By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, what could have been a most glorious week for Nigerians, and President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan in particular, was botched again big time. Since 1993, when the best election ever in Nigeria was conducted on June 12, most members of the privilegentsia had refused to acknowledge the importance of that election which was clearly won by the generalissimo, Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola. As a matter of fact, these powerful Nigerians practically tried to obliterate that date from our memory. I will spare you the gory details of what transpired since then but would find it impossible to forget those who hijacked power from Abiola and his party. They were those who encouraged, mandated and connived with the military, led at the time by General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, to truncate the electoral process that was clearly running at full throttle before they decided to put the political vehicle in permanent reverse.
Ironically, the man who surprised all beyond comprehension is no other than Abiola’s schoolmate, town-mate, and playmate, President Olusegun Obasanjo, who studiously refused to acknowledge, recognise or accept the fact that Abiola had been horribly cheated, and wickedly robbed of his victory and glory. Every attempt to honour Abiola was obstinately frustrated by President Obasanjo who appeared to have been on a vengeful mission against a man who was resting peacefully in his grave and could therefore hurt no soul.
For example, the National Assembly had recommended that the National Stadium in Abuja be renamed Moshood Abiola Stadium but the commendable move was meanly rebuffed by the powers that be in a most bitchy manner. Till this day, no one has told us what Abiola did wrong to warrant such shabby treatment. The reason for this particular honour was valid and justifiable according to the promoters of the bill to debate, approve and award a befitting honour to the departed hero. Abiola was the acclaimed Pillar of Sports in Africa. He was so officially recognised, and advertised, by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) for his unmatched, and unprecedented contributions to the growth, and development, of football in Africa.
President Obasanjo spent eight long years in power but he never blinked an eye on the issue of immortalising in permanent form the man who gave his all for democracy to germinate, and relatively flourish, in our country. Thus Abiola was dead, buried and abandoned with his Maker. But Abiola die-hards like me knew about the extraordinary ways of God and that certainly he was going to gain his due sooner or later. What no one knew was the time, how and era. In fact, many had thought no PDP government would dare make it happen because of the rabid opposition of many of its vindictive leaders. The Abiola debacle had indeed become a touchy, and most precarious, subject that no leader wanted to engage in. And it seemed all hope was lost for a man who gave hope to countless Nigerians at home and abroad regardless of origin, gender, status or sect.
But as fate would have it, when the time and hour arrived, the much-awaited honour came stealthily, like a thief in the night. President Obasanjo would never have imagined that his avowed godson, Goodluck Jonathan, was going to be the source of Abiola’s apotheosis. What was more, we have not been told if the President confided about his big gamble with many members of his Politburo.
The news was dropped like a thunderbolt at the tail-end of the President’s Democracy Day speech which had been largely drab, desolate and uninspiring. If nothing was going to catch my attention, I must confess that this one got me real time. It was a masterstroke. And it cancelled whatever misgivings there were about the lacklustre performance on primetime television. The speech writers must have sold the idea to the President that he had no choice but to score a desperate goal on this momentous occasion. It was like a Didier Drogba seeking a compulsory goal after Bayern Munich had sneaked one into the Chelsea net. President Jonathan must have needed this goal so badly that it didn’t matter if he scored with a leg or his head or even a hand of God. Such goals tend to get controversial, but who cares as long as the referee blows his whistle and points at the centre of the field. Say what you will, some of us were too hysterical about the goal that we did not even notice there were problems with it. The hurdles simply paled into insignificance because of the many agonising years we had waited for this propitious moment.
Unfortunately for President Jonathan his decision to honour Abiola was all about scoring a goal and leaving the spectators bewildered but this type of bewilderment was also going to carry liabilities with it and it sure ignited an unsuspected fire from unanticipated corners. Even the home fans wondered why the striker could not score a clean goal. President Jonathan for genuine, or counterfeit, reasons had decided to take a kamikaze plunge by treading where angels refused to perambulate. Somewhere in the middle of his speech, which was supposed to be an account of his stewardship in the past one year, it is actually two years in reality, the President chose to challenge fate when he referred to Chief Moshood Abiola as the presumed winner of the Presidential election of June 12, 1993.
Most listeners must have thought their ear-drums needed some urgent medical attention. I was one of such victims. I was unaware that President Jonathan has transfigured into a master of suspense in the mould of Alfred Hitchcock until he got to the end of his speech and threw a massive bombshell. He must have said something like “the Federal Government has decided to name the University of Lagos after Chief Moshood Abiola.” Or my ear-drums were malfunctioning. That was all I heard and couldn’t be bothered if he chose to add the moon to the package. Believe me, I was truly delirious and on top of Planet Mars. Those who have never laboured for something may never appreciate the importance of anything. For this once, President Jonathan touched us where it matters and I was ready to savour the rare treat while the euphoria lasts. Today, I will hang my cassock of fire and brimstone, and when tomorrow comes, I will return to the trenches and my opposition status and resume the game of darts.
In the next few minutes, I would experience a trance and go through a stream-of-consciousness. I remembered how it all started that fateful year. I was enjoying our usual jaw jaw at Nduka Obaigbena’s house, somewhere close to Queen’s Drive in Ikoyi, Lagos. The news had hit us like thunderbolt. Chief Moshood Abiola earlier that day had picked up his nomination forms preparatory to joining the Presidential race. Our source was impeccable. We were just at the formative stage of Leaders & Company, the parent of what would become Africa’s leading and most influential newspaper, ThisDay. I dashed to the home of Abiola’s Crown Prince, Abdulateef Kolawole Abiola, at that time in Anthony village. He confirmed the news.
Mercifully, Abiola had heeded some of the advice we gave him; that if he must re-enter politics, he should avoid the conservative party. The reasons were simple. Such parties never produce good candidates. They always love and support the dregs of society who would maintain the status quo for their ilk. Also, we had envisaged that in case of a loss he would command the true love of the lumpen proletariat. But this time, there were two formidable opponents to tackle, The Chairman of the party, SDP, Alhaji Baba Gana Kingibe and Major General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua’s political godson, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. It was expected to be a clash of the titans though Abiola was way ahead as a global brand. Problem was his opponents were seasoned politicians. And Kingibe was the ultimate fox.
It took all of Abiola’s wits, contacts, diplomatic acumen, sagacity, political adroitness, raw courage, negotiation skills and his deep pockets to capture the ticket. I remembered those sleepless nights in Jos where Abiola pleaded endlessly for Yar’Adua’s and Ambassador Yahaya Kwande’s full support in getting Atiku out of the race. I remembered the Convention which became a carnival. Our own Obama was on stage as early as 1993. Abiola was the man who electrified politics and showed how politics should be played without rancour. We had King Sonny Okosuns and the rave Sir Shina Peters to galvanise our team into frenzy. Abiola was the man. Against all odds he won.
Abiola was never an ordinary child. His father had given birth to 23 children but they all died before he was born. Then this baby was born and was named Kashimawo, let’s wait and see if this one would stay. It was in those days of Abiku or Ogbanje. Mysterious Moshood Kashimawo broke the jinx. All subsequent births survived. Moshood was the pathfinder. He would later do many superlative things. He would be so poverty-stricken but rise to be excessively wealthy and supremely kind. His brains would work at the speed of light and his fame would spread across the globe and sparkle like a million stars. He would touch lives of Muslims, Christians and infidels. He would become a stuff of legends and attract the attributes of a fictional character. He would be honoured with Doctorate degrees and Chieftaincy titles more than any soul dead or alive. He would be decorated with laurels and even kings shall celebrate this proud and worthy son of Africa. His good deeds would overshadow his shortcomings as a mortal.
I remembered so many odd things and how the man conquered man-made Kilimanjaros and collapsed the walls of Jericho. Abiola was the man. He had wetted the grounds everywhere and he shall walk on succulent soils. That is the way of God. I remembered the day he stunned the world with his unprecedented donations to all higher institutions in Nigeria, his scholarship awards to students of Ogun state and about a thousand other non-indigenes at home and abroad. University of Lagos was dear to him and he had several lecturers of from there as friends and consultants, and you can imagine what that means.
Abiola was Nigeria’s most prepared candidate ever. When he started, he was called names his parents did not give him at birth. He was our own Father Christmas who gave more than Santa Claus. But payback time was going to come when he would win an election like no other again. On June 12, 1993, the earth stood still and even the angels in heaven must noticed what was happening in Nigeria. No rain fell. No one was beaten or killed. No one snatched ballot boxes. Abiola won the election in most places, even defeated his only opponent, Alhaji Bashir Tofa, in his ward. No one complained that Abiola’s deputy was a Muslim like Abiola. Religion did not matter. Nigerians were impressed and interested in Abiola’s brain of a calculator. His grasp of problems and solutions was spectacular. It seemed our time had indeed come.
Gbam! The news came. The election had been cancelled, or annulled, whatever that meant. It was like a bad dream, a nightmare, and we hoped to wake up and realise it was a mirage. Nigeria never knew peace from then. It is a long tale, but not for this day. Abiola was incarcerated, and his beautiful wife, Alhaja Kudirat murdered on the streets of Lagos in cold blood. All his businesses were decapitated and ruined. Many other activists were jailed, maimed and killed. On July 7, 1998, Abiola himself died under mysterious circumstances. That’s a story for another day. Nigerian students spilled into the streets like locusts. They seemed ready to die for Abiola.
Had General Abdulsalami Abubakar and his cabinet agreed to name ten universities after Abiola that day, all students would have applauded and assented. But time is a wicked deadener of brains. Every passing day we forget our history, and ultimately our heroes. Abiola would be shocked to look down and see the Nigeria he left only 14 years ago.
Yes, in his hastiness to score his goal, President Jonathan made several mistakes. I will deal with those next week and show what I would have done as President to clear this odoriferous cesspool of errors.
But are those blunders worse than rubbishing the gains of June 12? My answer is a big No!