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Adenuga, Lukman, Diezani… Olojede lists the powerful Nigerians who killed NEXT

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Olojede

Pervasive corruption and the attitude of Nigerians who are not shocked by scandals make it difficult for investigative journalism to thrive in the country, Dele Olojede, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, has said.

Speaking in an interview with Feyi Fawehinmi, translated by the Premium Times, Olojede, a former Foreign Editor of New York Newsday who started moribund investigative newspaper, NEXT, said the corrupt elites conspired to kill the newspaper for embarking on high-profile investigations into the shady deals of Nigerian businessmen and politicians.

Unfortunately, Nigerians who were supposed to take up agitation following the revelations did nothing.

The endemic corruption and stifling political climate led to the death of NEXT in 2011, a paper founded in 2008 with a grand vision to beam the searchlight for cleaning up and straightening Nigeria through investigative journalism.

Olojede wanted to replicate, in Nigeria, the standard of  investigative journalism he practised in the US, but a wide range of peculiar socioeconomic issues prevented his vision from materialising in Nigeria.

Investigations into the tax evasion of Mike Adenuga, Chairman of telecommunication giants Globacom; and other investigations of corruptions in the oil industry led to the death of NEXT.

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Olojede said Adenuga sent intermediaries to pressure him into killing a story that involved the wealthy man’s companies unpaid taxes totalling N100 billion.

“We said we were not in the business of killing stories and that the best we could do for him was to give him a chance to state his own side. He refused and we refused, so we had a stalemate,” Olojede said.

“By Monday morning, he had pulled all the ads of Glo and everything from NEXT! And of course anyone who does business with Glo or with any part of his empire who advertised with NEXT was now in trouble. So these were the ways they were able to put pressure on us.”

After the incident, the paper went on to do other big investigations involving the then minsters of petroleum, Rilwan Lukman and Diezani Alison-Madueke, which finally led to its death due to political and business pressures.

Of some of the papers works, including the famous revelation that then President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was brain-dead, Olojede said: “Yeah. I remember very clearly when this thing came out, even some of my directors, these were guys who were all very excited, very proud about the work NEXT was doing.

“But even this one shook everybody, so they called me, ‘Are you sure about this?’ Because everybody knew if this wasn’t true this was trouble. So I just said to them, I said: ‘Guys, let us agree when it comes to making money and so on, you guys are better than me. When it comes to this journalism business, I think you have to take my lead; that we know what we are doing. And all’.

“I would say is this, ‘if somebody tells what we have done was false, tell them to produce the President. The people would like to see him’. I said in fact, nobody would be happier than us if they produced him hale and hearty. And of course, we knew they couldn’t! We had researched this to a till so we knew the guy was gone and wasn’t coming back. And of course, that was exactly what happened.

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“In hindsight, that was the peak of NEXT. After that, even though we began to do a series of truly extraordinary investigations into Diezani Alison-Madueke’s Ministry of Petroleum and all the fraud they were committing, we had video, we had audio, we had source documents. we published the whole thing; that was the final death knell to NEXT!

“Because they realized then, after sending intermediaries to offer me an ungodly amount of bribe and we’d laughed them out of the room, they then decided these guys were not reasonable. So they pulled the plug!
They blackmailed First Bank and so on. First Bank reneged on our agreement for us to repay the loan. They pulled the loan, advertisers fled and we were basically isolated and the writing was on the wall that we could no longer sustain the enterprise. So that’s how we slowly now bled to death over the course of 2011.”

Author profile

Chikezie can be reached at comeje@icirnigeria.org. Follow him on Twitter: @KezieOmeje

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