I did not betray Kokori
On MKO’s post-humous birthday: We have forsaken what he stood for
Fred Eno was special assistant to the late Chief MKO Abiola, the undeclared winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election. In this interview, he says he did not betray a former general secretary of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Frank Kokori, during the struggle to revalidate the annulled 1993 election, contrary to the claim by Kokori. Eno tells his story of the June 12 struggle and the lessons he learnt.
By Soni Daniel
Since August 1994, not much has been heard about you. Where have you been and what have you been doing?
I have been around, lived in several countries. Upon my release from prison, I lived as a refugee for the first two years in Cameroun and then moved to the United States. Basically on the day of MKO Abiola’s death in detention, I had wanted to be close to the country and was shuttling between Cameroun and Cote D’ivore, hoping against all hope; I thought that one day he would be out and I would be in a position to be next to him but that did not happen. So, I moved to the U.S and worked as an editor for a magazine for three years and then began consulting for African HIV/AIDS Initiative, covering six countries-Nigeria, Cote D’Ivore, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Kenya. So that kept me visiting all those places. In 2009, I moved to Ethiopia and moved to Switzerland in 2012. Meanwhile, I kept my home in Nigeria. I came in as I pleased.
But it was not that anybody was pursuing you in any of these places or that you were in exile?
No. Nobody pursued me in any way. I came home whenever I wanted. I lived in 2005 and 2007 in Lagos. I was living a normal life.
Let me take you back to 1994 a period when you and others were actively involved in the struggle to sustain the Abiola mandate. What caused the collapse of the movement?
I think the movement had been terribly fractured even in the course of his incarceration. You would also agree with me that the forces behind the annulment of his election and incarceration still held sway in the country and some would even argue that they still hold sway today. So you can see that there is still a very strong and a deliberate effort to make sure that what Abiola wished for this country is not realised and this is beyond him.
On the night of the dissolution of NUPENG, PENGASSAN and the NLC on August 17, 1994 by Gen. Abacha, where were you?
I was in Lagos, continuing with the activities of making sure that the world knew about the grave injustice that had been done to Abiola and that it should not go unchallenged. And if you look at the story of the dissolution of those three major unions, it came barely 48 hours before a wave of arrests. So there was really very little time to pick the pieces and say these unions that were very supportive of our cause had now been dissolved: how do we help them? Even before we could catch our breathe and restructure, we too were also picked up.
What was the relationship between you and Chief Frank Kokori in the coordination and implementation of the struggle?
There is slight misnomer in most of these things. But the point is that Chief Kokori and other union leaders were functioning as part of the bigger group – NADECO. I was the Special Assistant to Abiola, who was the principal figure in the struggle. At this time, Abiola had been arrested but I still continued in my role because. even behind bars, Abiola still had a cause and the structure to sustain it. And so, basically, when NADECO was created, I now had Chief Anthony Enahoro as my principal, who became the leader, who gave me instructions on what to do, who to deal and how to dispense funds and the issues to address to the world. On one side, he was the principal person I related with and he would say at certain time what to do for NUPENG, market women and other groups. I related with him and his assistants- Chief Cornelius Adebayo and Ayo Opadokun. I related with Chief Frank Kokori and other union leaders on the basis of what NADECO needed in the exercise of my role as SA to Abiola. So, to a certain extent, I attended meetings with them at various times.
Cast your mind back to when you were arrested on August 17, 1994. Where were you at the time of the arrest, what were you doing and how were you arrested?
When I read your Sunday Vanguard of August 10, 2014 and saw what was credited to Chief Frank Kokori, the first thing that came to my mind was that it was time to put a stop to what these people are trying to ascribe to me wrongly. Before I give you a breakdown of what happened that night, I want to state categorically that I owe an apology to no one let alone Kokori or Chief Segun Osoba, who I think is the principal actor in Kokori’s statement. I am saying so because this whole thing in Kokori’s book is about absolving Chief Osoba. But I want to give you a total breakdown of the events to totally debunk what has been written against me by Kokori. I know he wants to sell his book but I will tell you what happened.
On August 19, 1994, I was doing my normal duty of coordinating the media organisations that had sensed this new urgency in the struggle following the proscription of the unions by the Abacha government. So I was doing my normal thing up to the time of my arrest two days after the proscription of the unions involved in the struggle. At about 6pm on that day, I drove into Chief MKO Abiola’s compound and his late wife, Kudirat, was livid with me because, apparently, she had known what had been going on with the massive arrest of the leaders of the struggle including Chief Enahoro. Her anger was that I was exposing myself to danger by coming to the house at that time. She wanted me to leave the compound immediately and perhaps get some people to get me out if I needed help.
But I told her that I was alone and that I needed to be around other people so that they would be a witness in case I was arrested. So I arranged an evening to have drinks with the correspondents of Newsweek Magazine, New York Times and a couple of foreign colleagues who had insisted that we should meet and talk. I set up the appointment with them at Sheraton Hotel, Ikeja. At that time, Chief Enahoro had been arrested without my knowledge. I got to know about it for the first time from Kudirat. So, I decided to go to Sheraton where I had a room and one of my working offices. I had access to a lot of things I needed to do my work while in that hotel-a telephone line and some other working tools. On the way to Sheraton, I was stopped twice by people who knew me, insisting that I was being trailed by some unknown persons and my driver also insisted that we should not go there.
But I asked the driver, ‘if we turn into any other road, what would happen if we are killed and the report of our killing turned into accident, armed robbery or anything?’ I told him to drive as fast as he could and get into Sheraton, and he did. At the entrance of Sheraton, some of the security men who were extremely sympathetic to our cause told us that the entire place was already filled with security men and I told them not to worry. I told them it would be better for me to be arrested in a public place than to be picked up in a secret location where nobody would know.
As I got into the hotel, two cars pulled up. This was about 7.10pm. As I got into the main lobby of the hotel, I went to the left corner while my friends were sitting at the middle. So as I came out, they saw me first but I did not see them. They now got up and were walking towards me, so we basically met at the centre of the lobby.
There were so many people there, including flight attendants who were coming in and going out of the hotel. As I stood with my friends and exchanging pleasantries, the first crowd of about six security officers approached us and asked whether I was Fred Eno? And I said yes. And they said I was under arrest with instruction from the Head of State and I said they could not just emerge like that and arrest me.
It was at that moment that two of them raised their clothes and showed their Uzi sub-machine guns under. This development attracted a lot of attention of the guests at the hotel. Most of them stood up and were watching what was unfolding. The security men took me out of the hotel, bundled me into a waiting car and drove me to Shangisha. They squeezed me into the back of a 504 car with three others. There were three other cars with them. We got to Shangisha before 8 o’clock where I met Chief Enahoro, Gen. Akinrinade and Chief Cornelius Adebayo. The three of them were in the room they took me to and they left me with them. I was with them all through the night of the 19th. So, I don’t want to pick issues with anyone. If I had left them someone can say they took him to a separate room to make a phone call or whatever.
No, no! I did not leave these three gentlemen. We were there and about an hour or so later, they brought in Prince Adeniyi Adele,, who had been arrested about an hour or a half after my arrest. But I was still in the company of these gentlemen. I was with them until very late in the night when they took us to another private house in Ikeja GRA and kept us there until 5am on the 20th and drove me down to Alagbon. That was the first time I was taken away from the company of these gentlemen. The first time I saw Chief Frank Kokori was when we were being transferred to Abuja. Chief Kokori, Prince Adele and I were moved the same time. So I had absolutely no access to telephone and even if I did I made no call to Kokori let alone using the word like betray. And I want to make this very clearly that I owe no apology to Kokori. Neither do I owe any apologies to anyone else.
Let me quote an excerpt of the interview from Kokori’s book you are complaining about. “On the night of 19 and 20th of August 1994, a voice started calling me saying; please tell me where you are staying. It was Fred Eno. His request sounded strange because none of my callers has ever asked me to disclose my whereabouts”. If you were arrested as you have said and taken away at that time, how come that you still called Kokori. What did you use in calling him?
I did not call him in the first place. It was not me who called him. I swear to God and I pray to Moshood Abiola in heaven that I did not make a phone call to Frank Kokori and I can tell you just from my own little access that those who are planting this story into Kokori’s head know those who betrayed Kokori, if he was even betrayed. They knew and used the fact that I was one person who would call Kokori at any time and he would respond given his role which I acknowledge and given my role, which he acknowledges in his book. They knew that relationship and used it and betrayed Kokori and those are the same people who are continuing to perpetrate this fallacy because they deliberately want to absolve themselves.
There is something more that he said about you. Kokori said you had earlier told him that you would meet him at Niger Palace Hotel, Yaba by 11pm. But at the time he arrived there and waited for you, you did not show up and did not answer his call any more until 1 am when he was arrested as he went towards a white Mercedes Benz car that had been parked there apparently waiting for him. Why did you not show up to meet with Kokori after giving him an assurance to meet him?
I did not have any appointment with Kokori on the said day. Look at the time he is reporting that we had an appointment. At that time he was talking about, I had already been arrested and taken away and locked up with Enahoro, Akinrinade and Adebayo. It goes back to what I was trying to say earlier. Look at the sequence and it does not just hold water and I really don’t want to overflog this point because to me it is totally unnecessary because it did not happen, at least to my knowledge. If that is the way he was arrested, so be it. What is even more interesting is that the people who arrested us are still alive.
A good number of them, who carried out those arrests are still in service and, if this needs further clarification, Chief Kokori is alive and the person he is mentioning here that did not betray him, Segun Osoba, is alive: they are big and important men who have access to all the sources of power in this country. Let them check and confirm who betrayed Kokori. As I said, for Chief Kokori, I have absolute respect for him and for the two years I lived in Lagos (2005 to 2007), I had occasion to go to Chief Kokori’s office to talk about this story, which has been going on for a long time. He mentioned it to me that he was surprised to get a rumour when he came out of prison accusing Segun Osoba of being behind his betrayal and went on to give a list of how Osoba had been assisting his family and all of that.
But the story had been peddled about for a long time and deliberately so and part of it was because they thought that I would be the fall guy because they did not know where I was, they did not know what I was doing, I did not come around hanging around them to ask for favours and so they felt it was a good way to absolve themselves of the so-called “betrayal”. That is a very strong word to use. It is not in my character to betray anyone in life. I had several opportunities, which if they had, and when they had them, they betrayed. When I heard this for the first time, it was one of the security guards of Abiola, Isaac, may God bless his soul. We used to call him Gadaffi; he saw me in Lagos and ran to me and said where have you been because he had done everything possible to locate me to no avail. He told me I should take immediate steps to clear my name as people were saying I was the one who betrayed Kokori. I said it was not true and that there was no reason for me to clear my name when I did not do what they were accusing me of.
I explained to him that one could only take steps to clear his name if his conscience was bothering him for what he had done wrong and that I did not do anything and that my conscience was clear about it. But at his prompting, he drove me in his car to somewhere in central Lagos and I walked into Kokori’s office and met him and narrated the sequence of events leading to my arrest and imprisonment on the same day he was arrested and that it was not possible for me to have betrayed him. I asked him if he believed the rumour making the rounds and he said he did not, but just that he had not had any information about my whereabouts. He said when he heard the story he knew that I could not have done it but that having been in prison for three years and having not heard from him he was worried. But I told him that I was equally in prison.
I told him we were arrested the same day, flown to Abuja the same day and spent three months in detention in the SSS headquarters in Asokoro and did not see each other. We were moved from Asokoro the same day and flown to Maiduguri where they took him to Bama and flew me back to Enugu Prison where I served for over three years. Having done all that explanations, I thought I had made it clear to Chief Kokori that I did not betray him. Whatever else he had to deal with on who betrayed him and who did not betray him was his business, what he chose to put in his book is his business, who he chose to absolve is his business and who he chose to associate with is his business.
Still on the June 12 struggle, can you say you did your very best to sustain it given your closeness to the late MKO Abiola and the events that unfolded after he was arrested and eventually he died?
I gave my very best but wish I could do more because my best is not good if we did not achieve the desired goal. There is something I want to say because it is almost 20 years since the arrest of Chief MKO and it is Abiola’s birthday on August 24 (today). I think, for a country like ours, with what it has gone through and what it is still going through, there is time for serious soul-searching because one of the main components of our national anthem “that the labour of our heroes past shall not be in vain” is rather being observed in the breach. In other words, we are putting the labour of our real heroes past in vain. And whether it is the life of an individual or the life of a nation, when you put that in vain, it impacts on the way you conduct your life as an individual and as a nation.
Why did you say so?
Can you see where we are today in terms of religion and ethnicity, in terms of love for one another and in terms of unity? Everybody is telling you that 2015 cannot be the same like June 12, 1993 because religion and ethnicity have become an issue. Yes, it cannot be. But it takes just an individual, who values this country more than himself, to say ‘I am willing to sacrifice and prove that the Nigerian people can go beyond these things’, and that’s what drove Moshood Abiola; if we let that labour of his be in vain, then we should not be surprised where we are today. We have forsaken what this man stood for and reduced it to this petty ethnic politics and people wanting to climb one another and others trying to upstage others and reducing national interest
to sectional interest and all that. That is what it is, really.
Do you suspect in any way that anybody, dead or alive, tried to betray you in the course of the struggle to validate Abiola’s mandate?
Again, betrayal is a strong word. But I want to say this and this came up as a result of the interrogations while I was in detention. I realised that confidential conversations, general activities when the chief was at home and when he was arrested and things that I had assumed would remain within the confines of his own house, were readily available to the security forces who were interrogating me.
Were you shocked?
It was very shocking and, to that extent, I would not rule out betrayal but I am not one who lives
and carries grudges. I still believe that what I did and whatever little role I played was not for Abiola to be president but for a Nigeria I want to be a citizen of. And for that reason, I owe absolutely no apology to anyone.
From all that happened before, during and after the arrest and death of Abiola, do you have any lesson which you have learnt?
If there is a lesson, the biggest of them all for me is to believe in myself because that has driven me to dust myself up, believe in the things I believe, in God first, doing the things that I felt drove me there. And in a very private way, I am still doing that as we speak because I am not one of those who would jump up and say I am doing Jonathan’s campaign or APC’s campaign. Now, I do things for the country in my private way as a citizen. If anybody recognizes it and pats me on the back, I say ‘thank you’, if no one does, I carry on. It is that belief in myself and those things that I learned in that process, which I think are still lacking and are part of the problems we are facing now. That is what drives me and that is what I believe is the lesson learnt from that past and defining the way I relate with my country and those in power today as a private citizen.
What are you doing now? Do we just refer to you as Fred Eno, a private citizen of Nigeria?
I run or belong to a structure called International Crisis Communicators Network and we do all sorts of intervention media wise and we help in telling an African story in terms of how our conflicts manifest, where we go wrong, offer opportunities for countries to see and understand that we have to be able to define our own problems ourselves first, and then begin resolving them before we start inviting others, even if others are coming in at the same time. And you see the case of the Central African Republic crisis, which should not have gotten to where it is today, you see that of the South Sudan and so on. There were early ways of intervention.
For Nigeria, the lesson I have learnt is what is guiding me so deeply now to make sure that every opportunity I get, I reach out to the democratically elected government and make suggestions in private capacity and say this is what I saw in the past and these are my suggestions as to how you can go about them today.
Have you tried to offer such suggestions to Nigeria?
I am doing so, not even trying.
Have you met Mr. President to offer such?
I do as I say in a very private capacity. I try to reach out to those close to me in the administration. I have friends who work with the administration-brilliant, hardworking, dedicated and patriotic guys who know me and who know that I put it as it is. How they use it-whether they use it or not, I have done my duty.