JULY 4, 1984, stands remarkable in Nduka Irabor’s calendar; it was the day he was incarcerated without the option of fine, while his employer, The Guardian Newspapers Limited, was fined N50,000, by a military tribunal. The tribunal’s verdict was enabled by a retroactive decree of the military government, which did not hide its disdain for the press.
One of the best; as a reporter and as an editor, Irabor made his mark in journalism. He has no regret about the profession that brought him recognition despite the hounding of a repressive military regime of the time. A journalist of international repute, he was the former Editor of the African Guardian Magazine. He once served as the Chief Press Secretary to the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He represented Ika Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives when Nigeria returned to democracy in the Fourth Republic.
The fearless journalist was the first victim of media persecution alongside his professional colleague, Tunde Thompson by the Gen. Muhammudu Buhari military government infamous Decree No 4, 1984 (Protection Against False Accusation) Decree. The decree made it an offence punishable by imprisonment, fine, or both for the press or any media house to publish or broadcast anything, whether true or false, that caused some embarrassment or is likely to bring the government or government official into ridicule or contempt.
The same military government also promulgated another obnoxious decree known as decree No. 2 which specified that anybody including the reporters and editors could be detained for months without being arraigned in court if they published any offensive report.
Undeniably, this unjustified brutalization and harassment of journalists in Nigeria by the military started after the Nigerian Civil War. But the first time in Nigeria’s independent history that a concerted attempt has been made to restrain the freedom of the press. In 1970, Minere Amakiri of the Nigerian Observer was arrested and detained by the then military administrator of Rivers State, Diette Spiff. Before detention, he was stripped naked and his hair was shaved with a razor blade.
The Decree No 4 of 1984, in April of same year by the military Government was a reminiscent of a decree signed into law in 1976 by the head of state, Lt. Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo granting itself the power to close down newspapers and radio and television stations that are deemed acting in a manner detrimental to the interest of the Government. It also assumed the power to imprison journalists for inaccurate reporting or for writing articles that bring Government officials into ridicule or disrepute.
Irabor and Thompson were allegedly found to have breached the decree for publishing a scoop, an exclusive story that embarrassed the government of the day. Charged for publishing “False statement contrary to section 1 (1) of the Decree No 4 of 1984” and was required to reveal the source of his information. Irabor believes in upholding the tenets of the profession he so much values that he would rather go to jail than violate professional ethics. Hence he refused to reveal the source of his information and was incarcerated at Kirikiri Maximum Prison, Apapa, Lagos.
The veteran journalist was born in 1958; he attended St. Peter’s Primary School Benin City and Nigerian Baptist Convention School, Boji-Boji-Owa in Delta State. He did his Advanced Level Education at the Institute of Continue Education, Benin City, Edo State in 1976. He trained at Times Institute of Journalism, Lagos 1979, and later obtained Commonwealth Fellowship in Advanced Journalism from Commonwealth Fellowship work-study, British Media Organisation, 1986.
He began his professional career at Bendel Radio, Benin City, before moving to The Observer newspaper, Benin City. In 1978, he reported for Daily Times which was the leading newspaper in Nigeria at that time, afterwards pitched his tent with the Concord newspaper. From Concord, Irabor moved on to The Guardian newspaper in 1987, where he edited The Guardian Express, one of the best evening newspapers in the history of Nigerian journalism and rose to become the Editor of the African Guardian Magazine.
His stint with politics began in 1991, when he was appointed the Chief Press Secretary to the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria until the Gen. Babangida stepped aside in 1993. In June 1999, he was elected into the House of Representatives, representing Ika Federal Constituency on the platform of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
A doyen of journalism in Nigeria but has he one dark spot, for which he wasn’t to blame. As Chief Press Secretary to the then Vice President Augustus Aikhomu, his office was used to circulate the statement that annulled the results of the June 1993 presidential election, one of the best elections in the history of Nigeria which was, presumably won by Chief MKO Abiola. In the Nigerian parlance, he was simply “obeying orders from above.
Hon. Irabor is an avid sports pundit, fan and a voracious reader, he is married with children.