I have been feeling very uneasy at the re-opened debate over the June 12, 1993 presidential election impasse after President Muhammadu Buhari decided to honour the presumed winner, Chief MKO Abiola, and his running mate, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, as well as declare June 12 as Nigeria’s Democracy Day. I thought it was a brilliant idea. I thought it would finally bring the sad experience of June 12 to closure. But what I am seeing instead is the re-opening of old wounds and a concerted effort to revise history, apportion blame, re-cast some people as villains, re-mould some as heroes, and revive the fault lines that so easily ruin a genuine national conversation.
Reading comments from both sides of the divide brings back sad memories for me. It resurrects a depressing recollection of the bitterness, the hypocrisy and the arrogance that brought Nigeria to its knees — right from the annulment in June 1993 to the death of Abiola in July 1998. If these sentiments are still being strongly expressed 25 years after, then I think we are in serious trouble. Rather than the recognition of June 12 finally closing this chapter, I think some people are still obsessed with the old order, and I can see resentment and showboating still at play. Some people are not just interested in attempts at national cohesion and reconciliation.
One of the most unfortunate aspects of the June 12 saga is that we do not yet have an authoritative account of what actually happened. I have read interviews and literature by the dramatis personae from both sides — the antagonists and the protagonists — and all I have always seen are the one-sided, how-I-saved-the-world narratives that glaringly sweep important details under the carpet. There is a lot of grandstanding that still goes unchallenged. Sadly, too, it is practically impossible to get a dispassionate account of this important part of our history. It is disturbing that 25 years after, we are still stuck with the hypocrisy that got us nowhere in the first place.
I will start with the musings of the June 12 protagonists and conclude with the vituperations of the antagonists. The protagonists have gone back to the same old Saints vs Sinners mentality that destroyed the June 12 struggle even before it started. If the truth be told, however, not many people will emerge as saints in the June 12 saga. Only very few people would. Unlike the Civil War which I never witnessed and need to rely on third parties for their rendition of history, I lived through the June 12 period, witnessed key events, spoke to the actors from all sides, and I am able to reach a lot of conclusions on my own without being spoon-fed.
Among those grandstanding today are those who actively collaborated with Abacha to seize power in 1993. Lt. Gen. Oladipo Diya, who would go on to serve as Abacha’s No. 2, met with and secured the cooperation of many June Twelvers before the coup. Some activists actively asked Abacha to “save Nigeria” because the country was “drifting”. I heard one activist say so on OGBC 2. There were June Twelvers who thought Abacha would make them civilian governors and were meeting regularly with him at Dodan Baracks, Lagos. They only became activists when Abacha disappointed them by opting to appoint military administrators. We know them.
Of course, there were those who scoffed when Abiola was campaigning to be president but later became the fiercest defenders of his June 12 mandate, demonising the very politicians that helped make June 12 possible in the first place. Opportunism has no other name. Today some will argue that certain people do not deserve to be honoured over June 12, deliberately vandalising history to suggest that Abiola won the election all by himself, without the support and sweat of others. This was the same mindset that polarised the June 12 struggle and alienated some of Abiola’s supporters, and you just have to conclude that nothing ever changes in Nigeria.
For instance, last week, the cover of the May 2, 1994 edition of TheNews magazine was widely circulated on social media with Kingibe saying “Why I Dumped Abiola”. What most of those who saw TheNews cover did not get to read is the content of the interview. In it, Kingibe complained that after the election was annulled, Abiola began to isolate him and was taking decisions and actions without informing him. He said abiola travelled abroad without informing him. It appeared Abiola no longer trusted his running mate. Abiola apparently had his reasons, but I don’t know what anyone in Kingibe’s shoes would do under such circumstances.
Contrary to the “northerners don’t like us” narrative that was contrived by the June Twelvers, the hard fact is: without the efforts of northerners, Abiola would not have had such a sweeping victory, assuming he would have won at all. Abiola defeated Alhaji Bashir Tofa, the homeboy, in Kano state, and also won in neighbouring Jigawa not solely on his own strength but through the political weight of Alhaji Abubakar Rimi and Alhaji Sule Lamido. Rimi was later demonised by the June Twelvers for serving in Abacha’s government, yet many of these “saints” cannot in all sincerity claim to have delivered a single polling unit to SDP. Success, they say, has many fathers.
Lest I forget, Abiola himself visited Abacha at Dodan Barracks and took pictures with him after the November 1993 coup. I watched in horror as Abiola canvassed support for Abacha, but I was made to understand that the new military ruler had agreed to hand over to Abiola after six months. Abacha’s first cabinet was made up of many of those who worked for Abiola’s victory. Key figures such as Kingibe, Rimi, Lateef Jakande and Ebenezer Babatope. It was when Abacha did not hand over in 1994 that Abiola fell out with him. I’m just bringing up this little fact so that we can see that it is not a black or white matter.
I must say, at this juncture, that I am in no way depreciating the sacrifice of those who fought for June 12. God forbid. Hundreds of demonstrators were killed in cold blood on the streets of Lagos by the military as Gen. Ibrahim Babangida asked Abacha, his defence chief then, to clear protesters from the streets after the annulment. We don’t know their identities but these martyrs of democracy sacrificed their lives and deserve to be celebrated. Abiola’s associates were killed as Abacha later took over power and started unleashing terror on Nigeria. Many survived assassination attempts. Some were detained indefinitely or chased into exile. The houses of some activitsts were bombed or burnt. They all deserve to be celebrated for their sacrifice.
Media houses were regularly shut down. It was not fun being identified as a journalist in those days. I worked at TheNews/TEMPO and I know what my bosses went through. Mr. Bayo Onanuga, our editor-in-chief, was regularly detained. Mr. Dapo Olorunyomi, his deputy, was marked for death and had to flee to exile. Mr. Femi Ojudu was arrested on the streets of Ikeja. Mr. Kunle Ajibade was jailed for life for an article he knew nothing about. Mr. Bagauda Kaltho disappeared for years before we were told he had been assassinated. God forbid that I make light of the sacrifices these activists made. But there are too many wolves in sheep clothing trying to distort history in 2018.
As for the June 12 antagonists, they need to re-examine themselves as they attempt to justify the annulment perfidy. They are trying to devalue June 12 on the basis that “only” 14 million people voted, representing less than 50% of those registered. My answer to that is simple: Abiola did no wrong by winning the majority of the votes cast. That’s the law. I am reading yet again that since Babangida had earlier annulled the presidential primaries of the SDP and NRC and the affected candidates did not protest and Abiola benefited from this, he should have shut up. It’s like saying Rosa Parks should have given up her seat to a white passenger because other blacks had always obediently done so!
Justice Alfa Belgore, a friend of Babangida, has told us how “illegal” it is to award national honours to the deceased. What he has not told us is that the national honours committee he chaired in 2016 is unknown to our laws. He also did not reveal that when President Goodluck Jonathan asked that Abiola be given a GCFR, his illegal committee said it was illegal. Professor Ben Nwabueze has been quoting the laws to declare the proclamation of June 12 as Democracy Day illegal — but I wish he made full disclosure that he was part of the government that annulled the election. He served as secretary of education under Babangida in 1993. Tell the world, professor.
I will stop here. But I will make this argument before I return to my seat. When I was a bachelor, one valuable life lesson I picked up from youth programmes I intended in my church is the importance of saying “sorry” to your spouse. It was not pre-marital counselling per se, but such programmes often feature pep talks on how to “behave” in relationships. If you are going to have a successful marriage, you must be prepared to say “sorry” at all times, we were told — and it doesn’t matter if you are right or wrong. Saying sorry could be a genuine admission of guilt — but it could also be an attempt to give peace a chance. We were told “sorry” is a critical step towards reconciliation.
Unfortunately, most of us were brought up to think the person who says sorry is automatically the one at fault and we should use the opportunity to gloat. Buhari has said “sorry” over the annulment of June 12. The “sorry”, in my opinion, is a call to bury the hatchet and open a new, reconciliatory chapter over the June 12 saga. It is neither an admission of culpability nor a sign of weakness. It is a gesture of goodwill and a call to move forward positively and constructively. Saying “sorry” should offer us a path to healing, not the renewal of animosity. A Yoruba proverb says if we are to keep record of offences, we would never have any friends. Succinct.
AND FOUR OTHER THINGS
MTN AND VISAFONE
The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) approved the acquisition of Visafone by MTN in 2015 — but transferring Visafone’s 800MHz spectrum to MTN is still a subject of debate. The NCC is due to hold a public enquiry on the issue on June 24. I think NCC should do the needful in order to accelerate investment in Nigeria’s mobile data market as we are close to a crisis. We need to meet our national broadband goals, deepen rural penetration and broaden our data experience. MTN has clearly shown more appetite for increased investment in Nigeria. However, to check the “monopoly” fear, MTN must let go of part of its 2.6GHz spectrum to smaller operators. Fair.
DARIYE AND NYAME
There has been a lot of excitement in recent times over the conviction of two former governors for corruption. Rev. Jolly Nyame (Taraba) and Chief Joshua Dariye (Plateau) had been on trial since 2007 and it all appeared the cases would go on forever. I’m not here to gloat. However, I want to make this point again: this is a signal to all governors, former or current, as well as the almighty politicians that nobody is safe. Those who are looting the treasury today under the impression that they belong to the ruling party and will always get protection should know that one day, a Pharaoh who does not know Joseph will mount the saddle. Forewarned.
RIP RAS KIMONO
Ras Kimono, who died last week at 60, played a major role in entrenching reggae as popular music in Nigeria in the late 1980s and 1990s. Tera Kota was actually the pioneer with his Lamentation for Sodom (1984). Majek Fashek, who claimed his brand of music was “pangolo”, was the first reggae mega star. Kimono, Evi Edna Ogholi-Oghosi, Mandators and “Coolman Revolutionaire” Orits Williki all put in an excellent shift before reggae faded away as a staple diet in Nigeria. Kimono’s protest lyrics spoke truth to power in a brutal military era. His Gimme Likkle Sugar (1989) and What’s Gwan (1990) are the ultimate punches at the “oppressors” of Nigerian masses. Adios.
Last week, social media was awash with the story of how a woman parked her SUV on Third Mainland Bridge and jumped into the Lagoon. She was an adulterer; her husband found out he’s not the father of their children; her lover wanted to leak her nude pictures; she decided to commit suicide. However, as we now know, the SUV belongs to a passer-by; the woman whose picture was widely circulated is still alive and kicking in the US. I read somewhere that some nude pictures were circulated so that we can “warn our kids to learn from this” — as if anybody needs to see a nude picture before warning their kids. Hopefully, we’ll know the real truth soon. Fables.