It is 4 days now since the journalist who left Nigeria for the Internally Displaced Camp in Cameroon was arrested by security operatives on allegation that he was spying for Boko Haram. The nationality of Simon Ateba may be controversial as there are indications that the young man was originally from Cameroon but has lived for decades in Nigeria.
Mr. Ateba left Abuja on Sunday last week to the camp in Makolo as part of a project on investigative journalism. He got a grant for the investigation from the ICIR. The detail of the issues being investigated is sketchy at the moment but he was arrested on Friday as he was leaving the camp.
Executive Director of the ICIR, Dayo Aiyetan, who has been in contact with the arrested journalist said the authorities are suspecting that Ateba is an undercover agent of the terrorist group, Boko Haram.
According to reports, the journalist claims that he had spoken to the Governor of Maroua, the minister of communication, the army spokesman and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, UNHCR, before proceeding to the refugee camp in Makolo.
Simon Ateba had worked for The News Magazine for over 8 years before proceeding to private practice as a free-lance journalist and blogger.
While journalists in Nigeria and Cameroon continue to mount pressure on the authorities to release him, reservations have been expressed in some quarters over the claims of Mr. Ateba that he had notified and sought clearance from Cameroonian government officials before getting into the displaced persons’ camp.
The position is based on the assumption that if such clearance was sought and secured, it would have been a matter of the officials getting across to the security operatives to secure his release. This should not have lasted more than a day.
The concerns from the quarters are stronger at the thought of the slightest and possible compromise of professional ethics by the journalist. Those who share this worry say they have followed a few of Mr. Ateba’s writings which are most times laced with sensationalism and half-truths.
On the positive side, there is hope that there may not be any cause for alarm after all, after the renewed relationship between Nigeria and Cameroon over the fight against the insurgents, if Simon’s entry into the country followed due process and if the tension over his “arrest” is not a smoked screen.