By Gabriel Enogholase, Benin
Senator Matthew Urhoghide was the Deputy Director-General of the Hope 93 Campaign Organisation, the campaign outfit that marshalled Chief Moshood Abiola’s 1993 presidential campaign.
He was also the Director of Administration and Logistics in the organization, a position that gave him inside knowledge of the operation of the campaign. He was with Abiola before the beginning of the campaign and anchored the secretariat till it was closed down in 1994 after that maximum dictator, Sanni Abacha clamped the June 12 hero in detention.
Urhoghide was to follow up his activities in the Hope 93 Campaign with a phenomenal incursion into the political terrain in Edo State at the advent of the Fourth Republic.
Senator Urhoghide who represents Edo South Senatorial District in the Senate in this interview speaks on his involvement in the campaign saying that the Federal Government should have taken pains to further unveil the characters behind the phenomenon of June 12.
The Federal Government has revisited the June 12 issue with the recognition of the late Chief MKO Abiola and his deputy, Alhaji Babagana Kingibe. What is your reaction?
I want to commend the Federal Government and President Buhari for recognizing June 12, 1993, as a symbolic day and as the watershed of our democracy, recognising the day we had the freest election in this country and of course the symbol of that struggle, Chief MKO Abiola who won the election fair and square. But the election was not concluded by way of the winner being declared the President, but after all these years, we are talking about 25 years, him being recognized.
It is, however, unfortunate that the Federal Government did not have the full details of those who were involved in the struggle. They ought to have found out that only a segment of the persons involved in that struggle was invited to be part of the ceremony that included the investiture of the posthumous national award on Abiola and the award on Alhaji Babagana Kingibe who was his running mate.
You recall that the major segment of that struggle was the Campaign Organization. Senator Jonathan Zwingina was the, and I was the Director of Administration and Logistics. I was the deputy to senator Zwingina in that campaign. To think of it though that, if MKO Abiola were alive and even if he were not declared the President, we know those that followed, they ought to be part and parcel of the celebration.
Every person that was involved in the struggle knows the role they played. I remember very precisely before the campaign started, Senator Zwingina who was conscripted from the defunct campaign of Chief Olu Falae, myself and one Ola Olateju were the ones that started the campaign in the organization at Allen Avenue where the campaign was situated. The very first day, we had to meet, as a campaign organization even before MKO Abiola declared his intentions to run was at Gateway Hotel where we received the members of the House of Representatives and the Senate. He said he was still consulting and had told Senator Zwingina that he went to see the Emir of Zazzau in Zaria.
All the visitors, members of House of Representatives and Senators came and were with us till 3 a.m. before Abiola came back to Lagos to meet us. I was the one that held on the members of the National Assembly assuring them that Chief MKO Abiola was still coming back to address them. All through the campaign when the Central Working Committee was set up, I was there with people like Boss Mustapha who decided to come with Alhaji Kingibe.
I allocated the roles to the National Chairman of SDP, Chief Tony Anenih and Sule Lamido as the National Secretary. Members of the SDP were coming to the secretariat, and I was the one arranging their logistics. Also, Senator Bola Tinubu was our coordinator in the Senate. We spent nights and days trying to organize the campaign. Yes, many persons were not supportive of MKO Abiola’s candidature.
What of the campaign secretariat?
We are surprised, now that there is a celebration, people who were never part of the struggle are being recognized. If those that worked day and night with MKO Abiola didn’t get the “thank you” from him and the Federal Government decided to honour that date, they ought to have done more research to find out from those who were involved.
I was the person in the secretariat collecting the results of the states as they were coming in. All the documents of the campaign from the local state and federal levels are still with me. When Abiola was declared as the presidential aspirant of the SDP, only three governors were with him. They were Ishola Kalapo of Oyo State, Segun Osoba of Ogun State and Isaka Adeleke of Osun State.
The experience I got from that campaign I can’t get it anywhere else. It has helped me. Even when I put my campaign on the ground to go to the Senate. I believe that those who were involved should have gone further to find out who these persons were and they ought to have been honoured.
That struggle was not eventually in vain but the government ought to have bothered to look deeper and identify those who were involved. Those of us who were directors and were involved, nothing has been said about us. Somebody like Dayo Adeyeye was with us. Dr. Bolu Akiolupade who was the first person to step down for MKO Abiola was part and parcel of the campaign. Many people who were involved have not been mentioned. The day he made his declaration, I was there, the day he was arrested, I was there. The secretariat kept on till 1994 after which the Secretariat was disbanded.
I was the one collecting the results from the states as they were coming in, all others were set out to their different state. I was left with Jonathan Zwingina collected the result until the Chairman of NEC (National Electoral Commission) was asked to stop releasing the results.
We commend the Federal Government for giving recognition to Abiola. For the very first time, we had one man, who was an embodiment of intellect, a patriot, a true professional, a very rich man that needed to have power but along the line, because of the exigencies of the moment and very difficult political landscape, lost everything, lost his wife, lost wealth, lost power, lost his life. It was God that laid it in the heart of Mr. President to say yes, this is one big injustice that was done in this country. We put a lot in; I brought my two vehicles to the campaign organization.
I am surprised that maybe they didn’t consult the family, if they did, they would have to them that deeper than what you see, a lot of people participated.
Thank God I am a Senator of the federal republic of Nigeria; it’s an added value because I gained a whole lot from anchoring the campaign for Abiola in this country. I think the experience I got from it; there is no other place I can get it. It is a plus; it has helped me, even when I put my campaign.