By Babafemi Ojudu
I woke up this morning and took a look back at my journey through life. Suddenly a rush of memory took me to a man who I worked with for many years and who by a stroke of action, an ingenious one at that “saved me from being tried as an accessory after the fact of a coup”. That charge, which itself was ingenious, saw men and women who never bore arms being arrested, charged, tried, and sentenced to life imprisonment by the Abacha regime.
I escaped this fate by a whisker. Kunle Ajibade, my friend, brother, and collaborator was not so lucky. He was arrested and taken away for three and a half years as an accessory after the fact.
Now my story. General Abacha’s security agents were miffed by our categorization of the coup, for which they arrested Obasanjo, Diya, Yaradua and other military chiefs, as “phantom coup”. They were out for a pound of flesh. In our crusade, we had tried to justify this label and get justice for the “coupists”. We stumbled on the defence presented by Obasanjo before the military panel and published same. Hell was let loose and the search for the “accessories “ became intense.
On a sweltering afternoon, l left the office to pick my first son from a kindergarten just about 300 meters away from my office in Ogba, Lagos. I took Sunkanmi home and decide to have a nap. I woke up two hours later, showered and changed to a short, a T shirt and a face cap. Why this casual dress? A divine guide has always been in charge of my actions. I went to my office to coordinate editorial activities for that evening.
As I approached the gate, it was flung open before the gateman had a chance to open it. That informed my hunch that something not quite right. I drove in and packed.
As I approached the reception area, there were about six strange looking men. As I was trying to assess what was happening, who but Monday Emoni, editor of The News came in.
“Who are you looking for? If it is Mr Bayo Onanuga he is not around”, he said.
My senses quickly sensed danger. In the twinkle of an eye, I recognized this as a coded message. I immediately responded “Yes. I am looking for Bayo Onanuga”. “Mr Onanuga gave me his car for repairs and has failed to bring the money to buy the parts. I am therefore returning the car,” I slammed the key on the reception desk and fled to the street before they realized the man they were looking for had played a trick on them. I was far away from the scene before they discovered my identity after rummaging through the car.
In anger, they pounced on Monday Emoni and took him away to be interrogated, tortured and detained. On his way to detention, I was told he engaged them in a dialogue:
Emoni: What do you want the world to say when they are told you have arrested a Photographer?
Security Men: We do not care what the world says.
A few days later, they returned and ‘captured‘ Mr Kunle Ajibade. They took him through that excruciating process of torture, trial, and three and half years in a Makurdi prison.
Emoni was detained, I think, for several days before they let him go. Thank you Emoni. God bless you and all of our staff who went through all of those heady days with us. Dangerous days they were.