M. K. O Abiola in Times Like this

Guest Columnist: ISSA AREMU


Democracy Day (DD) celebrates liberty to choose and elect those who volunteer to serve.
Conversely, DD damms and condemns military dictatorships which suffocated Nigeria and Nigerians for half of its 60 years of independence.

From 1881, when Lagos was forcefully annexed through successive century brutal British colonial/military campaigns with its trade marks of sorrow, tears and blood, to the lowering of Union Jack in 1960, Nigeria passes for a military outpost! Never again should any group through conquests and coup detat govern Nigeria without the democratic mandate of the people.

As a labour delegate, I recall that the echoes of June 12, 1993 presidential election reverberated during the annulment anniversary on the floor of the National confab in 2014. An observation on a matter of national importance was raised by a conference delegate Mr Orok Duke.

He wanted the presumed winner of the historic election accorded national honour in addition to a minute silence for all fallen heroes of the great struggles for democracy in the 1990s.

After much heated emotion which often trials June 12 discourse, the plenary under the Chairmanship Justice Idris Kutigi eventually obliged the delegates to pay tributes to all those who died for Nigeria’s democracy including late Abiola with a minute silence.

I bear witness that the star delegate of 2014 National Conference was Elder statesman Edwin Clark. He argued audaciously that for the “small mindedness of some one,” (his words!), June 12 should have been democracy day and not May 29! “May 29 is because somebody came into office and decided to make it as democracy day in this country.
June 12 is democracy day in Nigeria”, Chief Clark unapologetically declared.

The 2020 Democracy Day assumed special historic importance. For one, June 12th officially replaces May 29th as the new national Democracy day. Undoubtedly the focus was on the historic role of Chief Moshood Abiola, (the leading star actor of the annulled 1993 presidential elections) in the struggle for democracy. My recollection of Chief Abiola is an admixture of ideological contestation and political admiration.

Schooled in the best of the radical traditions of the then Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences ( FASS) of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) in the late70s, we certainly loathed the bourgeoisie class the star representative being the flamboyant Chief himself.
We chorused happily Fela’s I.T.T. ( International Thief Thief). In 1979, the legendary Afro beat king in the album damned ITT, an American multinational of which MKO was the Vice Chairman.

ITT had earlier assumed notoriety as the company the CIA allegedly used “as a means of disguising the source of the illegitimate funding” of the anti-democratic forces led by General Pinochet which brutally overthrew democratically elected Salvador Allende in 1973. There was once a “democratic” United States of America ( USA) which sponsored illegal overthrow of democracies!

In 1978, as the Secretary General of the socialist Movement for A Progressive Nigeria ( MPN) in Ahmadu Bello University ( ABU), I led members to attend the 2nd anniversary of the assassination of the late patriot Military Head of State, General Murtala Muhammed as Bayero University ( BUK ) Kano.

To our bewilderment, the guest speaker was MKO! There was an instant resistance by predominantly radical audience against the Chief whose fraternity with late Murtala Muhammed was not clear to us. As he took the podium, Chief MKO courageously stood his ground.

He proudly disclosed his valued friendship of the late Head of State who he hailed as a patriot. Dr Patrick Wilmot in one of his pollard series, INTERVENTIONS disclosed that “ Murtala had begun despising him for his pushy, contractor attitude,refusing to see him. But when they met, the General grew to appreciate the Chief’s positive qualities of generosity, openness, humor and intelligence and they became good friends”.

Abiola spiritedly denied being a stooge of American imperialism. On the contrary, he boasted that Africans can and must build their own multinationals without being apologetic to the West.

With the benefits of hindsight today, it is clear that MKO was the first promoter of Afri-capitalism in words and actions! His numerous chains of enterprises in telecom, publishing, food and beverages, shipping among others at the time the state controlled the commanding heights of the economy are indelible signatures to free enterprise. Paradoxically, it is the political MKO, June 12 mandate partisan Abiola which captures national and global imagination. Notwithstanding the judicial order restraining NEC from conducting the presidential election on June 10, 1993 by Abuja High Court, with Justice Bassey Ikpeme presiding, myself and my late wife in Kaduna on June 12, 1993 joined millions of Nigerians to vote in the Presidential election adjudged the best in electoral practices. Our first votes!

There was an orchestrated national suspense between the time of election and the eventual annulment by General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida on June 23, 1993. Both my self and my pregnant wife had agreed that if IBB was courageous and virtuous enough to uphold people’s mandate we would name our child after him. Of course its now history that IBB reneged and my second son delivered July 5th, admirably bears Moshood .

Which means June 12 is a total commitment and annual birthday season in my house. The historic apology for the annulment by President Buhari was timely and a mark of statesmanship. Last Friday, the Minister of Youth and Sports Development Mr. Sunday Dare, unveiled the National Stadium Abuja remanned after Chief Moshood Abiola. As the pillar of sport of Africa, the late politician earned the singular posthumous honour President Muhammadu Buhari conferred on him last year. However tributes for Chief MKO call for more than renaming monument. Nigeria must deepen democracy he and others fought and died for. This year marks almost 30 years of the annulment, 21 years of uninterrupted civil rule and 60 years of independence achieved through democratic mass struggle .

But there is “insufficiency in democratic practices” among the politicians in turn worsening the crisis of governance in the country. Security and economic challenges can only be overcome if ordinary people are involved in governance. DD 2020 takes place during the time of the COVID: 19 pandemic. What would have been the reaction of MKO in times of the current pandemic ? Abiola did not live for politics and his mandate alone. As a generous giver and big spender, I bet the Chief would have upscaled the bagful of palliatives possibly in cash which he always gave even at the times it was not popular to give. I bet that MKO would have given to mitigate the negative impact of the disease which has claimed as many as almost 400 deaths, infected almost 15000 in Nigeria and killed 400,000 people globally.

Of special importance is Abiola’s inclusive Economics of banishing poverty and promoting prosperity for all.
At the height the lock down, both the CBN monetary and fiscal authorities commendably announced feverish stimulus measures and bail outs for big, medium and small businesses. There have also been palliatives and handouts for the vulnerable. Unfortunately as the nation gradually eases out, we are again reading about “budget cuts”, “austerity”, “retrenchment” and even wage cuts. It’s time for continuous “solidarity Economics” which will promote productivity, mass employment and eradicate poverty.

The point cannot be overstated: decades of unthinking budget cuts in the guise of military imposed Structural Adjustments Progrmames (SAPs) underfunded health, electricity, education and social infrastructure. It’s a scandal that no state of the Federation could sustain a week long lock down on account of underlining mass poverty.

We must democratize the public and economic space, rescue the country from the total capture and dominance of few unaccountable self serving ruling elite through inclusive budgeting that puts resources at the disposal of the critical mass. We must eradicate poverty as envisioned by Abiola. Chief MKO was a pan Africanist in words and deeds. If Chief Abiola were to be alive, what would be his reaction to the current African Renaissance triggered by the brutal murder of George Floyd On May 25 paradoxically killed on Africa Day in Minneapolisis ?

I bet Abiola would have courageously damned systemic racism in America. As a member of Congressional Black Caucus, Abiola would have rapped Donald Trump in proverbs. He would have exposed the 45th American President as a Dinosaur who in the wilderness imagines making “America great again” with bloody steps backward into the discredited era of slavery and racism.

Abiola would certainly be in good company of his late friend Nelson Mandela who audaciously at the outbreak of the second Iraq war urged the American people to join protests against their president, George Walker Bush and called on world leaders, especially those with vetoes in the UN security council, to unite to oppose him.

Mandela once called America “One power with a president who has no foresight and cannot think properly …. wanting to plunge the world into a holocaust,”. I bet that MKO Abiola who vigorously campaigned for reparations would have asked America to apologize for slavery and pay compensation for serial police brutalities. Abiola once said (and I agree) that “Every African that is born must be fully schooled in the history of his people, from the glorious expires, civilisation and monuments of old, to the predatory explorers and slave raiders who brutally interrupted Africa’s self-propelled march to greatness.. Our task is to ensure that these facts are clearly imbibed and understood by all Africans, wherever they are born, and that the evidence is placed fully and unequivocally, before the bar of international opinion. Every African must grow up, declaring to himself, never again.”

*Issa Aremu is a Member of National Institute, Kuru Jos.