Terrorism and treason…between Ahmad Salkida and NAN boss Bayo Onanuga
“Reporting violent terrorist acts is one of the most challenging jobs for journalists. The relationship between journalism and terrorism is complex – think of the often cited argument that the media is the oxygen that feeds terrorism,” George Ogola wrote of the Nairobi terror attack.
Terrorists create a theatre of death and destruction. The media provides them a stage at no cost. Death and blood elicit shock.
“It is about saving lives. Information, more than anything else, can save lives. That is why I chose to be a journalist and not a cop.” Ahmad Salkida, a journalist known to have the knowledge, to a large extent, on the workings of the different factions Boko Haram in Nigeria’s northeast said.
Boko Haram is a terrorist group in Nigeria which is responsible for more than 2,800 attacks and more than 31,000 reported fatalities, making it one of the world’s deadliest armed groups.
However, the managing director of News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), Bayo Onanuga, thinks Salkida should be charged with treason for his continuous reportage on the activities of the group.
“Ahmad, your tweets do not show any palpable concern about our military being targets of Boko Haram attacks. Rather you celebrate the attacks. That does not sound patriotic. It is treason,” Onanuga said on Sunday.
In his days in the newsroom – with African Concord and later The News magazine – Onanuga was a fearless and relentless crusader for free speech and fair reportage.
“In April 1992, the Concord organisation was shut down by Babangida’s administration,” Onanuga said in an interview published in PM News in June 2018.
“Because what we published in the magazine was the ‘cause’ of the shut-down, Abiola asked me to go and apologize to Babangida and Halilu Akilu, the Director of Military Intelligence. I opted to resign from African Concord.”
He was a thorn in the flesh of military juntas and time was part of a band of respectable Nigerian journalists whose guerilla journalism put the military government on their toes.
Simply put, Onanuga reported the atrocities of the military and provided information to Nigerians on the evil of the military government.
In 1997, he had to leave Nigeria through the famous NADECO route to protect himself.
But today, Onanuga, now a government appointee, thinks a journalist reporting the evil of terror groups that have killed thousands of Nigerians is treason.
“In the military era, Salkida would have been charged with accessory to a treasonable felony,” he suggested.
But this is not a military, even if the country’s current leader, has a military background. And stifling of freedom of speech was one of the reasons Onanuga and his friends pushed hard against the military.
Salkida is not a stranger to this sort of accusation. But coming from someone in the mould of Onanuga, he felt there was a need for him to respond appropriately to the “criminality crusade”.
“I was determined to ignore Bayo Onanuga and his criminality crusade…because I know that he long ceased to be a journalist of value since becoming a politician and Jagaban’s lapdog,” said Salkida in reaction to Onanuga’s accusations.
“But since stretching it by accusing me of treason I’m compelled to address it,” he added.
“He accused me of ‘always spreading Boko Haram attacks,” Salkida said. “I assume he’s beside himself because that phrase expresses that (I) am in the rank of the insurgents directing or escalating the attacks.
“It’s exactly the kind of words propagandists use to create the impression that as a reporter I have not been reporting but taking an adversary position. Then he goes further to call my action ‘treason.”
Salkida maintained that “the only thing I can say further to this is may God grant us the benefit of time over our different positions so that in the future observers and Nigerians will judge which amounts to treason: treating the lives of Nigerians as worthless and reporting what endangers the lives of Nigerians. Shame on you!”
Onanuga position is understandable: he heads an agency of the government that is in charge of information sharing. And heading such agency when the government has consistently claimed that the insurgents have been degraded or technically defeated, even when the reality is different, puts Onanuga is in a defensive position.
But it does not imply that a journalist, who chooses to consistently shed light on the activities of terror groups at the risk of his life, is a traitor against his country.
Yes, Salkida’s tweets and stories do not always do the military major favours – and yes, the job of a journalist does not include doing authorities favours – he, however, has not done anything Onanuga would not do if he were to be in his shoes.
Or did Onanuga commit treason against the government of General Sani Abacha before the junta labelled him persona non grata? Is Onanuga aware that Salkida has been threatened by Boko Haram because he is doing his job?
This government has always criticised media outfits or journalists of working for terrorist groups. Left to it, reporting the death of the Nigerian troops fighting Boko Haram would be a no-no. We have not forgotten Femi Adesina’s untrue comments that many Western countries do not release full information on the casualties suffered in wars.
Onanuga’s attack on Salkida falls into that same narrative: say nothing that will put the government on its toes.
In September, the Nigerian military accused “some journalists” of working for Boko Haram, after reports showed security forces had suffered heavy losses.
In an apparent targeting of the media, the military said it was “known that some journalists work for Boko Haram and fraternise with terrorist commanders”. The military provided no evidence backing its claim.
Terror attacks must be reported. To do otherwise would be to erode important freedoms. We must guard against the desire to clamp down on free speech and access to information. This would be a triumph for terrorists.