After June 12: How THISDAY Changed the Game

James Emejo in Abuja

The infamous crackdown by the late dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha, started fully on August 18, 1994. He had responded to workers’ strike at the time and sacked the Executive Council of NUPENG, PENGASSAN, and the NLC.

In further breathing down on the nation, he also closed down three newspapers: the Punch, Concord group (owned by Abiola) and The Guardian. In another twist, the government announced a partial lifting of the ban on politics, allowing individuals to ‘canvass political ideas’ but not to ‘form political parties for now’.

But on January 22, 1995, reprieve came the way of lovers of democracy, when the THISDAY newspapers birthed, not just to fill the vacuum created by the proscribed tabloids, but change the game in totality.

Thus, THISDAY coming on stream three years after the annulment of June 12 presidential election, took the fight to the Abacha junta, with the sole aim of rescuing the country from military misrule. Its constant reportage, of heavily sensitive cover stories rattled the junta and gave it sleepless nights.

The THISDAY platform also allowed some of the members of staff of the proscribed newspapers, who were challenged to continue their antagonism in the new medium against the disreputable Abacha regime. 

For Abacha, however, that came quite too soon. Therefore, for creating another “monster” against his regime, the Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of THISDAY,  Prince Nduka Obaigbena, was serially harassed and detained by the Directorate of Military Intelligence, DMI, under then Colonel Frank Omenka, for defending democracy.

Obaigbena was later to go on exile for a few years, only returning back to the country after the death of Abacha.

Through the newspaper’s array of brilliant journalists including Waziri Adio, Eniola Bello, Segun Adeniyi, Kayode Komolafe, Ezechi Ubani, Yusuph Olaniyonu, Tunji Bello, Louis Odion and Victor Ifijeh, among others, the paper devoted to the advocacy for democratic ideals, and called on the military dictatorship to return the country to civil rule. 

Unfortunately, following their unrelenting roles, many of these reporters were either serially harassed or locked up by Abacha.

Several other writers seized advantage of THISDAY’s reach and growing influence to intensify their pro-democracy campaigns against the military regimes until victory was achieved, albeit after the late Chief Moshood Abiola who was robbed of his election victory. 

In addition, with regular major cover stories on its Saturday and Sunday titles, THISDAY constantly promoted democratic ethos, which led to the hunting down of these great writers.

The democracy and freedom we all enjoy today is the product of sacrifice of so many who in their own little way took great risk for their country to be free. Some were lost, others suffered losses of various kinds for this democracy, 25 years on…

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