David Diai

The national leadership of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) has conferred the award of Torch Bearer of Press Freedom on Mr. Felix Ofou, Senior Special Assistant (Civil Society) to Sen. Ifeanyi Okowa, Governor of Delta State.

Ofou’s emergence as the award winner came after NUJ’s Awards Selection Committee sifted through nominations made by journalists and members of the public, Shuaibu Usman Leman, national secretary of NUJ, stated in the letter conveying the award to Ofou.

The award was conferred on him during the Union’s celebration of the 2019 World Press Freedom Day in Abuja on May 6, 2019.

Ofou is the last chairman of the Punch Newspapers Chapel of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ). He resigned as acting Head of Politics of the Punch newspaper in 2000.

Before his exit, he proactively engaged the management of the newspaper and initiated policies that ensured a radical review of the salary of workers, a standard that has made the Punch one of the best paying in the industry today.

Prior to his appointment as acting Head of Politics, Ofou had gained a reputation as a fiery journalist. For about a decade, he churned out exclusives and investigative news stories and feature articles that stood him out as one of the outstanding reporters/correspondents in the stable.

But, his tenure as State Correspondent of the Punch in Imo State, remains indelible, as he carved an impressive professional niche for himself not just as a thorn to successive governments, military and civilian, but is best remembered for his role in galvanizing progressive forces against bad governance, injustice, corruption and dictatorial rule in Imo State.

Yet, he was respected for his unbiased and objective reportage of issues, events and personalities.

Perhaps of greater significance was the historic role played by Ofou in the civil insurrection that took place in Imo State, known as the Otokoto saga.

Apart from rejecting a N350,000 bribe, his fearless disposition to ensure that justice was achieved, made him a target for elimination by those who saw him as a threat. He escaped death twice at the hands of agents who helped to perpetrate the infamous ritual killings in Imo State at that time.

Whether as Secretary of the Correspondents Chapel, State Secretary of the Civil Liberties Organization (CLO) or as board member of Journalists for Democratic Rights (JODER), Ofou ensured that institutions of government, politicians and the elite were made accountable to the people.

As an Assistant Editor of the Sunday Sun, Group Politics Editor of the Independent, Editor of the Sunday Independent and later, Assistant Managing Editor of the Independent, his articles and columns portrayed a consistent commitment to the advancement of freedoms in Nigeria, Africa and the world, especially during the struggle and battle for the enthronement of democratic rule in the country, following the infamous scuttling of the transition to democratic rule that culminated in the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election.

On leaving the newsroom in 2007, Ofou was appointed Press Secretary (and Senior Special Aide, Media) to the former Delta State Governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan.

He is presently, a member, Delta State Task Force on Human Trafficking and Illegal Migration, through which he continues to advance and advocate for expansion of civil liberties and freedoms as well as a member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors.

The 2019 NUJ Press Freedom Awards is a high profile event organised by the NUJ to celebrate courage and sacrifices journalists make, with the aim to motivate them, promote press freedom, good governance and deepen democracy in the country.

The event, which is the 2nd edition of the Awards was part of the union’s celebration of the annual World Press Freedom Day (which also included a Lecture delivered by the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Prof. Mahood Yakub), at a colourful ceremony which held Monday (May 6) night at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers, Abuja.

The ceremony was also used to honour media icons and friends of the media who have made outstanding contributions towards supporting and sustaining press freedom in Nigeria.

This year’s awards were in six categories: Torch Bearers of Press Freedom Awards, Distinguished Friend of the Press Awards, Press Freedom Platform Awards, Corporate Friend of the Media Awards, Lifetime Achievement Awards, and Defender of Press Freedom Awards.

Comrade Felix Ofou was in excellent company on the awards roll call, with other distinguished Nigerians, including Dr. Maikanti Baru, Group Managing Director, NNPC, Mr Adedayo Thomas, Executive Director of National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB), Ms Yewande Sadiku, Executive Secretary/CEO of Nigerian Investment Promotion Council (NIPC), Prof. Suleiman Bogoro, Executive Secretary, Tertiary Education Trust Fund and Gov. Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State.

Former NUJ President and Commissioner for Information, Kano State, Malam Garba Mohammed and Governor-elect, Bauchi State, Sen. Bala Mohammed, were also amongst the distinguished award winners in the different categories, at the highly impressive and well attended event.

The awards event is now expected to be an annual activity of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), to continue to recognise and celebrate those who have actively supported press freedom and contributed positively to the practice and profession of Journalism in Nigeria.

_Source report from Pius Mordi._

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