Revelation On page 30, Daily Trust and page 16 Leadership today.
3 Journalists, AMOS DUNIA, MUSA SIMON REEF, MOHAMMED ALFA blackmail Governor Shettima for Refusing N50m Adverts to New Magazine
(Please come with me, dear reader, I will give you the background and tell you how. Thanks)
It is most unusual for me to come up with a statement like this because it will be the very first time I am publicly engaging a media house and its publishers since I began working as spokesman to Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State in the last five years. I have never issued anything close to a common rejoinder to any media house, no matter how wrong stories got published about the Governor or his administration. I believe so much in persuasion, so I mostly would engage those concerned and if necessary, line editors or editors and news managers (in the case of broadcast) in situations where there were reasons to draw their attention to the fallacy or error in their published or aired stories. I believe this remains the best way of handling one’s job professionally.
Most time, I mostly deploy the use of polite and respectful tones to have reporters themselves, their editors and news managers find a way of correcting stories without drawing battles. I know too well that as a media man in Government, it is I that needs the help of the journalist and media organizations to highlight the activities of my boss, Governor Kashim Shettima. I usually think, no matter what, the P.R man in Government needs the journalist far more than the journalist would ever need the P.R person, as such, I make sure I respect, sincerely befriend and extend high courtesy to every media person I come across, from the editors down to reporters. I was a reporter, I am still one, regardless of the fact that my last promotion was that of a Deputy Editor at the Daily Trust before joining the Borno State Government.
Contrary to what I thought was the only way in managing the media, I have been pushed this time around to write against a new Magazine, “Forefront” jointly owned and promoted by my brothers and senior colleagues, AMOS DUNIA, SIMON REEF and MOHAMMED ALFA.
AMOS DUNIA and SIMON REEF last worked at Blueprint Newspapers, based in Abuja. I believed they picked interest in Borno State Government because of a business relationship that existed between the Government and Blueprint which was mainly the placement of adverts through a retainership. Around 2012 and 2013, Borno State Government was helpless and nearly hopeless as it was confronted by deaths and destructions from Boko Haram, permanent hate from the then PDP- led Federal Government of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and serious political assaults deployed by one big man in Borno State who was determined to frustrate and unseat Governor Shettima. Without any prompting, the Blueprint apparently took an editorial stand to defend the Government of Borno and they did it so passionately and selflessly. We watched them help for almost one year, asking for nothing. In 2013, I facilitated a visit by the management of blueprint Newspapers, led by the company’s chairman, to meet Governor Shettima. During that visit, the management didn’t even ask when the Governor granted them retainership of N15m to highlight our activities through use of about 30 or so number of pages. The Blueprint was so kind that the company donated 20 extra pages free to the Borno State Government and that earned them a renewal of contract in 2014. All the while, Amos Dunia and Simon Reef knew about that relationship because they were senior staff at blueprint. Reef in particular, mostly spoke with me to make reference to that straight and open relationship.
Now, here Is The Twist
Sometime last year, Simon Reef, who was my former colleague at the Daily Trust before moving to Blueprint Newspapers, called my line. He told me he was preparing to leave Blueprint. Like I said, Reef and I related while he was news editor at the Blueprint. He said he was working with Amos Dunia who was also leaving Blueprint, to set up a magazine. I was very much excited about the plan. Reef said the magazine would count on my support when established, I told him that wasn’t going to be a problem, ‘I will do whatever I reasonably can, I assure you”.
Weeks on, I received copies of the first edition of the magazine named “Forefront”. I went through every page with excitement and called Reef to commend him. I even made some suggestions on how I thought they could improve on the layout. I remember suggesting to them if they could start something new by making the magazine to be in Newspaper sizes (A3) but with the glossy cover and backpage of magazine, then having newsprints inside. I noticed Nigerians seem not to read magazines except those that focus on entertainment and celebrity gossips. I wanted them to do something different as journalists. Reef did say he was going to discuss my suggestions with members of his team. I think, I received about three more editions and then came their request for adverts during a visit in 2015 by my elder brother, MOHAMMED ALFA, who is in charge of Business Development of the magazine.
BRIEF ON ALFA
Before going into our interface with Mohammed Alfa, it might be necessary to say something about him since he is isn’t known compared to Reef who were prolific writers at Trust and a more senior, Amos Dunia who was at New Nigerian Newspapers.
Alfa, is a broadcast journalist. He may look young but he is over 50 just like Amos Dunia. Alfa is one of the most articulate TV presenters I had ever met in Borno. He was a staff of the Borno Radio Television. I think he worked with AIT at some point. Alfa is no doubt a very creative broadcast journalist, great presenter, friendly, smart, shrewd and very ambitious. He once contested and lost the elections for the position of NUJ chairman in Borno State. Somehow, he doesn’t seem to go along well with colleagues in Borno, I still don’t know why.
Alfa’s hidden grudge against Governor Shettima.
Back in the year, 2008 or thereabouts , Mohammed Alfa, then as staff of BRTV, established a magazine called “NewsNet”. The magazine circulated in Maiduguri and it gave so much focus on the activities of Ministry for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs in Borno. Alfa was very close to the then commissioner for local governments and Chieftaincy Affairs. Soon after the magazine was set up, chairmen of the 27 local government areas in Borno were placing adverts with Alfa making about N5m monthly, for almost a year. While the honey moon lasted, out of the blues, the cabinet was shuffled by the then Governor of the State and Kashim Shettima was moved to the ministry of Local Governments and Chieftaincy Affairs as the new commissioner. I don’t know what happened whether Shettima stopped the advert because it was messy or perhaps, the changes that Shettima took to the ministry, brought a natural halt to the arrangements. Alfa has since then, held grudge against Shettima. In 2010, Alfa had jokingly told me that Shettima, then as commissioner, had blocked his best opportunity to become a millionaire and for that he was never going to forgive him.
Alfa’s visit to my office and the request for N50m advert for FOREFRONT
In July, 2015, not long after my reappointment, Mohammed Alfa called to inform me that he was in Maiduguri and would like to see me. I gave him time and he visited. While in my office, he told me that the magazine needed me to speak to Governor Kashim Shettima and secure retainership that should last for four years at the cost of N15m per annum for a period of 4 years which should have been N60m but they were making discount of N10m. I asked how he came about N15m and he said Amos Dunia and Simon Reef told him the Governor once gave renewable retainership of N15m to Blueprint while they were there. I started laughing, wondering why the thought should even come at all. I reminded Alfa that first, their magazine was new, second, it was too ambitious of them to demand advert for four years and thirdly, it was wrong to compare an entirely new magazine with Blueprint Newspapers. Besides I told Alfa of what led to the business with Blueprint. I bluntly told him that the proposal wasn’t such that I could even discuss with the Governor but I assured him of partnership as we were going forward. Alfa left my office not too convinced.
In the last week of August, 2015, Amos Dunia sent me an sms, requesting to have my email, he said he had something urgent his editorial team needed my boss, Governor Kashim Shettima, to respond to. Simon Reef equally sent me a message that the FOREFRONT needed some responses from the Governor. I replied both sms and I sent my mail immediately even though I was surprised knowing Reef had my email address. I got the mail and to a very rude shock, Dunia and Reef compiled a list of 20 unimaginable allegations against the Governor and wanted him to respond. I was so furious on reading the questions because all of them bothered on very grievous allegations that were clearly designed for blackmail. The most bizarre of the questions was one that said, during the visit of President Muhammadu Buhari to Washington DC, the United States, the FBI had submitted a report to Buhari claiming that Governor Shettima had a personal bank account with one billion dollars deposited in it and that the American Government had requested that Buhari extradites the Governor to the United States for arrest and trial. They said Buhari was so furious that he almost cried. I was so disappointed in Amos Dunia and Simon Reef that they could come up with such an elementary prank despite their years of experience in journalism and claims of being publishers. It was funny that they were not even well informed enough to know that Governor Kashim Shettima was part of President Buhari’s trip to the United States and his name featured prominently given the fact that the trip was particularly about the Boko Haram insurgency which naturally makes Shettima’s inclusion in the President’s entourage reasonable. They also didn’t embarrassingly know that Shettima accompanied Buhari to the white House to meet President Barack Obama as numerous photos of the trip circulated all over Newspapers and Television showed. It was the same Governor Shettima they claimed the American Government requested for his extradition to the United States. The same Shettima they claimed Buhari was angry with, actually returned to Nigeria with President Buhari and also featured in subsequent trips to Cameroon and Niger Republic along with the President. How cheaper can a blackmail be? All the other questions they put forward were as bizarre as the one on the FBI.
I told Amos Dunia that it was surprising that they adopted that kind of practice thinking it could compel the Governor to approve their ambitious advert. I reminded him that journalism as I studied it and seen it being practiced, goes beyond the collation of allegations. I said the first job of a journalist in handling a story that is targeted at exposition, was to carry out investigations. I said what I expected from them was to confront me with facts about their claims, starting with publishing full or some aspects of the so called FBI report or being able to quote U.S officials. They claimed the Governor had 1000 houses in Maiduguri, I asked them to name one location of such houses, the type, value and when it was purchased, Dunia said it was part of allegations they gathered. I almost regretted studying journalism that day and being called a journalist. I just imagined that if with their years of experience they could reduce themselves to such infancy, what then would younger ones who gate crash into journalism do? I realized they had a goal which was to blackmail the Governor into approving their adverts, so I ended the conversation telling Dunia to be sure he could defend whatever he published.
A suspicious phone call on same day
Soon after our conversation with Amos Dunia, a male voice called my line launching insults. I patiently waited for him to talk and he said to me, “Look, you are a big fool. As a media aide your best chance to make good money is to cooperate with investigative journalists. When they present you with information, your own is to meet your boss and advice him to reach some understanding, get something good to kill that story and whatever you get from your boss, you are also going to get something from it, it can be 40-60 that is 40 percent for you and 60 for those who did the job. If you insist, it can be 50-50. Grow up and stop being foolish. Is Borno account your father’s own? Are you not even from Zamfara State?” the voice said. When I tried asking the identity of the caller, he said “shut up, stop asking stupid questions, you know what to do” the voice ended. I tried calling several times, the number was off. I did identity search using the true caller, no name appeared.
I was sure the voice wasn’t that of Dunia, Reef and Alfa. The caller also didn’t say he called on behalf of any of them or their magazine, as such, I couldn’t link the call to them even though I had good reasons to suspect conspiracy.
After that suspicious call of course, I wasn’t tempted by that call. I actually felt somewhat insulted that I was considered for such a thing. I am neither a saint nor an angel but there are certain things I will rather die than do. By the grace and guidance of God, I have over the years, tried to abide by some set of principles within my human possibilities where I could. I do not mean to be boastful here but mainly to deepen understanding hence I will say that while at the Daily Trust, the company honoured me with the first Chairman/CEO’s award and cash prize for Integrity in the editorial category. I also remember getting commendation letter from the Editor -In- chief and similar commendation from the then Managing Director and Chief Operating Officer, for the manner Allah guided me in managing the company’s finances as Head of the North-East Bureau in Maiduguri and later Head of the Bureau in Port Harcourt for the South-South. Again, with Allah’s guidance, the Mass Communications department at UNIMAID had recognised me for an ethical journalism award, while my colleagues in Maiduguri, nominated me to serve as secretary of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, standing committee on issues relating to professionalism and code of conducts of journalists in Borno State. I bring these not for self praise but for the reader to understand why I couldn’t stand the kind of journalism introduced by Amos Dunia, Simon Reef and Mohammed Alfa through the use of their FOREFRONT.
Beyond personal principles, I have even greater motivation that should make me resist any attempt for conscription into blackmailing Governor Kashim Shettima and this brings me to the next stage.
Why I can’t be a party to blackmailing Governor Shettima
Perhaps the strange caller asking me to join a blackmail gang was looking at the relationship between myself and Governor Kashim Shettima on the surface. Our relationship goes beyond that.
I came to know Governor Kashim Shettima in 2007. He was a constant follower of my reports from his days at the bank. Often times he would text when he reads something I wrote. I didn’t quite trust him because he had just joined Government. I mostly saw political office holders as people who regarded journalists as willing tools, so I distrusted most of them. As a reader of many columns, he wanted the contacts of some northern columnists and he sorted my help, I gave him the contacts. He was commissioner for finance then, very fresh in politics. Shettima kept on sending me messages every Mondays and Fridays. There was apparent sincerity in him but I was still suspicious. In 2010, I was transferred from Borno to Port Harcourt as assistant editor to head the bureau in charge of the southsouth and southeast for Daily Trust. I was no longer in Borno so Shettima clearly didn’t need me for anything. One day, my brother in-law who was in Maiduguri with my wife and kids called to inform me that one commissioner, Kashim Shettima, was in our office and wanted to take my kids out. I called Shettima and obliged. Shettima kept visiting my family almost every weekend to see my kids and ensured my family was fine. He was a sincere friend, I concluded.
The secret thing Shettima did to me
I know Governor Shettima would be embarrassed and possibly angry at my next few lines when he reads this as someone who hides acts of kindness , but I just must say this and hopes he understands.
First of all, let me make it clear that I haven’t become rich through Shettima and the Governor knows that. I have never executed any contract, undertaken any supplies neither have I ever introduced or promoted any contractor. I restrict myself very strictly to media activities. However, I am comfortable and I thank him. But then, Governor Shettima has done everything to me which goes beyond anything else.
You see, in August, 2011, I was diagnosed of Right Ventricular Heart failure by one cardiologist, Dr Zinhum (if I get the spelling correctly) at the Saudi German Hospital in Madina. I was having breathing problems so I was at the hospital for examination and after two days stay, the Arab man came up with that diagnosis and prescribed almost a bag of drugs. My immediate elder, a medical doctor, a consultant actually, Dr Murtala Umar said after informing him, that the diagnosis was doubtful. He reached that conclusion after asking if my legs were swollen along with other symptoms. He also based his judgment on the fact that he had seen me a week before my trip. After my return to Nigeria, I resumed work at the Daily Trust in Port Harcourt and then decided to see a Nigerian cardiologist at a hospital in Port Harcourt. So, the day I went to that hospital, Governor Kashim Shettima called my line about four or five times. He had won elections earlier in April and was about five months into his first tenure. He was yet to appoint me then. I was being examined by the Cardiologist in Port Harcourt when his call came so I sent him an sms that I was at the hospital. An hour later, he called back and I told him I was diagnosed of heart ailment in Saudi Arabia. The Governor immediately insisted I leave Port Harcourt to see him in Abuja that very day. Before my arrival, he had gotten a cardiologist and asked his opinion. The cardiologist saw me and said I needed a proper examination just to be absolutely certain about my heart even though from his own examination, it appeared my elder brother, who wasn’t a cardiologist but an ophthalmologist, was right to have questioned the diagnosis. But it was dangerous to ask me to suspend taking my prescriptions while it was also dangerous to continue taking them if nothing was wrong with my heart. We parted that night and the Governor dropped me at home. Within five days, Governor Shettima sent me out to Germany for a proper examination. I was at the German Heart Center in Berlin. After about 12 very thorough examinations, including MRI of my heart, a team of about 10 cardiologists that examined me certified my heart, to use their words “absolutely normal” and I was strictly told to discontinue taking the prescriptions. Even before I got the result of the examination, Governor Shettima sent me a text saying, “Congratulations, my brother,now we are sure your heart is normal, we should have rest of mind but we need to move on to establish the cause of your breathing problems and treat it. Get well soon”. Out of concern, the Governor was actually monitoring my examinations through a Nigerian Dr that I was introduced to while I was in Germany. After my return to Nigeria, the following week, Governor Shettima again sent me to London to be evaluated by a Professor of Respiratory medicine at the Royal Brompton Hospital in Chelsea. That was where my problem was diagnosed and I was treated within a matter of one week. I have been fine since then.
Now, this same Governor Kashim Shettima is the one I was being told to blackmail and make huge money. Tufiakpa!
From what I learnt, Amos Dunia, Simon Reef and Mohammed Alfa are planning their third attack in series, on Governor Shettima and little me. The good thing about serial attack is that it attracts sympathy for the serial victim. Most readers begin to ask why the consistency and why the same person, so the publications are actually harmless. For us, too, the serial attacks give us the basis to quickly establish malice when we start our libel suit in court. So, they can continue to write. I am sure most Nigerians will disregard them and their likes. One thing for sure is that I won’t encourage Governor Shettima to give in to blackmail because blackmailers always come back. You either resist them or bow to them for the as long you are in position to be blackmailed, perhaps, throughout your life time.
I apologize for the long and excessive details and for taking too much of your time. I wanted you to have the whole story and a bit more. This is my first and final response on this subject matter. Thanks for reading.
Special Adviser on Communications and Strategy ( Spokesman) to Governor Kashim Shettima.