It was an invincible but powerful radio station which became a torn in the flesh of the military junta of Gen. Sanni Abacha, the then military Head of State of Nigeria. The radio station was operated by Nigeria citizens who fled the country at the time and live abroad for fear of their lives but are determined to continue their agitation for an end to military rule in Nigeria and for the actualization of the June 12 mandate of MKO Abiola.
Abacha was uncomfortable with the activities of the radio station but the station was way beyond his reach as it was said to have been located in Norway.
Abacha felt insulted and offended by the activities of the radio station but he had no option but to live with the invisible presence of the radio. The name of the radio station was… RADIO KUDIRAT.
The annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election won by the candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP, Moshood Abiola, unleashed a chain of events that did affect every Nigerian. The events turned worse when military head of state, Gen Sani Abacha arrested and jailed Abiola in 1994 on charges of treason for declaring himself winner of the election.
While Abiola was in jail, several activists and journalists who refused to do the bidding of the government launched sustained attacks through protests and media advocacy against Abacha’s undemocratic actions and abuse of power as well as disregard for rule of law. Ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo, Shehu Musa Yar’adua and other real and imagined opponents of the regime who dared to raise their voices against his abuse of power were jailed by Abacha. The unlucky ones were executed before he died in June 1998.
Journalists were not spared, Abacha clamped down on several media houses, seized newspapers and magazines. Many journalists and pro-democracy campaigners like Nobel laureate Prof Wole Soyinka, Bola Tinubu, and others fled the country, those who couldn’t flee were abducted, tortured and spent times in jail. According to Dr Niran Malaolu of The Diet, who was also sentenced to life imprisonment, journalists like Kunle Ajibade of The News Magazine, Chris Anyanwu of The Sunday Magazine, George Mba of Tell magazine among many others were sentenced to various jail terms by a secret military tribunal over alleged involvement in the 1995 phantom coup.
At the height of the oppression in June 1995, a guerilla radio station – Radio Freedom was established by Lemi Olalemi, who was Programmes Director of Channels Television at that time. The station exposed the misrule of the regime and mobilized the people against it. BBC described Radio Freedom as “a pirate radio station carrying anti-government programming, which has broadcast on VHF/FM frequencies to the Lagos area”. On June 12, 1996, the United Foundation for the Defense of Nigeria (UFDN), launched Radio Democrat International to complement the activities of Radio Freedom, it was later renamed Radio Kudirat in August 1996 after Abiola’s wife, Kudirat Abiola, was assassinated by the government.
Olalemi, who is now Deputy CEO of Television Continental, in a 2016 interview with Punch said he operated the radio secretly from a hidden location and even his wife didn’t know about it until 1997 when he fled the country after six months in detention. He recalled “They didn’t know I was the one doing it because if they catch the person’s wife or family member, under torture, they would definitely say, ‘This is the man that is doing it.’ But I didn’t tell anybody. I was the technical officer. I was the only one doing the presentation. I was the one playing the music, gathering all the news, doing the interviews with people who I knew could contribute constructively to what I was doing, so nobody knew it was me”.
When Radio Kudirat was launched in 1996, it announced a London postal address, but its location was unknown. The London base was correct but Cotonou and USA shared parts of the operational environments. Wale Ojo Lanre, Nigeria’s most travelled Tourism Journalist and current Director General, Bureau of Tourism was at the USA headquarters during a recent visit to Atlanta Georgia. The station was located at 2505, Creel Road, Atlanta Georgia.
According to Ayo Olukotun, the guerilla styled media worked effectively by exposing government’s secrets and challenging the authoritarian regime of Abacha. “And quite frankly, not everybody who was involved in Radio Kudirat knew each other,” Professor Sola Adeyeye, a co-founder of the radio said while narrating how it operated in secrecy. Also on the Radio Kudirat team were Nobel laureate Prof Wole Soyinka, Dr Kayode Fayemi (Former Ekiti state governor) Prof Babs Onabanjo, Oga Charles Ojuolape Diran and many others. Soyinka told New York Times that the radio “has been the single most effective counter against the authority of the regime. I mean they’ve really been hysterical over the effect of the radio. Until that moment they had total control of the media apart from the underground press”.
The radio broadcast from 8pm to 9pm daily and the military government found its activities more troubling than other local media. Soldiers were deployed to the streets to ransack different homes of pro-democracy campaigners and journalists in search of its operators. Many people were wrongly detained and questioned over suspicion that they had links with the radio. According to Fayemi, then Minister of Special Duties, late Wada Nas, called a press conference in September 1996 and was almost celebrating his announcement that the government had finally located Radio Kudirat’s founders.
Radio Kudirat went off the air in January 1, 1999. “But let no one take this tactical respite as abandonment, Radio Kudirat goes off the air for its annual maintenance. This time, the maintenance period will be somewhat longer than usual, as it is a maintenance not only of technical equipment, but of human and other resources, and their replenishment, Soyinka said in a January 1, 1999 broadcast on Radio Kudirat announcing the suspension of operation. “Radio Kudirat shall be back – stronger than ever.” The radio has not returned since then – 25 years after, all its known operators have been occupied with political activities. Prof Adeyeye was a Senator till 2019, Fayemi, an ex governor, and others like Olalemi, Dapo Olorunyomi have also been involved in media business in the country.