My June 12 Story By Olubunmi Fagade Ekhator

Dateline: June 12, 1993

Timeline: 8:00 a.m
It was a bright and beautiful day. A day the whole country has been looking forward to with hope and trepidation simultaneously. It was elections day in Nigeria and the presidential election would take place that day. I was waiting anxiously at the gate of our house for the official car of the broadcast station to take me to work. I was on morning shift which starts at 10:00 a.m. This was a day like no other and everyone must get to work on time. My parents left for the polling station and wished me a blessed day. A few minutes later, the blue station wagon Peugeot with Radio Lagos/LTV inscription approached our gate. I entered and exchanged pleasantries with those inside. We still had to pick other colleagues to the Radio station. From my house, to Ogba, to Ikeja, people filed out to cast their votes in each polling station we passed.
Work started in earnest in the not so spacious Newsroom, reporters, correspondents and editors were all on their toes; covering, monitoring, analysing and collating news on the elections. Reporters were all sending in their news and our editor would leave no stone unturned to work on it after those of us on the desk had perused the story. By the time we closed for the day, we were getting the vibe that the Social Democratic Party (SDP) of Chief MKO Abiola was leading the National Republican Party (NRC) of Alhaji Bashir Tofa. I kept on monitoring the election from home with my family that day.
Sunday morning, we were expectant to get the election results. I had church to attend. The pastor of my then church, Latter Rain Assembly, Pastor Tunde Bakare came and pronounced, “SDP will fail, NRC will lose. Verdict ’93, our God reigns.” Many didn’t understand this message, including yours truly. “But there was an election, did he mean there would be no winner or what?” I thought. That day ended with no declaration of elections results.
The military Head of State, General Ibrahim Babangida later annulled the results of the election, even while some results have been declared in some states. This literally took us back to the years and months of uncertainty and distrust of the military regime.
This led to many protests by activists, labour leaders, Students’ Unions, civil rights societies, market women et al. Since the pen is mightier than the sword, many journalists took their pens to war with the sword of the military. Leading to incarceration, flight in the midnight and some paying the ultimate price.
Well, I later found myself among some of these daring journalists when I started work at AM News, a publication of The News Magazine. The day I went for interview in their office, coincidentally that very day, the MD and Editor in Chief of The News magazine, Mr Bayo Onanuga was led into his office for a search by detectives who had detained him for days. And I remember one of the interviewees saying, “Guys, know what you’re applying for, did you see Bayo?” We all laughed over it. He was eventually released but not freed. Every publication of the magazine called for these detectives to come for editors, writers, reporters, correspondents, admin. staff and whoever was in that office. We were defiant, we were all involved in this. During my course of working there, I met this affable, humorous, thorough and hard working journalist who came occasionally to Lagos, he was a correspondent. We talked a lot and he made me laugh too. However, I had difficulty remembering his name, which was very unlike me. So I whispered to Mr. Dapo Olorunyomi, an editor on the stable and my mentor that I couldn’t remember his name. In His down-to earth manner, Dapsy as we call him told me, “Bunmi, just say bag o da and you have his name.” Funny. “Bag o da,” means “bag is not good.” That did it. I never forgot Bagauda Kalto’s name again. He was a good investigative journalist who came up with many headline breaking news. Unfortunately, the military junta took him out.
He paid with his life. Dapsy, Babafemi Ojudu, Kunle Ajibade, Idowu Obasa, Gbemiga Ogunleye, Lekan Otufodunrin and all the reporters working with them were practically living on a backpack. Everyday in the newsroom could be a pathway to detention, so pack all your basic needs in a backpack. I practically learnt investigative journalism 101 from these pen pushers. Dapsy would not hesitate to take me along while he’s working on top secret stories. My friends sometimes asked, “How do you cope working with all those tough guys? Are you not afraid?” I would just smile. There was no room for fear, but we all had one cause and aim; to send the military junta packing and welcome a democratic government.
One evening after work sometimes in 1996, I took a ride with one of my friends, also a journalist but not with The News. On our way to Unilag campus, we had an appointment to keep on Ikorodu Road. As we exited the highway around palm-grove/Onipan axis, it took me back to my childhood. This is the area I grew up and had my primary to Secondary school. We turned to the road leading to the street of the appointment. I remembered our house about a kilometre away, my aunt’s house was just on a side-street, while my grandma Maami’s house was a stone throw away. Even the street we just passed my uncle Mike lived there. “Here we are,” the voice of my friend jolted me out of my thoughts. “Oh,” I said, “Do you know I grew up in this area? Our house is down that road. Look, my grandma’s house is somewhere there. That street over there, her friend lived there. She used to send us on errands to her.” I enthused. “I see! How interesting! So you’re an area girl,” he joked. So we went to the place where we had the appointment, a nondescript suburban one-storey apartment building. When we entered, then, it dawned on me… It was a studio…  with a handy console… a small radio studio. My heart raced. Even as I write, my heart still race. He didn’t have to explain anything… I had worked in a Radio station. So began my adventure with Freedom radio which later changed to Radio Kudirat. I went to the place a few more times when there would be broadcast. We only played some radical songs especially Fela’s music, Okosun or some foreign artistes. I didn’t broadcast but chose some songs. Anyway, broadcasting was done few hours and some days in a month. I looked forward to the next day headlines, “Pirate radio on air.” Radio Freedom asks for actualisation of June 12, Get pirate radio on this frequency…” My colleagues and I discussed these stories but I never told them anything more.
It was getting risky, the Broadcasting Commission even started testing broadcasters’ voices to know who’s behind the pirate radio. They found the transmitter.
My parents must not know of this. I was culpable. I confided in my brothers, Kolade and Olugbenga, adding that no one must hear this, not even mum and dad. My youngest brother who was like 14 then while the news was on about the radio enthused, “These people searching for this radio are idiots, it could be in a little place while they’re looking all over.” My other brothers and I exchanged looks. I called Femi aside to interrogate him about his utterance but the boy had no clue he was just using his common sense. I was relieved.
My friend was afraid for me. My brothers were too. My friend was arrested and detained. I felt I would be next. I looked behind me when I walked on the streets. It wasn’t better in the office, security personnel came visiting every other day. We started working from nearby shops, homes, restaurants… many of our editors have been arrested, some have fled the country, but we were all united in purpose. Actualisation of the free and fair election held on June 12. A lot more happened which time and space would not allow me to add. Like many others, this is a bit of my June 12 story.

Related Articles

Back to top button