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June 12: Looking Beyond Abiola
KUNLE ODEREMI X-rays the intrigues that surrounded the making of June 12, against the background of some of its unsung heroes and heroines.
By 5.00 a.m. on June 12, 1993,the whole of Toyin Street and adjoining areas in Ikeja, Lagos State, was like a beehive. A lot of people had passed the night in the vast residence of the late Chief M.K.O. Abiola because of the restriction order by the military autocrat in Abuja on public movement, proclaimed on the eve of the poll.
People were determined to herald change in the polity and see hope in the day. They were in a hurry to see a crucial moment come to pass.
Inside the palatial residence of their host, people either riveted their attention on clocks on the wall or their wrist watches. The moment eventually came. Their host, an ebullient frame, resplendent in his typical flowing agbada and cap engraved with his name, in measured majestic pace and stride, came down from his one-story building, with a coterie of close associates and family members. A battery of photographers and reporters, who had kept vigil for weeks in his house sprung into action as he beamed with enamoring smile, accompanied with jokes. Before he could descend the last rung of the staircase, he had stretched his hand to engage the restless newshounds in warm handshakes one after the other.
That was the scenario about 19 years ago at the residence of Abiola and “Hope 93,” the headquarters of his presidential campaign on June 12, 1993. It was vintage Abiola, as he stepped out to take further steps in carving a niche for himself. It marked the climax of the chain of events in the making of the June 12 election that was eventually cancelled by the military oligarchy, in collaboration with an infinitesimal parasitic section of the civilian elite.
Having scaled the hurdle of litigations erected by both faceless and identifiable elements, who had determined to scuttle the election, Nigerians were full of optimism that their wish for democracy was close to being realised. Nature refused to conspire with those extant negative forces bent on torpedoing the poll. However, another shocker awaited the people and the Social Democratic Party (SDP), as the political opponents of Abiola alleged that he had breached a salient section of the electoral law.
He was accused of bearing the emblem of the party, a stallion, on his agbada to the polling centre to cast his vote, in contravention of the provision that stipulated when campaigns must end.
From that point, the battle by the amorphous forces to scuttle the democracy process began to witness new twists and turns to the amazement of local and international communities. Some of those anti-democratic elements that had hitherto hid their faces began to come into the open, deploying weird antics and tactics to discredit the poll and denigrate the character of Abiola. From nowhere came Abimbola Davies to complement the hatchet job of the notorious Association for Better Nigeria (ABN) led by eccentric Chief Arthur Nzeribe.
To save the day and avoid the move to abort the making of June 12, those behind the new vision of a better Nigeria under a democracy moved briskly to form a coalition. Several human rights and pro-democracy bodies picked up the gauntlet of defending the sovereign powers of the people to elect those to govern them. The build-up culminated in the birth of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) from the mainsteam pan-Yoruba organisation, Afenifere; Movement for National Reformation (MNR) led by Pa Anthony Enahoro; Eastern Mandate Union (EMU) and many others. From that moment, the face of the struggle changed. While the military bared its fangs like a rabid dog, the civil society and other forces dared the lion, even right in its den. The leaders of the coalition and other groups became victims of vicious attacks, including assassination and killings. Scores of hapless youths protesting against the “criminal” annulment were maimed or killed and even declared missing by pro-democracy and human rights groups. Many others were hounded into jail among hardened criminals.
While Abiola became the torch-bearer of June 12, those leaders who put their necks on the stake were marked for total annihilation, their family members and associates and friends hunted, while their businesses were ruined. Thus, June 12 story is an admixture of the good, the bad and the ugly, as its making is inexplicably weaved in intrigues that tower above the personality of Chief Abiola.
At 75, he was among the core members and heroes and heroines of the June 12 tribe. A successful businessman, he deployed his vast experience and resources in promoting the struggle. For pursuing the cause of freedom for the nation from the jackboot of militarism, he became the enemy of the state and was eventually mowed down in his residence in Maryland, Lagos. His remains one of the unresolved murderous acts committed by the military against the Nigerian people. So far, no garland for him for putting his life on the line so that Nigeria could return to the path of decency and sanity.
Alhaja Kudirat Abiola
A dogged and gallant fighter, Kudirat was motivator in the struggle after the poll annulment. She risked her life, spitting fire on why Nigerians should insist on the military restoring the mandate they freely gave her husband. Her advocacy of passive resistance from the populace met with cruelty and bestiality from the establishment, which quickly plotted her elimination in Ikeja, Lagos, as she headed for a pro-democracy meeting on Lagos Island.
He was a target of vicious attacks. His country home was bombed and businesses crippled. He managed to escape death in the hands of the hit squad of the state, which he had meritoriously served before going into retirement. He was among the inner caucus and the engine room of NADECO that became a big threat to the military establishment and government that employed all crude means of oppression and suppression to remain temporarily afloat in spite of both local and international condemnation.
He was among the arrowheads of the battle against the tyrants in power then, and had to escape into exile through a ‘NADECO’ route a euphemism for unofficial borders with neigbouring countries with Nigeria. Before then, the man credited with moving the motion for the nation’s independence in 1960 had been a victim of the savage mental, physical and psychological torture from the army of occupation in Abuja. And when, relative sanity was restored into the country in 1999, following the near forceful push of the military out of power, Enahoro had cautioned the citizenry on the need to be vigilant, because it was not yet uhuru. He died battling to see if Nigeria could rekindle the promise it held at independence.
He was described as the cat with nine lives after his narrow escape from the hit squad of the military that went berserk on his trail on Lagos Island. He came out unscathed after members of the squad pumped hot lead into his car. He was an inspirational leader of NADECO and Afenifere who, like a true general and commander of a troop, occupied the frontline.
A retired commodore from the Nigerian Air Force, he braced the odds and stood firm on the sanctity of June 12. He was among the leading lights from the North that refused to compromise in the face of the threatening antics of late Wada Nas, who in his capacity as the Minister of Special Duties, championed a propaganda war against NADECO leaders and other June 12 protagonists.
Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe
He had left the Babangida government with his image intact, and chose to live a reticent life. But he came out boldly to be counted among the key agitators that June 12 must stand. Ukiwe brushed aside critical comments from pro-establishment elements and anarchists, who tried to trivialise the bitter and sometimes bloody struggle to remain resolute, firm and committed to principle.
Commodore Ndubuisi Kanu
He played the dual role of being a member of NADECO’s think-tank and field marshall. He was always around to oil the coalition’s machinery through sound intellectual contribution and realistic tactical strategies. He was always there each time the leaders opted to openly confront the military juntas and its terrorist troops on the street.
Professor Wole Soyinka
One of the staying powers of NADECO was Radio Kudirat, which was dedicated to the cause of June 12 with international audience as its main contituency. Named after slain Abiola’s wife, the station kept the oppressive regime in the country constantly on its toes by exposing its cruelty and brutality of June 12 advocates. Soyinka was among the chief motivators, who included the current governor of Ekiti State, Dr Kayode Fayemi.
Chief Segun Osoba
He carried a heavy burden throughout the period of the struggle. He was, indeed, in a dilemma. One, because the winner of June 12 hailed from Ogun State, and he (Osoba) had the moral burden of sticking to Abiola through thick and thin. Two, as one of the former governors of SDP, particularly from the South-West, he could ill-afford to betray his party and zone. So, Osoba, was constantly under security watch from the juntas. He was maligned and subjected to undue hardship by agents of the state.
There are several other statesmen like late Pa adekunle Ajasin, Chief Bola Ige, General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Olisa Agbakoba, late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Dr. Fredrick Fasehun, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, late Pa Onasanya Solanke, Chuma Ubani, Ms Ayo Obe, and lots of other activists, as well as scores of other protesters that suffered indignities and humiliation in the hands of agents of government. In the words of the governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, “June 12, 1993 election has become historic and memorable, not because it produced the expected results, but because its sabotage produced a reaction that the saboteurs did not contemplate. It produced a platform for the expression of the need for change, a better life, true democracy and responsible governance by millions of Nigerians. The election ignited in Nigeria, the biggest human force known in our history – the consensus of millions for one common purpose.” But when will their garlands come?