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“Nightmare in Nigeria”

Excellence in National/International Investigative Reporting, the Ursula and Gilbert Farfel Prize

Reuters, 2023

Author(s): Paul Carsten, David Lewis, Reade Levinson and Libby George


In a series of powerful investigative reports, Reuters journalists revealed secrets behind the Nigerian military’s long campaign to crush the nation’s Islamist insurgency: a mass abortion program aimed at women and girls impregnated by Boko Haram fighters and targeted killings of children vilified as offspring or allies of the enemy. 

The Reuters team brought to light atrocities that might never have been made public.  

Reuters journalists overcame immense challenges to report the story. They relied on their own extensive notes, constructed detailed spreadsheets, parsed thousands of reported child killings, relied on satellite imagery to verify eyewitness accounts and persuaded reluctant witnesses – terrified of exposure – to meticulously describe scenes and draw maps of where the atrocities occurred. 

To protect sources and avoid detention, the team had to report entirely in secret. Notes, messages, images and recordings were hidden or encrypted in case of inspection by Nigerian authorities, who carefully monitor journalists. The reporters had to switch meeting points with sources and eyewitnesses constantly, calling off interviews if anyone was late or soldiers were spotted nearby.  

The impact of the reporting was immediate. The United Nations secretary-general, the U.S. defense and state departments, lawmakers in Washington and London, the German foreign minister, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called for staff inquiries or investigations by the Nigerian government. U.S. Senator Jim Risch, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called on the secretary of state to review U.S. security aid in response to “the serious and abhorrent allegations.”  

Amid international outcry, Nigeria reluctantly agreed to collaborate with a probe by the country’s independent Human Rights Commission. 

The Ursula and Gilbert Farfel Prize
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Ursula and Dr. Gilbert Farfel created an endowed scholarship at Ohio University, Ursula’s alma mater, to support establishment of this award. Presented in cooperation with the Scripps College of Communication at Ohio University, the prize honors excellence in investigative reporting.