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Documentary narrates journalists’ pro-democracy ordeals

By Margaret Mwantok
17 March 2020   |   4:04 am
The British playwright and screenwriter, Sir Tom Stoppard, succinctly opined that “I still believe that if your aim is to change the world, journalism is a more immediate short-term weapon.”

Founder of DAME, Mr Lanre Idowu (left); Mr Akin Fatunke; Managing Editor of The Avalon Daily, Ayodele Adio; Chief Segun Osoba; Senator Gbenga Ashafa and Mr Hakeem Bello during the screening of the documentary in Lagos.

The British playwright and screenwriter, Sir Tom Stoppard, succinctly opined that “I still believe that if your aim is to change the world, journalism is a more immediate short-term weapon.” This much was demonstrated at the screening of The Avalon Daily’s documentary, Paying The Price: Press Freedom in Nigeria, which held at Freedom Park in Lagos recently.

The documentary tells the story of six 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 Mba were both jailed for life.

In his keynote address at the screening, Chief Olusegun Osoba, a former governor of Ogun State, stressed the role of journalists in a democracy, one which he described as being “of great significance.”

Chief Osoba also pointed out that “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 people can 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.”

Representing the Governor of Lagos State, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the Commissioner of Information and Strategy, Mr Gbenga Omotoso, paid tributes to the journalists who paid the ultimate price for defending their ideals and the ethics of their profession.

“I’m glad that there are students of journalism who are also in attendance here. Hopefully, they will learn a bit of history and what it means to be a good journalist,” Mr Omotoso said.

He also recalled the ordeals of some of his colleagues like Senator Ojudu who was at one point held in a cemetery by the junta. Mr Omotoso concluded his remarks by commending 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.”

Senator Gbenga Ashafa, a former Senator representing Lagos East senatorial district, 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.”

Mr Hakeem Bello (SA Communications to the Minister of Works and Housing), who represented the minister, Mr Babatunde Fashola, also said, “As you know, Mr. Babatubde Fashola is a stickler for documentation and he takes the documentation of important historical events like this documentary 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 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.”

Other guests at the event were Mr Lanre Idowu, Mr Akin Fatunke, Tomiwa Aladekomo, students of the Department of Mass Communication, Lagos State University and several other.