By Owei Lakemfa
THERE is an African saying that human beings come individually to the world and merely meet on earth. However, there are people you meet and take the same path over a long distance. This is the case with Babafemi Ojudu and I. We met as undergraduates at the University of Ife (Now, Obafemi Awolowo University, OAU)in the early 1980s. We took to journalism as a profession and brought into it, our idea of remaking Nigeria and building a better world.
Given endless military dictatorship, a number of us decided to re-orientate journalists in the country towards emancipation from dictatorship. We called our movement, ‘Journalism with Social Relevance’ and our team, The New Trend. The active journalists in the movement included Ojudu and I, Kayode Komolafe, Ladi Lawal, Richard Akinnola, Bayo Bodunrin, Lanre Arogundade, Sani Zorro, Funmi Komolafe, Funke Fadugba, Kelly Elisha and Tunji Bello. We took over the Lagos State Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, and established solid professionalism in what is the country’s centre of journalism. During that period, we banned a magazine that was publishing falsehood, and forced it to shutdown, checked a senior colleague engaged in plagiarism, ran a life insurance scheme for journalists and established a Journalists In Distress Fund to take care of journalists jailed or victimised for the profession, and those in distress.
Next, we decided as a team to contest elections into the main national offices of the NUJ. At this period, Ojudu was Chairman of the NUJ Concord Chapel and we got one of the members of the Chapel, Sani Zorro to run for the Presidency, I for the Deputy and Mrs. Funke Fadugba to run for Treasurer. When the out-going leaders of the NUJ sought to stop the New Trend from taking over the leadership by banning us from the NUJ elections, Zorro went to court through Chief Mike Ozekhome to stop the elections, I got an injuction through Chief Gani Fawehinmi while Ojudu on behalf of Concord journalists, also stopped the convention. Later, Zorro was elected NUJ National President.
In 1988, a mutual friend, Femi Aborishade was detained without trial for alleged treason. We began a national ‘Free Femi Aborishade” campaign. We later changed the name to the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, CDHR, to fight injustice and free all political detainees in the country. With Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti as Chair, Ojudu and I were so active in the group that we could be found in its offices on Imaria Street, Anthony Village, Lagos, every day including Sundays. We ran a lot of risky campaigns against military dictatorship. We were also active in campaigns to free human rights lawyer, Gani Fawehinmi; at the height of the Babangida dictorship, Ojudu was engaged with patriots like Dr. Osagie Obayuwana in the quite risky work of writing graffiti on street walls demanding freedom for Fawehinmi. This had to be done in the dead of night and it meant being shot if caught by the security services as there would be no witnesses.
Perhaps, one of the biggest campaigns we were involved in was the holding of the National Conference in 1990 to force the military out of power. It was organised by the National Consultative Forum, NCF, led by the former President of the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, Mr. Alao Aka-Bashorun. The Secretary was Dr. Ransome-Kuti while Ojudu was Assistant Secretary. Mr. Uche Chukwumerije, a veteran journalist was Publicity Secretary while I was Assistant Publicity Secretary. We had men like Second Republic Ministers, Kola Balogun and RBK Okafor, veteran nationalist Tanko Yakassai and Senator Mahmud Waziri while famous neurosurgeon, Professor Adeoye Lambo was Conference Chairman.
The military regime which initially did not take us serious became so alarmed that it offered financial inducement and appointments. With this, the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, then led by Mr. Paschal Bafyau not only withdrew, but also denounced the Conference. Mr. Chukwumerije jumped ship when the regime enticed him with appointment as the Minister of Information. When the rest of us refused to be compromised, the regime announced a five-year jail term for each of us. Ojudu and I were amongst those who preferred to go to jail rather than abort the Conference. At the end, the military aborted the Conference.
In reviewing why the Conference failed, part of the conclusion was that we could have done better if we had a media we controlled. This led Ojudu and I to the conclusion that we needed to establish a newspaper that can fight for freedom in the country.
Ojudu brought into the newspaper project, Bayo Onanuga, his Editor at African Concord magazine. I brought in Richard Akinnola then News Editor of Vanguard Newspapers, Chris Mammah, then Deputy Editor of Punch and Dapo Olorunyomi of the Herald Newspapers. Olorunyomi, a resourceful journalist, brought in two quite strategic persons; Idowu Obasa, an accountant who turned our ideas into practical business proposals, and Doyin Mahmoud his Editor in Herald.
As an initial step, we established the Court Room magazine while Aka-Bashorun registered the 24-Hour Communications for us and offered us a warehouse along the Apapa-Oshodi Express way as office. The idea of the publications were tottering in 1992 when Onanuga, Ojudu and Olorunyomi (who had moved) resigned from the African Concord magazine when the Publisher asked them to apologise to General Babangida. In 1993, they founded The News magazine along the same lines of running 24-Hour publications we had planned; they called one, PM News and the other, AM News. Two other journalists, Kunle Ajibade and Seye Kehinde joined the team as did Obasa.
The News dedicated itself to the aims of fighting military dictatorship and for freedom. Within months, the regime had descended on the magazine, banning it. But Ojudu and the team fought on, and those of us outside the new team, provided support. Three years later, the military detained Ojudu. Then in 1997 while using the illegal border crossing from Benin Republic (used by the anti-military opposition to escape arrest) Ojudu was abducted by security agents. The following year, the dictator, General Sani Abacha died and his blood thirsty regime which had murdered patriots like Ken Saro-Wiwa and Mrs. Kudirat Abiola, collapsed. Political detainees like Ojudu were freed but not so for one of the journalists in his newspaper stable, Bagauda Kaltho who was apparently murdered in detention.
In the April 2011 elections, Ojudu was elected the Senator for Ekiti Central. Today, he is Special Adviser to the President on Political Matters. But I also know that his gaze is towards Ekiti State where he hopes to run in the gubernatorial elections. He has the instinct of fighting for the underprivileged and I hope he brings his ideas to bear on the State.