Last Monday was June 12, the most chronic man-made Nigerian date, which may never die a natural death. Safe for some states in the southwest, the home region of Nigeria’s democracy martyr, Basorun Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, the country largely ignored the epoch-making date. While Lagos and co. kept the hollow annual ritual of public-holidaying the day, the rest of the federation pretended to focus on something (actually nothing) of more urgent national importance. The national government though, did something quite soothing. Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, himself from this region of interest, chose the historic and historical date to sign our vexed budget 2017 into law. That commemoration, insignificant as it might seem, is profound if critiqued within the context of a 24-year federal denial continuum.
Millennials et al who only joined the party well after this day had broken must note that Nigeria’s June 12 was born in 1993. That was the day then military president, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, conducted the last of his serial elections aimed at transiting power to civilians. The run-up to that iconic day witnessed electioneering jollity, melodious electoral commercials, sweetly- or gently-tumultuous primaries of the two parties (Social Democratic Party threw up MKO Abiola while National Republican Convention chose Bashir Tofa). The D-Day, which recorded unprecedented turnout, was unnigerianly peaceful from start to finish. None of those incidents peculiar to our elections. June 12 was the birthday of democracy in Nigeria!
Alas, while National Electoral Commission (NEC)’s Prof. Humphrey Nwosu, on whose neck hung the responsibility of midwifing the election, was performing the last leg of the tedious algorithm, the authorities caused a stillbirth by stopping him in his tracks. With no further results, confusion set in. Nigerians simply put two and two together and arrived at an Abiola victory. Soon, the smiling ‘evil genius’ himself would address the nation. There was always something new with him. This time, it was annulment. Nearly two decades and a half after, I still feel a certain deep betrayal over June 12, but ‘socialist’ IBB’s civilled military rule coupled with his dexterous creativity coaxes me to play him only the Umar-Saraki card.
Yet, the spirit of June 12 was so different and strong that it remains to this day a blot on the escutcheon of the mercurial enigma who had messed up other elections and got away with it. However, vintage-him, not to be outdone he elected of his own volition to ‘step aside’. Unfortunately, in just three small months, his successor, Chief Ernest Shonekan, a Yoruba (Egba) man like Abiola, who had been quickly packaged to pacify the storm, was quietly shoved aside by Gen. Sani Abacha, who would hold both the office and the nation by the jugular up until his sudden death in 1998.
Abdulsalami Abubakar, who took over inherited a nation on the precipice what with MKO Abiola, locked up by Abacha for declaring himself president, dying suddenly just when he was to regain his freedom. Desperate not to go the way of the first Minna man, Abubakar in super-quick succession announced a handover timetable, freed former head of state, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, retd., an Abacha political prisoner, and as it were bundled him into the electoral arena. The rest, as they say, is history.
June 12 was a democratic watershed for Nigeria that far transcended democracy or election. June 12 was also about philanthropy; about living for others. Say what you would, the June 12 hero was a philanthropist like none other; not before him, not after. I grew up seeing Abiola traverse the country, the continent and the globe to give of himself and of his substance. Having been born into acute poverty, even losing his mother because the family couldn’t afford the few Naira hospital bill, it was sweet how he broke loose to make billions, which he shared so altruistically with the world.
No debate, MKO Abiola is one of a tiny class of Nigerians, who can be said to have truly lived and died for others. Something Nigeria in me dies anytime I remember how Nigeria has constantly shown that ‘the labour of a hero past’ like MKO Abiola was ‘in vain’. The way we treat his memory can only discourage intending heroes. Our nonchalance is why our democracy and leaders break no ice. This isn’t to canonise Abiola or indict the powers-that-be.
This is to give a wake-up call. Arrogating the national democratic pride of place to May 29 instead of June 12, and kicking against (re)naming University of Lagos after MKO Abiola are tantamount to ensuring that the labour of our heroes past is in vain. However, Prof. Osinbajo’s budget-signing on June 12 is a fantastic way to retrace our steps. To be better served by democracy and leaders, Nigerians must first show gratitude to the memory of selfless leaders who walked this land and who gave their lives for a better today. God bless Nigeria!
A week of comedy: Budget, CCT, Evans
One of my daily prayer points is not to come back to Nigeria if there’s a next life. That’s not to say I regret my citizenship. I think it would be nice to switch places with people from saner climes. Everyone who comes to this world needs to take turns to be born a Nigerian, and live in Nigeria. You are an incomplete human being otherwise.
Welcome to the country that is a joke. Imagine: After we found our missing budget, we had to start searching for who would sign it. Then someone had the presence of mind or the lack of it to tell us that President Muhammadu Buhari, who is away on medical leave had approved for the Acting President to sign the fiscal document. Only in Nigeria!
That same week, we caught Evans (not Enwerem, may his soul rest in peace) the (Nnewi) Anambra-born inter-state kidnap kingpin, who dollarised the art. The 36-year-old received one-million-dollar ransoms not once, not twice. When he fell to the law, he mocked us by begging for forgiveness with the rider that he would change and become a Christian. Evans should be taken around prisons to provide stand up comedy.
As if the week had not registered enough humour, Code of Conduct Tribunal sneaked into it by freeing its biggest ‘prey’ ever. One had hoped for this verdict, but Tribunal Chair, Justice Danladi Umar, in saying what he said and the way he said it while discharging and acquitting Senate President, Bukola Saraki, after all that time and resources and the high drama that attended the trial, left one wondering if these people fear God. Pity, the rollercoaster ride was much ado about nothing!