A surreal night on Acme Road, by Babafemi Ojudu
It was a night never to be forgotten. I left our newsroom in Ogba for Acme Road for the final production of AM News. The office was an uncompleted building that housed our printing press and the production center with about six computers. The press, a used one, was sold to us by the late Chief Anthony Enahoro, more as his own contribution to our struggle than a commercial transaction when it became increasingly difficult for us to get printers to accept our job.
The Acme Road location was meant as a secret operational center. Not all the staff was aware of it. Only the few who had a need to know were in the know.
The printing press was installed with a bell under the table where the Security man sat. This was a measure designed to allow the security man alert us in case of an invasion by the goons of General Sani Abacha. The alarm was meant to afford us a couple of minutes before the security could get in to enable those who could hide to do so and those who can jump the fence and escape an opportunity to do so. Many did jumped the fences in those trying years.
It came to pass that the goons discovered this operational base and invaded it one night at about 11.00 pm in 1995. The night was as giddy as it was bizarre. I was with the production staff taking a last look at our pages before they were passed to the lithographers. With me was Odia Ofeimun, the poet, essayist and public intellectual who was Chairman of the Editorial Board. Ofeimun, the writer who has no respect for deadlines , was not supposed to be at that location.
His script always came in at the last moment. He was the one who kept us late. His handwriting could also be a veritable challenge to the best typist alive. As I was navigating his handwriting with JJ, our most dedicated typist, the alarm sounded. Odia was fast asleep on the couch in the only office in the building occupied by our General Manager Mr Idowu Obasa.
I did not wait to wake up Odia. I dashed across the corridor and went into the basement housing the web offset printing machine ad thinking of what to do as I heard the goons barking orders at Odia and the poor production staff. They demanded for the editor.
My intuition and survival instinct quickly took a better part of me. I removed my clothes, wristwatch and shoes and donned a printers overall. At this point my heart was panting. I got a big spanner and pretended I was carrying out a repair on the machine.
I had barely completed my disguise when our tormentors rushed into the press demanding to know who I was. I told them I was a poor operator working the night shift. I made sure I avoided eye contact. I refused to look them in the eye pretending to be shy of those who bear guns like a girl on her first date. They asked for my bosses and I told them they were not yet in but we were expecting them. An argument ensued whether to take me away or not. They resolved the argument in my favor and conducted a brief search of the premises and left.
As soon as I found out they have left I dashed out of the premises without removing my printers overall and jumped on the bike of one of our employees who ran errands between our Ogba office and the Acme Road location.
I headed to Bayo Onanuga’s house somewhere off College Road in Agege to warn him not to go to the Acme Road location as he often does to supervise the printing. It was a time when mobile telephony was still years away in Nigeria.
While on my way to Onanuga’s house, Saka, my driver gathered my clothing and shoes and headed in my car to my house. In the melee that took place after the raid he had thought I had been taken away.
He drove to my house, woke Tola, my wife up. When she saw the cloth I wore to work, Tola shouted and wailed thinking I had been killed and taken to the mortuary. This attracted neighbors. They were ruminating on what to do and where to go look for me when the motorcycle that took me to Bayo’s house zoomed in and I emerged ‘from the dead’ in a workman’s overall.