This man with ringing laughter and penetrating look has every reason to be happy today. He survived the military Gulag. More important, Mr Kunle Ajibade, at 63, lives to tell the story. Here is one of the great men who gave General Sani Abacha a run for his money, gun, cap, jackboots,epaulettes and swagger stick…
When he got wind that I was part of the coup plotters, planning his 60 birthday colloquium and other things in 2018 without his knowledge, he protested. Being a humble man, he just wanted to have a quiet celebration.
“No way, Oga, no way!,” I replied with the tone of a subordinate who momentarily became the boss, calling the shots. I suddenly became a royal barber who could command the emperor to turn his head this way or that side. “You deserve it, given your contributions to democracy, media and national discourse, at great personal risk.” He surrendered because, Odia Ofeimun, the leader of the conspirators; Ololade, Ifeanyi Udin,Jahman Anikulapo and others had gone far. No retreat , no surrender!
Being behind the barricades at the risk of death, fighting for democracy, is not a walk in the park. Ask Senator Babafemi Ojudu who was put behind the slammer too. When he was released,his Old Testament prophet beard which he developed in detention did not allow his own son to recognise him. I still keep wondering where Ajibade, Ojudu, Bayo Onanuga (the Oga patapata), Dapo Olorunyomi, Seye Kehinde, Idowu Obasa, got their courage, what kept them going, even at the risk of being gunned down. That is another story.
I remember the day the security people came for Ajibade in our office during the military days. As a reporter, I was still wet behind the ears. It was because of a cover story of TheNEWS, entitled “Not Guilty- Army Panel Clears Coup Plotters.” He was accused by the military of ‘publishing materials which could obstruct the work of the coup plotters tribunal’ and for ‘misleading the public’. The crime was being ” an accessory after the fact of treason.”
That, for him, was a journey that resulted in his being jailed for life by Abacha’s coup tribunal. It was also a moment of great trial for his wife (they resemble each other!) who held the home front intact. May we never experience military rule again in Nigeria. He was released by General Abudusami Abubakar on 18 July 1998. That was after Abacha’s death (on 8 June 1998).
In 1998/1999, Ajibade was a Feuchtwanger fellow at the Villa Aurora in Los Angeles, where he wrote his prison memoirs, Jailed for Life.
Highly diplomatic, Ajibade is a man who does not pass judgement on a member of staff without hearing his own side. Prudent and a bookworm to the core, he buys books for his staff during his trips to the US, UK and others.
He has a rich library. In fact, the kind of “look” that Bamidele Johnson, Goodluck Ilajufi Ebelo and I give those books whenever we visit Mr. Ajibade’s house…
He is always ready to engage his managers in arguments. If you present superior logic, he agrees with you. At management meetings, he uses this expression: “I want all of us to be on the same page”. At a personal level, your trouble is Mr Ajibade’s anguish too. Put differently, he is the meaning of the word, “empathy.”
I wish the Executive Editor of TheNEWS, author of Jailed for Life and What a Country happy birthday.
-Adapted from my tribute on him in 2018 on this page when he turned 60.