I hesitated for a whole week to write this column, on a topic which ordinarily I could talk about in my sleep. I did not want to give oxygen to the worst piece of “investigative journalism” I have ever seen. But given the seriousness of the subject in question, terrorism financing, and the lack of seriousness with which the topic was approached by its author, as well as the requests I have received for a view on the issue, silence in this circumstance is not golden.
Despite its description, the article in question – David Hundeyin’s “Cornflakes for Jihad: The Boko Haram Origin Story” – is neither investigative nor good journalism by any stretch of the phrase. It is instead the product of an overzealous attention seeker out to vilify his enemies and feed his base. It is classic conspiracy theory put together by cherry-picking documents, plagiarising discredited scholars and ignorantly or mischievously conflating events and players.
I will delve into each of the above issues but let me start by clearing some quick preliminary points that are fundamental to understanding why the author couldn’t be more wrong. There is no reason to believe that anyone other than David Hundeyin was involved in researching or writing this article. He was the sole named author, and it was published on a platform he founded and on whose landing page he is the sole affiliated writer. Moreover, given its factual and grammatical blunders, it is fair to assume that the article didn’t have the luck of passing through an editor or a fact-checker.
Secondly, while the author prides himself as an investigative journalist, there is no evidence that his ‘investigation’ went further than his desk. Most of those he accuses of terror financing are alive, but he did not attempt to hear their version of events. He is not an expert on the Boko Haram crisis, terrorism financing or Islamic organisations in northern Nigeria; this should not matter, as there are hundreds of Nigerian and non-Nigerian specialists with degrees in these fields whom a journalist can easily speak to, but David didn’t interview any of them. The authors of most of the documents he referenced are easily contactable, but he didn’t reach out to any of them.
The author himself admits how little effort he put into the article. In an interview on Arise TV, he was asked how long it took him to research “such a lengthy document”, to which he responded: “The research was the longest part, maybe that took the best part of maybe a couple of months. But the actual drafting, believe it or not, came together in about five or six hours”. I think the two “maybes” in the research part are doing a lot of work there, which his facial expression betrays. He himself admits that his research was conducted by a “search on Google, click to and find it”, so one should not be surprised by the poor quality of the product.
David’s “ground-breaking” revelation was that the NASCO group of companies and their founder, Ahmed Idris Nasreddin, have been indicted for laundering and moving money around the world to fund terrorism and designated by United States and the United Nations. There are two fundamental problems with this claim. Firstly, it is not new information. He merely regurgitated what has been previously reported by both academic and news sources. In fact, one of the earliest reports on this was published over a decade and a half ago by America’s NBC News. David does link this story somewhere in the article but not as the source of his grand revelation.
The second problem is that David conveniently ignored the second half of the story which is that NASCO and its founder were cleared of wrongdoing, delisted by the United Nations and removed from the United States’ list on 15 and 23 November 2007 respectively. If he had “searched and clicked” for a few more minutes, he would have found that the central plank of his story was demolished. It is hard to see how he spent ‘a couple of months’ researching. If he did know, his ignoring it to push his narrative says everything about his motive and relationship with the truth. NASCO has released a statement highlighting its exoneration, but I think they should go further by taking a legal action.
Worse still, David’s allegations about NASCO were lifted from Andrea Brigaglia and Alessio Locchi’s “Entangled Incidents: Nigeria in the Global War On Terror”. He did not acknowledge his initial source in the article, but did explicitly admit his plagiarism in his Arise TV interview. Brigaglia himself is one of the most discredited Boko Haram scholars. He is a Muslim convert who married into a Sufi family that is entangled in heated sectarian polemic with Salafis in northern Nigeria. Fighting the Sufi-Salafi war sadly became a defining feature of Brigaglia’s work. In this process, he tweaked sources to support his grand, untenable claims on the role of mainstream Salafis in founding Boko Haram, as I have extensively discussed in my work examining the origins of the group.
Thanks to continues scholarly engagement with the likes of Abdullahi Lamido, Brigaglia has soft peddled and recanted some of his theories. For instance, he wrote in a 2019 article that “… my point in referring to the preceding speeches is not, and has never been, to argue that scholars such as Pantami and his fellow Izala/Ahlu Sunna leaders were “violent Jihadis,” for I do not believe in the usefulness of this label in the first place”. In another piece published by this paper earlier this year, Brigaglia denounced David and his ilk’s (mis)interpretation of his works and vehemently defended Pantami against terrorism charges. Curiously, David conveniently ignored the parts of Brigagalia’s works that counter his conspiracies and Brigagalia’s denunciation of him – the height of intellectual hypocrisy.
Nor was David’s attempt to link Boko Haram, Izala and Salafis to the Algerian GSPC original. This is an issue extensively discussed by Jacob Zenn, much of whose theories and evidence have been roundly discredited by five of the world’s most respected scholars on Boko Haram. In the most laughable attempt to link Izala with NASCO and terrorism, David points that both are headquartered in Jos. What a logic! If being in the same city is an indication of a relationship, then EFCC could arrest every company in Lagos because they live in the same city with indicted cybercriminals.
Finally, David conflates different groups, personalities and events. This, I think, is his of ignorance of the complex subject matters more than mischief. He thinks Salafis and Izala are the same; he mistakes Yakubu Yahaya of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (a Shiite group) for Yakubu Hassan Musa Kafanchan of Izala, using the former’s photos for the latter. He thinks the farmer-herder crisis, something that has been an issue since colonial period, started only recently. He puts the Jordanian-funded Sufi NGO Royal Aal Bayt Institute among the organisations funding Salafi jihadism and thinks Shaykh Aminu Daurawa is still the head of Hisbah in Kano. He has edited his article to change the photos and Daurawa’s designation after a real investigative journalist, Aliyu Dahiru Aliyu, had called him out.