Editor's note: A public affairs commentator, Charles Ibekwe writes on the controversy surrounding popular freelance journalist and blogger, Ahmed Salkida, especially as regards his close relationship with the leaders of the dreaded Boko Haram sect.
A Nigerian freelance journalist and blogger, Ahmed Salkida is in the news again. Last year, the Nigerian Army declared Salkida and the duo of Ahmed U. Bolori as well as a woman, Aisha Wakil wanted for their suspected links with the Islamist group, Boko Haram. The matter is still on the cards. But of the trio, Salkida appears to suspiciously cultivate, nourish and sustain anti-state links with the Boko Haram terrorists in the guise of journalism.
About Boko Haram news, trust Salkida. He is always the first to break it and first receives it exclusively before any other journalist.
Talk of scooping news, the passion of journalists. He must really be a brainy and investigative journalist, if this level of nexus with the deadly terror sect is all about serving the ends of journalism and public interest. But it is doubtful and somewhat deceptive whether these are what navigate his outing on terrorism reportage.
The Nigerian military devoted its heart and soul to the anti-terrorism campaigns before Boko Haram terrorists were defeated. Disseminated information is power. And if propaganda is tilted in favour of enemies of the state, the criminals would be encouraged and energized to execute more evil plots.
In the scenario of Salkida and BHTs, the best interpretation of the roles he has played over the years seems more of propagating terrorists’ activities, an indication of the extent of his romance with them. Every day, the illumination his actions brandish, suspiciously go beyond professional limits, patriotism to his country, the innocence and neutrality of a journalist as defined by ethical codes.
Salkida rarely reports Nigerian military’s exploits or subjugation of BHTs. At each time, he is motivated to write in traditional media or blog on social media, it is the interests of terrorists he promotes against Nigeria and her peoples.
Nigeria is a country swimming in laws. But the ability to enforce it has been a nagging problem. Nigeria has the Terrorism Prevention Act 2011 (as amended) which has been operative since 2011. And clauses in the law frown at such suspicious romance with terrorists, as flaunted by Salkida. It is responsible for action of some Nigerians in court to compel security agents and necessary authorities to arraign Salkida before a competent court of law to explain his innocence or get blown up by his own antics.
These Nigerians under the aegis of The Incorporated Trustees of Overt Legacy and Human Development Initiative have filed suit FHC/ABJ/CS/416/2017 on May 15, 2017, at a Federal High Court in Abuja. It seeks to compel the Inspector General of Police (IGP), the Director-general of Department of State Service and the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice to arrest and prosecute Salkida alongside his Boko Haram sympathizers.
The latest spark came from what the group believed to be an inciting video Salkida again posted on his Twitter handle on May 12, and further circulated by an online medium, disclosing plans by Boko Haram Terrorists to bomb the FCT Abuja and other cities in Nigeria, after the release of the 82 Chibok girls. The organization interpreted it as " inciting video Salkida again posted on his Twitter handle on May 12, and further circulated by an online medium, disclosing plans by Boko Haram Terrorists to bomb the FCT Abuja and other cities in Nigeria, after the release of the 82 Chibok girls. The organization interpreted it as "attempting to dislodge the government of Nigeria contrary to section 5 of the Terrorism (Prevention) (Amendment) Act, 2013."
Salkida may have been performing his professional duties, as watchdog of the society. But there are several loopholes in his sustained disposition in reporting Boko Haram terrorism and public interest in Nigeria. The Nigerian Army proclaimed this much when it declared the trio wanted about a video Sakilda posted on his Twitter where BH factional leader, Abubakar Shekau displayed the Chibok schoolgirls held in captivity by the insurgents.
The Army claimed, Salkida averred, the said video on his Twitter was “sent exclusively to him before the sect uploaded it to YouTube”. And Shekau said in the video in question that Boko Haram would only negotiate with the Nigerian government through journalists closely associated with the sect. This reveals an unusual friendship with the sect at least, on the face value.
And eventually Salkida made up the government team of negotiators with BHTs, under the presidency of Goodluck Jonathan. And the rest is history. So, the group is seeking to know the extent of Ahmed Salkida’s closeness to Boko Haram terrorists to the extent of enjoying their confidence for negotiation and whether this closeness does not run antithetical to the Terrorism Prevention Act 2011 (as amended).
The same suspicion still rages. On August 8, 2016, Ahmed Salkida had a Twitter chat with a journalist and United States-based university teacher, at Kennesaw State University, Associate Professor of Journalism, Mr. Farooq Kperogi. This was at the heat of the declaration of Ahmed Salkida and two others wanted by the Nigerian Army after investigations allegedly linked them to BHTs.
In the chat, Salkida raised several issues for clarification from Kperogi. But the highpoints of the Twitter chat with the Professor can be discerned from these excerpts from the chat as he sought to know whether he was wrong for stopping the syndication of BHTs stories to colleagues’ because of their persecution of him;
Kperogi replied: “It is not – in the traditional sense of a journalist’s duties, but in the norms of conflict-sensitive reporting, it may be…”
Salkida asked again; “What is the red line for a journalist with professional access to a terror group?”
Kperogi replied: “Don’t propagate their willful propaganda that you know to be false. Don’t join them. That’s commendable. It’s a cardinal ethical principle in journalism that we not report on what we’ve not verified. Be faithful to the facts, let accuracy and verifiability be your watchwords, report all sides to a conflict avoid perpetrating stereotypes, reach out to be people who want to bring about peace, not just the war mongers…”
Salkida and two others were declared wanted by the Nigerian military last year
Salkida cannot claim in all honesty that he has complied with this advice from this knowledgeable counselor and professor of journalism. Salkida’s recent video posting where a recently released Boko Haram commander, Shuaibu Moni, swapped in exchange for the 82 Chibok girls was featured and the threats issued, are suspicious willful propaganda for terrorists.
The second leg of the counsel to Salkida was the necessity to stick to facts, accuracy and verifiability of his reportage. By Tweeting the video, it means, he is sure and can verify the threats of the terrorists as real against the Nigerian state? How did he get to know the veracity of the threats or the possibility of its occurrence? It means, he is in a position to disclose when the terrorists want to strike, the level of their readiness and so on.
Furthermore, in the text of a speech Salkida presented at a forum in Dakar, Senegal, published on April 1, 2012, titled, “Reporting Terrorism in Africa: A personal Experience With Boko Haram,” he divulged very interesting insights. He spoke of his relationship with the founder and pioneer leader of Boko Haram, Mohammed Yusuf, which he tied to his interest in reporting their initial activities. According to him, security agents who were supposed act on his reports to nip the potentially explosive rebellion rather persecuted him.
However, Salkida narrated how the relationship has blossomed since then. He averred; “Soon, ours became a relationship, but for me it was simply the relationship between a reporter and a vital news source. It was a relationship defined by mutual respect”.
And thereafter, the Salkida’s relationship with the sect and its leaders has been sustained all through to Abubakar Shekau, after Yusuf’s death. And he further disclosed how they release to him information prior to their heinous mass attacks, like in the instance of the current video. He explained, “The sect, for instance, made known its planned mayhem of July 2009 to me hours before they attacked. I hinted the local authorities but they were simply not interested in what seemed to them the outrageous ranting of some obscure clerics”.
But it’s doubtful whether Boko Haram terrorists in Nigeria have such sacred links with other journalists who report terrorism like Salkida. He dreads betraying terrorists, but appears more delighted in betraying Nigerian state and compromising national security.
It is understandable that from 2006 when Salkida published his first newspaper article on Mohammad Yusuf to the peak of Boko Haram terrorism in 2009, and before May 2015, he would have reported terrorism from all sides as Professor Kperogi would later counsel. That was the era terrorists went berserk, striking unhindered and triumphed against security agents as exemplified by the fabled “tactical withdrawal” of troops in the face of terrorists superior power at the battlefield.
But since President Muhammedu Buhari became Nigeria’s leader and Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusuf Buratai appointed the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) to lead the counter-insurgency, the narrative changed. Nigerian troops began by decapitating the terrorists, reclaimed captured territories, arrested scores, including commanders’, sheer military might forced many others into surrender and the eventual defeat, with the capture of Sambisa forest. For 18 months or more, Nigerian military has been beyond suppression by these terrorists.
And with the level of confidence enjoyed by Salkida among the sect leaders and followers, it is unlikely for him to have reported the military exploits of Nigerian troops against Boko Haram insurgents, such as reporting the army’s capture of their commanders in battle. If he had done it, the confidence terrorists reposed in him would has eclipsed, and they would have probably blown off his skull long ago. Remember that Abubakar Shekau coldly murdered lieutenants he accused of betraying the sect’s cause.
Professionally, Salkida is challenged to show his published news or tweets on the strings of episodes, leading to the military’s courageous defeat of BHTs, like he delights in publishing their propaganda about plots of impending attacks.
These lacunas in his narrations and disposition have heightened the suspicion of the Group, which is pushing for a legal action against him. In the Tweet of May 12, did Salkida care to get the reaction of the Nigerian authorities before posting the video which would have reflected the two sides of the story?
In Africa, it is not only Nigeria that is plagued by terrorism. But the difference in Salkida’s case is the perceived deep-rooted passion and attachment to terrorists’ propaganda against national security or public interest, which many fear violates extant laws on curbing terrorism in Nigeria. Nigerians are waiting for his trial for these suspicions to be cleared.
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