New Lines Magazine has recently hosted a virtual discussion in collaboration with HumAngle to discuss the role of investigative journalism in strengthening human rights. The discussion, which was held on X (formerly Twitter), was an offshoot of both organisations’ recent joint investigation on the missing people’s problem in Nigeria’s northeast.
The virtual discussion which was held on Sept. 26 featured speakers like HumAngle’s investigations editor, Kunle Adebajo, Senior GIS specialist Mansir Muhammed, Ajibola Amzat, Africa Editor at the Centre for Collaborative Investigative Journalism (CCIJ), and renowned development specialist Dr Amina Salihu.
Adebajo, the author of the investigation which was published on Sept. 18, said what prompted him to begin the investigation was the enormity of the statistics of fatalities people use when talking about their loved ones who had died during the Boko Haram insurgency, as well as figures documented by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on those who are currently missing in North East Nigeria.
“We took a long time trying to humanise those statistics,” Adebajo said during the Space.
He added that his interviewees always found it difficult to keep calm whenever they were responding to questions about their relatives whose whereabouts they did not know.
According to him, it is usually easy to retrieve figures of people who are killed by non-state actors, as they leave their dead bodies behind, but it was difficult with cases of state actors executing people as they usually went away with the bodies, making it difficult to have an exact figure.
“I have spoken to people who have lost almost their entire families, people who became orphans as a result of the insurgency, people who were tortured, and people who spent years in detention. People suffered. People were starved. People were malnourished,” he said.
Despite these events happening years ago, the families are still devastated and whenever they are retelling their stories, they shed tears enormously. Because of the passion they have for justice, Adebajo said, a lot of people he spoke with didn’t mind mentioning their identities on record.
The investigation has already begun to make an impact since it came out. For example, detainees at Giwa Barracks have been granted the opportunity to speak with their families on the phone, a development that began shortly after HumAngle shared the findings of the investigation with the authorities.
In July 2009, after men of the Nigerian police force killed Muhammad Yusuf, a fiery Islamic preacher who formed the Boko Haram terror group in 2002, his disciples took up arms against the Nigerian state. The insurgency would later lead to the death of nearly 350,000 people in northeastern Nigeria and a humanitarian crisis that the state is still grappling with.
Mansir Muhammed, HumAngle’s GIS specialist who worked with open-source intelligence tools (OSINT) to establish mass graves, gave a background on how it is used.
The GIS expert, while narrating how he gathered information on possible mass graves said the team was brought close to these scenes by expert fixers, who had access to the places in Borno. After that, he used images and gathered more data. Using open-source intelligence and geospatial tools, such as satellite photos and data, alongside contextual information, he further investigated the coordinates.
He said the tools can also be used to study floods, earthquakes, and land resources among others.
Another panelist, Dr Amina Salihu, a development specialist who works with the MacArthur Foundation, commended HumAngle for the courage to report these issues.
She also commended the women who were courageous enough to stand up and say that their detained husbands were not terrorists but innocent men illegally detained.
According to her, sexual and gender-based violence is an aspect of the crisis that is trivialised. Sextortion, which is a situation where people have to trade their bodies to get what is their right (such as displaced women and girls having to engage in sex for food), also diminishes their dignity, she said.
“Giving the examples of these violations that are not given attention to, we can bring in the work of HumAngle and the kinds of innovations – for example from a gender equity and social inclusion aspect – where, for instance, Knifar women have themselves been supported to become journalists who are reporting in terms of what is happening in their lives, who are able to have a front row sit and voice to reporting that,” she added.
Dr Amina said some of these human rights violations have been tolerated for a long time and have therefore become a new norm. She also emphasised the significance of collaboration between civil society and journalists in their job of unearthing the truth.
Ajibola Amzat, Africa Editor at Centre for Collaborative Investigative Journalism (CCIJ) said the story which he considers an extension of a 2019 report by ICIR further showed the carefree attitude of the country’s public officials. He complained about the insensitivity of the state actors. Nevertheless, journalists should continue to document history no matter the pushback from authorities, Ajibola admonished on the Spaces.
Hosted by Erin Clare Brown, North Africa Editor at New Lines Magazine, the Space lasted for an hour and had many participants.
X Spaces (formerly Twitter Spaces) are open-ended audio broadcasts where Twitter users can click and join scores, hundreds, or even hundreds of thousands, of other users to discuss anything they like.
A question and answer session was done, where the panelists fielded questions from attendees.
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