Woke up this morning and ruminated over all we did as journalists under President Ibrahim Babangida and Gen. Sani Abacha.
I was prompted to do this after reading Farida Waziri’s autobiography, One Step Ahead – Life as a Spy, Detective and Anti-Graft Czar.
I found the chapter where she reported the investigation of the phantom coup in which Obasanjo and Yar’adua, the Senior, were implicated very gripping and revealing. Our own Kunle Ajibade too got pulled in for this famous ‘coup’ as an ‘accessory after the fact of a coup’ and was jailed for life. I have read quite a lot about this ‘coup’ but not until now from an individual who occupied a front seat such as Farida.
The incident Farida chronicled in that chapter of her book was remarkably gripping and almost unbelievable if one were not also tangentially involved. I remember the General Manager of The News then, Mr Idowu Obasa, and I meeting secretly twice or thrice with late Stella Obasanjo to share information and documents on the trial of her husband at odd hours in odd locations in those days.
With almost two hundred staffers across the country working for us ( The News, Tempo, PM News, AM News ) it was unimaginable how we were able to beat the security men and women unleashed on us.
May I also quickly remark that in some instances we benefited from the patriotism, cooperation and sympathy of some of the security operatives.
Reading from Farida how soldiers, officers of the Nigeria Army, were made to lie against their superior, I came to appreciate more the doggedness of our reporters and administrative staff. They stood by us, never wavering and unflinching in their loyalty. They were many, but never budged.
At a point in this very trying time, 13 of our staffers were arrested and locked up under very tough circumstances. Many were chased into exile, one killed (Mr. Bagauda Kalto), our offices raided, work tools and hundreds of thousands of publications carted away, vendors beaten and their names carved on their back with razor blade yet no one, not any of them was known to have betrayed us or gave up on the cause.
I shuddered each time I look back and tried to transpose then to now . Hmmmm… with N100,000 or less, a bag of rice or promise of an appointment or contract now close allies will betray you. See how different the times are.
It is true our generation, may not have been the most savvy with development plans and strategy for keeping Nigeria safe or out of corruption, but we were loyal and kept our mouth shut. The generation that gave Nigeria democracy was discrete; perhaps kept too many secrets.
The current generation may have one or two lessons in loyalty to learn from us as we fought our way back to a democratic Nigeria- despite our foibles. Loyalty is a one way commitment to a cause: it is not for the lily liveried or the trader or the social media clout seeker. Loyalty is absolute commitment to a cause. That is not something a bag of rice or alert can buy. May God save Nigeria as we break new grounds.
Senator Babafemi Ojudu is Special Adviser to the President on Political Matters