Veteran Journalist and former National Publicity Secretary of the Nigeria Advanced Party (NAP), Tunde Ozemoya Thompson, was a victim of the Decree 4 of the Muhammadu Buhari military junta. Years later, he is now a member of the Presidential Media Group. In this interview, Thompson spoke on his life after prison and how he became a member of Buhari’s media team. He also spoke on the agenda of the President for the nation. Excerpts:
Several years after your incarceration under the Decree 4 of the Muhammadu Buhari military junta, how has life being with you?
It has been a long time since 1981. I have been carrying on with my life since I served my one year minus one day at the Kirikiri Maximum Prisons. Nduka Irabor and I were bundled out on Sunday night. We were supposed to have been released on Monday morning in March 1985. It was strategic move by the then Buhari/Idiagbon government to ensure that the civil society groups which Professor Wole Soyinka and Adams Oshiomhole were to lead to the prison gate to receive us did not embarrass the government that Monday. They were to receive us at the prison gate and lead us in a procession to the home of Nduka Irabor and then to my residence in Mende, Maryland. It would have been an embarrassment to the government and would have cause a lot of confusion for government and a potential security threat. Since I got to my place at about 4.am and reunited and reintegrated with my wife and three children then, life has been like a vehicle galloping. There are some bumps in life.
From the position of Diplomatic Correspondent, I became the Managing Editor of The Guardian Newspapers, replacing Eddie Iroh who was hired by government for public service job and later left for London. The position of Managing Editor gave me another dimension to journalism practice. Instead of looking for Exclusive stories, I became a motivator for Exclusive stories by journalists, who brought drafts for investigations. I enjoyed doing that. I was also involved in managing the Editorial team in terms of discipline, welfare and assurance of adherence to professional ethics. I also handled complains from either the readers of staff members who had welfare problems.
Though interesting, because I was able to use my experience as Assistant Secretary (AS) at the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) headquarters in Calabar in running that Managing Editor’s office, I was not sent on any training to do that administrative job having been a Diplomatic Correspondent. I advocate that people who will perform administrative functions in newspapers should be sent on training for administrative functions. There is another thing I enjoyed as Managing Editor of Guardian Newspapers. I enjoyed a lot of goodwill among journalists and managers.
Why did you leave the Guardian Newspapers when you did?
Unfortunately, because I did not feel adequately remunerated in that high portfolio, I discovered that some Line Editors under me were earning more than me who they report to. I gave a notice to the then Managing Director, the late Dr. Stanley Macebuh, my colleague at the Daily Times Editorial Board. I discovered that Stanley was in no mood for talk. So, I decided to withdraw from service. I had no problem with the Publisher, late Alex Ibru and I did not feel like reporting the matter to him. I later realized that the remuneration did not favour me because I was not considered fit for higher pay because I had no Masters Degree though I had First Class Upper in my First Degree. I did not see the need to go for Masters Degree because I thought that I had sufficient background for journalism. I did not know that it would count against me when my Editor in Daily Times, Prince Henry Odukomaiya and others had their experience as journalists to speak for them and not academic laurels. You are a good journalist or a bad journalist or a mediocre. You are qualified by virtue of education and experience to prove your mettle. I believe this is one of the problems bedeviling Nigerian journalism today. Sam Amuka-Pemu and Dagogo Jaja did not attain their heights because of academic degrees. It is irritating that academic laurels are being allowed today to determine the pace of progress by promising journalists. Now if you do not have Masters Degree you do not lecture in media training institutions. I advocate that those involved in training of journalists and in employment should return to the merit yardstick for evaluating journalists in print and electronic media, not possession of Masters or Doctorate Degrees that do not reflect in their output.
With your jail experience, how and why did you accept to work in Muhammadu Buhari Presidential Media Group?
Some people, I observed were doing many indescribable things by words and images to spoil Buhari’s name beyond repair. A lot of things they were writing about Decree 4 were uninformed and malicious. I noticed that in the first month of the presidential campaign. I went to the Sun Newspapers where I maintained a column, I went to see Femi Adesina, then the Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief of the Sun Newspapers. I told him: I had forgiven Buhari a long time ago, why the malicious campaign about Decree 4? For me, I never saw any paper while in detention. It was not Buhari that authorised my detention. It was Alhaji Lawal Rafindadi, the then head of the Nigerian Security Organisation (NSO). I refused to see why they should blackmail Buhari account of Decree 4. What I said was a shocker to Adesina. I said that 34 years (in 2014) after my detention was a long time to let by-gone be by-gone. As far as I was concerned, there was no one more competent and more qualified to run the country than Buhari. Femi Adesina was shocked and instructed his men to use the interview in Sunday Sun for two pages. Their sister newspaper later did something on me too.
I maintain that people were trying to blackmail Buhari. Till now, they are still doing it. There is nothing Buhari does that they see as good. They have partisan hangover for PDP hostility and impatience towards Buhari. People say he has been slow because he has no plan. But, he wants to clear the civil service and ministries of corruption before his cabinet takes over. He wants to know the truth and how the nation’s money went. Buhari is more intelligent that people will admit. If he sets up a cabinet on unclean edifice, the foundation will be bad and cannot last. But, Jesus Christ said it is the foundation that is built on solid ground that can stand. That solid ground must have had mud and all dirts eliminated that the foundation can stand. Through the reports in the Sun Newspapers, I was invited by Buhari to join the rest of the media people who had been helpful to him during the campaign. The then Director of his media Campaign Group, Mallam Garba Shehu invited me on May 5, 2015. So, I am a member of the Presidential Media Group. I will say here that that the media team who worked with Buhari when he was a military Head of State failed to advice him appropriately. If they had done so, Decree 4 would have been unnecessary. There was no Decree 4 when I wrote my stories. Now, since we have a Media Group in the Presidency, he will seek our view on any measure against the Press.
You were once a spokes person of Tunji Braithwaite’s National Advanced Party (NAP) in the Second Republic. Since then, what has really changed in Nigerian politics?
Since 1979, the rules of the game have changed. The last Chairman of INEC, Prof Attahiru Jega, was a blessing to Nigerian democracy. The credit belongs to him, his commissioners and resource persons that were involved in the 2012 and 2015 elections. The innovations they brought into political competitive arena through the card Reader and Biometric analysis for all voters made it impossible for multiple votes and fraudulent thumb printing of ballot papers as was the case in the past. The revised Electoral Act was established procedures ad practices that are of international standard. The problem with Nigeria has always been enforcement of the law and not absence of law. It was a good source of joy that Jega’s INEC lived up to the expectations of genuine citizens of Nigeria and our friends abroad who know Nigeria’s capabilities inhuman and material terms. So, a lot has changed.
Before NAP was disqualified, I met Dr Tunji Braithwaite to make the part more acceptable among Nigerians. That was a year before the elections and he told me to bring a proposal. I am a rebellious person when I am told to do things that block my aspirations and interest. I did not see why I needed to bring a proposal when what was required was for the party caucus to listen to me. I have been on my own since then.
The former President Olusegun Obasanjo said that he was not a messiah. Goodluck Jonathan also said something to that effect. Two months into the Buhari administration, do you see him as that Messiah Nigerians have long been expecting?
The only Messiah I know is Jesus Christ. Since Buhari is a Muslim, I do not see him coming in the form of Jesus Christ. But from his inauguration day, he has shown that he is someone who can bring to fruition the prosecution under Chapter Two of the Constitution, the Fundamental Objectives and State Policies of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Regardless of what Obasanjo and Jonathan said about not being Messiahs, Buhari has a track record of fighting poverty, indiscipline, corruption and other ills of society as shown when he was a military leader. He was overthrown by people who could not stand his guts. They tricked Idiagbon and others to go to Mecca so that they could take over. These people are still alive and are shaking in their pants. Buhari is now a democrat and everything he does must be democratic. Jonathan may have been counseling against witch-hunting. If Buhari is probing everybody, when will it end? Now he is probing the civil service,
people are shaking. Jonathan should have probed those who came before him. It is those who he is coming after that he will probe. But if he sees any record showing that some past ones were corrupt, he will surely probe them. Some of us are alive to testify against injustice. Those who are not bad will not be unjustly treated. But, are they telling us that they are so clean that nothing will be found against them? That is what investigations will prove.
With the crisis that hit the All Progressives Congress through the actions of the lawmakers and the time it took the party to resolve it, do you see the part surviving the four years of Buhari administration?
The crisis lasted 49 days because it fell on holiday time. Many people went on Lesser Hajj. It was a time that was religiously remarkable. Many of the legislators went on pilgrimage after Buhari’s inauguration. The long period was not because of the party, but it was a coincidence. Many were on pilgrimage. It provided the APC a great opportunity to know itself, for the members to know themselves better. The greatest disservice they can do themselves is to dichotomise themselves between APC and PDP. They won the elections as APC members. They all contributed to the victory of 2015. No persons’ contribution is better than the other. In areas Buhari did not win in 2011, he scored wonderfully in 2015. South East and South South saw Jonathan as their child. I commend the Judiciary for the boldness in moving the Rivers and Bayelsa tribunals to Abuja because of the high level of impunity that was threatening.
Considering that corruption has eaten deep into Nigerian life, do you see Buhari turning things around positively in the next four years?
Things are already being turned around. I know some people are now running up and down to execute projects they took the money two or three years ago. The name Buhari means “Being Careful to What is Right”. He has moral authority in addition to political authority the constitution confers on him. All he has to do is to avoid those who throw banana peels for others or those who are banana peels themselves.
Because of them, what must be done must be done because of the level of corruption in the country. Buhari represents a movement for change for respectability and progress for Nigeria and Nigerians. He is a force that must not be ignored by those who know that democracy is all about the people’s welfare. So, people must try and find what they can do to support him and not to subvert him; how to move Nigeria forward and not how to destroy it through corrupt practices of the past.