to be offered a post-doctoral fellowship on Dubawa and Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ)’s Kwame Karikari Fact-Checking and Research Fellowship 2021. The excitement was palpable and the people close to me could feel it. But then, the excitement started waning as soon as I realised I was on the research stream and not expected to fact-check stories. Research is what I have been doing for over a decade and although I enjoy it, I needed to convince myself I could still be a journalist, that I could still write stories and that I still have it in me. So I promised myself not to sit in my comfort zone. I would ensure I did not do any research until I had published at least a fact-checked story. “Then, I will move on to research”, I told myself. 

Days after taking my first COVID-19 jab, I saw a WhatsApp message saying an epidemiologist, Professor and an awardee of the Nobel Laureate prize in Medicine claimed all those who took the COVID-19 vaccine would die in two years. What!!! It was just days before it would be a year since I lost my mum (may God bless her soul), and while I missed her terribly, I wasn’t eager to reunite with her. So I needed to fact-check the claim for people, but honestly, for myself as well. I pitched it to Dubawa Editor, Kemi Busari, and in a day or two, I had my first fact-check

I was excited, thrilled, proud and elated – just like I felt as an industrial attachment student in New Age Newspaper around 2003 when I had my first byline – but a bit shy when I saw the history of all the Dubawa staff who read the story and the corrections they had made. And guess what, one of them was a former student, Ouch! I almost gave up. But I told myself I wouldn’t get better if I stopped at just one. I needed to do another story and do it better so I could redeem my image. Yeah, image is everything, don’t mind the advertisement that says otherwise. So, I fact-checked a false message saying the federal government was distributing grants to support businesses. It was better and didn’t go under the knife like the first one, but it didn’t make headlines either. I needed something I could be more proud of.

Then, the Nigerian government suspended Twitter. I know, such news is every journalists’ delight. There were a series of fake tweets but I needed to know how to prove they were fake. By the time I self-taught myself how to verify fake tweets and images, I contacted my Editor only to be told someone else was already working on it. Don’t ask how I felt, yes, don’t rub it in. But I survived the disappointment.

Then Festus Keyamo surfaced. It was a close to thirty-paragraph WhatsApp message! I know the guy talks, but would he have the time to sit and type that, I needed to find out. I contacted some journalists for his mobile number and called him for two days on two lines but the calls were not answered. You must agree at this point that I am rusty right, why not just send a text message? You’re right, I finally did that after 48 hours of calling and this is the result. After that, I was hooked. By the time June was over, I had published six fact-checks! Guess what, that makes me the fellow with the highest number of fact-checks for the month! I also exceeded the monthly quota as fellows (on the media stream) are expected to submit four, Yipee. I would have done more if Lagos State University’s second semester examination hadn’t started – yes, those are the roles I am talking about, I am an examination officer. I was really happy with what I was able to achieve nonetheless, and I made sure my family and friends read them all. 

Okay, so what’s the big deal? They’re just stories, you say. No, they’re not just stories. It’s very symbolic and significant for me. It’s much more. It’s a confirmation that I love journalism and I have missed it. They’re an affirmation that given the right environment, anyone can thrive. And more importantly, they’re a pointer to the fact that academics, especially those in media and communications, need the kind of opportunity Dubawa has offered me; to rediscover myself and hone my skills. I am sure my next news writing class will be more interesting. 

One last thing, you have to read all the six fact-checks as well. Yes, you heard that right. The links to the first three are already up there, so these are the links to the fourth, fifth and sixth. Now, what am I up to in July? Fingers crossed.

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