A former Governor of Ogun State, Chief Segun Osoba, and other eminent Nigerians have lauded the price paid by Nigerian journalists while fighting for the birth of Nigeria’s democracy during the military junta, which they said Nigerians are enjoying presently.
In a statement made available to THISDAY, the veteran journalist and others made the commendation at the recent screening of The Avalon Daily’s documentary ‘Paying The Price (Press freedom in Nigeria)’ held at Freedom Park in Lagos.
The documentary tells the story of six Nigerian journalists – Dapo Olorunyomi, Babafemi Ojudu, George Mba, Nosa Igiebor, Soji Omotunde, and Kunle Ajibade – who were tortured and jailed by the military government for publishing stories that were in the interest of the society.
Kunle Ajibade and George Mbah were both jailed for life.
In his keynote address at the event, Osoba, who was a managing director of the Daily Times, stressed on the roles of journalists in a democracy, which he described as being “of great significance.”
According to the statement, he said: “The democracy and freedom we enjoy in Nigeria today was fought for by the media. I have urged my colleagues at the Tell magazine, The News, The Guardian and others to write their stories so that the people would know what the media passed through during the military regime.
“Some of you might have heard of NADECO, but that was just a wing or an arm in the fight for democracy. What you have just watched now (the documentary) is the price the media had to pay to usher in democracy in our country.”
The Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwolu, who was represented by the state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Gbenga Omotoso, paid tribute to those journalists who paid the ultimate price for defending their ideals and the ethics of their profession.
He said: “I’m glad that there are students of journalism in attendance, hopefully they would learn a bit of history and what it means to be a good journalist.”
Omotoso, who also personally recalled the ordeals of some of his colleagues like Ojudu who was at one point held in a cemetery by the junta, commended The Avalon Daily for putting together the documentary, saying: “I commend the organisers of this event for preserving an important historic event in our country.”
In his remark at the event, a former Senator representing Lagos-East constituency Senator Gbenga Ashafa, who spoke after the screening of the documentary, said: “The Avalon Daily has dug into the history of journalism and media in Nigeria to produce a documentary about the huge price paid by veteran journalists during the military era.
“As a people, we cannot afford to ignore the sacrifices made by those who risked all to give us a voice during oppression. I believe that as long as there is a chance for despots and authoritarian regimes to thrive, we owe our society a collective responsibility to speak up.
“This documentary on Paying the Price of press freedom in Nigeria is a commendable memoir that has shed light on a part of Nigeria’s history that we cannot simply forget.”
Speaking also, Special Adviser on Communications to the Minister of Works and Housing, Mr. Hakeem Bello, who represented the minister, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, said: “As you know, Fashola is a stickler for documentation and he takes the documentation of important historical events like this very seriously. I personally recall when my friend and colleague was also detained at the famous cemetery, and those were ugly times for our country and journalists in particular.
“I am glad that the efforts of journalist, particularly in that era, have been documented by The Avalon Daily, and we must continue to encourage other journalists to live up to the ethics of the profession.”
In his closing remarks, the Managing Editor of The Avalon Daily and producer of the documentary, Mr. Ayodele Adio, recognised one of the victims of the military’s abuse of power, Mr. George Mbah, who he said was jailed for life by the Sani Abacha led military government.
Mbah, who also spoke briefly at the event, stressed the need for “journalist to continue to do their work in the interest of the society and damn the consequences.”