The Special Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on Political Matters, Babafemi Ojudu, on Wednesday said Oladipupo Diya saved him and others from assassination by late dictator, Sani Abacha.
Mr Ojudu, a former senator, stated this at a colloquium held in honour of veteran journalist, Kunle Ajibade, in Victoria Island, Lagos.
The colloquium, themed “Nigeria’s bright future and how to get there”, was led by Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka.
Mr Ojudu, together with Mr Ajibade; PREMIUM TIMES’ publisher Dapo Olorunyomi; Managing Director of the News Agency of Nigeria, Bayo Onanuga; among others were at the journalism front of pro-democracy activism in the days of the Abacha junta between 1993 and 1998.
Mr Diya was however the second-in-command to Mr Abacha until December 1997 when he was arrested for allegedly plotting a palace coup.
The journalists, who ran The News weekly magazine, were serially harassed and threatened by the junta for their no-holds-barred reportage of the regime’s atrocities.
Mr Ojudu was detained for nine months by the regime while Mr Ajibade was imprisoned for more than three years. Several other colleagues of Messrs Ajibade and Ojudu fled the country while at least one of them, Bagauda Kaltho, was assassinated.
Narrating his experience in the days of the junta, Mr Ojudu said the dictator sought to kill him and his colleagues during the period.
He however said Mr Diya secretly offered help by intimating him and others whenever danger loomed.
He narrated a particular experience after publishing a damning report about the Abacha junta, adding that Mr Diya’s tip-off helped him flee from danger.
“I had just arrived Nigeria from London. Two days after, I got this message from General Diya, saying, ‘Femi get out of the country, you have been ordered to be executed.’
“That night, I left home, I went through the border to Ghana, and from Ghana to Kenya with all kinds of fake identities.
“I received offers to go and live in London and America with all kinds of covert identities, I said ‘No, I didn’t tell my wife and colleagues who are in Nigeria that I was leaving.’
“I went back to Ghana, the Ghanaian Union of Journalists appealed to me to stay in the country. As I was entering the border, they arrested me and that was the beginning of my nine months journey in prison,” he narrated.
The presidential aide, a veteran journalist, however lamented the absence of such courage in present day young Nigerian journalists.
He gave instances of how some unnamed journalists betrayed his trust when he was in the Senate by divulging sensitive information he gave out to them that could be of public good to indicted politicians.
He said, “I was in the Senate and I believed I had access to information. I will give journalists useful information, they will go back to the people involved, collect money and tell them this is what Ojudu gave us.
“One colleague called me and said ‘These your colleagues that you are feeding with stories will kill you’. I decided to give up”.
Mr Ojudu recalled the days of the military junta with emotion, adding that his wives and the wives of his colleagues sacrificed when they went through hell.
He singled out Idowu Obasa, their accountant at TheNews, for commendation, adding that at a point, about 13 of them were in prisons across Nigeria, with Mr Obasa acting as ‘husband’ to their wives.
Mr Ajibade also spoke about his prison years with emotion, saying it was their own sacrifices to the upliftment of the nation.
The iconic journalist, who was jocularly referred to as “Elewon” (prisoner) by Mr Soyinka, said he believed in the development of Nigeria and urged Nigerians to continue to strive for the growth of the nation’s democracy.