Comments and Issues
Ricardo at 60
It was a difficult time that aroused the best and the worst in men. MKO was clocking two years in Abacha’s gulag by 1996 with family and political associates desperate to secure his freedom.
Worst still, his Concord newspaper group where this writer worked then was locked in what was proving a titanic legal tango with Supreme Court justices over a libel suit. Exercising poetic license, Weekend Concord had termed Mercedes limousines presented to their lordships by IBB as “political bribe”.
Naturally, opportunists, in turn, sought openings to make personal gains.
As judiciary editor with Concord newspapers then, Richard Akinnola (aka Ricardo) came under pressure to recant a report. Wheeling-dealing Godwin Daboh was aghast that he was referrred to as “ex-convict” after being found guilty of a 419 charge in the 70s. The piece featured in the “Celebrated Cases” column published by Sunday Concord then edited by Tunji Bello.
The controversial politician and known collaborator of the Abacha junta let words circulate that he was ready to talk his bossom friend, Abacha, into releasing Abiola, but on the condition that Ricardo retract that description.
While not disputing his conviction as a fact of history, Daboh claimed the Buhari regime had granted him pardon shortly being toppled in 1985.
About the same time, Ricardo also came under pressure to reach out to his personal friend and townsman, the legendary Gani Fawehinmi, to back-pedal in his fireworks against the Supreme Court justices in the libel case in which he was standing in Concord’s corner pro bono. The calculation was to deny the justices any excuse to recuse themselves from entertaining bail application filed on MKO’s behalf. Without them, it would have been impossible to form a quorum to hear MKO’s case.
In both instances, Ricardo stoutly refused. He considered acquiescence as mortgaging both his professional integrity and moral conviction. While physically telling Daboh off at the stormy meeting at the Concord headquarters that day, he challenged the Benue-born politician to tender proof of being pardoned. Volunteering to resign if proved wrong, Akinnola could almost swear no government printer anywhere had a memo hinting at such, let alone a gazette to that effect.
With the blackmail failing like a pack of cards, it was a humbled Daboh who soon pulled himself off the swivel chair and slouched to the car park that fateful day.
Again, that Ricardo opted not to be part of the emissaries to talk Gani into backing down did not come as a surprise to those who knew him intimately. You could almost tell where Akinnola would stand whenever and wherever the issue of professional integrity and the pursuit of truth and justice comes up.
That he is easily considered in the nation’s media circles today as one the foremost authorities in jurisprudence journalism is undoubtedly an acknowledgement of his passion for rigour and abiding fidelity to facts.
He turns 60 tomorrow. Here is wishing him happy birthday.