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The cruel joke on June 12

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Late MKO Abiola

By Muyiwa Adetiba

I recently read Owei Lakemfa’s article on June 12. Owei writes for both Vanguard, one of his former employers and Premium Times which is owned by his friend and former colleague. He is one of the few columnists I read often.

I had been doing that since our days at the Vanguard and he recently made it easier when he started sending his articles directly to me through WhatsApp. Apart from being a good writer, he is forthright and unequivocal about where he stands on any issue. He is also an activist of note and a veteran of many battles.

His article was an account of how he and other leaders of Campaign for Democracy (CD) tried to sustain the momentum of June 12. I couldn’t help smiling as I read his reminiscences because he and I were working together on an evening newspaper around the time General Abacha was showing his fangs and I never knew he was that involved. He came to work very early, often ahead of most of us and did his job professionally.

On the occasions I felt we were hitting too hard and thought we should soften our stance, he would say ‘Oga, there is nothing to worry about. We just have to be very careful’. On hindsight, it probably explains why I was trailed by security. And why Dr Fasheun used Owei’s name to introduce himself to me– forgetting we had earlier met – when we met at Alagbon during my visit to another of Abacha’s detainees.

The point in all of this is that people made enormous sacrifices, sometimes with their blood, to make June 12 the watershed it became in Nigeria’s quest for democracy. One would expect the current politicians, the beneficiaries, to respect what June 12 stood for over two decades ago, as a day of political liberation and now stands for today, as Nigeria’s new Democracy Day.

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This year’s June 12 was, for the most part, low key – what with COVID 19 and a stuttering economy. It started with the President’s speech which was neither here nor there in terms of people’s real concern. It was delivered in a flat monotone which didn’t help matters.

The day would have been another day of tepid speeches and dampened hopes if APC hadn’t come to brighten – or darken things depending on how one looks at the event that unfolded in Edo State when APC and its screening committee, decided to disqualify a sitting governor in such a cavalier, in your face manner.

One had expected that something would give between Oshiomhole and Obaseki because of the way the two gladiators were going on. But to disqualify a sitting governor because there was no ‘i’ at the end of Obaseki was a bit too much for me. That it happened on June 12, the day that has come to symbolise a free and fair election and perpetuated by an activist (unionist) turned politician was for me, a cruel joke on June 12 and on people like Owei (also a unionist) who sacrificed so much to make the day etched in our national memory.

To be clear, my tears are not necessarily for Godwin Obaseki, one of the two men in the eye of the storm. I don’t think he handled things too well given the way he became governor. There were times I felt he was arrogant and condescending. Most times I just felt he was talking too much. A good card player holds his cards to his chest.

A good chess player hides his moves; often with a decoy. A good strategist weighs his options and makes two, or even three alternative plans. There are times you even have to stoop to conquer. It does not appear Obaseki had too many aces up his sleeves beyond getting Oshiomhole out as Chairman. When that sole plan fell, everything fell like a pack of ill supported cards. Obaseki became a Humpty Dumpty that sat on a great, exalted wall without an adequate support and inevitably had a great fall. Can the Kinsmen now scampering around put him back again? It is however sad that his above average performance was not even countenanced. I feel the Edo people should have been allowed to elect or reject him at the polls. But that’s not the way our democracy works. Your performance counts for little when the chips are down and that is sad.

Now to Adams Oshiomhole, the second man in the eye of the storm. He is also Obaseki’s predecessor and Chairman of his party. If Obaseki talked too much, Oshiomhole talked even more; often times without filtering his words. In saner climes Oshiomhole should have recused himself from the primaries. That was the decent thing to do.

It was obvious the feud had become personal and reconciliation near impossible. Any outcome that had his input would therefore be tainted. Instead Adams dug in and inflamed passions even further. He is a guy who doesn’t care about collateral damages as long as he has his way. In that, he reminds me of President Trump.

In fact, the similarities are more than one. Never mind that one is black and the other white; one is huge and the other pintsized. After all, as Luther King said, it is not the visage that matters but character. Both have king-sized ego and razor thin skin. Both could dismantle institutions just to get back at someone.

Both think and act for the moment often saying things that justify a current position irrespective of what they had said before. In the case of Oshiomhole, he has forgotten the things he said about Obaseki when he was campaigning for him four short years ago. He has forgotten the things he said about Ize Iyamu during that campaign and how he said he would take responsibility for what could be libellous comments.

On about Obaseki’s certificates, he has forgotten what he said about President Buhari and the latter’s certificates. He has also, it seems, forgotten what he said about godfathers when he was governor. Now he expects all of us to have collective amnesia and not remember any of those things. He also now wants us to see Obaseki as a bad man and Ize Iyamu as god sent. Most of us are not wired that way.

In the name of democracy; in the name of fairness; in the name of decency, I think Obaseki deserves an impartial screening process – if he must be screened – in which Oshiomhole has no input whatsoever.


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