An elated Ogunseye could not but expressed her joy when she was on Monday announced the winner of the prestigious Knight International Journalism Award.
The United States-based International Centre for Journalists awards the global prize, which has been described as journalism’s premier award, to outstanding journalists whose works make a major difference in the lives of people.
Ogunseye was named alongside Mexican freelance journalist, Alexandra Xanic von Bertrab, the first Mexican reporter to win the prestigious US journalism prize, the Pulitzer Prize.
“These journalists went the extra mile to expose health dangers. Their coverage forced governments to take strong action to protect the public well-being,” said ICFJ President Joyce Barnathan, in a statement issued by the centre on Tuesday.
Ogunseye said on Tuesday, “I am humbled and happy to be the recipient of the prestigious award. I am glad that PUNCH, which has remained steadfast about excellent journalism, has received this global recognition. This would spur me to remain true to the ideals of journalism while I mentor others to do same.”
The statement says, “Ogunseye is the youngest and first female editor in the 40-year history of PUNCH, a widely read Lagos newspaper. In a three-part series, she proved that residents in a well-to-do community in Lagos had high levels of toxins in their blood caused by pollutants from a nearby steel plant. The coverage prompted the government to shut down the plant, and to allow it to reopen only under strict new regulations.
“In another report, she disclosed that a nuclear power plant was about to be built in a poor neighbourhood. After her piece ran, citizens mobilised, sued the government and stopped construction.
“Her investigation into the death of a student who fell into a pit latrine resulted in a government initiative to replace the dangerous facilities. And her coverage of new born babies dying at a top hospital in Lagos forced the hospital to buy more incubators for high-risk infants.”
Last year, Ogunseye had won a slew of local and international awards with a three-part series on how the gases released by a steel company, Universal Steels Limited, adversely affected the health of the residents of Adekunle Fajuyi Estate, in Lagos.
The first part, ‘The rich also cry: A tale of deaths and diseases in a heavily polluted upscale estate’, focused on the concerns of the residents of the heavily polluted upper-middle class estate. The second part, ‘The rich also cry: Killer metals in the blood’ detailed the results of blood and urine tests conducted on the residents, which proved that the residents had high levels of killer doses of metals in their bodies. PUNCH, publishers of the country’s most-widely read newspaper titles, paid for the tests which were conducted at the Department of Biochemistry, University of Lagos.
The concluding part of the series, ‘The rich also cry: When investment is a curse,’ explained how government’s environmental and economic policies contributed to pollution of the estate.
“Her investigative reports thus led the state government to shut down the plant and enforce stricter regulations,” the statement says.
The ICFJ describes von Bertrab as an investigative journalist that is known for “hard-hitting reports” in Mexico.
The statement says, “One investigation revealed that fumes from gas leaking into Guadalajara sewers posed an imminent danger. Shortly after her story ran, the gases exploded, killing at least 200 people, destroying 26 city blocks, and leaving as many as 20,000 homeless.
“The winners exemplify the intent of the award, which recognises innovative journalists who are focused on informing people and uncovering the truth as a way to build stronger communities.”
The award is supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which funds ICFJ’s Knight International Journalism Fellowships programmes.
Ogunseye and von Bertrab were selected by a prestigious panel of judges, and will be honoured at ICFJ’s 30th Anniversary Awards Dinner in Washington, D.C., on November 10.
In a glittering 10-year journalism career, Ogunseye has been the recipient of 25 awards. These include the CNN MultiChoice African Journalist of the Year Awards in the MSD Health and Medical category, in 2011 and 2013; the Wole Soyinka Award for Investigative Reporting; the Nigerian Academy of Science award in 2013; the Nobert Zongo Investigative Journalism prizes, among others.
Ogunseye was recently shortlisted by the US to participate in President Barack Obama’s Young African Leadership Initiative in the US.
A statement from the US Embassy, Nigeria, announcing her selection for the highly competitive, says, “Ogunseye is an advocate for the empowerment of young people and gives self-development talks locally and internationally to young people. She is skilled in media, communications and scientific research. She holds a B.Sc. in Biochemistry from the University of Lagos, a Post Graduate Diploma in Print Journalism from the Nigerian Institute of Journalism, M.Sc. in Media and Communication from the Pan-Atlantic University and is currently studying for a Ph.D. in Politics and International Relations at the University of Leicester.”