â€¨Mr Abdul-Lateef Kolawole Abiola, eldest son of the late Bashorun M.K.O Abiola (no further introduction needed), will be 50 this coming Sunday. But there is not going to be any celebration. By his plan, after observing Umrah (Lesser Hajj) in Saudi Arabia, he is going on an expedition to Mount Everest, having already conquered Mount Kilimanjaro.
That is the way he celebrates his birthday.â€¨On Tuesday, I was with Egbon Kola (as I have been calling him right from my days as a staff in his father's Concord Press in the 90s) at the invitation of Chief Dele Momodu (Bob Dee) to conduct what has become a once-a-decade ritual. In 2002 when he was to celebrate his 40th birthday, Bob Dee invited me and Dr Reuben Abati to join him in interviewing Kola Abiola for OVATION.
Ten years later on Tuesday, Bob Dee and I were joined by Messrs Femi Adesina (The Sun), Felix Abugu (The Guardian), Mobolaji Sanusi (The Nation), Jide Ajani (Vanguard) and the editor of Ovation, Mike Effiong. â€¨I was allowed to fire the opening shot and I started by reminding Kola of a remark he made on July 7, 1998 when his father died in military confinement in Abuja: "They said June 12 or nothing. Now they have nothing!".
What really did he mean? With a mirth-less smile on his face, Kola said "yeah, I remember saying that but unfortunately, nothing has changed since then. June 12 has been exploited for all manner of reasons by all manner of people who have used it to advance their own political career." Without pulling punches, he went into a long disquisition of what June 12 meant and the opportunism as well as the contradictions that have materialized around it over the last 19 years.â€¨Quite naturally, the question dovetailed into the controversial renaming of UNILAG after his late father and he didn't disguise his displeasure with the Jonathan Administration.
He in fact described the decision as one of those exploitations of June 12 he had earlier alluded to. He said: "we had a government that asked itself after one year in office, 'what have we achieved?' and with no coherent answer just said, 'let's rename UNILAG after Abiola to show we have done something'.
The family was not consulted. The authorities of the University of Lagos were not consulted. The National Assembly was not consulted. I am not even sure the Federal Executive Council was consulted. And then, someone was trying to reduce Abiola to a regional figure."â€¨Without sounding bitter but obviously angry, Kola gave his views (very strong ones) on the renaming of UNILAG as well as on what he considers the hypocrisy of, and gratuitous insult from, some people who question his late father's contribution to education in Nigeria
. But for him nothing pains more than how the nation's ethno-religious fault-lines are now being exploited to sow discord and division within the country. Recalling his own experience as a Youth Corps member in Zaria, he located the problem within a certain generation of Nigerians who, having mortgaged the nation's past now wants to circumscribe the future. â€¨No doubt Kola has seen a lot in his 50 years and he was passionate about several issues, including a new NGO on “Tribe Nigeria” which he is working on.
He spoke about the whole June 12 experience and what he learnt. He dissected leadership in Nigeria at all levels, the current political parties and we also engaged him on personal issues. He was particularly emotional (holding back tears) as he told a moving story of his relationship with his late daughter, Labake, who introduced him to mountain climbing and in whose honour he has decided to mark his birthday every year by going on such expedition. He also spoke on divisions within the Abiola family and the ongoing efforts to mend the cracks. He responded to issues about the controversial DNA for his late father's children as well as his view on polygamy (his father's and his own).
And trust my brother, Femi Adesina, Kola also had to account for why he could be reportedly romancing General Ibrahim Babangida's daughter at a time some other people were being killed and "standing on June 12" in 1993. With wisecracks, anecdotes and proverbs, Kola left no one in doubt that he is indeed a chip off the old block. Sample: Asked for his take on the denial of House of Representatives ticket to his half-brother, Lekan Abiola by the Ogun State ACN which instead fielded Olumide Osoba, (son of Chief Segun Osoba), Kola responded: "Whatever disagreement I may have with Osoba, omo eni ko ni se idi bebere, ka gbe ileke s'idi omo elomiran". That Yoruba wise saying crudely interpreted means Osoba could not have left his own son to back another man's.
(Hmmm.)â€¨For almost two and a half hours, it was an engaging session and so enthralled was Abugu (encountering Kola for the first time) that he wanted to know why a man who held such strong political views and could articulate himself so brilliantly would stay out of limelight and Kola responded by attributing his style to the grooming of his late mother, Simbiat Atinuke Abiola. "My mother moulded us and she was a very powerful woman but most people didn't know her strength. You only needed to get my mother to support a cause because while others would be making noise, she would be working in the background and she would achieve result.
She was very effective."â€¨ But as candid as Kola was, one question flustered him: "What was the problem between your father and Obasanjo?" For almost a minute, he didn't know how to respond; then he went into the complicated but interwoven history of the duo before he added, "whatever the issue was between my father and Obasanjo, my father is dead now but I hope Obasanjo can put a closure on it before he dies.
My father sought to be president and he didn't make it but Obasanjo has led this country twice. The last time he was elected to assuage the South West for the injustice done to my father. But as I said, whatever the issue was between him and my father, I wish we can put a closure on it before he (Obasanjo) dies."â€¨ It almost sounded like a 50th birthday wish and I sincerely hope Obasanjo would grant it. With the interview, OVATION has a big scoop and I have no doubt that when it is eventually published, it will raise some dust. I thank our big brother, Bob Dee, for inviting me as I wish Egbon Kola a happy birthday and a successful expedition at Mount Everest.â€¨ â€¨ â€¨ â€¨â€¨
Jonathan and Assets Declarationâ€¨
â€¨Upon his swearing in as Governor of Katsina State in 1999, the late Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar'Adua publicly declared his assets and did so again in 2003 when he was re-elected. And in the run-up to the 2007 general elections, Yar'Adua also promised that if elected president, he would publicly declare his assets. So right from my first day in office on June 2, 2007, I was being bombarded with questions on when the president would make public his assets declaration form. But I noticed that the more I brought up the issue with him, the more he brushed it aside.â€¨When it became clear to me that he was hedging on the issue, I pointedly asked why he was no longer willing to fulfil a pledge he publicly made to Nigerians.
Then he explained that many officials had come to tell him that he would be violating the spirit of the 1999 constitution if he declared his assets publicly. To buttress that position, he showed me a memo from the Code of Conduct Bureau that counselled against it on grounds that whatever a president does has the force of law and that if he declared his assets publicly, other public officials would be compelled to do so.â€¨I considered this a misreading of the Constitution, aside the fact that it would be difficult for me to explain away a pledge the president voluntarily made to Nigerians. For several days I pleaded and he refused but in my daily newspaper cuttings, I made sure I highlighted stories pertaining to his campaign promise on assets declaration. Then one morning he told me that the form was with Alhaji Inuwa Baba, one of the aides who was close to the family, then in Dubai.
He added that whenever Alhaji Inuwa returned, I could collect the form. â€¨But I was not prepared to wait. With the assistance of the CSO, Mr Yusuf Tilde, I spoke with Alhaji Inuwa on phone on how I could get the form and within an hour, he called back that he had directed his son to where he kept the document which was then brought to me same day. So on June 28, 2007, I made public the president's assets declaration form. But In doing so, I explained: "..the President notified the Code of Conduct Bureau of his intention to make the form available to the public in fulfilment of his campaign pledge, which was borne out of his conviction that the war against corruption cannot have meaning until those at the helms of affairs begin to live by example.
The Bureau, while appreciating the noble intention of the president, counselled against the move on the grounds that such an action from the number one citizen would put pressure on other categories of public officers to do same, even when the Constitution makes the exercise a confidential matter.â€¨"The dilemma of the President in the last four weeks has therefore been where to strike a balance between the well-meaning concerns of the Bureau, and following his conviction that his campaign pledge to Nigerians is a solemn commitment. Having weighed the two sides, the President has come to the conclusion that since he will not be breaking any law, he cannot go back on his promise to the nation."â€¨I have given the foregoing background to situate President Jonathan's position against public declaration of assets and the internal pressure he must be facing.
But we must be very clear: He is not breaking any law by not declaring his assets publicly. However, I think he has missed a symbolic opportunity to lead by example. I personally do not think he has done himself any good by the choice he has made on the issue.â€¨All said, I think the real issue here is that Nigerians should begin to demand an amendment to the law. Declaring assets secretly as the 1999 Constitution currently stipulates makes no sense. The moral force of a public declaration of asset has the collateral advantage of changing the tone of public perception and attitude towards transparency.