By Prisca Sam-Duru
Alhaji Jamiu Abiola is the son of the late MKO and Kudirat Abiola who lost their lives in the aftermath of the annulled June 12, 1993 Presidential Election won by MKO Abiola. Jamiu is also a prolific writer who authored the famous book, “The Stolen Presidency” and a number of other books. In this interview, he bares his mind on Nigeria’s democracy, restructuring and state of the nation:
Many thought the declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day would put to rest agitations, but it appears the tempo has rather increased; what do you think is wrong with Nigeria?
The agitation is of another kind and for other reasons. The key question is: do the agitators constitute a loud minority?
There is nothing wrong with Nigeria, in my opinion, other than the fact that we seem to have a dangerously wrong belief that has consistently worked against us: the belief that Nigeria is here to serve us and not the other way around (to be served by us).
The belief that we have to keep draining Nigeria for our own interest has put us deep down into what seems like a bottomless pit.
We are commemorating Nigeria’s democracy today; does what we practicing now look like a democracy?
What we are practicing is indeed democracy because we do have separation of power among duly elected people. The only problem is that we fail to realize that a democracy needs to be a participatory democracy in order to work and flourish; this means that more people need to be positively engaged in it: giving motivation to leaders when they have earned it, and providing alternative ideas, not just criticism designed to run down the opposition party or the ruling government.
While some people are agitating for self-determination, others still believe that restructuring/true federalism will create the needed change in Nigeria, what do you think will work best for the country?
In order to know the system that can works best for Nigeria, we must at least first get the fundamentals right: a minimum level of collective patriotism built on mutual respect and understanding of our different cultures. Without this, nothing can salvage Nigeria. So, any talk of restructuring is premature because there is no solid foundation on which to build a lasting structure. I am not avoiding your question but many issues have to be tackled before dabbling into restructuring, etc.
Do you still believe in a united Nigeria considering how disunited Nigerians have become; and do you honestly believe that the nations that make up this country would still trust each other enough to make progress in a united entity after passing through this dire phase?
I believe in a united Nigeria, and I strongly think most Nigerians feel the same way. Let me give you an example: When Abacha ruled, most people were not vocal, but we all know that a majority of them were not in support of his government. Well, this is the same attitude that most people who believe in a united Nigeria have chosen to adopt. That is why I cannot blame you for thinking that many of them are no longer interested in a united country.
It is time for more people to speak out for a ‘One Nigeria’.
With the massacre that took place at Igàngan, Oyo state, and Ebonyi state recently, it appears banditry has finally been imported into the South, how do you think the trend could be stopped before it becomes worse than it is, if you were to be the president?
I would work harder to give a constitutional role to our monarchs. In order to tackle banditry and similar problems, there is a need to establish an unbreakable bond with the grassroots so as to get the right information at the right time. Without this information, security agents will be forced to operate in the dark. Traditional rulers offer the best possible option and they need to be empowered to effectively play this new role.
Power shift to the South was the main contention in June 12, 1993 and probably the reason it was annulled. The same issue appears to be rearing its head again as 2023 approaches. Do you think that power shift will create another crisis in Nigeria?
By the grace of God there will be no more crisis in Nigeria after June 12.
The issue of power shift is a very sensitive one indeed. In an ideal world, the focus should be on merit but, looking at our country’s history, this would be far easier said than done. Nevertheless, I do not feel a storm building up yet, so I don’t think this issue should be of any major concern at this point. Maybe I am being overly optimistic because of the highly-held belief that Nigeria is endowed with elders who have always known how to nip a problem in the bud whenever the need arises.
June 12 has also become a symbol of democracy in Nigeria. With the clamp down on Twitter and planned censorship of the social media by the Federal Government, do you see any threat to the democracy for which your father and mother paid the supreme price to enthrone in Nigeria?
At the time the June 12 crisis erupted there was no social media. Now, the world has changed, but I am sure that we can all agree on the fact that there is good and bad in everything these days. That is why at times there is a need to monitor the social media. In this regard, I would like us to focus on a salient fact: In the recent past innocent policemen and soldiers have been killed randomly and this is what led to this problem between Nigeria and Twitter.
What I am saying in a nutshell is that we should not get confused about what happened and must admit that the problem between the government and Twitter is only related to national security and not to the democracy that my parents died fighting for. I do not think that democracy is under threat.
While some Nigerians are clamouring for sovereign nations of theirs, others are demanding for restructuring, yet, others are asking for return to the 1963 Constitution. What do you think will best bring peace to Nigeria?
The best option today might not be the best option tomorrow. So, I support the idea of sharing and exploring new ideas. However, I think the National Assembly should be tasked to initiate this process.
In addition, attitude matters; the attitude you adopt when going into such talks in search for the best options would have a profound impact on the outcome: I think from the outset we should bear in mind that our primary objective is to find a system that would better serve us as one unit and not as separate entities.
To split in a world where countries are looking for more and more ways to unite seems unreasonable to me.
Some people believe it is not enough to honour MKO Abiola after denying him his lawful mandate to be president; that the best way to really honour him and Kudirat, your mum, is for Nigerians to support one of his children to emerge as president of Nigeria. What do you think about that?
If that was the automatically right thing to do, a Kennedy descendant would have been supported to become the president in the US and a Bhutu might have still been in charge in Pakistan.
However, if one of us is really competent for the job, qualified beyond a reasonable doubt, then I think it would be nice if such a person would be destined to rule Nigeria on behalf of my father.
Notwithstanding, in the meantime my siblings and I are going ahead with whatever we can do to serve this country and help contribute to the country of my parents’ dream.
In their memory, I wrote a book about June 12 almost a decade ago in order to set the records straight. Recently, I formed an NGO and named it “Kudirat Abiola Sabon Gari Peace Foundation”. Through it, I will be actively involved in conflict resolution with a team of technical experts in the hope to help unite the country like it was in the past when the Sabon Garis were the clearest sign across the entire country of the willingness of Nigerians to coexist.
To become president is not a priority for us, contributing to the formation of a Nigeria that works is really what matters.