OVE over May 29. The authentic Democracy Day is here. June 12.
Nigeria was in holiday mood yesterday. It was a feast of honour; the commemoration of the June 12,1993 election, Nigeria’s fairest and freest ever, won by frontline businessman Moshood Kashmawo Olawale Abiola, who died in a desperate bid to revalidate his mandate. That election, which was a major landmark in resolving some of the thorny issues of the Nigerian question, was annulled for no sensible reason by the military, led by General Ibrahim Babangida, who superciliously adopted the title “president”. Dubious.
It was a big party in Abuja. President Muhammadu Buhari, who proved bookmakers wrong by honouring Abiola, the symbol of our democracy, stood at ramrod attention, as members of the Armed Forces in their colourful ceremonial dresses marched past. Cultural dancers displayed their skills, watched by an army of dignitaries, including presidents, diplomats, party leaders, lawmakers and many others who came to be part of history.
The Abiola family was there. So were ordinary folks whom the late Abiola loved with great passion. Millions watched on television as the ceremony went on at the prestigious and expansive Eagle Square. It was no doubt the triumph of truth over falsehood, of loyalty to a noble cause, of integrity amid daylight crookedness and of light over darkness and its fiendish agents. The National Stadium was renamed after Abiola, in whose rich kitty of titles there was the prestigious Pillar of Sports in Africa.
Babangida, the architect of the crisis that almost brought Nigeria to her knees, said to have been humbled and hobbled by old –age related ailments, was not at the Eagle Square. Nor was Ernest Shonekan, the deluded boardroom expert who headed the misbegotten Interim National Government (ING), the emergency contraption the military deployed to subvert the popular will, but which collapsed like a house of cards that it was. Nor was former President Olusegun Obasanjo, arguably the biggest beneficiary of the June 12 crisis, who refused to recognise Abiola, obviously for sheer egoism, and became part of the crisis. Nor was former President Goodluck Jonathan, who a source said was either busy on the lecture circuit or in the creeks, trying to revive the long-abandoned family business of canoe making.
Were they missed? No. Not at all.
If only the dead could talk. What could the man of the moment have said on all this? How would Abiola have reacted to the recollections of his heroism? A newspaper baron, he was fond of calling his editors to catch up on the news of the day and make some comments. Let us have a suppositional account of his call to the Concord newsroom. Here we go:
“Hello… this is MKO. How’re you?”
Ah! Fine; thank you sir (the reporter is shocked).
“Good. I trust all is well with you. What’s going on in town?”
“It’s Democracy Day to mark your historic election as President.”
“Ah! Thank you. I aaam…mmm .. I am grateful. Mo dupe pupo. But let me tell you, I knew this day would come. Nigerians, 14 million of them, came out to vote for me. From the east, west, north and south; everywhere. It was a sunny day; I remember. Even nature was behind us. Oh yes! You’re right. Then the military…no, a clique in the military annulled the election. They said if I was sworn in I would be killed. Did I look like a commander-in chief who would be afraid to die?
“Some of our elders even said I should surrender and go home because Ile san mi dun j’oye lo (a title’s joy and the glory of a good home are not comparable). Of course, I didn’t listen.
“And, young man, aburo, you may recall that I told them clearly that a student who has passed an exam does not need to repeat it. Yes. I said so. You cannot make the sun to rise twice in one day, even in Africa. No.”
“It was a colourful ceremony at the Eagle Square sir. President Buhari addressed Nigerians. Your comrades were there. Your family was well represented.”
”Really? That’s great and I thank them all. Mo dupe. And I praise Buhari for his courage; that is how how… how… how… how it should should be. Those who were afraid of their shadow now know on which side of history they are. Men of no principles, no character and mere weaklings who were not worthy of the uniforms they wore. Shame.”
“Unfortunately, Obasanjo could not attend. He was away on an international engagement.”
“Obasanjo. Eh en; Obasanjo was invited? Ah …ah… ah …ah (he laughs).He would not come. Was he not the one who said I wasn’t the messiah Nigeria needed? He’s a master of intrigues and obfuscation, full of foxy ideas and pure ego. After I had made the supreme sacrifice, he became the biggest beneficiary of it all. I was even told that he planned to stay on in power and all that. He came to me in July 1994 with 26 traditional rulers. I told him off. I told him it was a battle between God and a few powerful elements. The voice of the people is the voice of God (Vox populi vox dei), a popular maxim long before Jesus Christ arrived.
“Chief Emeka Anyaoku and the Ghanaian Kofi Annan also came. I stood my ground. All my life, I worked for the result which the merciful God gave us on June 12. Didn’t Jesus say in Luke 9 that no man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God?, The spiritual consequence of my desertion of a sacred cause like June 12 is hell, which God forbids. Yes. I told them so.”
“Babangida, your friend, was also not there sir – for some health reasons.”
“Hmmmm. Ibrahim. I didn’t expect him to come. He caused it all by not behaving like a true General. His courage -I doubt if he had any- failed him. He said his boys vowed to kill him if he handed over to me. And I asked him if he was ready to relinquish power before I contested the election; he swore with the Holy Koran that he was. That was why I told them when they mounted pressure on me to surrender my mandate: The mandate is not just mine; it belongs to 14million Nigerians. I am only a custodian of this sacred mandate. And you can’t shave a man’s head in his absence. Nigerians, 14 million of them, will be here if I must give up. They didn’t find it funny. And remember that I once said ‘with a friend like Babangida, nobody needs an enemy’. That is the truth.”
“Chief, there are people who believe that if you had agreed to rerun the election, you would have been alive for your family and business today.”
“Looook, my dear, doooooon’t, don’t talk like that. You can’t abort a pregnancy after the child has been born and people are already congratulating the mother. No. It’s too late. And I…I… I …I told them so. How can you be running and at the same time you are looking backwards? “
“Shonekan was also absent, chief. I don’t remember the reason he gave.”
“Shonekan; why should he be there – to collect another Greek gift? He reminds me of the elephant’s story. They told the elephant that he was going to be king. They dug a big hole and covered it with a beautiful carpet and put a throne on it. On the day of the elephant’s inauguration, there was a huge party. Women were singing, A o merin j’oba…(We shall install the elephant as king). They put the elephant on the throne. He crashed into the deep pit. He was deceived. He was used. I won’t say more than that. I won’t – for now. What Chief Shonekan failed to realise is, ‘the bigger the head, the bigger the headache’. Yes.”
”As for those who are saying that I should have surrendered to stay alive, I thank them. That is human. But you know me; I am a man of the people. I can die for anything I believe in. Nobody can piss on my back and tell me it’s raining. Besides, I stated clearly when the struggle began that on this matter, one of three things would happen. ‘I have never been dead, I have never gone to jail and I have not been dead before. One will surely happen.’ No regrets at all. An Are Ona Kakanfo must be ready to die fighting; he must never run away. It is a taboo, eewo.”
“There is also the debate about the kind of president you would have made – a president of his friends or of all Nigerians?”
You see, aaah…aaaah (Abiola laughs),let them read Farewell to Poverty, my economic blueprint in which I said by the grace of God in five years, no Nigerian child will go to bed hungry. And that is the truth. We can do it. I have to go now, aburo.
“Thank you and God bless