Tinubu Lists Heroes of Democracy

President in his broadcast to mark 25 years of nation’s democratic governance listed heroes of our democratic struggle.  They didn’t set out to pay the supreme price. But they knew what they were up against. Not one of them was oblivious to the consequences of their decision to confront an unfeeling, brutal, nasty, soulless and disoriented military leadership.  Quite expectedly, some survived the onslaught by the junta. Several others didn’t. The battlefield was lethal and total, because too much was at stake. But, taken together, it wasn’t a failed adventure, at the end of the day.

With 25 years of unbroken democracy, the risk was worth it. Although it is not yet uhuru for a tottering 64-year-old giant, especially with the cycle of her existential fault lines, hope is not far away either.

It was, therefore, a moment of deep emotion and reflection worth celebrating, when President Bola Tinubu, yesterday, remembered these heroes and heroines of the nation’s democracy at a fitting occasion of her 25 years of returning to station.

Deji Elumoye provides short but pungent profiles of  those on the shortlist of the President.  Although THISDAY was not on the president’s list, was a major player in the struggle to end military rule and return the country to democratic order.

Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola

Chief Moshood Abiola was a political behemoth, who rode on the nation’s horizon in his prime. Politician, businessman, accountant, and philanthropist, he ran for presidential election on the ticket of the Social Democratic Party against Alhaji Ibrahim Tofa of the National Republican Convention on June 12, 1993, and was on the cusp of victory when the unexpected happened.

His election, adjudged the freest in the country and Africa at the time, was annulled by the military regime of President Ibrahim Babangida. No valid reasons. But Abiola’s campaign to reclaim his electoral victory led to his incarceration by the General Sani Abacha-led government, which later took over, before he eventually died on July 7, 1998.

Abiola then became a symbol of democracy when former President Muhammadu Buhari on June 6, 2018, declared June 12 as the new Democracy Day and gave posthumous award of the highest honour in the land – the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic – to him.

This year makes it the seventh time that June 12 would be celebrated as Nigeria’s Democracy Day as against May 29,when the nation transitioned from military to civilian rule, from 1999 to 2017.

Kudirat Abiola

Second wife of the late Chief Abiola and the potential first lady, Alhaja Kudirat Abiola, was very active, both during the campaigns of her husband’s election and the struggle to actualise the June 12 mandate.

The arrest of her husband by the Abacha junta in 1994, made her a tireless advocate for Abiola’s freedom and the return of his mandate. This doting mother and wife soon became one of the most dreaded foes of the Abacha regime.

On  Tuesday, June 4, 1996, around 3:05 pm, one of the most senseless murders in Nigeria was carried out and life was snuffed out of Kudirat Abiola.

Aside cutting her life short at 44, a new chapter was opened in Nigeria’s chequered political history, as she became one of the prominent matyrs in the struggle for a truly democratic nation.

Shehu Musa Yar’Adua

Retired two-star Army General, businessman and politician, Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, served as second-in-command to General Olusegun Obasanjo, when he was military Head of State from 1976 to 1979.

After retiring from service, he went into business and shortly after, full time politics. He participated actively in the politics of the ill-fated Third Republic midwifed by the regime of Babangida. When IBB as he is famously called, banned old politicians including Yar’Adua, the retired General used his political group, the Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM) to mobilise support for MKO Abiola  to win the primaries of the SDP at the second ballot in Jos, Plateau State, ahead of the June 12 presidential poll.

Yar’Adua died in controversial circumstances in Abakaliki prisons in 1997, where he was being detained by the Abacha-led government over alleged reasonable felony charges.

Alfred Rewane

A successful businessman, activist and politician, Pa Alfred Rewane, was a key member of the Action Group and an associate of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, in the First Republic.

In the 1990s, Rewane’s residence in Ikeja, Lagos, became the unofficial venue of political meetings, which led to the birth of NADECO.

He was known as a major financier of the group, which was vocal in its opposition to the military regime of Abacha. Pa Rewane was felled by suspected Abacha hit men on Friday, October 6, 1995, at his Ikeja GRA residence. He was 79.

Anthony Enahoro

A patriot, nationalist and politician, Chief Anthony Enahoro was renowned for moving the motion for Nigeria’s independence in 1953. He was a key figure in the struggle against British colonial rule and later in opposing military dictatorship in Nigeria. He was a major player in the struggle to actualise June and survived several antics of the junta to take him out being a menace to the government. But he died in 2010 at the ripe age of 87.

Abraham Adesanya

Generally considered an enemy of state by the Abacha junta, Senator Abraham Adesanya, a lawyer, activist, and politician, was a leading figure in the Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, where he was the supreme head. He also led the famous NADECO, which made him a target of the regime. He was, however, among the lucky few who survived assassination plots by the Abacha regime. He later died at 66 years old on April 27, 2008.

Dan Suleiman

A retired Nigerian Air Force officer and politician, Captain Dan Suleiman, was one of the active NADECO members from the north, the part of the country, where Abacha also came from. He served as the Military Governor of Plateau State. He, however, aligned with his compatriots from other parts of the country to advocate the restoration of democracy in Nigeria, by actualising June 12. He survived the Abacha bullets, and stood his grounds for one Nigeria. He died on February 1 at 80.

Frank Kokori

A principled labour leader and activist, Chief Frank Kokori, was the General Secretary of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) during the hey days of the struggle for the validation of the June 12 , 1993 presidential poll. He used his platform to torment the junta and was imprisoned for his role in advancing democracy. While he survived Abacha’s wickedness, he lived the rest of his life in poor health condition as a price paid for challenging the junta. He even came out in the twilight of his days to alleged abandonment by his compatriots in the trenches. It was, perhaps, too late as he died in 2023 at the age of 79.

Arthur Nwankwo

Author, publisher, and political activist, chief Arthur Nwankwo, was as important as any other key figure in the fight for democracy in Nigeria, albeit from the South East part of Nigeria. He co-founded the Eastern Mandate Union and was a vocal critic of military regimes. Another lucky patriot, who later died in 2020 at the age of 78.

Chukwuemeka Ezeife

An economist and prominent politician from the South East, Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife, served as the Governor of Anambra State. He was involved in various movements, advocating the restoration of democracy and the actualisation of the June 12 struggle. He lived many years after the struggle ended, not without surviving Abacha and his criminal gang. He eventually passed away on December 14, 2023, at 86.

Ndubuisi Kanu

A retired naval officer and politician, Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu, lived up to billing as a military officer, when he sided with NADECO and actively opposed military rule. Fearless and outspoken, Kanu, who served as the Military Governor of Imo and Lagos States, was not an easy prey for the Abacha junta and therefore survived their treachery. His experience and skills came to play. He, however, died on January 13, 2021 at the age of 77.

Adekunle Ajasin

Chief Michael Adekunle Ajasin, a statesman and educator, was the Governor of old Ondo State in the Second Republic and the leader of Afenifere and NADECO combined. He fought and lived for democracy, although an advocate of regional autonomy. While he didn’t live to see democracy crystalise, his principles and worldview didn’t change till he breathed his last. He died on October 3, 1997 at the age of 89.

Bola Ige

The Cicero of Esa-Oke as he was fondly called, Chief Bola Ige, was lawyer, politician, and writer, who served as the Governor of old Oyo State in the Second Republic. He was a prominent member of the Action Group, led by Awolowo. He was also a member of the Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, and was involved in the pro-democracy movement before accepting to serve as the Minister of Justice under President Olusegun Obasanjo. Unfortunately, for a man, who survived Abacha and his men, he was felled by the bullets of the vestiges of military leadership in a democracy at his Ibadan home in December, 2001. He was 71 years at the time.

Ganiyu Dawodu

A prominent Lagos-based politician and activist, Chief Ganiyu Olawale Dawodu, was a key member of the NADECO movement and Afenifere. He not only fought military dictatorship and pushed vehemently for democracy, he was one of those who made President Bola Tinubu’s governorship dream come to life. Although the fell out soon after Tinubu stabilised in office, as he did with other Afenifere members, the president still recognised the principles that the old man stood for. He died in 2006 at the age of 71.

Ayo Fasanmi

Chief Ayo Fasanmi, a high-up member of the Action Group and later Afenifere, was a pharmacist, politician, and activist, who naturally belonged to NADECO by virtue of his association with Afenifere. He played his part in advocating for democracy in the country. A survivor of the military dictatorship, he was one of the few who lived long enough. He died on July 29, 2020 at the age of 95.

Olabiyi Durojaiye

An Ogun State-born politician, Senator Olabiyi Durojaiye, was a lawyer and economist. He was elected senator in 1999, but not before playing an active role in the NADECO movement. He didn’t relent in his quest for good governance and constitutional democracy, when as a senator in 2002, he recommended a life jail-term for anyone who perpetrated electoral fraud. He died on August 24, 2021 at the age of 88 years old.

Beko Ransome-Kuti

He was not the regular medical doctor. With radical and intellectual stamina to boot, Dr. Bekolari Ransome-Kuti, took his practice and activism a notch up. Coming from a family of activists, confronting inept leadership was a sport for him. A key figure in the Campaign for Democracy, a group that partnered NADECO to oppose military rule, he didn’t flinch a second despite all the threats and persecution he faced. Curiously, he too survived military dictatorship but died on February 10, 2006 at 66 years old.

Chima Ubani

In every of his disposition, Chima Ubani was naturally a rights and democracy activist. He led several pro-democracy movements, including the Civil Liberties Organisation and the Campaign for Democracy. Although a young man, Ubani partnered older compatriots to fight for democracy and June 12. He made his name and earned his stripes for championing several anti-military campaigns. He died in September 2005 at the age of 42.

Alani Akinrinade

A decorated three-star army general and politician, Lieutenant-General Ipoola Alani Akinrinade, was one of the tacticians in the NADECO movement, who guided the pan-Nigerian movement in their activities against the junta. Equally an advocate for an end to military rule and enthronement of democracy, Akinrinade, too, survived the Abacha goons and today, this Afenifere chieftain is savouring the good of democracy in retirement at 84.

Bolaji Akinyemi

Professor of political science, the former Minister of External Affairs, Boalji Akinyemi, deployed his area of strength and influence to the Jun 12 cause. Adept in foreign policy, his contributions to snatching the nation from the claws of military rule centred more on leveraging his friendship with foreign allies for the good of the nation. The involvement of the 82-year-old in various pro-democracy initiatives and activities is therefore not quantifiable.

Gani Fawehinmi

Arguably one of Nigeria’s most feared lawyers in his days, Chief Gani Fawehinmi was also an author, and activist. He was renowned for his tireless and timeless fights for human rights, social justice, and democracy. He was a thorn in the flesh of military dictatorships and also resented persons with untoward characters. He spared no efforts in going after and reprimanding President Bola Tinubu, when he faced various allegations of fraud during his time as the governor of Lagos State. He attempted to run for the presidency and set up National Conscience Party (NCP). But Nigerians seemed not ready for him at the time. While some of those he raised in the path of patriotism had moved on and in some cases, committed class suicide, his ideals remain immutable. He died on September 5, 2009 at the age of 71.

Wole Soyinka

A radical from his prime, history is replete with how the first African Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, damned consequences of his choices at different times in the nation’s political life and stood by Nigeria. Curiously, not even age could stop him. Vocal, confident, daring and cerebral, Soyinka is one of the intellectual bulwark of the struggle to enthrone democracy by validating June 12. For a man, who always thought he had nothing to lose dying for his country, Soyinka has paid his dues, both as a young and aged man, after being locked up a few times for nation’s sake. At 89, today, nothing has changed with this renowned playwright, poet, and essayist. Although age appears to have slowed him down a bit from being a vocal critic of oppressions, he still dishes out from the old plates whenever time demands.

Cornelius Adebayo

Popularly called C.O Adebayo, Chief Cornelius Olatunji Adebayo, 83, was at different times a senator, former governor of the old Kwara State in the Second Republic, and also served as Minister of Communications. A kitchen member of the Afenifere group, he was equally an active member of the NADECO movement and gave as much as others in the struggle to actualise the June 12 election. He has paid his dues and posterity is evidently siding with him.

Olisa Agbakoba

Brewed differently with class and finesse, human rights lawyer and activist, Chief Olisa Agbakoba co-founded the Civil Liberties Organisation, one of the groups that deployed professionals to the June 12 struggle. Although he has not stopped advocating for legal reforms and democratic ideals, his roles, in collaboration with others for the enthronement of democracy were incalculable. He deserves as much recognition as he is getting. He, too, has paid his dues.

Abdul Oroh

Journalist, lawyer, and politician, Hon. Abdul Oroh, was the executive director of the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO). He was arrested on July 27, 1995, by plain clothes men in connection with the June 12 struggle. But he survived. He was later elected into the House of Representatives in 2003 and also appointed commissioner in Edo State during the days of Adams Oshiomhole as governor. He has continued to be active in human rights advocacy and the pro-democracy movement in Nigeria.

Ralph Obioha

Businessman and politician, Chief Ralph Obioha, was a key member of the NADECO movement, who led the group’s activities from Canada and the Unites States. A former member of the House of Representatives in the Second Republic, Obioha was also chairman of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo and former national chairman of the Justice Party. For a man, who had paid his dues in politics, he tells whoever cares to listen that the June 12 struggle was a tough one. After losing a bank (First African Trust Bank), a brewery (Safari Brewery), cement bagging plant in Port Harcourt (Castle Cement), and vegetable oil company – all to the struggle – no one tells the story better than this patriot. But in spite of his losses, he is consoled by the fact that democracy is still in play.

Femi Falana

Here’s another constitutional lawyer and rights activist, Mr. Femi Falana, who was a key ally to the late Fawehinmi. He went all out for June 12 to come alive, and got democracy instead. He has continued to tread in the same path since Nigeria returned to civil rule. Falana has been involved in several legal battles for the protection of rights and democracy in Nigeria. He is one of the survivors that the younger generation still looks up to for guidance.

Shehu Sani

President of the Civil Rights Congress of Nigeria and Chairman of Hand-in-Hand Africa, Senator Shehu Sani, was a leading light in the struggle for the restoration of democracy in Nigeria. He was arrested and jailed by successive military regimes as a result. He was, however, released from life imprisonment when the nation returned to civil rule. The 56-year-old has paid his dues and it was no wonder that the people honoured him with his election into the senate in 2015.

Oluyemisi Falae

A former Secretary to the Government of the Federation during the military regime of President Ibrahim Babangida, Oluyemisi Falae, is the current and first crowned king of Ilu-Abo in Ondo State. As a key figure in the pro-democracy movement, through his strong affiliation with Afenifere, Falae and like-minds played significant role in the struggle for June 12 and he, like others, gave his all to the cause. Banker, administrator and politician, Falae was at a brief period, the Minister of Finance. He also ran for president in the third and fourth republics.

Ayo Adebanjo

Elder statesman, Chief AyoAdebanjo is a co-founder of Afenifere, a foremost pan-Yoruba socio-political group. A lawyer, and politician,  he was one of the major drivers of the pro-democracy struggle. An ally of Awolowo, Adebanjo’s days in politics are as old as his age – 96. As one of the chieftains of NADECO, Adebanjo joined protests, stood at the barricades and made his voice heard in the June 12 struggle. Apparently used to the dangers of a political life, Adebanjo’s resolve remained unshaken, even when members of the democratic coalition and other groups in civil society were shot at, harassed, humiliated and killed. As one of the oldest survivors of the gory, dark days, Adebanjo is an encyclopedia in the nation’s politics.

Uba Sani

Currently the Governor of Kaduna State, Senator Uba Sani,has a solid background in activism and has worked on various initiatives for development and governance. Sani protested against military authoritarianism in Nigeria, andleft behind a footprint of bravery and patriotism. Riding onhis organisation and networking skills, he created a strategic base for the pro-democracy movement in Northern Nigeria, using his civil society organisation, the Movement for Freedom and Justice. He further deployed it to champion the rights of the underprivileged and offered them unfettered access to justice. At different times, he was the National Vice Chairman (North) of Campaign for Democracy (CD) and Deputy National Chairman (North) of the Joint Action Committee (JACON) led by Fawehinmi.

Ayo Opadokun

As the secretary-general of NADECO, Chief Ayo Opadokun, from Kwara State, was one of the most important persons in the struggle for the actualisation of June 12. The convener of the Coalition of Democrats for Electoral Reform (CODER), was and is still prominent in the activities of Afenifere, being the group’s former national publicity secretary. Journalist, politician, and activist, Opadokun went all out and gave his all to what remains the mother of all struggles ever witnessed in Nigeria’s body polity. That democracy is alive and kicking today is because patriots like him stood up to be counted.

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