When a Nigerian confronts or is confronted with an abnormal situation, he more unconsciously than routinely exclaims “Jesus!” not necessarily because he is a Christian. Even an urbane or broad-minded Muslim relapses into such exclamation to capture the situation. A section of the press provoked that reaction with the list of those classified as villains and heroes of June 12, as the new Democracy Day in Nigeria, to put on record the controversy over the annulment of June 12, 1993, election.
It is with a specific purpose that genuine and well-trained professional journalists are admonished to leave out (the item) when in doubt. But with the June 12, 1993, election controversy, everybody grandstands as authority. In the process, innocent ones are maligned while opportunists are glorified as heroes. Discussing Nigerian politicians (or even the breed all over the world) must not be pedestrian. Otherwise, right will be conferred on the wrong and vice versa. The way of politicians? You need to see them in action.
Who is that fair Nigerian to name and list Lateef Kayode Jakande a villain? What for? Indeed, the June 12, 1993, election (has) turned out to be a colossal irony in which Bashorun MKO Abiola’s notorious political enemies seized the opportunity to turn their coats, claiming to be his champions or advocates. Classification of their heroes and villains of June 12, 1993, election by a section of the press was both amusing and irritating. It was amusing for exposing the naivety and ignorance on the events of those disturbing days and irritating for maligning the integrity of otherwise an innocent man of all times, ex-Lagos State governor Lateef Jakande. By the way, he was one of four undeservedly labelled as villains. Others were Bashorun Abiola’s running mate Babagana Kingibe, ex-Ogun State governor Segun Osoba and former Lagos State governor, Bola Tinubu.
To start with, for all the abuses poured on him, it must be conceded to late General Sani Abacha that he emerged such a military/political tactician who outwitted everybody – former President Ibrahim Babangida, MKO Abiola, Beko Ransome-Kuti, so-called pro-democracy groups, NADECO led by Chief Michael Ajasin and company. Abacha hypnotised the entire anti-June 12 election annulment group with a two-pronged concoction. He claimed (a) that he (Abacha), knew nothing about the annulment and that IBB all alone nullified the election. My boss MKO Abiola innocently and repeatedly said as much in statements and public pronouncements against the annulment in the first few weeks and months. Abacha’s second concoction with which he hypnotised NADECO and pro-democracy agitators was that, if allowed to take over, he would hand over to MKO Abiola as was done in Sierra Leone in 1967. Everybody, including MKO Abiola, latched on to that decoy. Pro-democracy groups intensified their agitation by openly calling on Abacha to rescue Nigeria by taking over. These calls repeatedly appeared in Nigerian newspapers and specifically in The PUNCH. Former Foreign Minister is a living witness.
With that background, should every critic of Jakande and Kingibe not have found out all events leading to the formation of Abacha’s (first) cabinet comprising, among others, top notchers of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), MKO Abiola’s party? Since Jakande and Kingibe have (now) been labelled villains for serving in that cabinet, we need to educate ourselves. Prior to Abacha’s takeover at the prompting of pro-democracy groups and SDP, the agreement was that ministers (even if only one third) would be nominated for him. Or how did it happen that SDP submitted list of ministers for Abacha? Even at that stage, nobody in the SDP and pro-democracy groups (Ajasin, Abraham Adesanya, Abiola, Jakande, Osoba, Kingibe, Tinubu, etc) could discern the political/electoral suicide of June 12 mandate inherent in the membership of SDP members in Abacha’s cabinet. Otherwise, ministers should not have been nominated at all for Abacha, even if he requested.
If there was ever a suit against General Abacha for reneging on the agreement to hand over to Abiola after sacking Sonekan’s ING, such suit would have failed on the ground that since the plaintiff helped Abacha to form a cabinet or submitted names of ministers, whatever agreement existing, to all intents and purposes, had lapsed. Furthermore, it was only after Abacha had firmly entrenched himself in power that stakeholders (Abiola, Chief Ajasin, NADECO and pro-democracy groups) were jolted to the fact of being taken for a ride all along by Abacha. Following the takeover by Abacha, the BBC Radio African service, in an interview, asked Beko Ransome-Kuti for his organisation’s view of the development, his response was that they were still studying the situation. Beko abandoned that study the moment he too realised that Abacha merely deceived them.
The question those labelling Jakande and strongly persuaded him for days and nights to join Abacha’s cabinet along with Kingibe? Both men never on their own abandoned MKO Abiola on June 12 for the lucre of ministerial appointment.
Jakande had been Lagos State governor, brought into and conferred on that office widely-acknowledged dignity, integrity and respect, unlike the modern-day reputation of governors all over Nigeria. Jakande was a president of International Press Institute, so far, the only Nigerian or indeed African to attain that status.
The idea of those who persuaded him to serve in Abacha’s cabinet was that “this is our government,” which Jakande’s sterling qualities were expected to go a long way in stabilising.
Within weeks, the same stakeholders who completely persuaded Jakande against his wish to join Abacha’s cabinet turned round and requested him to resign as a sign of their frustration with Abacha’s unwillingness to quit for SDP politicians. A man persuaded to join what was impressed on him as “our government”? a former president of International Press Institute to be pushed around?
The issue was not the ministerial appointment but an international figure to reduce himself to international ridicule?
Very serious consideration should have been given to the risk involved in pro-June 12 stakeholders rushing to serve in Abacha’s cabinet in the first place. In any case, at that stage, it was a question of discretion for SDP and NADECO ministers in Abacha’s government, whether to resign with all the attendant risks or save their necks by staying put, to be eased out eventually. The ministers rightly chose to remain and nobody could claim Jakande thereby loved Abiola less. In fact, throughout, Abiola never blamed Jakande, on what ground is the man being labelled a villain of June 12?
On the other hand, Abacha’s Attorney-General, Olu Onagoruwa, publicly repudiated a controversial decree and had to resign or was dismissed. Not long after, armed men invaded his house in Yaba, Lagos, and killed his lawyer son. If sighted during that operation, Olu Onagoruwa himself would have been murdered. In fact, after the murder of his son, Olu Onagoruwa deteriorated to a living “dead” for years until he passed on some years ago.
While still on labelling, heroes and villains of June 12, critics must face the challenge of going through the exchange of barbs between Abacha’s Attorney-General, Olu Onagoruwa, and his friend, Gani Fawehinmi, on the pages of GUARDIAN newspaper. The exchanges were on frustrations and desperation for the office of Attorney-General under General Abacha and who lost out. They were mutual friends but openly criticised themselves in exchanges, which will (still) go a long way in properly and fairly classifying heroes and villains of June 12.
Indisputably, some villains might have been correctly labelled but such could never be Lateef Jakande, Kingibe, Osoba and Tinubu. Also, many so-called heroes were mostly split personalities publicly pretending, claiming falsely to be opposed to the annulment of MKO’s emerging victory in the 1993, June 12, election. They also were demanding restoration of MKO Abiola’s election victory. But on visits to Aso Rock, purportedly to agitate on behalf of MKO Abiola, they in fact mostly supported the annulment on the ground that Bashorun Abiola had earlier in his life opposed and even blocked Obafemi Awolowo’s aspiration to rule Nigeria. They, therefore, supported Aso Rock to be firm on the annulment, which led to Abiola’s death in captivity. The point is not whether these double-faced fellows were right or wrong but their hypocrisy of being agitators for Abiola’s cause, a false claim which now falsely earns them the honour of being heroes of June 12.
They were mostly those who opposed MKO Abiola’s politics since the 70s and ranked anybody close to Abiola as enemies. The open enmity was extended to MKO Abiola’s aspirations for the 1993 elections. They emerged from nowhere to commandeer MKO’s June 12 crisis, not out of any good nature or forgiving spirit but only with the desperation of being on a winning side. In short, they merely joined the bandwagon of Bashorun Abiola’s emerging political fortune.
On the other hand, Jakande, Kingibe, Osoba and Tinubu were there with Bashorun Abiola from the beginning, strategising for the primary election campaigns for the nomination. The struggles were under the rain, sunshine, in the bush, land or on waters. Where were the so-called heroes of June 12 throughout that time? They never wished MKO Abiola well and never campaigned with and for him. Variously, they labelled him CIA agent on account of being the chief executive of ITT in Nigeria, Africa and Middle-East.
Kingibe also was there with him throughout the campaigns up to the election and Abacha’s assumption of power when he, Kingibe, too was persuaded to serve in Abacha’s cabinet.
Jakande is a respectable and respected grand old man with untainted long-standing personal integrity of service to the nation and humanity, not the least journalists. He single-handedly founded Nigerian Institute of Journalism. Perhaps, his fault was that he carried the misguided criticisms on the 1993 election alliance with Abacha with equanimity. But that is also a rare quality in leadership.
Post script: Ex-Senate President Bukanola Saraki took a swipe at National Broadcasting Commission to abide by court’s ruling, which re-opened the offices of Africa Independent Television. Correct. As much as Saraki also upheld court’s ruling nullifying suspension of Senators Melaye and Omo-Agege.