By Mazi Sam-Ohuabunwa
IN this column last week, I applauded and defended the decision of President Muhammadu Buhari, PMB, to honour late MKO Abiola and his vice-presidential candidate, Babagana Kingibe for their victory in the June 12, 1993 elections, a victory which had been denied in the last 25 years. All fair minded people accepted that it was a good thing to happen, though many said PMB was scoring a ‘cheap political point’ questioning his democratic credentials including being on the side of Abacha, and some others said Babagana Kingibe did not deserve the honour as he was said to have abandoned the struggle or even sabotaged Abiola by accepting to serve in Abacha’s cabinet. Every body is entitled to his opinion but I remain convinced that PMB, irrespective of his motives scored a bull’s eye with this June 12 recognition and re-validation.
Indeed, PMB in my view scored more points by what he did and said at the award ceremony on June 12, 2018. Hear him, “The recognition is not an attempt to open old wounds but to put right a national wrong.” He further said, “We can not rewind the past but we can at least assuage our feelings; recognize that a wrong has been committed and resolve to stand firm now and in the future for the sanctity of free elections. Nigerians would no longer tolerate such perversion of justice.”
After taking the unusual humane step to openly apologise to the Abiola family and the entire nation for the injury done by the annulment he concluded thus, “Our decision to recognize and honour June 12 and its actors is in the national interest. It is aimed at setting national healing Process and reconciliation of the 25-year festering wound caused by the annulment of June 12 elections.” (All bold letters mine). Very strong and unusual words and sentiments from PMB! These are the kind of actions and kind of speeches we have long wished and prayed that PMB would take and make since he came to power in 2015 and I have written many articles urging him to take actions along this path to unite the nation which has further fractured under his watch. Therefore, how would I not be impressed when it seemed that my prayers were being answered.
When IBB annulled the election and saw the anger of Nigerians especially the Yoruba of the South West Nigeria, he tried to appease the Yoruba by appointing Chief Ernest Shonekan, a fellow Egba man as MKO to be the head of State and to lead the Interim National Government (ING). When that did not work, Olusegun Obasanjo was recruited to become President in 1999. When that seemed not to have fully assuaged the Yoruba nation, PMB finally accepted the demand to honour Abiola and to officially declare June 12 as Nigeria’s official democracy day, some how trying to bring this national debacle to a closure.
Abiola’s family, the entire Yoruba nation and the democracy activists seem to have a sense of relief and a feeling that some justice has been done by this largely unexpected gesture by PMB. Other Nigerian nationalities that love justice, equity and fair play generally feel the same way. Indeed, this is not the first Nigeria’s effort to right wrongs and assuage feelings of different nationalities in the Nigerian Federation.
We recall the efforts made by Nigeria to assuage and correct some of the wrongs done to the the people of Niger Delta. Though all the wrongs have not been fully righted but the efforts to increase derivation to 13 per cent, create the NDDC, create the Ministry of the Niger Delta, offer the Niger Delta militants amnesty and rehabilitation and the current cleaning of the Ogoni land are all in the right direction and indicate a desire to right wrongs and heal wounds.
More recently, the Federal Government has been investing hugely to right the wrongs done by Boko Haram against the people of the North East. The North East Development Commission (NEDC) is receiving budgetary allocations from the Federal Government and financial support from local and international organizations. The Federal Government is paying huge sums of money to assuage the Boko Haram insurgents to have them release some of their hostages and some others are being de-radicalized and reintegrated into the normal civil system at the expense of the nation.
Many other examples abound. Jonathan’s rise to the Presidency was helped by a desire to heal the hurt of the Niger Delta people following Odi; Umaru Yar’adua’s choice as President was helped by a desire to right the wrongs done to the North West by the unnatural death of Shehu Yar’adua in prison, etc. All these are well and nice and fit into the move to right wrongs,cause healing and national reconciliation.
I believe it is fair to now ask when it will be the turn of the Igbo nation? When shall we begin to right the legion of wrongs done to them? When shall we begin to assuage their feelings? When we talk about national healing, is the Igbo nation not currently part of Nigeria? In line with the statement of PMB last week, I do not want to open old wounds, but every fair minded Nigerian must agree that so much wrong has been done against Ndigbo in Nigeria and it looks like no one really cares to right any of the wrongs or to assuage their feelings of hurt and alienation.
After the supposedly retaliatory counter coup in July 29,1966 when General Aguiyi-Ironsi and over 300 military officers of Igbo extraction were killed, millions of Igbo civilians – men, women (including pregnant women), and children were murdered in cold blood in a well orchestrated progrom across most of Northern Nigeria. No body apologized. When the remnant Igbo ran home for safety, Nigeria’s Government unleashed a 30-month gruesome military hostility to force them back to Nigeria. This onslaught took the lives of nearly three million Igbo both in military combat and civilian casualty, including the well known and completely unprovoked Asaba massacre that involved men and women who came to welcome the Federal troops.
No one has admitted guilt and no one has issued open apology as PMB courageously did last week. I was a young combatant in the war and have first hand evidence that Nigeria fought the war without any restraint or mercy. If as PMB announced recently that General Gowon asked them to fight the war as one between brothers, I need to inform him that the order was not obeyed at all. Nigerian armed forces fought as if they were fighting their fiercest enemy, strafing civilians with Airforce jets in market places and using hunger as instrument of warfare.
Even after Biafra was forced to surrender and Gowon had declared “no victor, no vanquished” Nigerian soldiers shot and killed in my presence Biafran ex-soldiers, returning home in whose bags were found any item that showed they were soldiers (eg caps, T-shirts or emblems). This narration is contained in my book- The Port Harcourt Volunteer – Experiences Of A Young Combatant In The Nigeria-Biafra War, published by Kraft books in 2015 (chapter 11, page 106), now available on Amazon. The scene was similar to what happened to the unarmed IPOB boys last year. And since the Igbo returned, after ‘abandoning’ their property in parts of Nigeria and receiving only 20 pounds for whatever amount of money they had in the banks, they have suffered uncountable wrongs and injustice.