By Chioma Gabriel, Deputy Editor
Frank Kokori, Secretary General of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), was detained for hisÂ involvement in a two-month strike by oil workers in 1994.
Amongst other demands, the strike had called for the release of Moshood Abiola, winner of the presidential elections in June 1993, and other pro-democracy leaders.Frank Kokori was detained in August 1994 and is one of Nigeriaâ€™s most longstanding prisoners of conscience.
Itâ€™s another June 12. What is on your mind?
The civil society groups have never abandoned the struggle. They have been very significant in the Vanguard of the struggle. Actually, it is June 12 that has moved this country up to this level, because without June 12, the military would have taken Nigerians for granted but it was after that struggle that the military knew that Nigerians could stand up and fight for their rights.
We believe that the managers of this country for now should be able to do certain things that willÂ make Nigerians not regret their struggle for democracy, the whole sacrifices that were made. In other words, the freedom and democracy we have should be to the benefit of all Nigerians.
But we are disappointed because the political class donâ€™t realise the struggle of the people that brought them in and that is why they are mismanaging the treasury of the states sand the federal government and that is a big problem for Nigeria. All Nigerians must be accountable for any kobo that leaves this country and if we donâ€™t manage our resources properly then , we say uhuru.
The question of being among the 20 most developed countries in the world would be realised if we are committed to achieving democracy. But the bane of democracy is corrupt ion and the inability to conduct free and fair elections. And that is what we need and as the bible says, after we have eradicated corruption and can conduct a free and fair election, every other thing will be added unto it.
Would you say Nigeria is ready for elections now?
Credible election is the most important thing. But you know that even the military when they wanted to hand over gave us the freest election after June 12. So, we must continue from there. The Presidency, the National Assembly and the Judiciary should be committed to making the dream of genuine democracy a reality. The judiciary should be up and doing because I am totally disappointed with the judiciary.
There are so many cases still on, three years after the election. But Iâ€™m a patriotic Nigerian and I think we should believe in ourselves but like I said, corruption is the bane of our country.
But the man we have at the top today is sincere for now until maybe, after six months,we can say for sure. Jonathan has a lot of goodwill from within and from the international community. So, Jonathan has everything working for him and we want to see the benefits of democracy. We want the benefits of the struggle and the sacrifices we made.
General Babangida was a figure head in the annulment of June 12 1993 elections. He has apologised for it and wants to contest but a lot of Nigerians are screaming against that. What do you think?
I was in Benin for Oshiomholeâ€™s one man, one vote rally. IBB was there too and the human rights society spoke their mind which was beautiful. IBB should have made a speech but he did not because of the reactions of the human rights groups there. Well, IBB is a Nigerian and is free to contest. If the people vote for him, he will become the next President.
He promised to immortalise Abiola.
Jonathan has already said that Nigerians should not forget Abiola, Gani Fawehinmi, Ken Saro-Wiwa and Rewane. Is it now that Babangida wants to immortalise him? Anyway, letâ€™s not go there.
What do you think of Jonathan contesting the next election which has been zoned to the North?
I am not in any position to advise him because he has not declared any intention to contest. Let us hear him first and let us understand that he is a Nigerian and this is democracy. He has said that if Nigerians asked him to contest, he will contest. So, let him keep his ears on the ground and listen to what the people are saying.
But the constitution says he can?
Everybody with a certain level of education and age can contest election as provided in the constitution. That has not changed. Even you can contest if you have reached the stipulated age.
What are your regrets about the past and the struggle?
The problem now is that those who are at the helm of affairs donâ€™t understand the suffering of those who fought for them to get there. They donâ€™t listen to our advice. Even some of my friends that were part of the struggle who got into governance forgot us immediately they got there. They donâ€™t listen to us. But you know, making sacrifice for your country takes a lot of guts.
And when I launch my book, a lot of things would be revealed about the struggle. I will launch my book at 70 and Iâ€™m getting there.
What advice do you have for Nigerians on our democracy. Is May 29 Democracy Day ?
The sacrifice made by Abiola makes June 12 Democracy Day but when the people at the corridors of power decree by fiat that it is May 29, we have to accept it. But we are getting more mature and I have no regrets doing what I did for my country. Itâ€™s only very few people who made the kind of sacrifice we made that benefited from it.
Anywhere in the whole world that people fought for a cause, they hardly benefitted from it. Mandela was an exception. People like Mugabe, Jomo Kenyatta, Kauda, Nyerere were special cases. People like Liver Thambo, and a lot of others, crashed out. So, that is how it is. We have played our own part and we leave the rest to history.
And we pray that this country should now have accountability and transparency in government. These billions that are being taken abroad should be used to rehabilitate our youths and create employment.There should be punishment for money laundering.Jonathan should be honest and Nigeria should move ahead. We should not continue to dwell on the mistakes of thepast.We should move on with the present.