His last message to me came on April 1, 2013. I wish it were, but it was not an April fool’s message. Dear Mr Yawe, he wrote:
“After years of seeking ways and alternatives to working professionally and remaining with my family in Nigeria, I am afraid to report that I came recently to the conclusion that I have to flee. After my most recent expose on the scandal going in respect of purported ceasefire negotiated between government and Boko Haram, the danger to my life has escalated to new heights. I have had to go severely underground for several weeks leading to my final decision to flee Nigeria.”
That was how my friend of over ten years, Ahmad Salkida, announced his departure from Nigeria to me and other chosen friends of his. Boko Haram has gone international from the obscure group that Ahmed Salkida sent the first ever newspaper dispatch on in 2006 and we had it published by New Sentinel. I was then the Managing Editor of the paper and Salkida was our reporter, covering Borno State. We shall return to Salkida in a moment.
The handling of Boko Haram by the security agencies reminds me of some bizarre experiences I have had in my years as a newspaper reporter. In 1986, I was an editor in the Triumph group in Kano when I encountered an Ibo man with the unusual name of Goddy Nassarawa. His story, which he wanted published, was even more unusual.
He told us he was hired in Ibadan by one Professor Olatubosun to assassinate Col. Yohanna Madaki, then the military governor of Gongola. As incredible as his story sounded, he had hard evidence to back it up. We secured his assurance to help the security agencies when they came calling (as we were sure they would); then we published the story.
No security man ever showed up to check if we had evidence to publish Goddy Nassarawa’s story. Many months after I left the newspaper to work elsewhere, I was told some comic looking policemen went there to ask after Goddy Nassarawa!
Here were we, a government owned newspaper, very popular at the time, carrying the story that a repented gun man with the original mission to assassinate a state governor was roving round town with his weapon and the police were not interested!
Again I was to witness a similar security lapse during the Dariye days as governor of Plateau. Then, the Christians and Muslims in that state were involved in a game of tit for tat. One group would fall on the other and kill them and then the other would do same.
At a point, after they suffered in the hands of one encounter with the Muslims, the Christians took the extraordinary step of publicizing their plans to hit back. Posters and flyers were all over the state capital, announcing their intentions. We got copies and published them in Crystal Magazine. Nobody cared until the Christians carried out their revenge threats.
This was the massacre of Muslims that led to that famous outburst between Obasanjo and Rev Pam – “you are an idiot, a total idiot”. It was also the massacre that led to the declaration of a state of emergency in Plateau.
Boko Haram has become a threat to Nigeria for simply one reason – failure of intelligence. Since 2006, Ahmed Salkida started reporting on the activities of this group. He did not merely report their unusual brand of Islam, he reported that it was fast spreading and warned about the dangers it posed to public peace.
I have devoted two or three columns in admiration of Ahmed Salkida’s work on Boko Haram. Many of my colleagues do not share my opinion about him. Some have told me bluntly that the man is a member of the Boko Haram.
Boko Haram has declared war on Christianity in Nigeria and as a Christian, I will not go out of my way to support the activities of a friend who belongs to such a group. The Ahmed Salkida I know is not a conformist; he has unusual ways of going about his life and he could be easily misunderstood. He dropped out of school, converted from Christianity to Islam and then went back to marry a Christian wife and so on.
His practice of journalism is something else. Armed with inadequate formal education, he plunged into journalism with a single minded determination to get the big story. In Boko Haram, he got it. I doubt it if there is any Nigerian, outside and even within the sect who knows as much about it as Ahmed Salkida. The security agencies and the government are underrating him at our own collective peril.
The popular belief is that he is a member of the sect. I do not share this belief. All along, since 2006, he has been writing and publishing articles that call public attention to the dangers posed to public safety by this brand of Islam.
At the point when Boko Haram started their campaign of suicide bombings, he carried out extensive research, interviewing many Islamic authorities in the north. He then wrote a brilliant newspaper article criticizing Boko Haram for murdering innocent people.
He showed me the piece and I cautioned him not to provoke the group since journalists and media houses were also listed by them as targets. He went ahead and published it regardless of my caution.
I find it difficult to understand why me, a poor, non-trained security operative could win Salkida’s confidence while those heavily loaded spooks could not get anywhere with him.
We discussed Boko Haram extensively and I can say that he may just have the key to the scourge. But as is always the case, this President is poorly served by those close to him and he has no single capacity to reach out for the truth.
The greatest evidence of poor intelligence presented to him is to be found in the public analysis of Boko Haram by the late Azazi who as a National security Adviser publicly argued that Boko Haram is a northern creation, a product of presidential scuffle in the PDP.
Two weeks ago, I discussed the Boko Haram thing with Wantaregh Paul Unongo and he concluded that there will always be insecurity in Nigeria as long as President Jonathan announces the trillions he has voted to buy security gadgets. Every security operative wants to have his piece of that pie.
Sometimes I am moved with pity for this President. Like Shehu Sani, I believe he will get nowhere with his Boko Haram offensive as long as his security goons have forced Salkida to embark on his hijra.