By Yinka Odumakin
THERE are some books you didn’t read and so feel you never passed through the world; so also are some persons you failed to meet. And that is why I will always cherish that evening at the official residence of Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi as the Managing Director of Daily Times in 1990. I was there from The Punch Newspaper to cover the reception Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria, NPAN, was having for Bashorun M.K.O Abiola.
About two hours after schedule, Abiola was not around and it was not the era of GSM yet. The host ordered dinner served while we waited for Abiola. He eventually came from his doctor with a bandage on his left arm. As he arrived, he didn’t go to the top table straight. He made it round to every guest at the event.
As he made it to my table I was not looking up and he said: “I am greeting you and you are not responding. We will share your dinner today.” He picked a fork and took a piece of meat from my plate. It was a communion shared with this great man who would make real history in Nigeria in not distant a time.
By April 1993, the man who was told by the power-wielders in NPN in 1983 that the presidency was not for sale to the highest bidder had picked the presidential ticket of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, in Jos. In his victory speech he spoke in riddles: “The assignment I have been given here is like the concept of Arugba among the Yoruba. When a community is afflicted, they look for a man who will carry the calabash of sacrifice to the river. The man may or not return alive.” He was quite prophetic.
The election held on June 12,1993 and all went well, including a clement weather. With exit polls, Abiola won across Nigeria. His Muslim-Muslim ticket with Kingibe had won in predominantly Christian areas. An Egba man defeated his opponent, Bashir Tofa, in Kano. It was significant that as Abiola campaigned in Kano, a gentleman on top of a tree fell down when Abiola’s promise that no Nigerian would go to bed with no food in his stomach was translated into Hausa language.
Humphrey Nwosu who was the electoral boss was announcing the result in his ebullient self when Gen. Ibrahim Babangida and his cabal who didn’t expect Abiola to win issued an unjust diktat to stop the announcement. It was a matter of time before we heard a new word in our lexicon: annulment.
Abiola and pro-democracy forces would not accept that. There were street protests to reject the military voiding of the will of the people. The biggest of the protests in Lagos started on July 5. By July 7, General Sani Abacha had rolled out the tanks on Ikorodu road and we had a busy day counting dead bodies.
Babangida who would have gone down well in history had to exit in shame putting in place a rickety interim government headed by Ernest Shonekan. It didn’t take time before Abacha, with whom crooked aides of Abiola had cut a deal, kicked him out to foist full blown dictatorship on the country.
They had sold a dummy that Abacha would hand over to Abiola and make some of them deputies to the military administrators as part of the deal. Some of them already reported for duty before Abacha cancelled the deal and they found their way back to NADECO.
These shenanigans allowed the consolidation of military dictatorship before Abiola could openly claim his mandate on June11,1994. He was arrested and thrown into jail till he died. The evil regime of Abacha was sustained in office with the blood of many pro-democracy activists. I cannot forget how we took counsel with Alhaja Kudirat Abiola on July 2, 1996 in her living room and we agreed to meet again on the morning of the fifth. It was her body we laid to rest at the appointed time.
Nigeria was neither at full-blown war nor at peace under the dark-goggled evil man whose structure is in charge of Nigeria. I still recall this meeting somewhere in Victoria Island in May 1998 with about five of us from the pro-democracy community with a team led by the Assistant Secretary of State, African Affairs, at the States Department, Mr. John Shatuck. The last question that was thrown at us was what did we think would happen if Abacha and Abiola were no more. The duo were gone a month apart.
Nigeria has continued to live under the shadows of June 12 ever since until the regime that is populated by Abacha men brought some partial closure to the momentous development last year. They honoured Abiola and a few others and declared June 12 public holiday.
Was that the end of the matter? It can’t be as June 12 was larger than all that. June 12 is about the right of Nigerians to freely choose their leaders which is still observed in the breach in Nigeria today. Until we begin to hold the type of election we had on June 12, all will be lip-service.
Pampered heaters of the polity
The more fundamental is the nationality question which June 12 was about to resolve but which was shattered. Reading the book of lamentations of Col. Abubakar Umar recently about how low we have sunk in official manipulations of ethnic relations in our national affairs in the last five years would bring about tears from those who knew June 12.
On the eve of the 27th anniversary of June 12, the pampered heaters of the polity are rolling out their war drums shouting the Fulani own Nigeria and that they will roll out 100,000 thugs across Nigeria. They are known as Miyetti Allah.
They kill across the country and claim responsibilities. A governor was summoned to the Presidency and instructed to go and learn how to live with them after they killed scores of his people in one day.
It cannot be in the land of June 12 that certain positions today are only for people who come from a section of the country. How can we in good conscience say we have honoured June 12?
When you listen to Abiola’s declaration at Epetedo again, what has changed even in the years of “change”?
“We are sickened to see people who have shown little or no personal achievement, either in building up private businesses, or making success of any tangible thing, being placed in charge of the management of our nation’s economy, by rulers who are not accountable to anyone.
“Enough of square pegs in round holes. We are tired of the military’s repetitive tendency to experiment with our economy: Today, they say “no controls”. Tomorrow, they say: “Full controls”. The day after, they say: “Fine tuning”. The next day, they say: “Devaluation”. A few days later, they say: “Revalue the same naira upwards again, Abi?”
All we can see are the consequences of this permanent game of military “about-turns;” high inflation, a huge budget deficit and an enormous foreign debt repayment burden, dying industries, high unemployment and a demoralised populace.
Our youths, in particular, can see no hope on the horizon, and many can only dream of escaping from our shores to join the brain drain. Is this the Nigeria we want? We are plagued also by periodic balance of payments crises which have led to a perennial shortage of essential drugs that has turned our hospitals and clinics into mortuaries.
A scarcity of books and equipment has rendered our schools into desolate deserts of ignorance. Our factories are crying for machinery, spare parts and raw materials. But each day that passes, instead of these economic diseases being cured, they are rather strengthened as an irrational allocation of foreign exchange based on favouritism and corruption becomes the order of the day.”
It’s morning yet on June 12.