Though a political masterstroke, the timing of the national honour investiture on Chief MKO Abiola by President Muhammadu Buhari has continued to be enmeshed in controversy. Proponents and opponents of the event have their points; but we lose the relevance of that electoral epoch if we disregard the fact that June 12 has become a national paradox that epitomises the dark and bright side of our democracy.
The annulled presidential election represents the resilience of the Nigerian people amidst the shackles of military dictatorship. When hope was lost and the citizens were tired of the trampling of their rights; they stood on the side of democracy. For once, a nation that was being invaded by demons of religious violence buried the hatchet and stood behind a Muslim-Muslim ticket.
From Borno to Lagos; Katsina to Port Harcourt; Calabar to Sokoto; and Ibadan to Adamawa; the electorate marched with the Hope ’93 Campaign Team. When it seemed obvious that that late Are Ona Kakanfo was coasting to victory, the military reversed our expected dawn of hope and replaced it with a moment of despondency. The annulment exposed the underbelly of some politicians whose sole pre-occupation in politics is to grab power.
No doubt, Buhari’s choice of the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi for the national award is in recognition of his struggles not just for June 12, but for the masses. The acceptance by Ambassador Babagana Kingibe who served as Foreign Affairs Minister in the Abacha military regime and thereafter Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) under President Umaru Yar’Adua, proved a heavy blow against the June 12 struggle. To Kingibe’s critics, honouring the former Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF) with the GCON award amounted to honouring Judas.
The presence of Senator Jonathan Zwingina, who served as Director General of Hope ’93 Campaign Organisation, at the event proved that politics and prostitution could be bedmates. It was Zwingina who quickly renounced the June 12 struggle to become a commissioner in Adamawa State. His speech at the investiture ceremony is akin to Brutus’ justification of the assassination of Julius Caesar.
The absence of Professor Humphrey Nwosu, who was the Chief Midwife of June 12 Miscarriage, was an irredeemable mistake. For those who are quick to describe the chief electoral umpire as a coward, I only pray for them not to have an encounter with a bandit. According to his account as contained in his book, Professor Nwosu came under an unprecedented pressure to keep silent. He must have taken to the advice of Professor Chinua Achebe who said, “It is good to be fearless my son, but sometimes it is good to be a coward; for we often stand in the compound of a coward to point at a ruin where a great man used to live.”
Professor Wole Soyinka must have been miffed at the presence of some of these politicians who had come to a feast to brighten their prospects ahead of 2019 polls. He recalled the selfless efforts Ola Oni in rallying other nameless Nigerians to stake out their lives in defiance of the military over the annulment. For justice to be served, Soyinka advocated for the setting up of Halls of Fame and Shame to appropriately recall the roles played by various people.
The June 12 struggle is the most profound movement that threatened Nigeria’s oppressive forces as it propelled our people to take control of their destiny. As Senator Bola Tinubu rightly noted, June 12 was not a South-west affair as some have tried to paint it. Victims of the June 12 annulment cut across ethnic, religious and social status. Any deliberate ploy to ethnicise the struggle will amount to a grievous injustice to those nameless people who lost their lives in the struggle.
The trajectory to June 12 victory was the fallout of a bridge-building process by Abiola that spanned several decades of service to the Nigerian people. Permit me a little digression to explain one of those nameless acts of kindness by Abiola that made June 12 a reality. In 1981, the absence of a bridge at the Kolosok stream in Kamuru Ikulu, then in Kachia Local Government of old Kaduna State, had led to loss of lives during raining season. With the people poor and government not responding to their plight, the people came up with the idea of organising an appeal fund, with Abiola as the Chief Launcher.
Somehow, by struck of a magic, an invite was delivered to the generous money bag through Rev Father Matthew Hassan Kukah. He was said to have promised to honour the event. On the day of the ceremony, the man who was expected to cough out large chunk of the expected fund was nowhere close to the venue of the event. Organisers of the ceremony had to scan through the assembly to see if there was anyone sent to represent the owner of Concord Newspapers. Finding none, the organisers caved in to despair. Hope of many months of planning to end the death trap at Kolosok began to fizzle out.
With the people tired of waiting for someone whose name was then only heard on radio, they proceeded with the ceremony. After few remarks, the anchor of the ceremony enquired if someone was in the assembly to represent Abiola as the Chief launcher. To the embarrassment of many at the event, a scrawny fellow dressed in clothes unworthy of being an Abiola representative stood up.
When the fellow announced Abiola’s donation, not many ears were attentive as they had given up on the man who needed a decent hair cut and good clothes. To make matter worst, he told the disappointed faces that he was a journalist working for the Hausa Community Concord in Zaria. He told the gathering that his boss had to be away for another important event.
When he announced Abiola’s donation to the gathering, a moment of surreal silence blew over the people who before now had been mourning the absence of Abiola. Shout of joy broke through the gathering when the Master of ceremony announced that Chief MKO Abiola had donated the entire amount needed by the organisers of the appeal fund launching committee. Abiola, in his absence, had brought hope to a land threatened by Kolosok stream. In his worn-out bag, the representative brought out bundles of money that sent an excitement through the crowd. The scrawny fellow with a faded bag became a magician. One of the men in the gathering, Baba Sheyin, who had regained his cheerful disposition, said, “A man who can reach out to a fellow man in anguish and bring hope is not just a man; he is a leader”.
Over a decade later, it was pay-back time. The Hope ’93 Team had arrived Kamuru Ikulu and reminded the people that the man who built the Kolosok Bridge was on the ballot for the June 12, 1993 presidential poll. Despite criticism that Abiola was running a Muslim-Muslim ticket, Baba Sheyin said, “Even if it is the Grand Sheikh of the Mecca Mosque that is on the ticket with Abiola, we shall still vote for him. He saved us when there was none to help us.”
Days before June 12, 1993, words had gone round that anyone that was a true son of the Ikulu Nation must vote for the Social Democratic Party (SDP) to reciprocate the kind gesture of Kolosok Bridge Builder. The queues for the ‘horse party’ (SDP) in the various polling units were long, compared to the few faces on the National Republican Convention (NRC) queues at various polling units.
“May you fall off from the Kolosok Bridge as you cross it next time”, a voice screamed against the NRC queue in a particular polling unit.
Baba Sheyin and many old men who remembered the generosity of the multi-millionaire were dumbstruck when news came that the June 12 poll had been annulled. One of Baba Sheyin’s friends was heard heaping curses on all those behind the annulment.
Back to our discourse. Abiola did not only walk, but worked his way into the hearts of Nigerians by demonstrating generosity and assisting the citizens to tackle challenges confronting them on various fronts. Though coming from a poverty-stricken background, he knew the pangs of wretchedness and was committed to ending it. Unlike some of our political leaders who escaped poverty by the whiskers, political power has been turned into a platform of advancing pecuniary interest to ruin the future of the country. Abiola invested in Nigeria because he believed in the nation. He provided jobs to thousands and shared in the dream for a greater Nigeria where wretchedness is banished and the nation’s resources deployed to serve the needs and not the greed of a few controlling the levers of power.
As patriots and political villains assembled to honour the memory of the man who paid the supreme price for democracy, we must not lose sight of what June 12 symbolises. It was a movement for the emancipation of the citizens from the primordial forces that seek to destroy the dream for a prosperous and just Nigeria.
Our leaders and those who assembled to honour Abiola should honestly answer these questions: Would Abiola endorse the mass murders that have turned our country into a hair-rising cynosure of killing field? Would Abiola accept our present condition of cascading poverty where no fewer than nine million jobs have been lost in the last three years? Would the winner of the June 12 presidential poll accept a situation where some state governments sack thousands of workers in a bid to provide for the feeding of primary pupils? Would Abiola not have revolted against the cries of marginalisation and outright discrimination on the basis of ethnic and religious factors tearing the fabric of our nation apart? Would Abiola have accepted a situation where the executive and legislative arms are almost at war at a time when all hands ought to be on deck?
The investiture may have come and gone, but the controversy may not fizzle for a long while to come. June 12 is not a memory; it is a flame of inspiration to move Nigeria forward, no matter its imperfections.
Simon Reef can be reached through: firstname.lastname@example.org