By Wale Adebanwi
Three passions—to paraphrase Bertrand Russell—strong and overwhelmingly propelling, have governed Babafemi Ojudu’s public life: a longing for democratic freedom, a passionate and dissident craving for public affairs reportage, and the pursuit of the creation of an egalitarian society in Nigeria.The three passions are differently illustrated but also merge in the story that I will tell about the journalist, activist and politician whose concern about, as well as consternation at, the failure of his fatherland to fulfil her manifest destiny has driven him to causes and courses that could have consumed him life. Though he survived, that longing for freedom, that craving for investigative distinction in the course of democratic life and the commitment to the creation of an open and welfarist society, robbed him of his freedom under military rule and traumatised him for many years.Now to the story.After seizing power in November 1994, Nigeria’s most brutal and corrupt military dictator, General Sani Abacha, imposed a tyrannical rule. However, he faced a determined opposition led in part by the radical press which was forced by circumstances to transform into a guerrilla press. One of the major institutions of the guerilla press was TheNEWS magazine edited by some of the most imaginative and boldest journalists in Nigeria’s history: Bayo Onanuga, Dapo Olorunyomi, Babafemi Ojudu and Kunle Ajibade. As the managing editor of TheNEWS, Ojudu was on the ‘wanted’ list of the Abacha security network. Yet, he and the others continued as if their lives and freedom were not at stake.In the course of this struggle against dictatorship, Ojudu, who was returning to Nigeria on a visit to the United States, decided to stop over in the United Kingdom to see Senator Bola Tibunu, who, along with some other pro-democracy activists, was in exile in the UK. When they met, Tinubu told Ojudu about a “hot exclusive” he had in his possession. The ever curious journalist was interested. The man who would later become the governor of Lagos State had become aware of a colossal financial scandal involving the murderous regime in Nigeria. As a prodemocracy activist and one of those who invested in TheNEWS enterprise, Tinubu had both political and quasi-journalistic interest in the “scoop”. A certain lawyer in London, he learned, had a load of information on how Abacha was stealing Nigeria dry and buying property in France, Germany and elsewhere. He was ready to talk in the strictest confidence to Tinubu about it. When Tinubu went to see him, he knew he needed some evidence about the promised revelations, since he suspected that the source would not be willing to give him the relevant documents. Also, he suspected that his memory might falter in recalling all the details. He therefore decided to do something radical, if not rascally. He transformed himself into an emergency newshound and therefore hid a midget tape-recorder in his pocket when he met the source.As Tinubu played the tape of the revelatory and explosive details provided about the Abachas to Ojudu, the latter was already thinking of how to pursue this further and get a cover story out if it for the TheNEWS. But Tinubu insisted that he will not release the tape. He asked Ojudu to write down the details. However, the journalist was not satisfied; he wanted the tape for full transcription and as “evidence” to convince his colleagues in Nigeria. Later, Tinubu advised against publishing the story. He enjoined Ojudu to “forget about it,” as publishing such intricate and super-secret money laundering deal by a raving military despot could spell death for the journalist. But Ojudu was beyond fear; what mattered most was unveiling Abacha’s grand theft and helping to disgrace him out of power in the hope of returning Nigeria to democratic rule while ensuring the creating of a developmental state that served the common interest.If it had taken a puckish method for the Senator to record the details of Abacha’s grand larceny, it would take an equally impish means by the future Senator to liberate the tape off his senior friend so that the Nigerian public could know more about the criminal actions perpetrated against them by their maximum ruler. In spite of Tinubu, Ojudu left for Nigeria with the tape. For the latter, the public’s right to know had triumphed over Tinubu’s disinclination and his own awareness of the dangers to his life represented by the plan to expose Abacha’s thievery.Once he got to Nigeria, Ojudu called his colleague, Onanuga, to tell him about the “hot story” he brought back from London. They did some background checks and added other perspectives to the story. Despite the dangers, it was the cover story of TheNEWS of 10 November, 1997. Nigerians reacted sharply to the revelations. TheNEWS was commended for the “investigative genius” that produced the story as well as the rare courage to publish it.However, by this time, Abacha’s murderous gang had started a series of public and private executions of the regime’s opponents. The previous year, Abiola’s wife, the delectable and courageous Kudirat Abiola, had been cowardly executed on the streets of Lagos on 9 June 1996. The year before that, the patriarch of the pro-democracy movement, Alfred Rewane, had been silenced in his home by Abacha’s thugs. Abacha’s spate of murderous actions, in addition to the vast gulag that he had created for the opposition all over the country, could have scared less valiant men against publishing such grave allegations against him, but not Ojudu and his colleagues.After the publication, through one of the newsmagazine’s well-placed sources in intelligence circles, Ojudu and Onanuga were informed about how livid Abacha was over the cover story. The two were told to “disappear” because Abacha had ordered their assassination. By this time, their two other colleagues, Dapo Olorunyomi and Kunle Ajibade had been forced into exile or jailed on spurious charges by Abacha, respectively. Just about the time the news of Abacha’s threat reached them, Ojudu got an invitation from the Freedom Forum in the United States to participate in a programme in Kenya. Journalists all over the world were to attend the gathering and Ojudu was expected to address them on the problems facing journalists in Abacha’s Gulag. Ojudu knew he could not dare to go through the airports, so he promised to attend if he was able to get out through what had become the “NADECO Route” – the illegal alleyways and borders through which opposition elements crossed to the neighbouring Republic of Benin.Ojudu got through to Accra from where he boarded a flight to Kenya. In Kenya, the editor told the gathering about the perilous state of journalism practice in Nigeria and the siege that Abacha had laid against the radical press and free expression. He articulated the immediate backdrop to this, which was the struggle to end military rule, so as to return Nigeria to democratic rule. While he was there, news came that Onome Osifo-Whiskey, the managing editor of TELL, had been arrested in Nigeria. That evening, officials of the Freedom Foundation met with Ojudu to review the situation in Nigeria. Their conclusion, which he agreed with, was that, if he returned to Nigeria, he would be arrested and may be killed. They made him an offer. Since he had a United States’ visa, he should go with them to the US from where they could send him to their office in Hong Kong to wait Abacha out. Ojudu appreciated the kind gesture but rejected the offer. He knew the dangers but was sure that if he was able to slip into Nigeria through the illegal routes, he would survive Abacha. At any rate, he could not abandon his colleagues fighting against Abacha in Nigeria without reviewing with them the dangers of his continued presence there. The night before he left Kenya for home via Accra, he sent a few mails to friends in Europe and America warning them that he was journeying into danger. When he landed in Accra, he also met and had discussions with the Chairman of the Ghanaian Union of Journalists who was also ready to help. The Ghanaian was also certain that Ojudu would be arrested in Nigeria. The editor again reassured his colleague that if he managed to get into the country, he would evade arrest….But he never made it to Nigeria on his own terms in November 1997. As he drank his own urine when he risked dying from dehydration in the SSS detention centre some months later, Ojudu replayed in his mind the errors of his assumption of continued circumvention of Abacha security network and the ill-advised decision to take the normal route. It is a long story of fate which included unfortunate experiences with the means of transportation from Ghana to Togo and Republic of Benin and then to Nigeria. He had been spotted by Abacha’s intelligence officers during the journey across the three countries and therefore when he crossed into Nigerian territory, the vehicle he travelled in was double-crossed as he was arrested.He ended up less than 24 hours later in the State Security Service’s notorious detention centre in the middle of a cemetery in Ikoyi. It was Abacha’s birthday on 17 November, 1997 when Ojudu was arrested. He would never be free again — until Abacha perished in his lair the following June.But Ojudu’s expectation of freedom after Abacha’s death was not to be consummated for several weeks. His health had deteriorated terribly. Other detainees were going home, but not him. When was he going home? No one could say. While news filtered into the detention centre about political negotiations in the immediate post-Abacha era, Ojudu was as desperate for freedom as he was desperate for the restoration of his health. His health worsened still. At a point, his captors brought a lady doctor to examine him. The doctor broke into tears after the examination. Ojudu was bewildered. What did she discover? That he would die soon? She only volunteered that her patient had a low blood count, typhoid and one other disease that the “patient” had never heard of. She recommended some drugs, but promised to buy them herself and get them to Ojudu. The detainee was convinced that the doctor knew something she was not telling; perhaps he would die soon.He asked a “warder” for pen and paper to write his will. It was more a testament to his willpower than the fact that he had much to leave behind for anyone who survived him. Anyhow, he smuggled the will out to his wife who he asked to hand it over to Olisa Agbakoba, the lawyer and former President of the of the Civil Liberties Organization (CLO), who was Ojudu’s cellmate at some point in detention. When Agbakoba got the will, he called a press conference to tell the world that despite the slew of releases carried out by the succeeding General Abdulsalami Abubakar regime, Ojudu was still languishing in jail. It turned out that the Abacha regime had lied to the world through the Pope when he visited Nigeria by adding Ojudu’s name to the list of released detainees as a gesture of “goodwill” to the Papacy. Therefore, officially, he was already free.When it was confirmed that Ojudu was still in jail, an order was given by the new military leader for his immediate release. By the time he was set free, the editor had already grown a bushy beard in eight months of confinement. He was dishevelled and dying. He had worn the same clothes for eight months. Ojudu was only allowed to brush his mouth in the last two months on his eight month detention. When he returned home, his family and landlord could hardly recognize him. In a couple of hours, he had to be rushed to the hospital….This story is just one among many that speak to Babafemi Ojudu’s sacrifices in the service of journalism, freedom and fatherland. His icy determination, dissident temperament and strong work ethic, his capacity to build bridges and create amazing networks, and his commitment to good causes and invigorating steadfastness in the tortuous journey of progressive politics in Nigeria are all connected to his abiding trust in the possibilities of egalitarian rule in Nigeria. Senator Ojudu comes from a long tradition of human possibilities through egalitarian rule, one that was shaped, nurtured and elaborated by Obafemi Awolowo; a tradition which Ojudu and many others continue to carry on as we struggle for collective well-being for every constituent part of Nigeria.No doubt Ojudu’s passion has, understandably, been chastened by post-transition experiences and Nigeria’s almost unbreakable matrimony with the perverse and perfidious. But he remains unbroken in his commitment to the possibility of positive change. It is for this that he sacrificed his freedom; it is for this that he risked extermination.Having experienced the innate possibilities of dissident activism in his years at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), after graduation, Ojudu refused to be trapped in the conditions of unwilled inconsequentiality to which millions of young Nigerians were designed to live given the socio-economic and political arrangements imposed by the post-Second Republic military autocracy in Nigeria. For most of his adult life, he has shown that he has the courage of his convictions. He mobilized his public affairs journalism in opposition to the abhorrent despot to end Abacha’s unappeasably appetite for potency (political and otherwise) and currency. And before Abacha, Ojudu also played his part in ending the extravagant monocracy of the ruinous genius, General Ibrahim Babangida. Through all these, he did his part in leveraging democratic rule, public advocacy journalism and egalitarian rule. And while he was engaged in the national struggle to save Nigeria, he always returned to his natal base, Ekitiland, in affirmation of where his charity began. No doubt, the positive obstinacy that is the abiding trait in the legends of the Ekiti is perceptible in Ojudu’s enduring activism as a journalist and vigour and effectiveness as a politician.However, as one of those who fought hard for the enthronement of democracy, I still find it painful that, as a senator, Ojudu allowed his voice to be drowned out deliberately by those he fought against during military rule, some of whom have since ambled their way into power. Perhaps the often exasperating compromises of political life has attenuated the subversive instincts of the activist. Or perhaps it was the silence and stealth of the searcher. Yet, the end-point of Senator Babafemi Ojudu’s public struggle can be summarized as one which constitutes an attempt, to use Nurudeen Farah’s words in Maps, to write “a letter of glory to posterity.”It is my hope that he will not depart from this path.• Adebanwi is a Fellow of St. Anthony’s College, Oxford University, UK…………..Amara’s Testimonial
He is not just big in stature, Senator Babafemi Ojudu is a giant and a soldier within. He has a heart for his people and for Nigeria in general. The very day I was opportune to know a little about his journey in journalism, I started desiring to live his kind of life though a tough sacrifice to make. Something deep within me found the courage to speak out for the good of Nigeria. Senator Ojudu is not just a journalist; he is more of a human rights activist.I met Senator Ojudu in 2007 during the darkest days of my life. It was a time filled with uncertain and endless battering by the world. The media was paid and used against me. He was then a full time journalist and I would, out of the blues, receive a call, from him asking if I was Amara. He then asked if I was having issues with my then husband to which I responded in the affirmative. He had a sponsored negative publication on his table but unlike a good number of his colleagues in journalism, he drove to where I was to hear me out. As I spoke to him that very day and narrated my fourteen years ordeal, I could see tears rolling down his cheeks. When I finished, he told me not to speak to anyone and promised to stand by me come what may. Well, I took that with a pinch of salt because that became a word I was very used to in my situation coupled with the fact that I was then part of those who believed the lie that politicians and religious leaders tell us – He is Yoruba, be careful how you deal with him. To my greatest surprise, he kept his word; he became a brother, friend, and my adviser. My children were taken away from me and for nine months, I didn’t know where they were. Miraculously, I received a call from my little son all the way from Ghana who told me where they were kept. I immediately ran to Senator Ojudu who gave me one hundred thousand Naira to get a ticket to Ghana. He contacted a nonprofit in Accra; they helped to locate my children. Don’t ask me what happened because it was a very emotional moment for us. On getting back to Nigeria, my court case continued. I had no means of transportation, everything, even my clothes were taken away from me. Senator Ojudu would send his official driver to drive me to the court. Don’t forget; this is a Yoruba person doing something positive for a helpless Igbo person. I didn’t have money to hire a lawyer, my lawyer took my case probono. The very day my ex-husband hired a senior advocate, I was frightened and on getting home, I called Senator Ojudu to let him know what happened. He said to me, “If it’s the very SAN that I know, he won’t get involved in doing injustice. Let him hear your story in court and I promise you that would be his last day for him”. It happened exactly as he said.The court would later give me full custody of my four children. It was one thing to get my children back yet another to be able to put food on the table and send them to school. A day came that, right in my presence, Senator OJUDU borrowed six hundred and fifty thousand Naira to send my children to school. These are not children from Ekiti State; they are not from any Yoruba State. To Senator Babafemi Ojudu, goodness knows no tribe. My children still remember that very day. When I was rushed to the hospital for a blood pressure of about 180, he drove to the hospital in the middle of the night to see me. Right there on my bedside, he said to me, “one wrong thing you would do to yourself and these children is to lose your life before your time”. He told me about his mother’s story, how she suffered for them but didn’t live to enjoy it all. When he ended, he said to me, “Amara, you have a dream, don’t let your problems take over your dream”. I am happy that today, my dream, though still in progress, has become a reality. I know he is proud of me so far. There are many other things he said I must do for the world and my nation; I hope to do all that and much more someday. I’ll keep dreaming.Senator Ojudu is my mentor in journalism. When he noticed that I love writing, he gave me a laptop that was given to him alongside other journalists. He told me to write articles, thirteen articles in whatever topic I liked. In just two days, I wrote the thirteen articles and when he saw them, he was forced to give me a full page in the newspaper, PM News. When my readers started asking for more, I was asked to write two different articles weekly. From here, different media houses started calling me to write for them. I consulted him and he gave a nod and made sure I was paid rightly.He also got me interested in politics and political discussions. There is no way you hang around Femi and won’t get involved in politics or activism. He is deep politically. I was opportune to go through some of the political books he reads. I saw him consult the books every step of the way. His is not a politics of money as is obtainable in our society; he uses his intellect and experience in human rights activism. He believes so much in the likes of Chief Gani Fawehinmi of blessed memory, a man who gave his all, selflessly, for Nigerian masses. Now, through my organization, I fight for human rights, especially widows and abused women in rural communities. Will I get involved in politics? Maybe, maybe not. But I will always do my best for Nigeria. Thanks to Senator Ojudu. Do we disagree sometimes? Yes, as often as normal people do. As a writer and social commentator, there are times I write against his political views. But one thing stands out about this man. He will get angry with me, but he wont push it. I am sure he understands that that was a part of my mentor that I picked – saying what I mean at all times. Our once-in- a-while political arguments have not made him to see me as an enemy. He believes in diversity of people and opinions. He taught me how to be dogged. Through him, I learnt to stand up for what I believe. He taught me never to struggle to be loved by fellow humans. Yes, my father taught me all that as a child, but Senator Ojudu got it buried in me. Having gone to jail for it, Senator Ojudu is a strong believer in the freedom of speech.He encouraged me to write my first two books and chose the title for my most recent book, “A Raging River…the storms in the life of a young African woman”. Like I wrote earlier, Senator Ojudu does not know what ethnicity or race is. For him, there is good as well as bad everywhere. He taught me that lesson and so when I hear people say negative things about other tribes -Yorubas, Hausas, Igbos and others, I just laugh at their ignorance because I once lived in their world.Let me go back to politics. We all know that politics in Nigeria is still emerging. We claim to practice democracy, but we are yet to understand the full meaning of that word, democracy. It’s more about who has the heaviest pocket. Senator Ojudu is one man who believes that against all odds, you can achieve and become whatever you set your mind on. He may not always give you fish to feed your family; he shows you how to fish and feed your nation. He seeks to find lasting solutions to problems. Many Nigerians won’t like this about him because of the “get-rich-quick syndrome” that has evaded our society, but if there is a man who should stand to inspire our youths, it is Senator Babafemi Ojudu.￼……In the trenches of journalism and activism with Babafemi Ojudu.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 victimized 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, then of Radio Lagos to run for Treasurer. When the out-going leaders of the NUJ sort 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 Concordjournalists, 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, Femi was engaged with patriots like Dr. Osagie Obayuwana in the quite risky work of writing graffiti on street walls demanding freedom for Fawehinmi. This of course 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 organized 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. We also resolved that we had to take advantage of the emerging technological development in the world and run a 24-Hour newspaper that would have morning (AM) and evening (PM) editions.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 then Herald Newspapers. Olorunyomi, a motivational journalist and resourceful person, brought in two quite strategic persons. First was Idowu Obasa an accountant with Peat Marwick who turned our ideas into practical business proposals, and Doyin Mahmoud, his Editor in Heraldwho helped in sourcing for funds. 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 Concordmagazine when the Publisher asked them to apologize to General Babangida. In 1993, they founded The News magazine along the same lines of running 24-Hour publications which they called PM News and 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 and detaining the staff. 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 political 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 assassinated opposition activist, Mrs. Kudirat Abiola, collapsed. Political detainees like Ojudu were freed but not so 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.