By Henry Boyo
THE late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola was the acclaimed, legitimate winner of the 1993 Presidential election, which was conducted, purportedly, to usher in a Democratic Administration after Ibrahim Babangida’s eight years in power, as Nigeria’s sole military President till date!
Inexplicably, however, Babangida, annulled the same election, even though he readily admitted, in his broadcast to the nation, that the conduct of the election was widely accepted as “free, fair and peaceful” even when the winning presidential ticket comprised two Moslem faithful! In retrospect, it is arguable that the 1993 Presidential elections results, probably remain the least controversial, in almost six decades of post colonial history.
The quixotic annulment, however, provoked angry public protests and nationwide labour strike, particularly in Lagos and the South West, while precious lives were regrettably snuffed out of hundreds of Nigerians, by the murderous, tyrannic response of an unrepentant military dictator.
In the ensuing intrigues, Babangida in his own words, agreed to “step aside” for Sanni Abacha, his chief co-conspirator, who quickly eased out Ernest Shonekan, whom Babangida had selected as Interim Head of State, from office after four months. However, Abiola’s insistence on the legitimate mandate, of his popular nationwide landslide victory, posed a threat to Abacha’s hold on power.
Ultimately, the die was cast, after Abiola returned from an extended overseas trip and declared himself as the legitimate president, in a non-descript location in Epetedo, on Lagos Island. To cut a long story short, Abacha, thereafter, unleashed battle-ready soldiers, who forcefully took away Abiola in the dead of night, when the usual human shield that swarmed MKO’s residence and adjoining streets daily, to prevent his arrest, had gone home after their usual ‘daylight’ vigil. Thereafter, the goggled General ruled with an iron fist, while Abiola spent the remaining four years of his life in incarceration, with no contact from the outside world, except for strictly regulated access for medical interventions.
Sadly, Kudirat, MKO’s wife, who had remained very vocal in the quest for justice for her husband, was brutally shot and killed close to Oregun/Ibadan Express bye-pass, by Abacha’s Strike Force, while she was on her way to a meeting on the Island. Although, oppressive dictators can wield the power of life and death over their subjects, nonetheless, by divine contrivance, these seemingly invincible despots do not have immunity to death itself.
Ultimately, Abacha suddenly died, totally unexpectedly, as he appeared in good health when he saw off the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, at Abuja airport, just hours before his reported death. Expectedly, with Abacha’s death, speculations became rife that Abiola’s release was imminent. Regrettably, however, days after Abacha passed on, the acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993 election, ‘mysteriously’ choked and died, while sharing tea with a team of United States government peace brokers, led by one Susan Rice.
In retrospect, Nigeria’s return to civil rule in 1999 was undeniably, facilitated by Abiola’s martyrdom. Consequently, all presidents since 1999 are beneficiaries of Abiola’s sacrifice. Abiola, clearly, recognized the oppressive impact of the naira exchange rate on mass poverty and our shackled economy, and therefore vowed to set up an economic process that would strengthen the Naira, so that more Nigerians may exit poverty.
Abiola was certainly, not your puny local champion, as he deployed his immense wealth to lift up Nigerians from diverse regions from poverty and he was certainly, also, the most vocal African advocate for erstwhile Colonial Administrations to make reparations, for the deliberate oppression and unfettered exploitation of Africa and Africans, in the process of resource evacuation, as well as the dislocation and retrogression that the very lucrative Atlantic Slave Trade, caused in African countries for over three hundred years and still counting.
Understandably, Abiola was not popular with his local military oppressors, and he was also not a favourite of our erstwhile colonial overlords. Sadly, since his death, no African has summoned the courage, nor possessed the burning will to redress the economic inequity and injustice that the inhabitants of the African continent continue to endure, under the guise of clearly unfavourable trade terms.
Consequently, President Buhari’s recent decision to recognize the 1993 Presidential election results as valid, is probably, Buhari’s most popular decision, since he became president three years ago. Indeed, even if PMB’s validation is three years late, and perceived as self serving, it is still welcome, as it may help to heal a wound that has festered and challenged our hope of a unified nation with full respect for the ‘rule of law’ and personal liberty.
Thankfully, the uneasy feeling of celebrating Democracy Day on May 29, especially, when June 12 always looms so close on the horizon is dead for good! Nonetheless, late ‘President’ Abiola could probably be alive today, if he had considered the enjoyment of his immense wealth, and social equity, and the comfort, love and safety of his well known very large family. Indeed we are stronger today as a nation because Abiola stood up for Nigeria and principle rather than self-preservation.
The foregoing narrative would probably refresh the memories of our older citizens, however, Nigerians born after 1990, particularly after the relegation of Civics and History in Schools’ curriculum, will probably be enriched by this summary. Millennials are, however, undeniably, familiar with the more recent tribulations of a 16 year old girl, called Leah Sharibu, who was amongst 110 girls captured from Dapchi in Yobe State by the seemingly invincible Boko Haram Sect. Happily, 104 girls were quickly released after Government intervention, however, Leah has been forced to remain in captivity because she bluntly refused to denounce her Christian faith, as demanded by her captors.
Now, Leah may not be in the same ball pack as the obviously more matured wealthy and celebrated juggernaut that Abiola was, nonetheless, by Leah’s unflinching adherence to her faith, despite her continued incarceration and the possible threat of death, the young lady can certainly rub shoulders with the evidently more illustrious MKO, and can certainly also be celebrated for standing on the principle, that she has a right, as a human being, to choose her own faith. Consequently, in this regard Leah stands for every Nigerian or indeed everyone, anywhere in the world whether Christian, Moslem or Atheist, who also cherishes the right to choose their religious path. Thus, Leah is us and we are all Leah!
Consequently, we must all fear for our safety if we cannot freely choose our faith without coercion from any quarter. However, Leah must not also die in detention, just like Abiola, for holding tight to her inalienable human right to choose her faith. Indeed, for as long as some Nigerians like the rest of the Chibok and Dapchi children, still remain in Captivity, we cannot really celebrate our own freedom.