This Nigerian media outlet uses satire to hold the government accountable

Mar 30, 2023 in Specialized Topics
A group of Nigerians holding flags and protesting.

Elements of the cybercrime legislation that passed in Nigeria in 2015 violated citizens’ right to press freedom. 

Although the Nigerian Constitution guarantees the media’s right to "at all times, be free to uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people," journalists in the country continue to be arrested and assaulted for carrying out their work.  

In a bid to avoid suppression, one Nigerian media outlet, Punocracy, has turned to satirical reporting in an attempt to hold government officials to account.

Founding Punocracy

Investigative journalist and fact-checker Kunle Adebajo founded Punocracy in 2018, inspired to fill gaps in news coverage that he identified while reporting on police attacks against the press.

"I saw satire as a form of protest writing that hasn’t been explored a lot and there was no prominent platform at the time exclusively dedicated to its promotion and publication," said Adebajo.

The Punocracy team uses puns and wit to address societal issues. "Being an enabler of free speech through satire is key and focal to my work,” said Adedimeji Quayyim, the outlet’s editor. “Satire is largely becoming a huge panacea towards creating an enabling sphere for expression, especially in a climate where free speech is often repressed by governing institutions."

Alongside their reporting, Adebajo’s team of journalists organizes writing competitions, workshops and conferences. Often seeking to educate on the distinctions between satire and disinformation, Adebajo sees the outlet’s work as part of a larger effort to combat the spread of false information in Nigeria. 

"While fake news is misinformation meant to deceive people, satire is humor used to point to a larger social truth," he said. "I have always been interested in building a world where content creation is equitable and where we provide a stage for articles and art pieces that are not mainstream."

Highlighting injustices, and protecting contributors

Punocracy aims to popularize satire in Nigeria and improve satirical literacy among the public, Adebajo explained. Satire can furthermore be used to highlight injustices, just as this piece on extrajudicial killings by the Nigerian police sought to do. In another article, Punocracy drew the public’s attention to the irregularities that marred the recently conducted election in Nigeria.

"As a group, we also use humor to trigger political consciousness and call attention to drawbacks in our communities. One of the ways we have done this is through graphic illustrations, and our annual Person of the Year awards," said Adebajo. The competition recognizes the resilience among writers to help improve satire’s popularity among young people, especially given the lack of opportunities available to satirists. 

Given the nature of its reporting, Punocracy allows its contributors to use pseudonyms when they write to protect them from possible retaliation.

"In cases where we fear that repercussions might arise from a submitted entry, we publish under pseudonyms, and infuse more humor into the characters of the submissions to soften the impact of a fore-presumed repression," said Adebajo. "That way, we protect identities, whilst still maintaining the quality and essence of the work we publish."

Challenges and future plans 

Financial sustainability is a major challenge for Punocracy. Although the newsroom has entered into partnerships to finance specific projects, and received some grant funding, Abebajo’s personal income is largely what funds the initiative.

Looking ahead, Punocracy hopes – and intends – to reach a wider audience and to take on more ambitious reporting projects. "We want to create a community. We want to have more physical events. We want to reward writers regularly. We want to organize more projects at the intersection of satire, accountability journalism and critical thinking. We want to explore multimedia forms of humorous storytelling, and we want to expand beyond Nigeria," explained Adebajo.

He wants Punocracy to advocate against pressing issues such as sexual violence and substance abuse, and encourage gender inclusivity and equity. Through satire, Adebajo also hopes to promote critical thinking, tolerance to opposing views and open-mindedness – not just in Nigeria, but across Africa. 

"We want to have more projects that demonstrate all these possibilities through collaborations with various newsrooms, civil society groups [and] government agencies,” he said.

Photo by Emmanuel Ikwuegbu on Unsplash.