Significance of September 6: From Nigerian Army Declaring Me Wanted To Shaping HumAngle
“It was supposed to be a general interest publication, but considering my long and rough experience with the Nigerian security sector, the escalating insecurity across the country, and the media blackhole surrounding various dimensions of the conflicts, it made more sense for it to be a niche platform.”
On Sept. 6, five years ago, I landed in Abuja on an Emirates flight from the UAE after the Nigerian Army declared me a wanted man on Aug. 14, 2016. I heard the news on Al Jazeera before I began to receive calls from friends and family.
I was very shocked because I had a chat with the Chief of Army Staff less than two weeks before the embarrassing declaration by the Army under his leadership. According to the Army spokesman at the time, my crime was that I knew where the Chibok Girls were and refused to share their location with the military.
The initial reasons given were ridiculous because, as Joe Parkinson and Drew Hinshaw documented in their new book: Bring Back Our Girls, I played a critical role in several attempts to rescue the girls.
The Nigerian Army was not interested in many of my efforts in providing insights and opportunities for a de-escalation of the crisis from 2012 to date. On behalf of the Nigerian government, I had engaged with the leadership of the non-state actors several times.
But why was I on self-exile outside the country in the first place? In March 2013, I had fled Abuja to live in the beautiful city of Sharjah with my family after a failed assassination attempt on my life by some rogue security officials in Abuja.
For the records, I dispatched the first newspaper article on Muhammad Yusuf, the founder of Boko Haram, on July 23, 2006. Since then, my extensive reporting of the conflict has always been at variance with the security mindset we have in the country.
Security officials continue to miss the fuse that has turned the country into a ghost of itself, and political leaders don’t understand that the military will continue to fail as long as bad governance persists at all levels of government.
At the airport in Abuja on Sept. 6, 2016, the military that still views me as a virulent critic and the Department of State Services (DSS) that seems to have taken an interest in my professional career almost had a fistfight about who was going to take me away. The military ended up whisking me from the airport.
During the interrogation, no logical explanation was given for why I was declared a wanted man. Moreover, much of the information they have about me was embarrassingly wrong. I even asked one of my interrogators at some point to use the Google search engine.
I was released the following morning to the DSS, which immediately gave me access to my phone and took me to a hotel to rest. I was released without any indictment, and the media that was on overdrive earlier with the bad news went to sleep when I was free to go.
My family had no option but to return to Abuja, leaving behind everything we had worked for in Sharjah. However, the UAE will not let me in without official communication from the Nigerian authorities, which has not been provided to date.
Back in Abuja, we started life again, and I began raising funds to birth HumAngle. At the time, it wasn’t a new idea. I had created a Twitter account for HumAngle as far back as 2014. It was supposed to be a general interest publication. Still, considering my long and rough experience with the Nigerian security sector, the escalating insecurity across the country, and the media blackhole surrounding various dimensions of the conflicts, it made more sense for it to be a niche platform.
So, when I, together with Dr Obiora Chukwumba, founded HumAngle, the focus was to produce a unique platform that would predominantly report insecurity and conflict, starting with the Lake Chad countries.
I reached out to Chief Bisong Etahoben in Cameroon, whom I met in Dakar, Senegal, in 2012 and quickly started bringing together a diverse team of professionals and promising interns.
I gathered all resources I could to get the ball rolling. Then the COVID-19 pandemic came immediately after we launched, and many of my revenue sources shrunk. To date, the pandemic has had apparent effects not only on the outfit but on me. This is especially since I have had to balance bringing up my children in an environment unfamiliar to them and running HumAngle.
The project grants began to trickle in but have only defrayed about 40 per cent of the costs of running the media company. Providing the remaining 60 per cent in the era of COVID and insecurity means me and my family have had to make adjustments. I got a donation, borrowed money from willing friends, sold my only piece of land, sold my car, and got married to HumAngle.
It is a battle I promised to fight with everything I had, and I couldn’t afford to lose. I firmly believe that one of the biggest loopholes the military used against me in 2016 was that I had no affiliation with any media institution beyond my microblog on Twitter. I was a freelance journalist, and freelance journalists are sitting ducks in this part of the world.
Setting up the newsroom with a diverse team to focus on insecurity and conflict in the region, using the most innovative solutions, fastened the transition from Ahmad Salkida to HumAngle Media. I was never a media executive; I was never a fundraiser; I remained an introverted person. Yet, I do not doubt that HumAngle will be recognised as a global media brand a few years from now. This is because the brand has achieved so much with very little.
And, as an autodidact, it wasn’t difficult for me to adjust quickly; as the Editor, Chief Executive Officer, I steered the company to an enviable position in the media ecosystem in Nigeria and the rest of Africa.
However, the process that has made HumAngle what outsiders now see as a beautiful bride endured many thorns, sleepless nights, negative profiling by some professional colleagues, harassment and threats by officials and non-state actors.
When my late mum told me that I would come out of the ordeal stronger and better after being declared wanted, I did not imagine that a forceful return to Nigeria would prepare me to birth what is today one of the most vibrant and fastest-growing newsrooms in Africa.
I am glad to have brought together and worked with a group of young men and women, a few of whom have left to start careers elsewhere. I am glad to have held up the conducive environment for them to be innovative and do things differently from the average newsroom in Nigeria. I am proud of the incredible work of my team. And I will forever remain indebted to my family, who have sacrificed the most for HumAngle to have the much-needed resources and my time, which the company needs to thrive.
With the benefit of hindsight, I do not regret my first steps from that Emirate flight on the 6th of September. Everyone can draw strength from every challenge they face. I am glad that I did not let obstacles bring me down; I fought through them and survived.
I hope Nigeria and Africa will find the peace and security we yearn so much for but have been deprived of so that publications like HumAngle will move from reporting the impacts of wars to reporting the gains of peace.