How I rejected offers to interview Boko Haram leader, Shekau — ‘Wanted’ Nigerian journalist

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Ahmad Salkida is amongst the three persons declared wanted on Sunday by the Nigerian Army for their alleged ties to Boko Haram sect.

One of the reasons given by the Army for its announcement was that Mr. Salkida and the two others, Ahmed Bolori, and Aisha Wakil, used their access to Boko Haram to distribute propaganda materials for the sect while refusing to give military and other authorities useful information that could help in the war against the terrorism.

The Army declared the three wanted a few hours after the latest Boko Haram videoemerged on Sunday. They would be charged under Terrorism (Prevention) Act, 2011.

But Mr. Bolori and Ms. Wakil said they made efforts to submit themselves to the military authorities on Sunday and Monday morning but no one was available to take them in for interrogations.

On August 8, Mr. Salkida had a Twitter “hangout” with Farooq Kperogi, an associate professor of journalism at Kennesaw State University, United States.

Mr. Salkida asked Mr. Kperogi’s opinion about the challenges he’s been facing since he became an authority on the activities of Boko Haram sect, especially the ethical questions around his access to the terror group’s hierarchy.

The tweets were curated on this website by Mukhtar Dan’iyan, a security analyst, from where they were adapted for this Q&A.

Mr. Salkida: Thank you for the opportunity to ask you questions about journalism. Let me start with some background on my person and work?

Mr. Kperogi: Interesting. I think I am familiar with your professional profile and your reporting on Boko Haram.

Mr. Kperogi: Didn’t you also report for Blueprint Newspapers?

Mr. Salkida: I’ve worked as a reporter with the Insider Weekly, Crystal Magazines and New Sentinel for about four years before. I even dispatched the first ever report on Boko Haram in 2006. As expected I stayed on the story because I believe it holds potential for a major news break.

Despite little interest by many editors. I remained persistent which earned me to acquire invaluable sources. I became the lone journalist with rare access to Boko Haram. I can get all the scoops I asked, but out of fear I introduced some reporters or forfeit my scoops to avoid being considered as too close to the sources. Sadly, that was how I ended up being viewed with suspicion.

I have on several occasions declined to even interview Shekau, an opportunity any journalist will run for, but as someone who was nearly summarily executed and arrested several times for my reports, I always turned down. Yes, I reported, I started with my career trajectory before the Boko Haram story broke.

Sir, is having access to sources in Boko Haram for the use of writing reports unethical?

Mr. Kperogi: It is not only ethical, it is also praiseworthy. So long as your access is not a consequence of your membership of the group, it is ethical. Then there is nothing even remotely unethical about your access to the group. You should be commended, not threatened.

Mr. Salkida: I’v come under threats to betray my sources, even when I made it clear it won’t end the war, what can you say?

Mr. Kperogi: Good, ethical journalists protect the confidentiality of their sources.They’d rather go to jail than reveal their sources.

Mr. Salkida: My interest is only (with emphasis) to report as accurately as possible, nothing more.

Why I am I singled out for attacks and not my editors or publishers for my exclusive reports?

Mr. Kperogi: I wouldn’t know. Perhaps it’s because the exclusive access to Boko Haram is limited to you.

Mr. Salkida: Is telling two sides to a story in a war unethical in journalism? If it’s ok, why the lack of interest?

Mr. Kperogi: Journalists have an obligation to reflect all the sides of a story, not just two sides. But there is always a clash between the needs of govt/security agencies and the public’s need to know.

Mr. Salkida: I stayed on the story, I built a network of sources without betraying my sources, it is dificult for anyone to beat me on this.

I can go to Sambisa now to interview Shekau at my own risk, is this a journalistic feat or a crime?

I have also been contacted to negotiate in the past by Govt, is this part of a reporter’s social responsibility?

Mr. Kperogi: That is commendable. It is not a crime. It is commendable journalistic bravado.

Mr. Salkida: I’ve predicted nearly everything right, like female suicide bombers in April 2012, but why do I get scorn even by journalists? Journalists have slandered me far more than security agents.

It was a journo that wrote a petition against my residency in exile. Is it fair enough that I hardly collaborate with journalists in reporting Boko Haram because of this?

Mr. Kperogi: It is not–in the traditional sense of a journalist’s duties, but in the norms of conflict-sensitive reporting, it may be. Maybe professional jealousy?

It is natural to harbor suspicions of your colleagues if you’ve been a victim of their vicious professional jealousy. But in the interest of the reading public–and of journalism itself–it would help to ignore them.

Mr. Salkida: What is the red line for a journalist with professional access to a terror group?

Mr. Kperogi: We need peace in Nigeria, and if it would take your intervention to bring this about, why not?

Mr. Salkida: I’ve tried to stick to verifiable claims, reason why I have many materials I obtained, but never (with emphasis) published.

Mr. Kperogi: 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.

Remember that your reporting can make or break the nation, so be sensitive to what you report on.

Mr. Salkida: You were once a reporter, editor and now teacher of journalism what is your advice to me and others reporting conflicts?

Mr. Kperogi: I facilitated a British Council-sponsored workshop on conflict sensitive reporting for Nigerian journalists late last year. I will be glad to share resources with people who want to learn more about conflict sensitive reporting.

Mr. Salkida: Honoured for the chance to ask you these questions. Your advice has been taken. You have inspired me greatly, sir!

Mr. Kperogi: It is my pleasure. Best wishes.

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