CHIEF Frank Kokori, former General Secretary of The Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG, said June 12 as a Democracy Day has made him the happiest man on earth even as expressed disappointment over the manner of democracy since May 29, 1999.
In an interview with Vanguard, Kokori said, “ 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. It was indeed the happiest day for me that the struggle was recognised by the least expected person in Nigeria. I had thought that former President Obasanjo who benefitted 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, victimisation killings and banditry would be a thing of the past.
“I’m 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 he government for the job it gave me. I’m a chieftain of APC and this is a chance for PMB to make the necessary change he promised. 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 to mess him up.Good leaders operate best in the 40s, 50s but Buhari is in his 70s and weaker. 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. Things should not deteriorate in the country anymore.
“So, 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 will come out alive but I did. I fought for democracy. 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’m happy I did it for my country. It’s funny that people who did nothng for the country are the ones running democracy. Things should not be allowed to deteriorate further. Enough is enough.
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 advise to him 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 but it’s a pity things are deteriorating. 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 NSTIF. He went to Buhari and the President asked him to swear in Kokori. But the bad people in the Villa that sell positions obstructed everything. That was the beginning of the whole saga about the NSTIF. 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 for Frank Kokori, that shows what the common man could do for Nigeria. We should not give up on Nigeria and I think this is the time for Buhari to work an 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. That should be his landmark in history. It goes beyond the dateline of June 12 to imbibing the tenets of democracy. So Buhari should watch out for the people around him. If Buhari does not put Nigeria in good shape in the next four years, he would be in the wrong side of history.
“We should protect democracy. The Nigeria Labour Congress betrayed June 12, most of them collected bribe. That was why I used NUPENG to fight. It was the oil workers that fought for June 12. If I was not captured then, there would have been a revolution. We were taking out the military by force. We went for June 12 struggle because the military was cheating Nigeria. There was a clampdown of the media then. But things have not changed. Everything has been monetised.”
During our struggle for June 12, we were working together, the military was getting in touch with us. If there must be a revolution in this country, the military must be involved. I have no regrets being part of the struggle.
“The declaration of June 12 as democracy 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. Iwas arrested in August of the same year and detained without charges by the Sani Abacha military government.
He was put in solitary confinement in Bama Prison. I was released in 1998 when General Abdulsalam Abubakar, who suceeded 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 Chris Ngige. It is a terrible thing in our democracy for certain people to hijack the process and destroy the tenets of democracy.”