Interview

June 9, 2024

I was picked up, detained on day Kudirat Abiola was assassinated – Wale Adeoye

Kudirat Abiola

Kudirat Abiola

•Says ruling class betrayed June 12

By Dickson Omobola

Executive Director of Journalists for Democratic Rights, JODER, Mr Adewale Adeoye, in this interview, shares his experiences on the struggle to actualize June 12, 1993 election.
Excerpts:

Experiences

Talking from the position of June 12, I think we cannot rule out the momentum that it created which led to the emergence of democracy in 1999. We cannot ignore the sacrifices, risks, turning paths that many Nigerians passed through in order for this country to emerge as a democratic nation. For those who are too young at that time, they may not be able to appreciate the ups and downs, the travails, the anguish and the agony. They may not be able to understand that people laid down their lives and gave everything for democracy to be nurtured.

A lot of things happened in those days that if we go back to history, nobody will ever wish to have the military return. From my personal experiences, I realised that a lot of people were killed in the strife to have a country that has respect for human rights and freedom. Military regimes committed horrendous atrocities.

Students

Let me give you a few instances. In 1986 or thereabouts under the military, students of the Ahmadu Bello University, ABU, Zaria were killed. About four students I think. It became a national festival of blood because students in other campuses rose up in solidarity with the students of ABU. That would tell you that at a point in time, Nigerians saw themselves as one. At the University of Nigeria, UNN, Nsukka where I was a student, we participated in that demonstration. Surprisingly, UNN was isolated. At the time, the Federal Government had set up a military tribunal to try students for treason. Some of the students listed were Ubani Chima, now late; Emma Ezeazu, now late; Ogadinma, Jide Ojo and many other people.

The funny thing was that the students were charged with treason and a tribunal was set up, but they were not taken to court. Students marched all the way from Nsukka to Enugu to stop the tribunal from sitting. At that time, Femi Falana was our lawyer. He came from Aka Bashorun Chambers to defend the students without asking for a penny. He had to travel by road in a night bus to defend the students.

A lot of other things happened under the military: The bombing of Dele Giwa, disappearances of many people and killings of many others during the uprising. I remember that in July 1993, about 30 people were killed in Ibadan and Lagos because they were demonstrating against the annulment of the June 12 election. A lot of arrests were made. People like Colonel Ajayi were arrested. Some people also disappeared. People like Chinedu Offoaro of The Guardian Newspapers; Prince, who worked with African Guardian; Professor Agboluaje, who was coming from the United States, was picked up from the airport. Up till now, his body has not been found. I think there were a lot of things that happened at the time that are yet to be documented. I also recall my personal experience.

Aborisade

After interviewing Bunmi Aborisade, I wrote a story. Aborisade was a journalist arrested at Oshodi in Lagos State. What happened on that day was that he was passing through a highly chaotic Oshodi and a Military Intelligence operative spotted him and asked him to come. He collected his bag, searched it and saw a story titled: ‘How to actualise June 12.’ This operative read the story, which was about 13 handwritten pages, from beginning to the end. In the last sentence, which states, “Nigerians must harmonise resources around them to liberate themselves”, he underlined it and arrested him for that. Two weeks earlier, there was a bomb explosion at Ikeja cantonment, so he said given that statement, Aborisade must have known something about the incident. How he was able to pick him out of that huge crowd remains a mystery to date.

Aborisade, who was accidentally the publisher of June 12 magazine and had been declared wanted, was picked up and taken to the Ikeja cantonment. From there, he was taken to the State Security Service, SSS, and was detained there for 28 days. From there, he was taken to DMI. While being detained, nobody knew he was the publisher of June 12 because June 12 was an albatross of the military. It was an underground publication that was circulated widely in the South-West. It mobilised and energised the people to come out and resist the military. The name of the publisher was not written on the magazine, so they never knew it was him. They kept him at DMI. When he came out, he came to the Guardian. We had mounted a huge campaign calling for his release. He was released and he came to me narrating various stories about the things he saw at DMI, which was then led by dreaded Colonel Frank Omenka.

He said at the time they had arrested a lot of people secretly. One of those arrested was the ADC to General Oladipo Diya, who was secretly arrested and kept in detention. There was also one Moshood Fayemiwo, who was the publisher of Horizon. He had been detained at DMI without public knowledge. According to Aborisade, they set up a stove and his head was hung down on it. He told me these stories. After telling me these things, I said it was very interesting and wrote the story, which was published in Kaleidoscope on a Sunday. When the story came out, he had been released. In that story, I wrote that Aborisade was also the publisher of June 12.

Detention at DMI

When Major Mustapha saw the story, I understood that Abacha summoned a meeting and said the person they were looking for had just been released by DMI. So, Mustapha called Omenka that Abacha had given instructions that this fellow must be looked for. They came to the Guardian on Monday, a day after the publication and they picked the Managing Director, Lade Bonuola, and the Editor, Femi Kusa, and took them to DMI. After interrogating them, they brought them back with an instruction that they should look for me.

Because Tuesdays were our usual Editorial Board meetings, somebody came to tell me at home that I would be arrested. I looked at it and said “what offence did I commit? Let me just go for the Editorial Board meeting”. When I got there, I was informed that DMI was looking for me. So, I was taken to DMI with Kusa and Bonuola. When we got there, I was detained. For about five hours, nobody spoke to me. They were just smoking. They kept me in a dark room. I knew they were waging psychological war against me because I had read a lot of stories about military intelligence. However, I pretended like a dummy that knew nothing about political struggle. After about six hours, they called me into the room. That was the day Kudirat Abiola was killed. I heard them making phone calls. Omenka was talking about the shooting of Kudirat.

He was passing on information to Aso Rock and Aso Rock was passing on information to him. They were speaking using codes. I could pick up some of them, like where they were taking her body to hospital. I knew they were monitoring the shooting of Kudirat Abiola. The first thing was that they started asking me questions. They would ask me about 10 questions at the same time. I knew that game, but pretended like I knew nothing even though I was deeply involved in the anti-military campaign.

Wanted people

Eventually, they asked me if I belonged to any organisation but I said no, although I was a member of United Action for Democracy, UAD, and Campaign for Democracy. I was involved in all the rallies and campaigns. In fact, the pamphlets for all the campaigns were kept in my home. Many wanted individuals also hid in my private flat. They asked what organisation I belonged to while in university, I said I was a member of Deeper Life. I lied to them. They asked if I knew Chima Ubani, and I told them yes, we went to the same university, but never interacted. They asked if I knew Bunmi Aborisade. They started asking so many questions about people whom they were looking for and many of them were in my house.

Eventually, I was later released around 2 am, but before then, Omenka called one Captain Idowu ordering him to follow me to my house for a search. If they had followed me, they would have killed me. I was a bachelor at the time and my flat was filled with materials because it was my centre that was used for anti-military activities. We would move from my centre around 2 am to circulate all the materials across the entire South-West. My house was the centre of gravity. And that night, a lot of wanted people were there. Omenka said “follow him”. Later, Omenka said “this boy is innocent, he just wrote that story innocently”.

So, he said “don’t follow him, allow him to go”, but I must be reporting to DMI everyday. When I got home around 3 am, Bunmi Aborisade whom they were looking for was literally lying in state. I met him resting on a couch after a bowl of eba. I said, “Bunmi, you are dead, leave this country immediately”.

About seven other activists were there, so I said, “guys, I have been asked to be reporting at DMI everyday, and they might follow me home next time”. That night, Felix Tuodolo, Dougie Ola, Werenipre Digifa, who is now the Chairman of Egbesu Supreme Assembly and former soldier detained at an underground cell in Kano by General Sani Abacha; Douglas Oronto, who later became the Special Adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan and was by far one of the most powerful persons in Jonathan’s cabinet, were in my place. That was how they all left.

Rotten tomatoes

The second night, I packed the materials (pro-June 12) into a big sack. As I was going to throw them away, I met a police van on the way. It was around 4 am. They stopped me and asked what I had in the bag. Cleverly, I had put rotten tomatoes, cow dung and all on top of the materials so that the stench would drive anyone who decides to carry out a search on it away. They came, looked into the bag, but because it was smelling, they told me to leave.

They didn’t know that underneath the smelly part were pamphlets. I started going to DMI everyday and after some time, I was asked to stop reporting.

Ironically, Bunmi’s dream was to have a PhD. He was a very poor man who was actually looking for a job in Vanguard. Even though he was the publisher of June 12, he was running it with his own blood. No money, nothing. He was actually looking for a full-time job.

After that story, he went to the US embassy where he was given assistance. From there, he went to Ghana. From Ghana, he gained admission to a university in the US and had his PhD, now he is a professor.

Factors that informed annulment

The annulment was informed by so many factors. The military did not want him (Abiola). They wanted somebody that would protect the hegemony. They wanted somebody that would defend the corruption and atrocities they had committed over the years. I also think there was also the ethnic element even though people are struggling to dismiss it. It is not true, it is real. Some people just feel that power should not shift from the North.

When we talk about the North, we are not talking about the ethnic minority; we are talking about the Fulani, not even the Hausa, who continuously come up with this slogan of the North. In reality, the North we are talking about is a narrow prism of certain individuals who belong to the Fulani stock, who think that this country is their heritage, their baby and cake.

They must decide how to slice the cake and who to give the cake. The ethnic factor was there that power must not shift to the South. I think those were the two key elements.

How do you feel that Abiola never became the president?

It is unfortunate that Abiola never became the president. We should also not forget that Abiola was a man of courage, but he also had his own past. He was part of the military, he belonged to the civilian wing of the military hegemony. Dealing with him was easier for them because they knew him.

He was more or less part of them, but what happened to him was a kind of class betrayal, although some of us were not surprised because Abiola felt that anything he needed from them would be given to him, but they had proven that they didn’t see him as part of them. All along, he was deceived.

Unfortunate death

On the economic level, Abiola had one of the most successful media chains in the country which has collapsed. When you are talking about economic investments in aviation and agriculture, they have collapsed. People have lost their jobs because these companies are no longer there. Abiola added glamour to politics. His wits, proverbs and robust engagements are things that we have lost. We are not happy about his exit.

His romance with the faith sector was unequalled. Even though he was a Muslim, he never discriminated. He was a source of inspiration to the Christian, traditional and Muslim communities. I think we have missed him a lot and his death was quite unfortunate.

Are you satisfied with what has been done so far to honour Abiola posthumously?

In terms of physical infrastructure, he has been honoured. In terms of what he stood for, the radical transformation of Nigeria in terms of investment in agriculture based on his Hope 93 agenda, I think the ruling class has betrayed him. What then did he die for? Have we been able to honour him in terms of making the country reflect his dream? He has not been honoured. You can name a university after him, but in terms of what he stood for, it has not been achieved. He talked about restructuring in the military sector and taxation.

At that time, his slogan was eradication of poverty. We have not honoured him in that area. Government has not honoured him, but the people will continue to honour him based on their own limited capacity to transform the country. The way the people can continue to honour him is to always remember him, and that is why every June 12, Nigerians come together to celebrate him. I think the ruling class has failed to honour him. In fact, he has been betrayed.

Poverty is yet to be eradicated. In terms of democratic transformation, we have made some gains. Even though people are complaining, we cannot compare what we have now with military rule where decisions of budget and all that were made by just one person and the law was the wish of one individual.

Irrespective of the shortcomings, democracy has transformed Nigeria in terms of access to the internet, job creation and expanding the economic and political space. People can now publish their own stories. How many private radio stations did we have under the military? Only one. How many television stations? Only one. Now, the number of radio stations in Lagos is more than 50 and you can imagine what that means in terms of the ability of Nigerians to express themselves. We are not there yet, and it’s a slow movement but I don’t think we are moving backward.

Return to military rule

Military comeback will drag Nigeria to 1993. That is 31 years backward. What that means is that freedom of expression will be taken away from everyone. The freedom of choice to choose leaders either rightly or wrongly will be taken away, the right to debate budgets will be taken away. The right to walk on the streets at the time of your choice will be taken away. Worse, the right to criticise government of the day will be taken away.

I don’t think any reasonable person will ask for military rule. No matter the shortcomings of the present day, we must never go back to the dark days of repression, oppression, tyranny and usurpation of our privileges and rights.

Way forward

The way forward is for Nigerians to empower themselves, seize their destiny with their own hands. A lot of people complain in their bedroom. A lot of people are agonised, but afraid to organise. A lot of Nigerians are not happy about what is going on, but when you call them for a meeting to debate their future, they will ask for transportation fare.

However, when it’s time to go to parties, they have money to do that. Instead of agonising, we must learn to organise. We must understand that our future is in our hands.

Tinubu’s role

The role of Tinubu is significant. It is also important for us to note that since 1990, those who have been ruling us are just a few military elements. For a long time, all the presidents we had were either these individuals or through their proxies. They produced Shehu Shagari, Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Jonathan. For the first time, there was a break with that military chain when Tinubu came to power.

None of them supported him, they had their own candidates. The Fulani elites did not support him, even his party. It was a sharp break. That is why there are so many expectations on him to build a country that is founded on truth, justice and reflects the harrowing experiences we have had over the years by ensuring that there is compensation for the travails of Nigerians.

This past year has been a mix of disappointments and blessings. For me, it may be too early to pass a final verdict. I think Nigerians are passing through a very difficult moment. People are dying, people are suffering and there is no food on the table.

Look at how much we are paying for fuel, electricity and the fact that people are losing their jobs, people can no longer feed. The essentials of life have been taken away from Nigerians. This calls for a lot of concern.

In analysing this, we must also not forget the historical context. There were a lot of landmines set in place for him. They knew that if he emerged as president, he would struggle in the first one or two years. If you look at the Naira swap policy and the banking policy, they were deliberate policies created to bring down his government and ensure that it doesn’t survive.

At the same time, we cannot continue to use these things as an excuse, so he needs to inspire Nigerians, bring us out of despair, do things that would give us confidence that a new Nigeria is possible.

QUOTE: We are not there yet, and it’s a slow movement but I don’t think we are moving backward