LAGOS, like other states, was groping in the ghost land that Nigeria had become that dusk in 1997.
Middle-class Surulere was roiling in virtual lockdown as hordes of riot cops led by the Commissioner of Police barricaded the road in what appeared a pre-emptive move against the scheduled pro-democracy rally at a time the iron knee of squat Sani Abacha was literally on the nation’s neck.
Indeed, cemeteries were bristling with fresh graves of innocents and martyrs. MKO was languishing in Abuja gulag. His wife, Kudirat, had recently been brutally cut down on a Lagos highway.
Rebels like Pa Anthony Enahoro, Professor Wole Soyinka, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Ralph Obiora had fled to exile.
My brother and friend, Segun Adeniyi, and I were then working at Sunday Concord. We were assigned by our editor, Mr. Tunji Bello, to cover the rally arranged to commemorate the fourth anniversary of June 12.
It turned out that the Abacha goons fell for the initial decoy by blocking the wrong venue. Words had discreetly gone round that we (journalists, activists and the like) should instead head for the residence of Chief Ayo Adebanjo (not too far away) where the stage had been set for the event.
Realizing their folly soon enough, the Lagos CP scrambled his men and relocated to the driveway to Pa Adebanjo’s home. They now formed a heavy human cordon to prevent guests from gaining access, guns at the ready.
Still unwilling to take chances, the CP fished out a megaphone and blurted a stern warning intermittently: “This rally is illegal !, Not authorized !! Go home !!!”
Of course, the order was defied as the crowd of activists and journalists huddled a few meters away in what soon turned a testy face-off.
To frighten us, the Abacha goons at some point went as far as cocking their rifles, the metal sound shattering the pervading silence.
Just then arrived the American ambassador, Walter Carrington, like an avenging angel. Sensing the trouble ahead, the diplomat with exceeding large frame alighted from his armour-plated diplomatic limousine and decided to trek over, thus helping to rally a formidable crowd.