By Robert Egbe
SIX journalists tortured and imprisoned by the late military dictator, Gen Sani Abacha, on Tuesday received recognition for their professionalism in the face of personal and professional danger.
Their stories were captured by The Avalon Daily in a documentary: ‘Paying the Price: Press freedom in Nigeria’.
It was screened at Freedom Park, Lagos.
The documentary told the story of Dapo Olorunyomi, Babafemi Ojudu, George Mba, Nosa Igiebor, Soji Omotunde, and Kunle Ajibade. They were tortured and jailed by the military for publishing stories that were against the government.
Ajibade and Mbah were jailed for life.
Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu; Minister of Works and Housing Babatunde Fashola; former Ogun State Governor Olusegun Osoba, and Senator Gbenga Ashafa were some dignitaries at the event.
Sanwo-Olu, who was represented by Commissioner for Information and Strategy Gbenga Omotoso, paid tribute to journalists, who paid the ultimate price for defending their ideals and 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.”
Sanwo-Olu recalled the ordeals of some of the honourees, including Senator Ojudu, who was at one point held in a cemetery.
He applauded The Avalon Daily for putting together the documentary and ‘preserving an important historic event in our country’.
Fashola, also represented by his media aide, Hakeem Bello, said: “As you know, Mr. Babatubde Fashola is a stickler for documentation; he takes the documentation of important historical events as this seriously. I recall when my friend and colleague was also detained at the famous cemetery; those were ugly times for our country and journalists…
“I am glad that the efforts of journalists, particularly in that era, has been documented by The Avalon Daily, and we must continue to encourage other journalists to live up to the ethics of the profession,.”
Osoba, a one-time Daily Times managing director, described the roles of journalists in a democracy as being ‘of great significance’.
According to him, the democracy and freedom Nigerians now enjoy was fought for by the media.
He said: “I have urged my colleagues at Tell magazine, The News, The Guardian and others to write their story so people can know what the media suffered during the military regime.
“Some of you might have heard of NADECO (National Democratic Coalition), but that was just a wing in the fight for democracy. What you have just watched now (the documentary) is the price the media paid to usher in democracy in our country.”
Ashafa, a former senator representing Lagos East and chairman, Senate Committee on Land Transportation, praised The Avalon Daily for digging ‘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, they cannot afford to ignore the sacrifices made by those who risked all to give voice during oppression. It is believed that as long as there is a chance for despots and authoritarian regimes to thrive, a society can owe 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,” he said.
Mbah stressed the point that ‘journalist should continue to do their work in the interest of the society and damn the consequences’.
The event was brought to a close with The Avalon Daily’s Managing Editor and producer of the documentary, Ayodele Adio, delivering a vote of thanks and recognising Mbah.
Other guests at the event were Mr. Lanre Idowu; Mr. Akin Fatunke; Tomiwa Aladekomo; students of the Department of Mass Communication, Lagos State University (LASU), and many others.