Like an enterprising bloodhound, the conscientious journalist constantly sniffs the air and the trail. For the bloodhound, the reward is the quarry that is located and retrieved at the end of the hunt. And for the journalist, the news hunt that ends in a great scoop that makes the whole effort worthwhile. However, all hounds dogs and humans are susceptible to certain factors which inhibit their sniffing capabilities, greatly compromising the integrity of these.
You must have watched movies where fleeing fugitives successfully evade capture by pursuers by sprinkling dry ground pepper on their trails, confusing the dogs tracking them?
The movies too must also have let on somewhat about how news-hounds come unstuck on the trail owing to certain factors, including proprietorial and editorial interests, respectively?
This particular day, as many a time on any other day, the lot of news-hounds was on my mind. As usual, my thoughts would roam near far and wide, and then home in on the maritime beat, my beat presently and in the last number of years. As I thought, someone I have known for a lifetime, my veritable muse, joined me. I voiced my thoughts to him.
Some weeks back, the whiff of a certain potentially-big story had wafted to us at Ships & Ports. The story is about a maritime-based parastatal of the Federal Ministry of Transport. The news hint had all the ingredients to transform into a great scoop. The excitement was palpable in my voice as I listed these, which included: prominent organisation, prominent personalities, gigantic project contract and huge project contract sum.
A mysterious smile was playing on the lips of my muse when he cut my tale off, telling me he had a narration of his own, which, according to him, bears so much similarity to mine, and could determine the final outcome of my story-in-the-works.
I have always taken the counsel of this valued friend seriously; therefore, I yielded to him. Here in his words is his story: “A few years, I was the Editor of Shipping World, a monthly newspaper, which during my editorship, the proprietor and Editor-in-Chief, Elder Asu Beks, successfully toyed with the idea of making the publication a bi-monthly. But the most auspicious aspect of my tenure was my arrest by the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) and the State Security Service (SSS), respectively, on different occasions over stories that had been published by Shipping World.
“Someone or some persons at the Apapa Area I Command of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) had found fault with the enthusiastic reporting Shipping World gave the incident of a Customs Inspector attached to the area command, who had died while in detention. That mysterious person or those mysterious persons felt the most intelligent manner to handle matters was setting certain operatives of the Force Criminal Investigation Department (FCID), Alagbon Close, Ikoyi, Lagos, after the Editor of Shipping World. I honoured the invitation of the Police, and was promptly allowed to go after my interrogators found out what the case against me was baseless.
“My encounter with the SSS, which was more dramatic, was over a front page lead story with the headline How Atiku had Gwandu sacked. The Atiku mentioned was the then Vice Presidentof the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. Mallam Bello Ibrahim Gwandu was then Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA).
“The exclusive was fulsome, backed by an illustration of a scanned copy of a letter Gwandu had written Atiku to complain of intense pressure from an army of contract seekers, who besiege the NPA, claiming to be associates of the then Vice President.
“One-time NCS Comptroller-General Ahmed Aliyu Mustapha, during his tenure had introduced the now rested Annual Comptroller-General of Customs Conference. That year, 2011, Shipping World stormed Yola, the Adamawa State capital, where the then Customs chief and the annual conference’s great patron had taken that year’s edition to. The Women Development Centre venue of the conference was a bee-hive of activities on opening day, as was to be expected. Mustapha is a scion of the the then Lamido of Adamawa, Alhaji Aliyu Mustapha, who was there in person, leading an entourage of other Adamawa royalty, including his son-in-law and Turaki of Adamawa, Vice President Atiku Abubakar. Then Adamawa Governor, Mr. Boni Haruna, was there, so was then Finance Minister, Mallam Adamu Ciroma. The Federal Ministry of Finance oversees the Customs.
“With the lead How Atiku had Gwandu sacked, and in Atiku’s home state, that edition of Shipping World was selling like hot cake at the event; not until the SSS moved in and intercepted the ladies marketing the publication at the conference venue. The security operatives seized what copies they found with the ladies, who shamelessly directed them to your truly as the Editor, before fleeing the scene.
“There I was in my seat observing matters when a short and light complexioned young man in light brown suit approached me, his face sweaty and wearing a nervous smile.
Doing his best to maintain his composure in his heavy light brown suit, he stood before me and in falsely-friendly tones, said: ‘Your face is familiar. Are you not in Festac Town?’ I hate being subjected to suspense, and I find it even more reprehensible when so-called intelligence operatives put up asinine acts, because they stupidly assume their particular audience daft. I really don’t suffer fools gladly, if I can help it, and I promptly rose from my seat, dwarfing the SSS man. I introduce myself and my medium, roundly rebuking him for his duplicity. He quickly apologised and affirmed that he was indeed of the SSS, producing and identity card as I demanded. I enquired why the SSS was apparently after me and I was informed that I was wanted at the Adamawa State Headquarters of the Service by the State Director. I shrugged and we stepped out of the hall to a waiting Peugeot 504 station wagon. A man was already at the wheels with another skinny man in very dark goggles and ill-fitting suit in the front passenger seat. I noticed that copies of Shipping World were dumped in the exposed booth of the station wagon. I got into the back seat with my arresting officer.
“It was a short and uneventful ride to the SSS Adamawa State Headquarters. I was turned into a curio of some sorts by the officials at the complex. As soon as I arrived and was settled into one of the seats at an open waiting room, several of them either singly, in pairs or more found one excuse or the other to pass by and look in to greet me at the waiting room. Clearly, officials of the SSS Adamawa State Headquarters enjoyed an easy and boring working life most days, except, perhaps, those days that are son of the soil and then Nigeria’s Vice President visited home.
“In due course, I was provided sheets of paper to write a statement, which I did promptly. There was, however, some awkward moments when the senior officer (not the junior arresting officers) requested to know what the word ‘angst’ in my statement meant, and, when I defined this, said that I should replace it with a more common synonym, but I insisted that that particular word was in common enough usage for true purveyors of English Language. As he pressed that I ought change that word for some other simpler one, I told him pointblank that he was taking issues to the level that, if he was careful, I could easily discountenance my whole written statement as having been induced and obtained under duress. That argument convinced this officer in sombre-coloured sensible suit and he led me to the SSS Adamawa State Director, who had apparently then just returned to seat after he and some other top officials had seen the Vice President safely home to his Yola residence.
“The dark suited operative had earlier conveyed my statement to the Director after our little but intense argument, and when I arrived before the Director he called me by name and offered me one of the seats before his desk. Dressed in coffee-coloured kaftan ensemble with matching cap, he promptly kick-started the interrogation session. If the dark suit was somewhat stiff and officious, the Director was quite amiable. I spent some time in his office as he subtly grilled me with a combination of questions, allegations, proposition and veiled threats. He sought to know the source(s) of the story. I told him that I was not telling him; that nothing would ever make me tell; that my revealing my source(s) breaks a cardinal code in journalism, greatly depreciating, if not completely destroying, the very essence of any serious. He accused me of working for an unnamed body opposed to Atiku’s political interests. I told him that I was apolitical to the level that I had never ever voted in any Nigerian general election since attaining the mandatory voting age years before the return to full-blown civil rule in Nigeria. I told him further that the chances of my voting in Nigerian general elections were slim. Not until there was true democracy; not the prevailing pseudo-democracy of lockdown and restriction on vehicular and human movement which is a disturbing reminder of the curfews of military coups and other avoidable emergencies.
“Deadlock? The intelligence chief changed tack. He resorted to subtle the threats. He told me that I could be promptly conveyed to Abuja and charged to court. I told him to do what suits him according to law.”
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