Fearless Nigerian Journalist Who Took On The Political Class
By Shola Adenekan
Four days before his death at the hands of unknown assailants, Godwin Agbroko wrote a sharp criticism of the primary elections conducted by the Nigerian ruling party headed by the outgoing President Olusegun Obasanjo. In his opinion, the emergence of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, as the People Democratic Party’s (PDP) candidate was “the handiwork of a military garrison compulsion”.
A fearless, well informed journalist and social commentator in a country where the media is often the only effective opposition to the rulers, Agbroko had for almost two decades, took on the Nigerian ruling elite with his journalism.
No person was considered too sacred for him to interrogate. For his outspokenness, he was detained and tortured several times and was honoured in 1997 with the prestigious Pen/Barbara Goldman Freedom to Write Award. Journalism offered Agbroko a scope of self-expression and an opportunity for radical interventions which ordinarily might not come across in personal interactions with him.
He was a reserved avuncular figure whom younger journalists addressed as "sir" or simply "Mr Agbroko". But he was regarded with respect by his colleagues for his experience and maturity.
Born in 1953, he had his secondary education at Government College Ughelli before reading Mass Communication at the University of Lagos, where he graduated in 1978. He briefly taught at the Bida Polytechnic in Northern Nigeria, before joining the Nigerian Television Authority, where he rose to the position of a news editor.
Agbroko later switched to print journalism, with the launch of the weekly but now defunct African Guardian magazine. He later became the editor of the publication and then edited Newswatch magazine.
But it was in 1994, as the pioneer editor of another weekly, The Week magazine, that Agbroko was first detained by the Nigerian security agents. The late General Sanni Abacha’s reign of terror had just begun and The Week had consistently attacked his brutality and censorship of the media.
With time, the magazine and Agroko’s weekly column became the mirror through which many Nigerians viewed public affairs. Agbroko was detained several times after that, but his longest spell occurred in December 17, 1996, when, while getting ready to go to print, secret agents walked into his office and took him away.
Finally, his colleagues learnt that he was being held at a military intelligence detention centre in Lagos, without the government filling any charges against him or the magazine that he edited. He was denied visits from his family and lawyers.
He was released five months later after a series of campaigns by fellow journalists at home and abroad.
As an editor, Agbroko had a high standard which he expected journalists under him to meet. He was very strict and was often irritated by bad copies. He believed that the most suitable word must be employed in expressing oneself in sentences or phrases. He would often scream at his junior colleagues for turning in poor copy only to have drinks with them after work.
In 2002, Agbroko joined the daily This Day newspaper, as the head of that publication’s editorial board. Soon, his talent for good writing began to show on both the editorial page and his bi-weekly column, This Nation. He subjected the shenanigans of Nigerian public officers to searing scrutiny. He produced precise sentences in measured tones, bearing definite declarations.
Agbroko was thorough in his treatment of issues and detached in his analyses, the epitome of an objective journalist.
He is survived by Rachel, his wife and five children.
Godwin Agbroko; Born on March 19, 1953, died on December 22, 2006.
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