Obasanjo and the Fangs of June 12, By Shola Oshunkeye
…last Tuesday’s conferment and Buhari’s apology effectively buried the political remains of, not General Ibrahim Babangida who annulled the election, Obasanjo, who long before he was jailed by General Sani Abacha, did his best to help other June 12 haters to inter the phenomenon.
Even if politics was the primary motive of President Muhammadu Buhari for honouring Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola, for proclaiming June 12 as Democracy Day, and for apologising to the Abiola Family, and Nigerians, for the grave injustice done them over the June 12, 1993 historic vote, then, I will beg the president to play more of that politics.
Nigeria needs more of such politics. Our country needs the politics of truth and reconciliation. Politics that heals past wounds and corrects the wrongs of years long gone. Politics that takes power from self-conceited political landlords and places it squarely in the hands of the people. Indeed, we need the kind of politics that, like in our extant case, redeems the times and clears the mess created by oppressors who never thought June 12 could happen. But when it happened, they chose to dance on the graves of the martyrs who watered the seed with their blood.
In a way, it was good that ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo did not attend Tuesday’s special awards in Abuja. He couldn’t make it because, according to the apology he sent to the president, he had to participate in a summit in Norway. Had he attended, he would have seen his own political obituary. It was on that day, June 12, 2018, that Buhari drove the last nail that sealed Obasanjo’s political coffin. Had he attended the awards, I would have loved to see his reaction that moment when President Buhari handed the GCFR plaque to Kola, Abiola’s first son. Also, I would have loved to see the expression on his face when Hafsat Abiola-Costello made that moving post-award response in which she referred to some persons as political “landlords”.
For me, last Tuesday’s conferment and Buhari’s apology effectively buried the political remains of, not General Ibrahim Babangida who annulled the election, Obasanjo, who long before he was jailed by General Sani Abacha, did his best to help other June 12 haters to inter the phenomenon. Recall that it was Obasanjo who, while the country was burning over the annulment, declared that the best candidates do not necessarily win elections. He took that line from the same verse he delivered in 1979 when the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo felt he had been robbed of the presidency during that year’s elections. Recall also that, at the peak of the agitation to reclaim June 12, the self-same Obasanjo travelled to South Africa and told the world that Abiola was not the messiah Nigeria needed.
Yes, it was an open secret that Obasanjo collaborated with some northern oligarchs and some traitors in the South-West to bury June 12. What they never knew was that June 12, by the power and fury of right-thinking Nigerians, had become practically unkillable, like the phoenix. Like the phoenix, the more they tried to burn it and consign it to the grave, the faster it rose from its own ashes, and the more energetic it became.
On Tuesday, June 12, 2018, those who tried to kill June 12, 1993, met their nemesis. Buhari, with that apology, sincere or concocted, drove the last nail into their political coffins. The apology effectively neutralised Obasanjo and his co-travellers, and practically inaugurated them into Nigeria’s Hall of Shame, which Professor Wole Soyinka canvassed in his brief speech during the ceremony.
The June 12 haters called it a sheer skank-hole where political scum resides. No porn intended, please. There are those who disdained it in their closets but lacked the courage to say so publicly. Rather, they hid under some hideous legalese to latch at the ‘illegality’ of the epoch.
Well, like in all matters democratic, not all Nigerians have supported the presidential proclamation of Wednesday, June 6, 2018. With a stroke of his pen, President Buhari, on that day, proclaimed June 12 as Democracy Day, conferred the national award of the Grand Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (GCFR) on Abiola; and Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON), each, on Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe, Abiola’s running mate in the election, and Chief Gani Fawehinmi. The late Senior Advocate, together with other pro-democracy activists and labour, led the resistance against the wicked voiding of the people’s will. Many died in the struggle. Those who managed to survive bear the scars till date. For 25 years, the Abiola family bore the agony of that dark period without the faintest hope that their father and husband will ever get justice.
Yet, when justice eventually came on June 6, 2018, some still loathed it. They described it as a political scam; crass political opportunism; a rap-tap to lure an unsuspecting populace to the 2019 train of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). The June 12 haters called it a sheer skank-hole where political scum resides. No porn intended, please. There are those who disdained it in their closets but lacked the courage to say so publicly. Rather, they hid under some hideous legalese to latch at the ‘illegality’ of the epoch.
Dino Melaye, the senator representing Kogi West, still recuperating from his recent suicidal adventure, was in that pack. In voicing his objection, he leaned on the letter of the law and not its spirit. During upper Thursday’s plenary, Melaye railed against the award, neck brace and all, and only stopped short of calling for Buhari’s impeachment. In Melaye’s warped imagination, Abiola had, on account of his death, become an alien, a non-Nigerian. Nothing can be more sickening than that perverted argument.
But in the din of the crowd, there were voices that rang out in very loud tenor praising the proclamation. They were the voices of compatriots who believed that correcting the grievous errors of the past is a super highway to realising the glorious Nigeria all patriots earnestly yearn for. The voices sooth the soul and please the heart. I belong to that group.
Like I said, I care less about the president’s motive but care more for the yield of his action. For 25 years, June 12 had been hanging there like a low-lying over-ripe fruit, waiting for someone to pluck it. For 25 years, June 12 lay there like a loose ball in front of an open goal, waiting for a striker, just any striker, to tip it behind the net. None of the seven heads of state and presidents that held sway at the Villa during the period gave that watershed in Nigeria’s political process any serious thought. Like they say in Ajegunle, they all waka pass.
Rather than allow Abiola, his friend, to rule, then military president, General Ibrahim Babangida, voided the vote and abdicated the throne. Abacha, who succeeded Babangida, gave Abiola a crown of thorns and sent him to the gulag. Abiola died in confinement on July 7, 1998, after drinking tea in the presence of visiting American diplomats. A month earlier, June 8, 1998, Abacha himself had bitten the dust while allegedly cavorting with Indian prostitutes. The scarlet ladies were reportedly imported from Dubai to satiate the barbarous Emperor’s erotic desires.
The inclusion of Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe, who won the mandate with the late businessman-turned-politician cast a shadow on the awards. After the ignoble annulment, Kingibe pandered to the northern oligarchy and regional interest, and dumped the mandate in a huff.
General Abdulsalami Abubakar, who succeeded Abacha, tried to convince Abiola to forget his mandate and move on. The politician was resolute in his resolve to claim his mandate. He died under Abubakar’s nose. Some people have described both deaths as ‘government arrangement’, just like the legendary Fela sang years before.
As Abuja Bureau chief and State House correspondent of TELL magazine, I covered President Obasanjo for four-and-a-half years. Throughout his presidency, Obasanjo, the greatest beneficiary of the sacrifice by Abiola and countless other martyrs, never mentioned a word about the politician or June 12. In fact, all you needed do to make him hit the roof or set the house on fire is to mention June 12. Those who know the ex-president intimately are not surprised by his reluctance to redress that monumental justice for his kinsman. They say he is ill-disposed to anything that would enable anybody to outshine him. This, they add, also accounts for his letter-writing habit.
It is hard to blame President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua because of the infirmity that dogged his steps and eventually amputated his presidency. Had he enjoyed excellent health and finished his term, maybe he would have done something. Maybe.
President Jonathan, who finished Yar’Adua’s term, and ruled till 2015, thought he could make political capital of Abiola and June 12 by simply renaming the University of Lagos as Moshood Abiola University (MAU). He must have thought June 12 was a Kenya phenomenon and slamming an institution like UNILAG with a MAU MAU tag would placate its restless spirit. He goofed. The plan died on arrival. It is on record that President Jonathan dished out the highest number of national awards. He honoured all sorts of characters, including comedians and looters; and pardoned ex-convicts.
Significant as last Tuesday was, it has not, in my estimation, brought closure to the June 12 saga. The inclusion of Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe, who won the mandate with the late businessman-turned-politician cast a shadow on the awards. After the ignoble annulment, Kingibe pandered to the northern oligarchy and regional interest, and dumped the mandate in a huff. He jumped ship to serve under Abacha, Abiola’s tormentor-in-chief, as minister of Foreign Affairs (1993 and 1995).
To be fair to the Borno-born diplomat, he wasn’t the only pillar of June 12 that jumped ship. Some bigwigs in the Social Democratic Party, even some political heavyweights from Abiola’s South-West, also dumped the mandate and eloped with the dictator. They lied that Abiola donated them into the murderous regime with the hope that the dictator would, at some point, revalidate his mandate and install him president. That turned to be one of the biggest political scams of all times. They all became victims of their own greed. They rode on the back of a tiger and ended in its belly.
…Buhari should etch his name deeper in gold by investigating the countless murders and other atrocities committed by the brutal Abacha regime and bring those found culpable to justice. If he’s able to do that, it would explicitly demonstrate to the whole world that, truly, Buhari belongs to everybody and yet to nobody.
All these happened at a time goons of the brutal dictator were mauling people in the streets of Lagos, perpetually muting voices of dissent wherever they may be. That was how Kudirat Abiola, Pa Alfred Rewane, Harry Marshal, Suliat Adedeji, Bagauda Kaltho, etc. were callously murdered.
Although he had left government when, on June 9, 1996, Sergeant Rogers murdered Kudirat, wife of the man who should have been president, what did Kingibe, the man who would have been vice president, do or say? He was in silent mode. When history beckoned Kingibe to stand by the mandate, what did he do? He turned his gaze elsewhere. It seems life on Abacha’s red carpet, a carpet of blood, was so irresistible that Kingibe couldn’t do or say anything. But didn’t Wole Soyinka say that “The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny”?
Based on these, I submit: Kingibe’s participation and contribution to Abacha’s despotism and reign of terror marks him out as a rotten apple in the pack. That singular misadventure disentitles him from the award. However, some people have risen in Kingibe’s defence. They say he got it because of his position as one of President Buhari’s most trusted strategists.
Over all, the president richly deserves all the applause he has been getting over June 12. However, to effectively bring closure to the matter, he needs to cause Prof. Humphrey Nwosu, the INEC chairman who supervised the June 12, 1993 vote, to declare the official results. Although the GCFR conferred, posthumously, on Abiola is a tacit confirmation that he won the vote, declaring the result officially will put a seal on it and settle all outstanding matters.
Lastly, Buhari should etch his name deeper in gold by investigating the countless murders and other atrocities committed by the brutal Abacha regime and bring those found culpable to justice. If he’s able to do that, it would explicitly demonstrate to the whole world that, truly, Buhari belongs to everybody and yet to nobody.
God bless Nigeria.
Shola Oshunkeye is the CEO of Omnimedia Nigeria Limited, and executive director of the non-profit, Sustainable Development and Transparency Foundation.