By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, as I watched President Barack Obama pay tribute to Martin Luther King Junior from my hotel room in Washington DC last Monday; I could not help but shed some tears for our unfortunate country. My mind raced through some stream of consciousness and flashes of sadness. I remembered our dead and living heroes, the authentic freedom fighters who made our democracy possible. As you read this piece, please take time to imagine my state as someone who had joined the struggle as early as a teenager and pioneer Jambite in 1978, in those good old days of Ali Must Go at Great Ife. Try to picture our unbridled radicalism and idealism at such tender age.
The rich kids and their poor counterparts had existed side by side. The gap was not as wide as it is today between us the lumpen proletariat and members of the privilegentsia. We shared the same vision and we ate and struggled together. We all dreamt of a great country believing we could make Nigeria become the America of Africa. We were inspired by radical icons, socialists and liberal minds like Wole Soyinka, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Ayodele Awojobi, Aminu Kano, Arthur Nwankwo, Toye Olorode, Dipo Fashina G.G, Darah, Chinweizu, Edwin Madunagu, Tai Solarin, Gani Fawehinmi, Iya Abubakar and many great thinkers that littered the Nigerian landscape of that time.
From one crisis to another, we trudged on and foolishly imagined that each one brought us closer to our destination and liberation. Little did we envisage that the end was nowhere in sight and that in reality we were going to sink deeper and deeper into the mire. I will not bore you with the full story today but I will pick it towards the end, from our recent struggle for the revalidation of the June 12 election which had been mercilessly annulled by the military junta led by General Ibrahim Babangida. Till this day, no one has fully captured or understood the true motive behind such audacity. My personal theory is that the same cabal that had always held Nigeria by the jugular sat on the then President and forced him to commit a political hara-kiri from which neither him nor us have recovered.
Chief Moshood Abiola had won the Presidential election of June 12, 1993 without any shade of doubt but the military in a most brazen manner decided the winner was not the right man for the country even after scaling all the hurdles successfully. It has become imperative to put the records straight because of the manner members of the People’s Democratic Party are carrying on as if we owe them the heavens and the earth.
It is not their fault. It lies squarely with the military top brass that ensured that Chief Abiola never got the victory he richly deserved but actually handed it to the wrong persons under the pretext that they were Yoruba, and Egba from Abeokuta, like the original winner. While Chief Ernest ‘Degunle Shonekan’s tenure as Head of the Interim Government did not last long, that of General Olusegun Obasanjo actually spanned eight years within which the memory of our heroes became totally obliterated. I believe Nigeria is paying dearly today for that wickedness and the grand conspiracy to bury a beautiful mandate alive. The ghost of June 12 will continue to haunt those who have studiously ignored the importance and relevance of that monumental event and spiritual occurrence.
I’m proud to salute those Nigerians who fought at that time to make a democratic future a reality for our denuded populace. Albeit the rosy future they fought for has been bastardised by the base instincts of those who hijacked that moment of victory and triumph.
I no longer care if people say that those patriots fought for personal reasons. Every human being has a motive and mission in life. I was a participant and can confidently attest to the horror some June 12 crusaders suffered on behalf of fellow Nigerians. Whatever the perception of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu today, he was a colossus in the campaign for democracy in Nigeria. He literally and figuratively spent himself dry in our exile days. He was one of the few people who staked everything they had for the sake of democracy and good governance. The other man I remember with great admiration is the indefatigable Lt. General Alani Ipoola Akinrinade. He was indeed a veritable General, commanding and marshalling the troops.
We had Papa Adekunle Ajasin, Papa Abraham Adesanya, Papa Ayo Adebanjo, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, Colonel Abubakar Umar, Chief Olabiyi Durojaiye, Chief Olu Falae, Chief Bola Ige, Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu, Commodore Dan Suleiman, Senator Wahab Dosunmu,Chief Olusegun Osoba, Pa Alfred Rewane, Alhaja Kudirat Abiola, Hon. Wale Osun, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, Chief Cornelius Adebayo, Senator Tokunbo Afikuyomi, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Chief Alao Aka-Bashorun, Dr Beko Ransome-Kuti, Prof Wole Soyinka, Papa Anthony Enahoro, Mr Femi Falana, Chief Ralph Obioha, Prince Adeniji Adele, Bobo Nwosisi, Ike Okonta, Nduka Obaigbena, Osa Director, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Oronto Douglas, Nosa Igiebor, Bagauda Kaltho, Kayode Fayemi, Damola Aderemi, Kunle Ajibade, Bayo Onanuga, Dapo Olorunyomi, Babafemi Ojudu, Omoyele Sowore, Richie Dayo Johnson, George Noah, Lagbaja, Moshood Fayemiwo and many others. Most of these great names made tremendous financial and personal sacrifices and suffered various degrees of punishment including detention, exile and in some cases they paid the ultimate price of death in the service of their fatherland.
Journalists had it very rough and tough at the time. I must not fail to mention the gallant efforts of the print media like Tell, The News, The Concord, Punch, The Guardian, The Tribune, The Vanguard, Thisday, The Tempo and others who rose ramrod stiff to defend and uphold the honour and glory of Nigeria. Many underground press organisations sprang up with ingenious operations. They were able to publish despite harassment, threats and victimisation. It was nice to see young men and women selflessly stand up for principle. It was therefore only a matter of time for victory to come.
Unfortunately, while we prepared for war we did not prepare for its aftermath. That was the tragedy of our struggle. To be quite honest, the sudden death of General Sani Abacha, and that of Chief Abiola a month later, threw a spanner into the works. The transition that later followed was hurriedly packaged largely by those who sought to benefit where they had not sown. And the progressive (for want of a better word) politicians were confused as to which direction to go.
Unknown to those who claim Tinubu was in the struggle to become this or that, I can confirm that the man was a child of destiny. Afikuyomi and I were the first set of guinea pigs to sneak home from exile. What we met on ground was chaotic and shocking. While the Tinubus were ready to continue the fight from exile, we met opportunistic politicians already jostling for power. We had to report back to our principal in London that the battle had been lost and lost. Nigerian politicians were not ready to fight on. They were visibly tired and were ready to rejuvenate themselves and come back from near certain demise by drinking the tonic of power.
Dr Wahab Dosunmu had been pencilled down as the main candidate to support as Governorship candidate for Lagos in the absence of any of the stalwarts. Afikuyomi was able to persuade the Londoners to face reality and return home. One of these was Tinubu and the story of how he prevailed and eventually became Governor of Lagos State is a story for another day.
It is worth mentioning that many of them had material and health issues which affected their return. Commodore Dan Suleiman in particular was alive by the grace of God. Our great General, Alani Akinrinade had given up prime properties for the struggle. These are men Nigeria should give the highest honours for their selflessness and steadfastness. In a nation where history is no longer taught as a compulsory subject, we must constantly remind ourselves about where we are coming from in order to determine the direction we are headed. One way of doing this is to honour our genuine heroes instead of the journeymen politicians that it seems fashionable to honour these days.
If we had done the right things in 1998/99 by rallying round Chief Olu Falae instead of allowing the army Generals to force one of their own on us, perhaps we would have escaped the pestilence that is ravaging our land today. This why I will use this opportunity to appeal to all members of the opposition to close ranks and forgive one another, for the sake of our collective future. We need all hands on deck to save Nigeria. If care is not taken, this edifice might collapse on all of us and we’ll have only ourselves to blame because it is obvious our current captains have no compass and their radar is totally faulty.
The much we achieved in the June 12 struggle was not by the power of one individual but we must recognise that one person would always stand out in every situation. Asiwaju Bola Tinubu has shown sufficient capacity to produce awesome results and the ability to work with the brightest foot soldiers. I believe he can still do much more by extending a hand of fellowship to whoever feels aggrieved about his leadership style which incidentally has worked wonders for him. We have the best chance now but our opponents are happy that we are largely divided. It is not too late to return to how we were. It is the duty of a good leader to embrace everyone warts and all.
I’m sure most of us would agree that the race for the 2015 general elections promises to be a ruthless one. The reason is very simple. There is so much at stake.
In our country, politics is winner takes all. Politics is the easiest meal ticket. A complete pauper can become stupendously wealthy and influential within a twinkle of an eye after attaining power. A leader does not have to lift a finger to do anything for those who elected him because his next election is never based on any record of performance. The things that count in his favour are ethnicity, religion, loads of cash, godfatherism, pretentious docility, and so on. It is not like other climes where even performing leaders cannot guarantee success at the polls.
This is why we must give the next election whatever it takes to put an end to this shame of a country. Everyone knows that two people can make the journey smoother if they so decide. They are General Mohammadu Buhari and Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. As true patriots and statesmen they must recognise that their role in this new struggle requires them to sacrifice their personal ambitions to build a new crop of disciplined, intelligent and visionary leaders who are right for the Nigeria of the 21st century.
These two men have the power and ability to either forge a powerful coalition of opposition forces headed by younger visionaries or create a monstrously divided opposition headed by the old guard and lacking in the vision of what is required to turn Nigeria into a giant of the New Age. That is the place where the comity of Nations sees Nigeria and they like us constantly scratch their heads in amazement as to where it all went wrong.
We can still put it right if those great leaders agree between themselves to do what the ruling party believes they will never do.
Nigeria desperately needs a shock treatment. God bless our nation.