The Gordon N. Fisher/JHR Journalism Fellowship at Massey College in the University of Toronto is an annual opportunity for a journalist from the Sub-Saharan Africa or the Middle East to participate in the William Southam Journalism Fellowship Program.
This year’s recipient of the Gordon N. Fisher/JHR Fellowship at Massey College is Patrick Egwu, a Nigerian freelance investigative journalist whose work on human rights, social justice, migration, and global health in sub-Saharan Africa has been published by Foreign Policy, NPR, Daily Maverick, Christian Century, America Magazine and elsewhere.
Patrick recently completed an Open Society Foundation fellowship on Investigative Reporting at the University of Witwatersrand, South Africa. He also has master’s and bachelor’s degrees from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. In February, he won the 2021 International Center for Journalists’ Global Health Crisis Award for Covid-19 reporting.
We speak to Patrick to learn more about his goals for his fellowship.
What does receiving the JHR/Gordon N. Fisher fellowship at Massey College mean for you and your career?
I was really chuffed when I got the email back in June that I had been selected for this year’s fellowship. I’m quite aware how competitive the selection process is. So, I’m happy to be among the cohort for this year and the selection shows that my work, which highlights issues around human rights and social justice in Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa, is recognized and appreciated by the esteemed judging committee. This is an honour that means a lot to me and will inspire my career and future projects. More than ever, with this fellowship, I am committed to continue reporting human rights and social justice issues not just in Nigeria, but elsewhere on the continent.
What are you hoping to achieve during the fellowship and what are your future goals?
We are just a month into the fellowship and I feel like I’m currently having some of the best moments of my career. During this fellowship, I hope to do a deep-dive into social justice and human rights issues here in Canada, and their intersection with my work in my home country. I have already started this by taking some courses at the University of Toronto and the experience has been awesome. I have also been participating in events at Massey College and watching documentaries on Indigenous communities across the country. Last month, I attended the first annual National Truth and Reconciliation Day, which honours the children lost to residential schools in Canada.
I have plans of doing some future projects on human rights and social justice because there is a litany of such issues in Nigeria and other parts of Africa. Some African leaders run repressive regimes and often clamp down on dissenting views and the civic space. For instance, protestors are shot and killed for demanding an end to police brutality, access to health care, clean water, better welfare, and good governance, among other issues. So, I want to continue reporting on issues like these. Specifically, I have plans of setting up a newsroom dedicated to reporting human rights and social justice among marginalized communities. I personally feel telling stories like these and seeing the impact they create is very important regardless of how dangerous they are and the threats we receive along the line.
What do you wish people understood better about journalism in Nigeria?
Nigeria has a vibrant media landscape but is also a somewhat dangerous place to do journalism. There is media censorship. Newsrooms are raided by security forces, their websites and emails jammed and phones bugged while journalists are arbitrarily arrested and hunted for doing public interest stories that expose corruption and the officials involved. The civic space is currently under attack and about four months ago, the government banned the use of Twitter while citizens had to navigate the platform with VPNs. Three Nigerian journalists were killed between 2019 and 2020 while on assignments.
However, despite this and the lack of funding and resources, Nigerian newsrooms are resiliently building a culture of journalism that can hold power to account. In addition, journalists in the country work under extremely poor welfare conditions and still produce some of the best quality journalism and projects that are recognized internationally and most importantly, shine a light on issues the ruling government wants hidden.