By Josee Smith
For Musikilu Mojeed, his passion for journalism began in high school, when the John S. Knight Journalism Fellow wrote an article about teachers whipping students for leaving the school through a hole in the fence surrounding the school and then leaving through the same hole themselves.
When the article—identifying specific teachers—was published in the school newspaper, Mojeed was forced to go underground for some time to avoid punishment from the angry teachers. Eventually, the principal held a staff meeting and ordered the teachers to stop victimizing Mojeed and to set a better example by no longer using that exit.
“I saw that journalism was a powerful point to push for change,” Mojeed said.
Having been born and raised in the small agrarian town of Iwo, Nigeria, Mojeed stressed his humble origins.
“We didn’t have a TV or radio,” Mojeed said. “I wondered how we survived, because we depended on one stream in the village…we ate good food because my father was a farmer.”
Mojeed began primary school in a government-funded school ten kilometers from his village. He said he was lucky to attend the school, even though it was far from his home.
“My mother dressed me up in the best clothes I had,” Mojeed recalled.
After primary school, Mojeed’s uncle returned from his posting in another part of the country and decided that Mojeed, whom he thought was unusually bright, needed to receive an education at a better school.
In high school, Mojeed was initially interested in engineering. After becoming president of the press club that published his article about the teachers’ offenses, however, he realized his passion for journalism and channeled that interest into cultivating a reputation for the club.
“We wrote about examination malpractices, bullying of juniors by seniors…stories about affairs between female students and male students…a story about students urinating anywhere on campus,” Mojeed said. “People were scared when a member of the press club was around…If you did something wrong, we wrote about it.”
“We were correcting a lot of things that were wrong,” he added. “I started realizing how powerful journalism could be.”
Mojeed subsequently attended the University of Uyo in Nigeria, where he completed his undergraduate degree in Communication Arts and remained very active as a campus journalist. After graduating, he worked at a number of Nigerian newspapers before settling at the Premium Times, where he now works as the managing editor.
During his journalistic career, Mojeed focused on uncovering corruption, trafficking and human rights violations, abuses that extended to the highest reaches of the Nigerian government. In one instance, Mojeed investigated the Halliburton bribery scam—in which Nigerian officials took bribes from companies in exchange for allowing them to build on Nigerian land—and uncovered the corruption involved in the transaction.
“I exposed the former president of Nigeria, and the present president, who was his deputy, for keeping 17 ambulances to themselves in the presidential village,” Mojeed added. “Some of the hospitals [in the country] have only one ambulance. I exposed the presence of those ambulances packed in the presidential village, whereas people were dying because there were no ambulances…Once we exposed that, the ambulances disappeared from the presidential village.”
Mojeed also exposed a respected Nigerian scientist who lied about helping to invent the Internet, as well as several state government officials—including one currently imprisoned in the UK—for corruption.
“Many [Nigerian] officials are excited that I’m out of Nigeria,” Mojeed said.
While Mojeed’s work has won him many awards, including the Editor’s Courage Award from the Forum for African Investigative Reporters (FAIR), the Wole Soyinka Investigative Reporting Award and the Celebrity Media Award, it has also prompted threats and harassment.
“I was severely harassed in 2011 by [the] police about a story involving officials in the administration getting bribes from people importing into the country,” Mojeed said. “I exposed it with video and audio evidence. The police harassed me and I had to go underground…Even though the stories are uncomfortable for some people, it is difficult for authorities to fight my reporting [because] I try to be as accurate as possible.”
Mojeed said distrust of his work extends beyond government and the police to society at large.
“I have very few friends because I don’t know who to trust,” he said. “I fear for my life but just feel that it’s a job that must be done, especially in a country that is very rich but where people are still very poor.”
Mojeed said he was flattered to receive a Knight Fellowship. The program brings about 20 journalists to Stanford every year.
“They come here to create things that could help journalism, interact with the campus, all of that,” Mojeed said. “I feel very lucky to be selected. I am the only fellow selected from Africa in my class of 2013.”
At Stanford, Mojeed has worked on the IMOLE project, a platform connecting investigative journalists in Nigeria with resources and documents that authorities would prefer to keep hidden and private. “Imole” means transparency or light in Mojeed’s native Yoruba language.
“I am trying to point journalists reporting on Nigeria in directions where they can get information about Nigeria,” Mojeed explained.
Mojeed stressed the importance of investigative journalism in maintaining a healthy, transparent society.
“I believe that every type of journalism should be investigative,” he said. “As long as you go under the surface, dig out the facts, all journalism, whatever you’re reporting on…make it investigative.”