When an American journalist and author, Anya Schiffrin, was working on her book, Global Muckraking: 100 Years of Investigative Journalism From Around the World, she thought it was expedient for her to exclude from it an investigative series from Nigeria on alleged corrupt practices of the then petroleum minister in the country, Diezani Alison-Madueke.
The book, published in 2014, showcases the outstanding works of investigative journalists in different parts of the world. The series on Mrs. Alison-Madueke was published in 2011 by the rested NEXT newspaper. They were republished last year on PREMIUM TIMES, with permission from NEXT.
Today, Mrs. Schiffrin, who is also a journalism professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, expresses regret for her decision on Mrs. Alison-Madueke, who remains one of the most controversial public officers in Nigeria, since she left office more than a year ago.
Mrs. Schiffrin, 54, said she took the decision because the then minister threatened her with a lawsuit.
“(We) got a series by a terrific, highly respected Nigerian journalist named Musikilu Mojeed saying that a government official, Alison-Madueke, was corrupt,” Mrs. Schiffrin said in an interview with Guernica magazine, last year.
“I Googled (Madueke) and found an article by a British journalist saying that she was working to clean up corruption. So I contacted him and asked, ‘Do you realize that this extremely well-respected Nigerian journalist said (Madueke) is corrupt?’ The British journalist was not at all defensive and said, ‘I’ll get back to you.’
“In the meantime, I began asking people I knew in Nigeria. I started getting these very guarded and cryptic emails and messages. I think no one wanted to commit themselves in writing, but they said things like, ‘(Mojeed) is really reliable.’ They didn’t say, ‘That woman is corrupt,’ but rather, ‘The newspaper is reliable.’
“Someone I knew also contacted Madueke’s office. But the next thing that happens is I get a letter from her lawyer (asking not to publish these stories) because they are libelous. Meanwhile, the British journalist got back to me and said he did not stand by his original story anymore.
Mrs. Schiffrin said by the time they had a rethink and decided to include the series on Mrs. Alison-Madueke, there wasn’t any more space in the book. It was a tough call for her, she said.
“Once I got the lawyer’s letter, of course, I regretted the decision not to include the series even more,” she said.
Mr. Mojeed, who is currently PREMIUM TIMES’ Editor-in-Chief, was working with NEXT then, and co-authored the series on Mrs. Alison-Madueke.
The series portrayed Mrs. Alison-Madueke as corruptly enriching herself and her cronies through suspicious, and sometimes secret, multi-million dollars oil deals at the country’s expense.
In one of the reports, the then minister was alleged to have violated Nigerian laws and regulations, and awarded multi-million dollars oil-lifting contracts to ‘briefcase companies’ owned by her U.S-based jeweller, Christopher Aire.
Mrs. Alison-Madueke was arrested late last year in London by the UK National Crimes Agency for offences related to bribery and corruption, but was later released on bail, alongside four other persons arrested with her.
Back home in Nigeria, the former minister has been under investigation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).