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A March to Remember

EXACTLY twenty four years ago, the Babangida regime held Presidential elections which were supposed to transit the country from military rule  to democratic governance. But the  regime  wanted to hold on to power, it therefore annulled the elections. Some opportunistic politicians supported the annulment while others  sought dialogue and subtle ways to  re-validate the elections.

We in the Pro-Democracy  Movement who had always suspected that the regime  had a hidden agenda, challenged the dictatorship in the streets and lost over 200 activists to the bullets of the cowardly generals. Despite this, Nigerians persisted and the regime was forced out of power on August 27, 1993. But rather than hand over power to  Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, winner of the elections, it put in place, a contraption called  the Interim National Government,  ING,  and backed it with the arsenal of the Armed Forces. So we resumed our street protests and battles; taking on a desperate regime that would not hesitate to use brute force.

One of our first strategies was to write a letter to the usurpers demanding that they handed over power. We then organised street marches across the country to the 36 State Government Houses   to   submit  copies of the letter through the governors,  to the ING.  Expectedly, the regime banned the marches and vowed to stop them by any means necessary. In Lagos, the pro-democracy capital of the country, the march started after a rally at the Ikeja Roundabout with heavily armed riot police presence in the adjourning streets. After about fifteen minutes, we encountered a security cordon just after the Awolowo Way/ Balogun Street junction.  As I stood with a lawyer, Onyeisi Chiemeke,   discussing what may be the possible move of the police, they seemed to have hemmed us in, and attacked with such violence and viciousness that  within minutes we were put in flight. Chiemeke and I ran into Balogun Street with two  police vans in hot pursuit. Just then residents of a house opened their gates for us to run in and shut it before the policemen could disembark. They did not border about us as there were many protesters being chased through the streets. Peeping from our sanctuary, we could see several youths  beaten by the police being  hauled into  police vans.

After the police had left, we grouped; we still had a large crowd, so we continued the march. When we got to the Awolowo Way/Allen Roundabout, we camped, as our scouts told us that down the road, there were heavily armed police and security men backed by at least three anti-riot armoured personnel carriers. Suddenly, the attack came, this time from four directions; again it was brutal and we were virtually drowned in teargas smoke. We were dispersed. Again, we reconvened. We still had large crowds and only a few were injured. But our leader, Dr. Beko Ransome–Kuti laid on the street, unconscious. He had been leader of the Nigeria Medical Association, NMA, and the body had sent doctors to join the march. A number of them battled for quite some time before he was resuscitated. I made arrangements for him to be taken home while we continued the march, but he refused to leave.

I got an activist to take me in his Volkswagen Bettle car on a reconnaissance.  The road further at the junction of Radio Lagos had been blocked by the police; it was like a fortress. I turned into Oregun, an area I once lived, and through the back roads, got to the Governor’s Office in Alausa. I noted large contingents of armed police at various points.  I realised that it will be virtually impossible for the protesters to get past them to reach their objective;  the Governor’s Office. But I also noticed that a side gate to the State Secretariat where the Governor’s Office is located, was opened and unmanned.

I returned to inform the protest leadership that a few of us could slip into the Governor’s Office while the police busied itself with the protest. Announcing that we were taking Dr. Kuti to the hospital, he, Tokunboh Afikuyomi (Later a two-term Senator) and I, got into the car,  took the route I had earlier taken, and alighted at the unmanned side gate. Immediately we walked in, workers at the Secretariat sighted us and erupted in cheers and solidarity salute. We got into the Governor’s Office where we were told that Governor Michael Otedola was holding a cabinet meeting. Shortly after, the protocol returned to inform us that the governor will see us. We were ushered into the waiting room.

A few minutes later, the leader of the riot police, Mr. S, a sadistic  police officer whom we had encountered in past protests, busted into the Governor’s waiting room. He grabbed Dr. Kuti, hoisted him up by the trousers and started dragging him towards the entrance. We challenged him and he said the doctor was wanted by the State Commissioner of Police (A burley officer who was later charged but  discharged and acquitted for the assassination of Mrs. Kudirat Abiola, an opposition leader and wife of Chief Abiola)

I told the officer that Dr. Kuti was an icon in the country and that when he graduated as a medical doctor from Manchester University in 1963, his boss, the  Police Commissioner was still battling to pass the First School Leaving Certificate, so doctor  should be politely invited and not dragged like a criminal. The police officer persisted, so Afikuyomi and I, prised Dr. Kuti from his hands, hoisted him by his belt from both sides with his legs flaying and pistol dangling, carried him to the entrance of the Governor’s Office and threw him like thrash at his men. He got up and vowed that we would not leave the Office alive. I told him that we know his family in Abeokuta, and that if he tried anything funny, we would go after him and his family.

Later we were ushered to Governor Otedola’s presence. He welcomed us and apologised  for the scene created by the police in his office. The press was at hand as Dr. Kuti made a formal presentation of our protest letter. The Governor thanked us,  promised to deliver the letter, expressed concern about the state of the Nation and called for a peaceful resolution of the political crisis. After the ceremony, we left the Governor’s Office to confront the police officer who had threatened to send us to hell.

 


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