In Memory Of James Bagauda Kaltho Features/Special Reports In Memory Of James Bagauda Kaltho - Global Quest Magazine



Wednesday, June 19, 2024

In Memory Of James Bagauda Kaltho Features/Special Reports In Memory Of James Bagauda Kaltho

Benjamin Omoike

“It was different because it was a military dictatorship and they closed newspapers at will and shot people at will.”  —  Sam Omatseye.

On Wednesday, November 12, 1995 this writer was walking out of the premises of TheNews  and TEMPO magazines as late James Bagauda Kaltho was coming into the premises. At the entrance the two of us waited to exchange pleasantries and took some time to discuss our fate as journalists and how the dictatorship of General Sani Abacha was making the country unbearable for all.

The need to continue the struggle if our country must claim its rightful place in the comity of nations was underscored in the brief ruminations while the prime need to remain alive was recognized as the most effective way of sustaining the same struggle. 

This date remained indelible in this writer’s memory because it was the last time that he saw Bagauda. Also fresh in one’s memory was the particular warning that this writer intuitively gave to Mr. Kaltho on this fateful day. This writer had advised that he (Kaltho) needed to be more careful because the junta has been hurt by him and the rest of us. They were very bitter and were going to kill given the opportunity. Just two days earlier, the indefatigable writer and social critic, Ken Saro-Wiwa had just been executed under mysterious circumstances. This writer had given the execution of Saro-Wiwa as an example of what awaited some of us if we allowed ourselves to be caught by the agents of the junta. 

That Bagauda was later kidnapped and murdered really broke this writer’s heart. When this writer got the news of his kidnap, it was clear that Bagauda was not likely to come out alive given some of the feelers some of our sources had been giving us. The fact that Bagauda was kidnapped and later murdered was not because he was careless or because he did not take this writer’s advice to heart, but rather because evil has a great capacity to extend its horizon unless it is stopped or checkmated by courageous men and women of goodwill.

The meanness, wickedness and cruelty of those military men who have made determined efforts to take away our freedom could be perfectly explained by the arrest and detention of Ladi Olorunyomi, wife of Dapo Olorunyomi, and their three-month-old baby, Aramide, when the security men could not find him at home. They showed their lack of decency and etiquette with this singular action and sent a message that they would go to any length to silence all dissenting voices. Though, Mrs. Olorunyomi and her son, Aramide were released the next day, she (Mrs. Olorunyomi) was arrested again in March 1997 and only released after 48 days in detention. No reasons were given by the authorities for her detention.

Though, the Abacha regime did not hide its intention to ensure that journalists were reminded that they had no guns but “ordinary pens,” he tried to feign a spirit of magnanimity that he did not really have when he ordered the release of three journalists with Newswatch magazine, Ray Ekpu, Dan Agbese and Yakubu Mohammed, who had been arrested in connection with “an article based on an interview with a retired senior military officer” alleging that General Abacha’s coup was a “putsch against democracy”. Several days later, they and two other Newswatch journalists were charged with “sedition and criminal intent to cause fear and alarm to the public and to disturb the public peace.” General Abacha, while asking the charges against them to be dropped had advised the journalists to show “discretion and self-control” in the future. This was in April 1994. Two months later, in June 1994, the publisher of Weekend Classique, Mee Mofe-Damijo, was arrested at the airport when on her way to France and released after three days as a result of legal proceedings instituted on her behalf by her lawyer to help regain her freedom. She was held in connection with a story about the existence of rifts within the ranks of the army. The authorities initially refused to release her unless the editor of the magazine, Ben Charles Obi, agreed to come forward.

Regarded as the “Field Marshal of guerilla journalists,” Bayo Onanuga, whose calm exterior only serves as a cocoon for his steel heart, was also arrested and detained on numerous occasions. In March 1995, he was detained without charge or trial for 13 days — initially at the infamous Shangisha detention centre in the outskirts of Lagos, which is used by the Lagos State Directorate of the State Security Service, and later at the notorious federal Investigations and Intelligence Bureau at Alagbon in Lagos. Following his release, Abacha and his men went berserk in the month of May 1995. In this month alone, four major journalists were arrested and jailed.

On May 1, 1995, Ben Obi Editor of Weekend Classique was used to blaze the trail of the arrests made that month. A secret Military Tribunal tried him along with Chris Anyawu, publisher and Editor of The Sunday Magazine who was arrested May 31, 1995, and gave them life sentences.  Kunle Ajibade, who was the Editor-In-Chief of TheNews was imprisoned on May 5, 1995 for his article: “No One Guilty: The Commission of Inquiry Presents an Empty File Regarding Suspects in the Coup d’Etat.” He was later secretly tried and convicted for being an “accessory” to a coup by a Military Tribunal in July of the same year. George Mba, an Assistant Editor with TELL magazine was arrested the same day with Kunle Ajibade (May 5,1995) “for contributing to a report about a military officer who died during interrogation about his involvement in an alleged coup plot.” He also got a life sentence from the same military tribunal.

In July 1995, Alex Kabba, Abuja Correspondent of TheNews  magazine escaped  two lorry loads of soldiers sent after him by Al Mustapha over a story he had written about how the latter ordered the Central Bank of Nigeria  to make available 30 million naira for Sallah celebrations. Alex Kabba was traced to the Press Center Abuja for arrest and detention. Alex showed his agility in being able to scale walls without poles as he escaped while everyone present at the Abuja Press Center that evening was held hostage for 5 hours. Alex Kabba eventually escaped to the United States.

In August 1995 following a story he wrote in Dateline newspaper, a sister publication of TELL magazine, entitled “Buhari, Abacha at war over oil money,” Osa Director, the Kano Correspondent of the stable was arrested and taken before a chief magistrate’s court in Kano in leg chains and handcuffs. He was charged with inciting disaffection by publishing “false reports” in contravention of sections 416 and 418 of the Penal Code of the northern states of Nigeria, and then denied bail until October 1995. Godwin Agbroko, editor-in-chief of The Week, was arrested in December 1996 in connection with an article which had appeared in the magazine about disputes within the army. This was the third time he had been arrested since 1995. Nosa Igiebor, editor-in-chief of Tell magazine was detained between December 1995 and June 1996. “His six months’ detention was punishment for his refusal to reveal his sources for articles criticizing the military government.   

The madness continued in the following year as the rampaging Abacha regime extended their fangs to vendors. On March 1, 1996, Jude Sinnee, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) was arrested by “Armed agents of the Rivers State Internal Security Task Force.” “The agents seized 500 copies of various publications and the vendor’s accumulated sales of the day. In May 1996, it was George Onah’s turn. George Onah was the defence correspondent for Vanguard. His arrest came in connection with an article he had written about promotions and other changes in rank among Nigerian military officers. On July 31, 1996, Okina Deesor of Radio Rivers was arrested and detained in the Governement House Cell Prison in Port-Harcourt for reportedly “broadcasting the Ogoni National Anthem” earlier on July 18, 1996.

In May 1996, Chinedu Offoaro, a reporter of The Guardian in Lagos disappeared without trace. He had reportedly gone on an assignment in Owerri. His whereabouts remained unknown and he has been presumed dead. The SSS have reportedly refused to cooperate with his family and have refused to answer questions whether they had Offoaro in their custody. 

On February 1, 1997, it was the turn of the firebrand Moshood Fayemiwo, the fearless publisher of the weekly Razor. He was arrested and detained at the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) in Lagos. He was kidnapped from Cotonou where he had been hiding as exile by security agents and brought to Lagos. In July 27, 1997 the keepers of the Abacha gulag came for Mohammed Adamu, the Abuja Correspondent for African Concord. His sin was that his magazine had a cover story titled “Ali Mustapha: Ruthless Man Behind Abacha.” His editor, Soji Omotunde was abducted on October 25, 1997 on the streets of Lagos from his car. He was reportedly “tied, gagged and bundled” into a car and driven to an “unknown location.”   

In Novemeber 1997, the junta felt that the impact of its power has not been felt enough by the Nigerian media. Thus within two weeks, seven journalists were arrested, disappeared or kidnapped in sweeping actions. On November 4, 1997, Adetokunbo Fakeye of the PM News “disappeared while on assignment at Army Defence Headquarters, in Lagos.” Four days after, on November 8, 1997, it was the turn of the Editor of TheNews magazine, Jenkins Alumona who was arrested by the State Security Service agents on the premises of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA). He ended up at the SSS detention camp at Abuja. Just two days after that November 10, 1997, they came for Onome Osifo-Whiskey, the Managing Editor of TELL magazine. He was arrested on his way back from the church with his family.

Then, the self effacing but eminently brilliant Akin Adesokan, a reporter with Post Express felt victim of the military “mad dogs” (apology to M.K.O. Abiola) on November 12, 1997 for carrying on him the picture of the murdered Ken Saro-Wiwa at the Nigeria-Benin border. He ended up at the SSS Detention Camp, in Ikoyi, Lagos. On Novemeber 14, 1997, Rafiu Salau, the Administration Manager of the Independent Communications Limited, publishers of TheNews/TEMPO/PM News was arrested and detained at Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) in Apapa for having the effrontery to come in and check on Adetokunbo Fakeye, the Defence Reporter for PM News who had been detained about ten days earlier.

Babafemi Ojudu, the Managing Editor of TheNews/TEMPO/PM News was added to the pile on Novemeber 17, 1997 and detained at Ikoyi prison. His sin – Ojudu attended a seminar organized by Freedom Forum in Nairobi. Ben Adaji, the Taraba Correspondent of TheNews/TEMPO was picked up on December 4, 1997 after 37 days of “full-scale manhunt” for writing a story titled “War in Taraba” which “detailed the build-up and outbreak of a factional conflict in the Takum district of Taraba State and the roles of some military officers in this conflict.”

When Sam Omatseye made the above quoted statement, he obviously had the military rulers of Nigeria in mind. But available evidence since 1999 showed that since the military boys have changed their uniform for the civilian gowns as rulers in this so called democracy, they have become more daring and flagrant. More journalists have since lost their lives since 1999 when Ibrahim Babangida allegedly blazed the trail through the murder of Dele Giwa in October 1986. The following are murdered journalists since Bagauda Kaltho of TheNews disappeared in 1996:

Chinedu Offoaro of The Guardian on May 1, 1996

Tunde Oladepo of The Guardian February 26,1998

Okezie Amaruben of Newsservice, September 2,1998

Bolade Fasasi National Association of Women Journalists,  March 1,1999

Fidelis Ikwuebe, Freelancer, April 18,1999

Sam Nimfa-Jan of Details, May 27,1999

Samson Boyi of The Scope, November 5,1999

Godwin Agboroko of ThisDay, December 22,2006

Paul Abayomi Ogundeji of ThisDay, August 16, 2008

 Eiphraim Audu of Nasarawa State Broadcasting Service, October 16,2008

 Bayo Ohu of The Guardian, September 20,2009

 Nathan S. Dabak of The Light Bearer, April 24, 2010

 Sunday Gyang Bwede of The Light Bearer, April 24, 2010

 Edo Sule Ugbagwu of The Nation, April 26, 2010.

The list here is by no means exhaustive of harassed, detained, maimed and or killed journalists. There are some who were lucky to have come out with their lives after being detained. Some of the journalists named above belong to this category. There are also some who have been lucky not to have been captured at all and were able to escape. Alex Kabba, Laolu Akande, Sam Omatseye, Sunday Dare, Okonta Ike and many others belong to this category. There are tens of others who were never able to escape and were more than lucky not to be caught. This category includes the Wale Adebanwis, the Ebenezer Obadares, the Waziri Adios, the Muyiwa Adekeyes and several others too numerous to mention from other several stables. But James Bagauda Kaltho and the fourteen others named above were not so lucky, though all of them were not direct victims of government assassination, but surely and definitely, they are all victims of incompetent governments, military or civilian.

James Bagauda Kaltho was cut short in his prime by those who are trying to protect their dirty secrets. He was kidnapped and murdered. Martha, his dedicated wife, was deprived of her loving husband. Her children were deprived of their father. Journalism was also deprived of a courageous foot soldier. The cowards even tried to malign him in death by alleging that he died while detonating a bomb. But they never explained to the rest of us how the body exploded by a bomb would remain intact. They were not able to explain how the book he bought was intact with its receipt in the cellophane bag he was holding. The spirit of freedom lives on in the memory of James Bagauda Kaltho and other Nigerians who paid the highest penalty in staking their claims for freedom by fighting the political adventurers to a standstill.

Nigerian journalists have lost a lot of battles and they have won quite a few. The war is not over yet. Another phase in the war is about to emanate as the next round of elections approach. It is another season of trying to checkmate those who seek to steal the mandate of the people and impose themselves on the rest of us.

This writer would like to use this opportunity to thank Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) whose archives was very helpful in refreshing the memory of this writer in putting this article together. Gratitude goes to CPJ for being in the vanguard of ensuring that History never forgets the memory of these heroes and the atrocities of the monsters in the garb of men. Unquantifiable personal thanks also go to Mr. Yemi Adaramodu, former Cartoon Editor of the Tribune Newspapers who provided several safe havens when this writer was declared wanted by Colonel Ike Chinyere Nwosu of Oyo State over a story on the outbreak of typhoid in the TEMPO magazine. Thanks also to the indefatigable Femi Falana who was never tired of defending us in the Courts. He probably more than anyone saved this writer from arrest and detention by ensuring that this writer was defended without having to appear in Court. Thanks to others who work in other facets of the profession – the distributors, the administrators, the vendors, the drivers, the clerks, the typists, graphic artists, cleaners, gatemen and others that are often forgotten in the haze that the struggle for freedom represents. Some of them have been maimed too. Some of them have lost their lives too.

May the souls of the dead continue to rest in perfect peace and may the struggle for the freedom of man never cease.

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