From a safe house, Jafaar Jafaar, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Daily Nigerian speaks with Bayo Akinloye about the bribe-taking videos published by his online medium as he claims there are threats to his life. He also talks about his trip to Kano and his testimony before the investigative panel set up by the Kano State House of Assembly to probe the veracity of the videos. But he thinks President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption crusade will have been a ruse if Ganduje is let off the hook at the end of the day. Excerpts:
How will you describe your experience before the Kano State House of Assembly panel that is investigating the video – you published on your online news platform – that shows Governor Abdullahi Ganduje receiving a bribe?
It was a superb experience. It was a test period for me because every time I see an avenue to tell the truth or at any forum I find myself to say the truth I do really enjoy such moment and opportunity presented to me. In that context, my appearing before the Kano State House of Assembly’s committee investigating the alleged bribery video of the governor (of Kano State, Abdullahi Ganduje) it was really a superb outing. This is because I had the opportunity to tell them (the Kano State people’s representatives) how I got the videos and to state my position that the videos are genuine. They were not doctored. They were not tampered with. They were original – nobody the videos; nobody cloned them (the images in the videos). So, I believe my appearing before the lawmakers was a great outing – it was actually great.
It appears you have a measure of faith in the Kano State lawmakers. Were they in any way hostile to you? Do you think they were interested in knowing the truth concerning the leaked videos that portray their state governor in such scandalous light?
I see in them the genuine interest and passion to unearth the actual truth. Perhaps, if they are doing the bidding of the governor they may not have set up the committee in the first instance. And that if they are doing the bidding of the governor they would have, perhaps, shelved the sitting and just say because of security reasons they cannot hold the investigations any longer. So, I can see their doggedness; I can see their commitment towards ensuring that the truth is unravelled in this matter.
So, are you saying you believe in that investigative panel ensuring that the right thing is done at the end of its fact-finding mission? Do you think they will be able to ensure justice is carried out or that they will succumb to some pressure from ‘above’?
Yes – for now really they are not succumbing to any pressure. Also, they are not being moved by any pressure that is mounted on them from the state government. Do you understand? If they continue to go the way they are doing like this, they will arrive at a reasonable conclusion – they will arrive at the truth which I believe they will reveal to the people of Kano State as the outcome of their investigation after engaging independent forensic experts and they have ascertained that the videos were genuine and that the governor was actually receiving bribes in those videos.
You gave a written testimony before the panel on Thursday regarding how you obtained the videos. Can you talk about the genesis of the scandalous videos?
Contractors in Kano know all these things – if you are within their circle, you understand – they will be telling you that on every project they executed in the state you have to give between 25 percent and sometimes 30 percent commission (kickback to the state governor). So, they have been complaining (about this worrisome trend).
One of the contractors, a good friend of mine, kept complaining to me (about kickbacks contractors give to the governor) because there were certain things he would be telling me but as a journalist, you know must work on hard, irrefutable facts. There are certain allegations that you won’t just take lightly. You have to get concrete evidence that will prove your assertion. Therefore, I told him I could not just publish a story claiming that the governor was collecting bribes without having concrete evidence. This contractor agreed with my idea to plant a spy camera on a laptop and capture the shots. After agreeing to do (and he successfully carried out the plan), he did not even tell me he had done as I suggested to him. Yes; he had been taking the shots but he was silent about that – he never told me.
When he told me about them last year (2017) I mounted serious pressure on him to give me the videos because I know the credit as a journalist posting those videos (online) would give me (and my media organisation). More so, it (putting the videos online) will aid the fight against corruption. Journalists are agents of the society – they are the fourth estate of the realm. Therefore, we should be part of those ensuring that the society is doing well and everything is going as it should really be. I was constantly persuading him to give me the video clips – it was like a tug of war. Finally, this September he agreed to give them to me. The moment he gave me the videos, I knew that they were original – even the governor could not tell his close confidants that the videos were doctored. In the governor’s circle they know that the videos are genuine. They know the person who shot the videos – they identified him.
You mean the government knows who recorded the videos?
The governor knows! The governor knows – you understand? It is just people in the city who may not know what is actually happening. But quite a few people that are in the governor’s circle know that the source of the video is through a particular person – who is also a contractor in the state. So that aside, after getting the videos I decided to run a story from the videos. When I ran the first story the government was so mad that and tried to see if they could bribe me so that I would not release the videos but I stood my ground (and refused to take any bribe from them).
I released the videos. Then, because we gave them a chance to start the propaganda – you understand – to start saying false videos of the governor would be released and all that. That propaganda initially dominated the narrative – that the videos were not original. How can you doctor a motion picture? Any right-thinking person will easily identify if they (the videos) were doctored. Yes, any right-thinking person who watched those videos would conclude that they are original. You can see that clearly. I even threw a challenge to them that if the videos revealing the governor collecting dollars were doctored, they should produce a video of me, doctored, collecting dollars. In that process they went ahead to release – a reversed osmosis kind of – video showing the governor giving back the money to a certain person. Ask them: does it mean the governor was bribing the contractor? Even the enormity of the money – even if it is not bribery, it is money laundering. Yes, it falls within the ambit of money laundering laws.
How much did the contractor say he gave to the governor?
In total, he said he gave him (the governor) $5 million – well over $5 million.
What year were the videos recorded?
The videos were recorded between 2016 and 2017.
Many will think you’ve put yourself in harm’s way because of the story you published and the videos you posted regarding the bribery scandal involving the governor of your state. Considering the murder of a Saudi journalist, Khashoggi, who was killed in the Saudi Arabia consulate in Turkey, are you not afraid of your life?
Yes, I am really – truly – afraid because the agents of the government are really after me because my wife was telling me that they went to look for me at home. The gateman at the house told her that they came like four times to my house looking for me. My wife is in Kano and so are my two children. I stay mostly in Abuja – so, they have been going to my Kano home to see whether I am around.
Aren’t you also afraid that something terrible can also happen to your wife, children and other loved ones?
I am really afraid. I am even thinking of moving them out of the country. But you know the process; I cannot just travel out (of the country) and start staying in a hotel – you understand. There was a time a politician agreed to sponsor, to take me outside of this country, give me a home to stay and provide me with security.
At what point regarding the release of the videos did you get that offer?
It was before I released the videos.
So, why didn’t you take the offer?
But he told me that I should not release the videos until after the deadline of the replacement of the candidates has elapsed. To me, he wanted to politicise the issue. I said, ‘No, sir, I can’t do that.’ Because I am not working for politicians and I could not just stop publishing online the videos just because of politics. Then, he refused (to help me get out of the country). That is, I am still here in Nigeria.
Is that politician the political archrival of Governor Ganduje in Kano State?
No – not really. It’s not Rabiu Kwankwaso (a former Kano State governor who has been at daggers drawn with Ganduje) at all. The said politician is not even linked to Kwankwaso – but one of the top politicians in the country. Let’s just leave it at that.
Since you said your life is in danger, have you taken any steps to ensure your safety and that of your loved ones?
Yes; I instructed my lawyer last night (Thursday) to write a petition to the police and the SSS (Department of State Services) regarding that.
Do you trust the security agencies to protect you and your loved ones in this matter?
Yes. You know you have to really inform them whether they are doing the right thing or not doing the right thing. You have to tell them. Yet, I really cannot take any chances regarding my safety by relying solely on the police to give me adequate security. I have to also be the chief security officer of my life. I have to be careful of what I eat and where I go. Police protection is secondary.
Any plans to reach out to the international community to ensure your safety, that of your wife and the children?
Yes, I have reached out to them. All the threats to my life have been recorded by Amnesty International. They have been on my case; they have written to the inspector general of police, commissioner of Police in Kano, director of SSS in Kano. I feel secure a bit where I am today (Friday) – preferably, I shouldn’t be in the country due to the mounting security fears. My plans were to be out of the country following the publications of the bribery story and videos. I was thinking that through that politician’s support – initially, I was thinking he was as concerned about my security as a Good Samaritan from nowhere. I thought he would give me $10,000 to buy ticket for my trip – you understand – then, relocate me to a country, feed me and all that (laughs). But when I told him I wasn’t going to engage in politics he just backed off. He never contacted me again – that’s how Nigerian politicians are.
What about the safety of the contractor? Or, is he out of the country?
He is still in the country but I feel that there is enough security around him. It’s like the police are giving him adequate protection. The contractor is concerned about my safety too, he thinks he has landed me in trouble.
In view of all this, how do you see the anti-corruption stance of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration?
Really, this is a litmus test. If under the APC government – the government that has been preaching the gospel of anti-corruption, preaching the gospel of sincerity, preaching the gospel of equality, fails to do anything about something of this magnitude, then the fight against corruption is just a ruse really. It is really a dent on Buhari’s administration.
As a responsible administration that is fighting against corruption, he should also institute another independent (investigative) panel to find out the truth in this matter. But I appreciate in one way what the government had done: the federal government gave me enough security cover to go to Kano and give my testimony before the panel. In that way, you can say the federal government has supported my cause in helping me fight against corruption.
Probably, if it is the governor’s wish I would not have been in Kano to testify. I would have been attacked on the way. From the top, the IG gave orders that my safety should be ensured before, during and after my presentation before the Kano State House of Assembly. We were escorted from the Mallam Aminu Kano Airport to the Assembly complex – about 10 police vehicles, three assistant commissioners of police were there to escort me to the Assembly. They also gave me the same security all the way back to the airport. They did not leave the airport until my flight took off. This is really commendable and I see some level of commitment towards ensuring that journalists are protected.
What do you think about EFCC, ICPC and APC’s silence concerning your saga?
Maybe from the public sphere we have not seen any reactions. But probably the EFCC has written a report to the president on the issue – that’s my thinking. Probably EFCC, ICPC or any other anti-corruption agency may have written a report to the president on the issue.
Do you see yourself as a whistle-blower now, somebody just helping a friend in dire straits or you’re just doing your job as a journalist?
I was driven by two things, really. As a journalist – every journalist will like to have some good reports (exclusives or scoops) that will grab international attention. That’s one. Another point is that the videos can go a long way in providing sanity to our system – especially to the governors collecting kickbacks. Because they have seen the embarrassment videos have caused their colleagues they will think twice and hard before doing anything unseemly. I think the story will serve as a deterrent and make the society better. This should make the governors stop collecting kickbacks or reduce their frequency of collecting kickbacks.
If you have the opportunity of doing this kind of story again will you?
Yes; over and over again! No matter what I am being offered in exchange for the story I will not collect it – even if the Kano State governor gives me his seat as a governor and say ‘Come and become governor of Kano State but don’t publish those videos of me collecting bribes,’ I will rather publish the videos than become the governor of Kano State. Let me reiterate that I cannot concoct – I cannot doctor – something of this magnitude against a whole governor and walk free.
The videos are genuine – nobody tampered with or doctored them. I want people to know that the videos were published in good faith – for the good of society – not to blackmail anybody. I’m not a blackmailer as some people are alleging. The videos are career-ending exhibits which the governor would have given anything to hide if I had gone to him to play ball. If you asked him to give you the $5 million he collected in the videos, he would give you back instead of having you published the videos!