Will Fitzgibbon moves from ICIJ to The Examination – Reflections on a career and friendship

WIth WIll on the lawns of the WITS Science Stadium having that momentous conversation leading to West Africa Leaks project.

Anyone who is familiar with the Panama Papers, Paradise Papers, West Africa Leaks and other global investigative journalism collaborations, would know the name Will Fitzgibbon. For about nine years, Fitzgibbon worked with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) as a reporter. He was also ICIJ’s coordinator for Africa and the Middle East.

The Australian journalist who settled in the United States after an internship in that country, is a passionate investigative journalist, whose incisive and thorough investigative reports have resonated around the world.

His position at ICIJ made him work with journalists and media across the continent, including the Ghana Business News.

I first met Will in South Africa in 2016 during the African Investigative Journalism Conference (AIJC) in Johannesburg. It was easier for us to connect, because even though I didn’t have direct access to Panama Papers at that time, I had keenly followed it and did a number of reports on the leaks – then the first and largest investigative journalism collaboration of its kind in the world. Panama Papers was published in April 2016.

A year latter in 2017, Will contacted me on Twitter and asked if I would be interested in a project ICIJ was planning. “Why not?” I said.

Sitting on the lawns at the WITS Science Stadium on a cold but sunny day, we had a meeting during lunch break at that year’s AIJC. We spoke about the possibility of the West Africa Leaks project. The largest investigative journalism project in West Africa started taking shape, followed by a meeting some months later in Dakar, Senegal.

The work itself, West Africa Leaks, won a couple of awards in the US, made impact and led to some backlash at some of the journalists who worked on the project. Our partners in Benin and Liberia were the hardest hit. Ignace Sossou of Benin was targeted by his government, accused of cyber offences after he had reported a public speech by the country’s public prosecutor. He had apparently been marked for punishment for his work on West Africa Leaks that exposed a French-Beninese businessman of tax avoidance – he was jailed for his work. He spent some six months in prison for doing journalism. In Liberia, Alloysious David lost his job at the newspaper that he worked on before the project. The paper also didn’t publish the investigation he did on the project, a rival newspaper published it. The investigation found that a woman close to the former President Helen Sirleaf-Johnson was having a free pass in the mining industry.

The team of extra-ordinary journalists that Will put together for the West Africa Leaks project, in my view remains some of the best of the top cream of West Africa’s investigative reporters, and the best of humans within the journalism network I have met.

In a WhatsApp message early Wednesday February 1, 2023, Will announced to me he was leaving ICIJ to The Examination.

“Good morning, Emmanuel. I’m writing with a little update on my end – I wanted to let you know personally. After nine years, I am leaving ICIJ to explore new opportunities. I will be working for a new investigative non-profit, The Examination. It will focus on public health and be cross-border…

So we may well have the chance to collaborate again. In any case, thank you for all your friendship and professionalism over these years. From taking photos in Accra to welcoming me to your country and offering advice on all kinds of things about journalism in the region, you have always been a rock for me and for ICIJ’s growth. Let’s stay in touch,” he wrote.

I didn’t know what to feel. But happy for Will and for The Examination. Will is a formidable journalist and will be very key in the growth of The Examination. They are lucky to have him and I wish him well on this journey.

I can recall memories with Will, in Ghana, across the continent and other parts of the world, at conferences, at lunch, dinner and project meetings, and I look forward to more memories in his new role as the circumstances would allow.

By Emmanuel K Dogbevi
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