An Open Letter to Tafidan

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By Kolawole Abiola

Dear sir, today marks the start of what you warned me about on my first visit to you at the Port Harcourt prison. A warning you wanted me to pass on to your friend and my father Bashourn MKO Abiola and to your boss General Olusegun Obasanjo. You warned that for as long as General Abacha was in power, your collective days were numbered. You had utmost concern for your boss General Obasanjo and how well he would be able to hold out. Sir, guess what, he did pretty well – he even ended up being president of the Federal Republic for another two terms.

In the 20 years since you left, I have sat back many a times to reflect on our many discussions, especially the all-night tea drinking sessions in the study. Those days will forever remain with me. A real crash course in politics. It was a lot of learning for a 29 year old kid. But learn-well I did, as evidenced from the results of the 1993 June 12th elections.

Sir, I write with a really heavy heart from post events: annulment of the June 12th 1993 elections, your incarceration and the ultimate price you and your friend, my father, had to pay.  The post annulment period, I will address in the upcoming documentary Hope Derailed, and I will thus limit this letter to post December 8th 1997 reflections.

Political parties

The very first lesson learnt was the need to build a strong political party – one of disciplined leadership and commitment to democratic values. The party, you always emphasised, is the only legitimate organ to challenge the government of the day – one that serves as a check on the abuse of power and the true democratic hope of the people. Unfortunately it has been very far from the norm in today’s Nigeria.

Our political parties are the most undemocratic institutions in the land. They don’t stand for any political ideology but can be described as a mixed bag of political interests. We have numerous registered parties with zero internal democracy. We have political parties that merely serve as a means to an end rather than serve and build strong lasting institutions/parties. We have leaders that focus on how parties’ best serve their own interest at any given time.  This rape of the democratic process goes down to all tiers of governance.

That said, the future isn’t all hopeless. The political parties in the present day configuration have slowly but surely played themselves out of relevance. The political future is one in which the political parties will not deliver the candidate but one in which the credibility of the candidate delivers the ticket and the party, and not the other way round. The election of President Buhari and Vice President Osinbajo and that of Senator Adeleke are a manifestation of this. With a very active social media to create reach and awareness, please expect a lot more of this. For now more than ever, integrity will count! In the not too distant future, the game will give equal opportunity to those committed to serve.

The tribe

Since you left, Nigeria is no more WHOLE. We started with ceding the Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon. The North East almost virtually lost to a dangerous fanatical cult disguised as religious liberators.

The tribe has gone from being Nigeria to Tribe IPOB, Tribe OPC, Tribe AREWA, Tribe BOKO (for the brief period that they were able to hoist their flag) and Tribe anything and everything in-between. We have gone from being able to win a presidential election on a Muslim-Muslim ticket to a present day reality in which religion is now potentially toxic to our future as a country. The leadership you entrusted our future in, the leadership meant to complete the bridge you spent your political life building, not only doesn’t appear to have the wherewithal not just to complete the job, but they have eroded the foundations you built and left behind. 20 years after the construction of the symbolic bridge out in front of the Shehu Yar’adua Centre, the bridge is leading nowhere. It appears what undoubtedly is a grandiose enough conference centre worthy of carrying your name has been mistaken to be the tribute, and not the symbolism of the bridge up front.

Governance

I recall the think tank you put together to brainstorm and develop a blueprint, a road map for our beloved Nigeria. The teams’ brief included the strategy, planning and execution; a road map. This included an immediate to do list – first 100days, 6months, first year etc.  There was a clear thought process that also furthered with the Hope ’93 campaigns.

With the leadership, foresight and the strength of the political machinery you left behind, with the return to civilian rule in 1999, ‘The Yar’adua Group’ was unstoppable. The Obansanjo-Atiku ticket carried the day. The Group have been at the helm of affairs in one way or another at all tiers ever since.  I’m sure there are a lot of questions you would like to ask your disciples on the state of the country you left behind, set against your goals and objectives. From the state of our Education, Agriculture, Economic Infrastructure (roads, rail, power etc.), Security, Health, Religion, Ethnicity, Corruption, Unity and others. Watching from above, you are probably asking yourselves, “where did it all go wrong?”

Due to the lack of time, I will not be able to go into each one of the above with my thoughts but will summarize using Tunde Soyinka’s painting overhead. It really leaves plenty to think about.

The next 20 years

In the 20 years since you have been gone, yes I am that many years older, but want to hope equally wiser. Today our 18 – 45 age bracket make up approximately 68% of the population. There is a whole generation out there that weren’t born and or had not come of age 20 years ago that are now of voting age. A big chunk of them know very little about you, let alone what you really stood for and your role in making sure they live in a democratic Nigeria. This isn’t just true of you, but applicable to many of our heroes as evident in the UNILAG riots after the ill-advised renaming of the institution by the President Jonathan administration. The dropping of history from the curriculum of our tertiary institutions sure hasn’t helped. Sadly, we have a generation that doesn’t know our history; a generation that has not “enjoyed” Nigeria in anyway shape or form because its leadership has totally failed it; a generation that increasingly questions its loyalty to Nigeria while building an ever closer identification to clan.

This same generation needs the next tier of your disciples to step forward and nurture, direct and create their future; a future in which we rise from a “collabo” of ethnicities to a united TRIBE NIGERIA.  The future needs leadership that shares your dreams, hopes, aspirations, vision and foresight, driven by a love for country and loyalty to it; for the sake of our children – your grandchildren – and their kids to come.

Look forward, in shaa Allah, to my next letter.

God bless and as they say, I remain loyal.

 –Kolawole Abiola presented this piece at the Yar’Adua Center in Abuja on December 8, 2017