- Kokori reveals on his June 12 revolution he says some soldiers backed
- •NLC betrayed our struggle, its leaders collected bribe
•OBJ, Jonathan failed Nigeria
•Nigerians not happy with Buhari
•Disillusioned by 20 yrs of democracy
By Chioma Gabriel, Editor Special Features
Chief Frank Kokori, former General Secretary of The Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG, in this encounter, talked about the roles he and other individuals played in the quest to re-validate the June 12, 1993 presidential election, which was annulled by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida.
He said June 12 as a Democracy Day has made him the happiest man on earth even as he expressed disappointment over achievements in democracy since May 29, 1999.
June 12 is officially Democracy Day, how does that make you feel?
I’m very happy that June 12 has been recognised as Democracy Day. It’s one of the happiest things to happen to me. I was one of those that fought for June 12 and I went to jail for it. What surprises me is that the struggle was recognised by the least expected person in Nigeria. I had thought that former President Obasanjo who benefited from the struggle would make June 12 Democracy Day but he didn’t. It is now coming from President Muhammadu Buhari, the least expected person to make June 12 Democracy Day.
I have always said that there is no alternative to democracy even though that today, 20 years after, I’m disillusioned with the manner of democracy in Nigeria. I had expected that by now, Nigeria should have passed this era of corrupt politicians who don’t think about the masses, who think about their own pockets alone, I had thought that by now, oppression, killings and banditry would be a thing of the past.
I’ve even being victimised by a government that gave me a job. I was given a job and for 20 months, I was not sworn in by the government for the job it gave me. I’m a chieftain of APC and I’m saying that this is a chance for PMB to make the necessary change he promised Nigerians. The president should shine his eyes and look inwards. There are bad people all around him. Nigerians are not happy with him and he should be aware of it. He is not young and those around him are taking advantage of the weakness in his age to mess him up. Good leaders operate best in the 40s, 50s and 60s but Buhari is in his 70s and no longer as strong as he used to be. Nigerians still have confidence in him to make a change and if he doesn’t get it right this time, it will be bad for him. It is not good for him to find himself in the wrong side of history.
I’m disillusioned with democracy after 20 years. Many of us suffered and some even died. I was put in the worst prisons ever. I was held in solitary confinement at Bame Prisons. I didn’t know I would come out alive but I did. I’m disappointed by the democracy we have today but military rule is not an alternative. I know what I went through as the arrow-head of the oil workers.
I had thought that Obasanjo would recognise June 12 as Democracy Day but he didn’t. He obviously had a hidden agenda and now, it’s Buhari of all persons that is recognising June 12 as Democracy Day. My only advice to Buhari is that he should fight the evil going on in the country. There is so much oppression going on, so much lying, victimisation, killings, banditry. These issues should be tackled. Buhari should make the best of his last four years and come out as a hero.
I had an experience in September 2017. The Minister of Labour, Chris Ngige called me and said, my great Comrade, congratulations, you have been appointed the chairman of NSITF. He said it was the Acting President that made the appointment and would need the President’s signature. He went to Buhari and the President asked him to swear in Kokori. But the bad people in the Villa that sell victimisation positions obstructed everything. That was the beginning of the whole saga about the NSITF.
I was happy my Comrades came out and fought for me when my name was changed 24 hours to swearing in. If they could do that to Frank Kokori, that shows what they can do to the common.
We should not give up on Nigeria and I think this is the time for Buhari to work and ensure his name is written in history as a man who brought Nigeria out of the land of bondage. He should stop the killings, the banditry, the corruption and oppression going on in the land. It goes beyond the dateline of June 12 to imbibing the tenets of democracy. So Buhari should put Nigeria in good shape in the next four years or he would be in the wrong side of history. He should protect democracy.
When you said you are in the village, I was a bit scared because of herdsmen activities and banditry, kidnappings which mostly happen in villages.
I am a grassroots person, even in the heart of the Niger-Delta, nobody will kidnap me. I’ve been in the village for many years, I go to Lagos or Abuja and come back. Kidnapping is not happening around my village although they operate in bushes and villages, but they are not in my area.
Former President Obasanjo did say that President Buhari has a Fulanisation and Islamisation agenda. Not too long ago, some retired generals and elder statesmen toed the same line and even took the matter to the UK, what do you think is going on?
Obasanjo was expected to do the right thing but he didn’t. If he had restructured the country which was Afenifere and NADECO’s agenda, these things wouldn’t be happening. We gave the restructuring agenda to Obasanjo but he did nothing with it. He focused on his very selfish interests, on being a president for life and getting a third term. I am very close to Obasanjo but do you know why Obasanjo did not give me a job and subsequent governments did not give me a job? Do I take him serious?
Obasanjo didn’t give me a job because my integrity which I’m not ready to compromise even when in government. My integrity would have been a great asset in developed countries but is an albatross here. Elsewhere in the world, freedom fighters get jobs like Mandela came out of prison to became a president and in other places, prisoners of conscience come out of prison and get rewarded, but Obasanjo on mounting the saddle did not give me a job. It was only Buhari that gave me a job but his cabal tried to stop it. That is what is going on in Nigeria. This country would have gone far in developmental issues. We wouldn’t be talking about these mischief, kidnappings, killings, herdsmen or banditry by now. When you practice true federalism, these problems wouldn’t be here. It was when Obasanjo had nine months to go that he said he was going for constitution review. When Jonathan had 6 months or 3 months to go, he started talking about constitution review. Is that how to do it?
Or perhaps like Obasanjo said, the problem with Nigeria has become internationalised and could no longer be solved locally…
What has Britain got to with it? So, in my Delta State here, someone would come and Fulanise me or Islamise me? Who will come to your state in Anambra to Fulanise or Islamise you? I was in Bama Prison, most of the people there were Muslims, about 90%. I practised my Christianity in the prison, nobody forced us to practice Islam even though we were few Christians there. We had few Igbo, Yoruba boys and me. We practiced our Christianity and held our services under the tree. Forget those talks, nobody will do anything, let them try it, let them come to Delta or Onitsha to Islamise the people. They are just selfish grandstanding people. They are deceiving the people. They had opportunity to do the right thing but they didn’t. Obasanjo had eight years to restructure Nigeria but did nothing. Goodluck Jonathan was there for 5 years but did nothing. What are they saying now? Everybody shouted but Obasanjo did nothing? He retired 120 officers he perceived as threat to him, why was he protecting himself and not the country?
Is that how to do it? The American constitution that we copied, is that how they do it? It is never done. How can someone have eight years and do nothing? So, what is he saying now? And which elders went to UK to do what? Where were they all these while? It’s an insult to Nigeria to take our matter to UK. Is Britain our father? That is rubbish distraction and an insult to Nigeria.
So, what is your assessment of herdsmen menace, bandits, Boko Haram, killings going on everywhere in Nigeria, kidnappings. If you think Islamisation is impossible, what could they be?
That is why I said Buhari should shine his eyes. Buhari is not acting fast. He is too slow for my liking. He should act fast and have good people around him. This idea of putting only his tribes people in positions of governance is not doing Nigeria good. The cabal around him are not helping matters either. He should select good Nigerians. As dictatorial as Babangida was, he had eyes for good people in Nigeria. Buhari should do that and forget this idea of picking people from his own tribe and religion only. As I said, four years are what Buhari has to become a hero or go down in the bad side of history. If he does not put Nigeria in good shape and in the path of justice and equity for the people, he will be on the wrong side of history but I want him on the right side of history.
Many think Nigeria is an accident waiting to happen. Do you perceive any likelihood of implosion?
Obviously, that’s what could happen if nothing is done to tackle the problems besieging the country. If people are being cheated anywhere in the world, that’s what happens. An implosion will happen or why did we go for June 12 struggle? It is because the military was cheating us. Nobody put them there, they put themselves and were cheating Nigerians. That’s why we went for June 12 struggle. Talking is not enough. Action speaks louder than words and that was what June 12 struggle was about. We were saying enough is enough and that is what struggle is all about. During June 12, journalists suffered. There was the militant press and they were banned, they were shut down. I still remember those magazines: The News, Tempo, Punch, Guardian, Concord. They all joined the struggle. But now, everywhere has been monetised, every institution has been monetised including Journalists, Labour leaders. They have been monetised. The police and the judiciary are the problems we have in this country.
The declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day is much deeper than we think. The annulment of the election, considered Nigeria’s freest ever, and the detention of Abiola led to major protests and strikes by workers’ unions. NUPENG launched a nationwide strike in 1994 condemning the annulment and demanding that Abiola be freed and inaugurated. I was arrested in August of the same year and detained without charges by the Sani Abacha military government. I was put in solitary confinement in Bama Prison. I was released in 1998 when General Abdulsalam Abubakar, who succeeded Abacha came into power and ordered my release as well as that of other detained political activists and journalists.
I was declared Prisoner of Conscience by the late Nelson Mandela and Pope Saint John Paul II in 1997 and the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Amnesty International (AI) declared me prisoner of conscience between August 1994 and June 1998.
Now, knowing where I am coming from, you should know how it feels to be messed with by a man like Dr Chris Ngige. It is a terrible thing in our democracy for certain people to hijack the process and destroy the tenets of democracy.
You talked about monetisation, are you aware that NLC we have today is no longer as strong as it used to be and cannot lead a struggle?
Forget about that. The NLC in my days betrayed me and betrayed the June 12 struggle. So, I used the oil workers to fight that battle. When I talked in the National Executive Council, they betrayed me. Most of them were bribed, that was why NUPENG and PENGASSAN, the oil workers took over the struggle. Do you know the efforts we made? That was why they locked me up. Did NLC then fight for me? It was only NUPENG that fought for me. The leadership of NLC at that time betrayed me, betrayed the revolution that I was leading. In fact, we were succeeding. We were almost taking out the military by force. We were close to removing Abacha. If I wasn’t captured, in a matter of weeks, that government would have fallen. The military were getting in touch with us at the time and we were succeeding. The civilians alone cannot overthrow government, the military must be part of a revolution. The ordinary man with placards cannot succeed in a revolution, the military must be part of a revolution.
Democracy is what reigns now and nonody looks forward to a military revolution anymore. It is global and no reasonable person should call for it. The people at the helm of affairs are also ex military.
Whenever there is confusion, the military is split into two, even the June 12 struggle, the military was part of it but these are private things to me which I cannot talk about in the open and it is only the organised labour that could bring such situations to the country.
Look at how the organised labour stood up for me during the NSITF saga. I tried to stop them but they refused. That is what Labour could do in a bad situation. The oil union was mad at government as in how can you do that to their father? How can Kokori be oppressed at this stage? It’s the Acting President and the President that appointed me the chairman of NSITF, not Wabba. Wabba did not know, yet, he went on air and said what wasn’t true. Everybody wants me to come and talk on air, I tried to mount pressure on the organised labour against doing what they did for me so that nobody would say that Kokori at 75 is still fomenting trouble but I couldn’t stop them.
I guess, if the dead could laugh, all those who are part of June 12 struggle that have died would be roaring with laughter in their graves…
No, they would be crying that after 20 years of democracy, Nigeria is still in mess. They will be happy that June 12 is now Democracy Day but when they see what’s going on in Nigeria, they will cry. Poverty has gone haywire in these 20 years of democracy. The only thing is that they won’t lock you up anyhow anymore and if they did, you would go to court to challenge them. After two or three weeks, they would release you even when you have stolen N20bn or N40bn.
But even the dead, like former Head of State, General Abacha is still sending alerts from the grave…
It’s not only Abacha that stole money, others did and they need to pay up too. Abacha died under his circumstances and that is why he is paying. Others who have been indicted are not paying. Nigeria has the highest number of rogue politicians in the world. All the people around him, the only person who is not making money is Buhari himself which I think is inbuilt in him. That’s why I said he should shine his eyes or these people will ruin his name. Any president must give security job to his people. You don’t compromise that, some would even put their sons as the head of their security. But he must keep his eyes on them.
What’s your thought of the new Democracy Day?
I congratulate Nigerians. Most of us who fought for June 12 know what it means. May 29 means nothing to Nigerians. It was a cheap contraption which was promoted by the then President Obasanjo and was reflected in his style of leadership. Obasanjo is that kind of person. Anything he wants is what he does. He doesn’t take counter-opinions from citizens.
But you are not saying that 20 years of democracy is a waste?
No. I said I’m disillusioned by 20 years of democracy but there is no alternative to democracy. I had expected things to be better in a democracy but unfortunately, they are not.