2018 Michael Elliot Award Acceptance Speech

Acceptance Speech presented by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim on receiving the Michael Elliot Award for Excellence in African Storytelling, awarded by the International Centre for Journalists and The One Campaign on May 24, 2018, in New York, USA.

Abubakar, flanked by Emma Oxford, widow of Michael Elliot (in Yellow) and Joyce Barnathan, president of ICFJ in New York during the award ceremony

Ladies and Gentlemen,
I have often found myself asking what it means to be a journalist today, in this age of technology and social media where everyone with a smart phone can tweet, blog and post about things happening in their communities, where journalism has been subjected to the fluidity of the times.
My attempts to answer this question have led me on a journey back to when I was a pimply 18-year-old who decided not to become the medical doctor his parents were hoping he would become, but instead to train as a journalist who collects the stories of other people and inscribes them in the sky for the world to read and understand.
What did I hope to achieve then with the decision I made? For one, there was the little mater of conquering the timidity that characterised my early years, to meet all sorts of people and experience the world through their eyes. But most importantly, the recognition that I could lend myself to a service greater than myself, the cause of humanity, by asking tough questions and documenting the stories that matter the most. This of course implies taking a moral position, for, as Marguerite Duras said, “Journalism without a moral position is impossible.”
This position is pertinent to journalism globally, but on a continent like Africa, where notions of social responsibility and the urgency to hold leaders to account are the rule, it takes on a special significance.
So we report about the billions looted by public officials, of the hundreds killed in various senseless attacks, of the two million people that have been displaced by Boko Haram.
In our eagerness to do this job we often forget our other roles as journalists; that of reminding ourselves of our collective humanity, of the fact that news sources are not just numbers or statistics or faceless entities on the front pages, but that they are humans with names and dreams and stories. That in the final analysis, they are just different versions of us.
We forget that within these two million displaced persons there is Saadatu Musa, a mother of nine, who is still waiting for her husband’s return, two years after he was taken by soldiers after he had led his family to safety when their village had been attacked.
We forget that amongst these two million there is Zahra Mohammed who was seized by Boko Haram from her sick mother’s bedside, and that her heart was broken when her two-year-old daughter fell from her back and snapped her neck while trying to flee her captors.
So journalism for me is identifying brave women and men like these from those numbers and sharing their stories with the world, to remind ourselves of our failings, the people we have failed and the lives they had and lost. It is our obligation to not only hold leadership accountable, but also to remind ourselves that we are accountable for the privilege of our humanity.
It is clear that Michael Elliot felt this sense of responsibility as a journalist and acted on it. He also took this moral stand and went beyond the call of his duty to alter the human condition through his humanitarian gestures and championing storytelling as a tool for empowerment.
It is for this reason that I am extremely delighted and genuinely honoured to stand before you tonight to receive this award which bears the name of this distinguished gentleman. It is tremendously gratifying to be recognised for the work one does. I hope this will inspire other African journalists to take ownership of our stories, the ones that matter to us the most, and how these stories are told.
Thank you.

One thought on “2018 Michael Elliot Award Acceptance Speech

  1. This is a very thoughtful and touching speech. Thoughtful because it focuses on our collective responsibility and the promise that we can make a little difference if we do more than whine and point accusing fingers at others on social media. It is also touching because it was a global speech which nevertheless maintained its local appeal. The speech was itself a piece of journalism.

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