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NAN boss Bayo Onanuga accuses journalist of treason over reporting on Boko Haram

Onanuga no longer a journalist of value... but politician's lapdog - Salkida replies

BAYO Onanuga, managing director of News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) has accused  freelance journalist Ahmad Salkida of committing treason due to his “precise knowledge of Boko Haram ,” the Islamic terror group fighting to control territories in north-eastern Nigeria.

He made the accusation in a tweet on Sunday.

“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,” wrote Onanuga, a fellow of the Nigerian Guild of Editors and a member of the World Association of Newspapers.

His tweet attracted wide negative reactions on the social network on Monday, with many people expressing surprise that such accusation could come from a senior journalist who gained recognition for his courageous reporting against the military administrations between 1980s and 1990s.

Ironically, Onanuga suggested that Salkida would have been locked up in prison if he was reporting during the military governance.

“In the military era, Salkida would have been charged with accessory to a treasonable felony,” he wrote in defence of his earlier tweet.

Onanuga who was the editor of the defunct African Concord magazine went into exile in December 1997 when he faced persecution from the military government of Sani Abacha.

Although he was criticised for raising a baseless allegation against a fellow younger journalist, Onanuga stood his ground.

“All those who resort to abuses, you are not journalists. When someone reports with precise knowledge of Boko Haram terrorists, their movements and attacks, he could only have been privy to the organisation’s modus operandi. Think: is he embedded with the terrorists in Borno?”

The ICIR called Onanuga on phone twice but he did not answer. He also did not reply a text message, asking what exactly made Salkida’s reporting of Boko Haram treasonable and the instances of such treasonable offences by the journalist.

Many people who replied Onanuga on the tweets were shocked that such allegation could come from an award-winning journalist who has been celebrated for his fearless reporting during the military era.

“As in, it’s finished. To learn that your yesterday heroes were just a scam,” wrote Olúseun Onígbińdé, co-founder of BudgIT, expressing displeasure over Onanuga’s allegation.

Other tweets have also condemned Onanuga’s reference to treason in describing Salkida’s work.

Chioma Agwuegbo, the founder of TechHer NG, replied him: “Treason? Really Sir? Isn’t that a bit too heavy a word to bandy about? What’s so horrible about a citizen asking the military to reflect on its recent losses against Boko Haram (which is supposed to have been ‘technically defeated’ by the way) so it can reposition for victory?”

Another Twitter user, Edith Yassin also cautioned Onanuga: “Treason is a very heavy word, an accusation that should never be made without substance. Granted, @A_Salkida has his peculiar style but he has stayed consistent in his reportage. #JournalismIsNotACrime.”

Pius Adesanmi, a Nigerian professor based in Canada, also tweeted in support of Salkida’s work.

“Thank you,@A_Salkida, for the work that you do for the love of country. What the establishment and their mouthpieces think of you is of no moment, completely inconsequential. What matters: the beating, grateful hearts of the people you serve,” Adesanmi wrote.

‏Ahmad Salkida, a freelance journalist who has reported exclusively and extensively about Boko Haram’s attacks, said he was not surprised by Onanuga’s accusation because of what he has come to represent. Though Salkida had been previously accused of working with the insurgents and had been interrogated by security agencies.

“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. But since stretching it by accusing me of treason I’m compelled to address it,” Salkida said.

Jagaban is widely used to refer to Bola Tinubu, chieftain of ruling All Progressives Congress and former governor of Lagos State. Tinubu, who owns The Nation newspaper and TV Continental, is alleged to have influenced the appointment of Onanuga as MD of NAN by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2016.

“He accused me of ‘always spreading Boko Haram attacks,” Salkida said.  “I assume he’s beside himself because that phrase expresses that 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.

“This is someone who claims to be journalist and perhaps a member of the guild of editors. Reporting the frequent loss of Nigerian lives is what Bayo calls treason. 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!”

Salkida told The ICIR that contrary to the allegation of not condemning the attacks by Boko Haram, he said, “I can send you tons of reports and tweets where I condemned the group and was even threatened by the group.”

He said he could only report the facts available to him. “I can only report the scoops that I get. Has the military ever given me scoops and I turned down? Are reporters supposed to show concern as Bayo said or to report facts? People accused me of not calling soldiers ‘gallant troops’. Is this what reporters are supposed to do?

“If I am not a professional, I won’t be tweeting now. I was either arrested, invited or detained 73 times since 2009. I am used to having problems with people in government and being loved by the opposition. And when the opposition gets into office, everything changes. This is an indication that I have remained consistent. For me, it is not about individuals or politicians. 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.”

This is not the first time Onanuga is attracting wide criticism on social media for a controversial statement.

After he was appointed MD of NAN in 2016, he wrote on Facebook to dismiss the hardship Nigerians were experiencing as a result of economic recession. He used his daughter’s flight to London to paint a picture of a buoyant economy.

“My daughter was on the Virgin Atlantic flight that took off from Lagos to London today. I asked her to find out whether the plane was filled up or going to London near empty judging by the noisy campaign from a section of the country about the ‘hardship’ in our country,” he wrote.

“My daughter sent back this one-line text, after boarding: ‘Daddy, the flight was filled up o’. This makes me to wonder whether all the seeming orchestrated campaign in the media was not mere propaganda to make the Buhari regime look really bad.”


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