Enugu Court, Gaduwa Estate
January 10, 2020
RE: 2020 Sigma Awards
From childhood, before I knew I was Yusuf Akinpelu, becoming a renowned journalist was all I ever dreamed. So, passion for the profession has never been missing in my toolbox. This has helped me develop strong storytelling ability and solid news judgment.
I began as a campus journalist in the University of Ibadan, where I majored in Statistics but made more waves in journalism than I did in class. I graduated as the Best Campus Journalists — one of the fifteen awards I won as a student journalist.
But before graduation, without any formal training, I was among the first few names that popularized fact-checking among Nigerians. I was chosen as an external contributor for Dubawa, Nigeria’s foremost online fact-checking platform. And upon graduation, I was immediately hired.
The prospects I showed enticed me to Nigeria’s only Pulitzer Winning Newspaper, Premium Times, under which Dubawa is. I was immediately transferred to the parent company, where I now cover Nigeria’s National Assembly, arguably one of the most important beats covered by the company.
So barely three months into the job, not only have I written nearly over a hundred stories, each of my reports have been layered with depth, in terms of angling, delivery, presentation and even multimedia. For my creativity and critical thinking, my editors have entrusted me with stories which even staffers of the company hardly could have pursued.
In my current internship with Premium Times, as interns, we are not under any duress to deliver certain numbers of stories per week. But because my eyes for story ideas is so eagle-like I see beyond this limitation. Today I have averaged one story per day, weekend and holidays inclusive.
My drive has been to tell human angle stories which are hardly told. This is why, this year, upon the advice of my mentor, Musikilu Mojeed, PREMIUM TIMES’ Editor-in-Chief, I devoted so much energy in analysing Nigeria’s budget. I focused mainly on how the nation’s intended spending would affect the common man.
In the course of my analysis, I was able to show that the nation’s budget was stuffed with barrage of fraudulent, frivolous and untraceable projects. By juxtaposing these projects with the reality of the people, I also unveiled where the funds for such money would have better been spent. This got the public aware and even some federal lawmakers themselves faulting the budgeting process they oversaw.
This notwithstanding, as a young journalist, I have also devoted my craft to the untold stories on education. For instance, one of my latest piece borders on the reward system for best graduating students in Nigeria relative to institutions around the world. My findings show that the academic excellence in Nigeria is less rewarded. The piece brought a new perspective to the discourse of education in the country: that apart from the less attention paid to funding education, the system’s best brains are left frustrated even after defiling all odds.
Also, I co-run with a friend a satire blog (punocracy.com), Nigeria’s first strictly satire blog. Last year we organized the first ever Satire Writing Contest in Nigeria, if not in Africa, where we declared November 9 as World Satire Day.
Description of portfolio:
My story explored the potentials Nigeri’s 2020 budget has for the citizens. Before passage, I pored the budget to spot possible overpriced items in the document. I discovered, in just 22 budget lines, over 1.2 billion naira was inflated into the budget items.
I followed this, upon passage, with the kinds of capital projects billed for this fiscal year. I dug deep in ascertaining what these projects translate to the Nigerian people.
Many of the projects, as I showed throughout my analytical pieces, are misplaced priorities. I was able to deconstruct the barrier of understanding numbers which the nation’s federal lawmakers hid behind to sidestep Nigerians with little understanding of figures.
In my projects, I revealed the fraudulent, frivolous and untraceable projects which federal lawmakers stuffed into the budget and how this means bad for Nigerians.
For instance, one which is perhaps the height of it all is the plan to spend N37 billion in renovating the nation’s legislative building while the renovation of all federal roads in the country would get N36 billion. This is a country with very indecent stretch of road networks.
I examined the over 1000-page document, to extrapolate meanings out of it. Apart from this, I was also concerned about knowing what kinds of projects the Nigerian government intend building that they seek a whopping $30 billion foreign loan. My resolve paid as I would later show that offsetting infrastructural deficit which the government said it intends to use the loan for was not so.
Bringing this dimension of analysis to the table opened the eyes of many readers to the twist in the whole matter. It, in fact, further got the condemnation of some lawmakers whom ordinarily were part of the process that produced the document (See my interview to one of them https://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/headlines/370876-interview-₦37-billion-for-nass-renovation-wasteful-needless-nigerian-lawmaker.html).
Making meaning of figures is daunting but my background in statistics gave an edge. My goal was to help readers know what they need to know without ambiguity or budgetary jargon. This I did quite well in every of the projects submitted here.
Achieving this, I knew, is not just about writing in a crispy way. I knew I had to do more. So this is why I used as many illustrations as possible using analogies my readers can relate with more. Also, with the use of tables, charts and infographics, I delivered the message with tact and poise. Hard work, meticulousness and patience made this so.
I’m hoping the jury would consider this for the award.
The popularity of the stories in terms of shares and likes on social media also is a key parameter I hope the jury would consider. This means many people saw, read and most likely understand the budget better than they ordinarily would not have had they not read it. The impact this makes is that because readers know more, they are able to ask the right questions as well.