‘Fisayo Soyombo, editor of TheCable, has emerged winner of the Newcomer of the Year category of the 2016 Free Press awards, which held in The Hague, Netherlands, on Wednesday night.
At the awards, held annually on November 2 — the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists — Soyombo was named winner, ahead of Zimbabwean Tafadzwa Ufumeli and Albanian Mechman Huseynov, for ‘Forgotten Soldiers’ — a five-part series exploring the agony of soldiers shattered by Boko Haram’s bullets and mines, and what their pains mean for their loved ones.
After the story was published, the Nigerian army had accused Soyombo, TheCable, as well as the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), which collaborated with TheCable on the project, of committing “subversion” — a treasonable offence punishable with death under military regimes.
The jury also praised Soyombo for his other two entries: ‘Undercover Investigation: Nigeria’s Customs of Corruption, Bribery and Forgery’, and a three-part investigation into Liberia’s post-Ebola recovery and the embezzlement of funds meant to fight the virus.
“He travelled to Liberia to cover its post-Ebola recovery at the great personal risk of possibly contracting the virus himself,” Fidan Ekiz, Dutch journalist and documentary filmmaker, said while handing the award over to him.
In a brief speech after receiving the award, Soyombo said: “In Nigeria, there are two types of investigative journalists: the ones who are viewed by the people as foolish because they died while chasing investigative stories; and the ones who are described as brave because they have managed to stay alive.
“But I know that I’m not brave; it is God who has kept me alive to witness a day like this.”
He thanked his mentor, Jahman Anikulapo, former editor of TheGuardian on Sunday; his boss, Simon Kolawole, chief executive officer of TheCable; and Dayo Aiyetan, executive director of the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR).
“I studied Animal Science in the university and I probably would be on the farm by now, tending to cattle, sheep and goat,” he said.
“But after I opted to become a journalist, a certain editor denied me a place in his newsroom just because of my science background. But Mr. Anikulapo gave me a chance. I am forever grateful to him, and I’ll never pick up any award without mentioning his name.
“I am also grateful to Mr. Aiyetan, who looked at the ‘Forgotten Soldiers’ proposal and decided within 24 hours to fund it.”
About his boss, he said: “I have enjoyed tremendous support from Mr Kolawole, my boss. He gave me four weeks off my editing responsibilities in May so I could travel to the north-east. That is a massive sacrifice; If he didn’t make it, I wouldn’t be here today.”
Soyombo dedicated the award to the memory of Enenche Akogwu, the Channels TV reporter killed by Boko Haram in 2012. He said: “A day like this is important to keep alive the memory of journalists such as Akogwu, who have paid the supreme price for journalism.”
In the other two awards handed out, Hamid Mir, a Pakistani journalist, was named Most Resilient Journalist of the Year, while Klaas van Dijken won the Best Report award, which is meant for Dutch journalists.
Wednesday’s award came a month after Soyombo was named Journalist of the Year (Business and Economy Reporting) in the PricewaterhouseCoopers Awards, and three months after his short-listing for the 2016 Kurt Schork Awards in International Journalism.
He was first short-listed for the Kurt Schork awards in 2014, for ‘Blood on the Plateau’ — a five-part investigative series on the ethnocentric killings in Plateau state, published in December 2013. That year’s finalists were chosen from “almost 300 stories entered by 93 journalists from 41 countries”
Soyombo, a 2013 recipient of the Deutsche Welle/Orange Magazine Global Fellowship for Young Journalists, contributes opinions to Doha, Qatar-headquartered Al Jazeera and Germany-based TAZ.
A finalist for the 2015 Thomson Foundation Young Journalist from the Developing World FPA Award, his works have been translated into French, German and Arabic.