Prof. Wole Soyinka
By Vincent Obia in Lagos
Nigeria yesterday marked the 14th anniversary of the death of Chief Moshood Abiola, in an occasion dominated by rage in human rights circles over the denial of Abiola a formal designation as ex-president.
The late business mogul was poised to win the June 12, 1993 presidential election before it was annulled by then military president Ibrahim Babangida. Abiola later died in state custody during the military regime of General Abdulsalami Abubakar following his incarceration for attempting to reclaim what he believed was his presidential mandate.
At brief ceremony yesterday by the graveside of the late politician in his Lagos family house, to mark his death, the call for his formal recognition as former president was the subtext of almost every speech by family members as well as friends, well-wishers, and human rights activists.
In a tribute, Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, said the circumstances of Abiola’s death marked the exit of trust in the conduct of public affairs in Nigeria and the dawn of sundry political immoralities. He said the country was missing a historic opportunity for genuine reconciliation by refusing to designate Abiola ex-president.
Sounding poetic, in a statement titled “Message on the 14th anniversary of a national day of treachery,” Soyinka said, “There will always be deniers. If a full eclipse of the sun were to take place at noontide tomorrow, there will be those who swear that it was only the accustomed failure of electric power.
“Those who continue to deny Moshood Abiola his formal place in Nigerian history merely place themselves in the ranks of such compulsive deniers. Nothing can restore Nigeria’s murdered president to life, but the consequences of the original denial remain with us till today. Trust is gone. Political treachery is paraded as political morality.
“There shall always be a call, however, to restore truth and redress history. It goes beyond dubious re-naming ceremonies which generate needless and distracting controversies.
“MKO Abiola was the nation’s elected president. Let that fact be enshrined in a nation’s records, then we would have embarked on one of the tributaries to the amplitude of true national reconciliation.”
Soyinka saluted Abiola for his courage in adversity. “Chained, immobilised, isolated and beset by uncertainties, Moshood Abiola proved himself the personification of rare political courage. “This nation owes him. All who have held, and hold office today since his death are permanently indebted to him, and to his terminal sacrifice.
It is a moral demand that the incumbent president exercise a fraction of his exemplary courage, and re-establish Abiola, albeit posthumously, as Nigeria’s democratically elected president,” Soyinka stated.