Times have changed in Nigeria and investigative journalism, once the talisman that freed truth from darkness, is now hardly at work. But Andy Briggs is bringing hope. Astute journalist and publisher, Briggs has dug into the unlit corporate depths of Jim Ovia, powerful businessman and founder of Zenith Bank. From the investigation, he has published a book awaiting release, titled “The Godfather of Banking.”
Which unsettles Mr Ovia, who has gone to court seeking an interlocutory injunction to stop the release of the book. The second hearing of the case is slated for late April, and Ovia is alleging that the book is an invasion of his privacy and therefore must be stopped. At his personal cost, Andy Briggs has assembled what is perhaps Nigerian banking’s most illustrious story, one which, by virtue of its public significance, ought to be told. He is again to incur legal costs on behalf of a largely altruistic pursuit.
Indeed Mr Ovia is entitled to his privacy, but not in his capacity as a manager of public funds contributed by Nigerian shareholders. He can sue for libel if the contents of the book merit such a charge. But he cannot stop a story of public interest, a fundamental right to free speech, and a journalistic insight into his banking journey.
For the most part his story has been inspiring: brilliance, enterprise, and power. There is no illumination on the deeper and more personal trajectories of his banking career. More opaque is the story of his collaborations—who are the co-founders of Zenith Bank, and to what extent did they facilitate the production of the Jim Ovia phenomenon? There is perhaps no need to interfere with this press freedom, except the book holds some promise in dangerous and monumental revelation.
While the court begins the determination of this case, such judicial redress does not preclude the expression of public opinion. To that extent, one is free to think aloud and wonder what motivations are driving this zealous, even if legal attempt at censorship. As young people in need of heroes and stories, many of us have often queried why most of Nigeria’s wondrous billionaires leave neither some biography nor any open clues into the stories of their becoming. Most western billionaires have their stories splashed all over the internet, documented to the last detail both for public inspiration and for social, if not corporate accountability.
I am writing this, not in support of Andy Briggs, but in support of freedom and truth. In support of openness and justice. And in support of investigative journalism, that agency active in all decent societies which, given its due, can perform the much-needed surveillance on power.