Last Wednesday’s inaugural celebration of June 12 as Nigeria’s Democracy Day has triggered enormous emotions and accolades from those at home and in the Diaspora.
However, not much mention was accorded to the unsung heroes like the trio of Abiodun Mustapha, Akinola Orishagbemi and Toyin Okanlawon.
They are the few victims of the June 12 struggle that survived to tell their harrowing stories. They came face to face with death when they protested against military rule and the aborted mandate of the late Moshood Abiola. The soldiers and police at that time were given the marching order to smash any dissenting voice raised against the ruling junta. Hence protesters were shot at, thoroughly beaten, tortured and roughened. Many were killed, and many more where severely injured.
And till today, many of these victims have become permanently deformed, while some still nurse scars of injuries they sustained at various protest venues after over two decades.
Mustapha lost his right leg after he was shot at close range by soldiers during a protest with the likes of the late Gani Fawehinmi. Orishagbemi – a personal assistant to the late Kudirat Abiola survived by the skin of the teeth after 16 bullets lodged in his back while protesting the arraignment of MKO Abiola at the court in Abuja. He is still mentally and psychological haunted by that experience. Also, Okanlawon was shot in the leg when he joined the students’ protests at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. And according to him, he still feels excruciating pains and has been going in and out of different surgeries on the leg.
According to them, they have no regret risking their lives in the fight for justice, and to enthrone democracy. They said that they see their scars and deformity as badges of loyalty and love for their country. However, they are appalled at those that reduced June 12 to a Yoruba ethnic project.
In a chat with Sunday Sun, they told their stories and also expressed deep sadness over comments by critics who say that June 12 should not be made a national issue.
‘It’s painful some people still view June 12 struggle as Yoruba ethnic project’ –Okanlawon
Comrade Toyin Okanlawon was also shot in the leg when he led students to protest at OAU, Ile-Ife in 1998. And till today he is still in pains as he has had over 12 surgeries on his leg to ensure it does not get infected, and lead to amputation.
“On July 1998 when news of MKO Abiola’s death hit the streets, the students union held a peaceful rally to honour the late Chief MKO Abiola. But heavily armed mobile policemen were unleashed on us. They shot us and I was hit on the leg. After I was shot, I was picked up by the policemen who drove me to Moore Area Command at Ile-Ife.
And there I was detained, brutalized and bestialized.
I was tortured for more than six hours and was left to die before students finally saw me and rushed me to the Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital Complex (OAUTHC). Since after I have been nursing the pains and have had over 12 major surgeries to keep the leg from deteriorating.
“I don’t regret the pains and sacrifice we went through to enthroned democracy.
But I feel pain because of those who believe the notions that June 12 is a Yoruba ethnic project, hence shouldn’t be given national recognition. People that say that are myopic and are the enemies of Nigeria’s unity. I tag them as ‘Boko Haram of democracy.’ During the June 1993 presidential election, all tribes voted for MKO Abiola; so why is it now a Yoruba ethnic group project? When the election was annulled and MKO later died in prison, all tribes were shocked. There were nationwide protests against the military that annulled the most credible, freest and fairest election in the history of Nigeria,” he said.
‘Army, police shot to kill us after tagging us coup plotters’ –Orishagbemi
Comrade Orishagbemi was one of the PAs of the late Kudirat Abiola, wife of Chief MKO Abiola. According to the Ekiti State indigene, he became her PA and joined Abiola’s household at the thick of the 1993 elections. Hence, he was galled by the injustice, oppression, and intimidation meted out on them after the June 1993 election was cancelled.
“I was in my 20s when I joined NADECO, and I was the youngest in the group back then. Our struggle started in 1994 when we went out to call for the declaration of Chief MKO as the president of Nigeria. The military came down on us and arrested MKO soon after his declaration at Epetedo. We kept on protesting even we knew soldiers would come for us, but we cared less.
The army accused us of trying to overthrow the government, but we told them that we are only fighting for our stolen mandate. They labelled MKO a coup plotter and then moved him to Abuja. We continued to protest insisting that the government should move the case back to Lagos. And I was arrested severally.
“On July 14, 1994, at the courts I was shot at, 16 pellets were lodged in my back. I was taken to a hospital at Abuja and I was there for four weeks after which I was moved to another hospital in Lagos where I stayed for over five months. I really thank God that I’m alive today.
“Many wanted to erase that incident from our psyche, but we thank God for men like Bola Tinubu, Rauf Aregbesola and President Muhammadu Buhari that have ensured that June 12 was accorded national recognition,” Orishagbemi said.
‘We’ve turned from victims of June 12 to victims of democracy’ – Mustapha
Comrade Mustapha who also is known as ‘June 12’ in his community said that his interest in human rights activism was sparked after he met the late Dr Beko Ransome Kuti.
According to Mustapha, he was a fledging tailor until Dr Kuti who was his client, spurred him into joining in protests against military rule and for a better Nigeria.
“I used to make clothes for Dr Beko Ransom Kuti, he was the one that brought me into human rights activism. He used to take me to the NADECO meetings back then. I lost my leg during a rally we held after the annulment of the June 12 election.
“It happened precisely on July 6, 1993. I was involved in a peaceful protest with the likes of Dr Joe Odumakin, the late Gani Fawehinmi, Chief Femi Falana, and others. We marched from Chief MKO Abiola’s house to Onipanu through the National Stadium to Alaka. We had just left Festac House when soldiers waylaid us and started shooting at us at close range. Many people were killed. And I was hit on my right leg. I almost bled to death, but Dr Beko was quick to save me. He put a call to General Diya who sent his men to rescue me. I and about six others were rushed to the General Hospital in Island.
I was there for two days till the hospital officials advised me to escape because they got a wind that soldiers would be raiding their hospitals to capture and finish us up. The hospital staff left us in our wards, locked the hospital and ran for their lives.
I managed to drag myself out of my bed and hid quietly in a dark corner inside the ward. Those that were too weak to escape were shot dead by the soldiers.
I laid quietly, enduring the agonizing pains I felt in my leg, till I was able to establish contact with my family in Ilorin. They then came and took me to the University Teaching Hospital, Ilorin. My leg was amputated because there was nothing else the doctors could do. They said the bullet wound had become infected because it was left for days without proper medical attention.
“Tagging the June 12 struggle a ‘Yoruba thing’ is very unfortunate and most uncharitable, especially to us that bled and to those that lost their lives.
It wasn’t only Yorubas that were killed during the protests. It is sad at how we’re being treated after the sacrifice we made to enthrone democracy in Nigeria. We deserve better treatment because we’re no longer just victims of June 12, we’re actually victims of present Nigeria’s democracy,” he said.