Spitting image. A replica. Chip off the old block. It does not matter how you describe him, you are spot on.
He looks like him. He smiles like him (lavishly). And, like him, he is dogged, rugged and never takes no for an answer. His word is his bond.
He is truly the son of his father, the only man in Nigeria for whom a national holiday has been declared. The man whose struggle for his electoral mandate has birthed Democracy Day, which we are celebrating in two days’ time.
The father is one we all know and love, the legendary Basorun Moshood Kasimawo Olawale Abiola, or simply MKO Abiola. The son: Mr. Kolawole Abiola. The son is actually the man who has provoked this column as we get set to celebrate Nigeria’s first Democracy Day.
Believe me when I say he is a true Nigerian, detribalised (like his father), brilliant, focussed, pragmatic and a go-getter. He is one man to watch out for in the political landscape in the nearest future. But more on that later.
Many Nigerians may not know it. But if we have won Democracy Day today, Kola has been the unseen figure and finger behind the struggle. Quietly, he has worked and sacrificed for this day.
For 21 years, he has been silently fighting, kicking, lobbying, cajoling to have the injustice meted to his father, family and Nigerians redressed. He has carried the burden of a son and heir to have his late father’s memory honoured, memorialised and immortalised by a country he gave his all.
For 21 years, his heart bled. He wore the trademark MKO smiles alright, but he was far from being fulfilled. Then it happened. He finally got the President Muhammadu Buhari government to honour the man whose blood watered the tree of democracy we currently savour.
Kola tells this reporter: “ Now, justice has finally been done. Now, MKO can rest in peace. I wanted two things done: first, to have him honoured with the GCFR (Grand Commander of the Federal Republic), that is the highest award for presidents; then, to recognise June 12 as Democracy Day, a symbolic reminder of what that day means to Nigeria and Nigerians. I got the two and a third: A public apology from the government. Now, I can heave a sigh of happiness and relief.”
How did he do it? He told The Sun his story. He told of the many roadblocks he had to dismantle on the rough, tough road to justice for Abiola. He told the untold story of June 12; how MKO went into the June 12, 1993, presidential race; how and why he fell for Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha’s schemes; the annulment, the behind-the-scenes manoeuvres. Then came the June 12 struggle, the battle to wrest the deannulment, the Epetedo declaration, the four-year incarceration and eventual death of Abiola.
Kola gave The Sun an exclusive insight into all that, and of course the betrayers of the June 12 struggle, many of them strutting the stage today and calling themselves heroes of democracy and June 12 apostles. But the reality is that, while ordinary Nigerians stood on the struggle, on June 12 they ‘chopped.’ What a country!
To get the scion of the Abiola dynasty for an interview didn’t come exactly easy. For those who know him, Kola is quiet and self-effacing. For two years or thereabouts, I had nudged him for a chat on June 12 and the untold story of the struggle as well as happenings around the family of the man of hope, who sought to give Nigerians a meaningful life but was cut short by those who wished the people otherwise.
And he always had a reply: “Not yet my brother.” When President Buhari honoured him with an award and declared June 12 a national holiday and Democracy Day, I intensified my efforts. No dice. Until the eve of Nigeria’s new Democracy Day. He gave his word and kept it. He said it would be no-holds-barred and it was. “Just ask anything. About MKO, June 12, his family; about me, his children, anything. I am ready. And if I can’t give you a straight answer, I will give you the reason.”
So, for two hours last Saturday, in company with Onuoha Ukeh, Editor, Daily Sun; Femi Babafemi, Saturday Editor, and correspondent, Chinelo Obogo, we took Kola Abiola up on a wide range of issues. Nothing was too sacred for us to ask: Abiola’s wives, wealth, his deal with the military, Kingibe and those who later served under Abacha, among others. We think we had a good interview. It is for you the readers to grab your copies on Wednesday, June 12, for your verdict.
I agree entirely with Kola when he argues that June 12 and Democracy Day can only be meaningful when we imbibe its meaning and symbolisms.
Abiola’s victory was across ethnic, religious and social divides. It broke all barriers. It was a pan-Nigerian mandate. It was a truly unique experience for our nation. A man who ran on a Muslim-Muslim ticket had no difficulty trouncing his opponent in the South and North of the country. Nobody gave a damn about that. Nobody cared about his tribe or religion. They just saw a good man, a capable man who could deliver good governance, and every one keyed in.
But we seemed to have regressed into religious and ethnic cocoons after June 12. How come we have become so sharply divided, where the place a man comes from and the religion he practices have been elevated above the content of his heart, character and competence? How come there are many nations in one nation, where tribe has become more important than nation? Where did we get it wrong?
As we celebrate Nigeria’s first Democracy Day, may the spirit of MKO Abiola and all martyrs who gave their lives that we may have a country called Nigeria continue to rest in peace profound. Amen.