- ‘How we mobilised Oyo State against Abacha’
Seye Ojo, Ibadan
It was joy galore for the victims of the Ibadan May Day riots a.k.a Prisoners of War (PoWs), when the Federal Government honoured Chief MKO Abiola, with the title of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR), exclusively reserved for President of Nigeria. Abiola was the acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election.
The PoWs, 41 in number, were arrested and detained after the riots that rocked Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, to the foundation on May 1, 1998. They included the late Chief Bola Ige, a former governor of the old Oyo State and former Minister of Power, and Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation; a retired secondary school principal, the late Alhaji Lam Adesina, who later became governor of the state from 1999 to 2003; fiery human rights activist, the late Comrade Ola Oni and the then Editor of Sunday Tribune, Femi Adeoti, who is currently Deputy Editor, Daily Sun.
The list also comprised Alhaji Lateef Akinsola, fondly called Tokyo, former state chairman, National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW); 70-year-old man, the late Pa Billy Akanji; managing director of a lithographic printing and publishing firm, Mr. Kehinde Adesina, and one of his employees, Segun Agbaje; and others.
In an encounter with one of the PoWs, in Ibadan, Adesina, he relived the experiences of the ex-detainees his involvement in the June 12 struggle, the May Dayviolent protest in Ibadan, the rally organised for the late Head of State, Gen Sani Abacha, by the late Aare Muslumi of Yorubaland, Alhaji Abdul-Azeez Arisekola Alao, and the late strongman of Ibadan politics, Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu, at the Adamadingba Stadium, Ibadan, on April 18,1998, which led to the saying: Alasalatu kin le wa de’bi.
“In 1993, we voted for Abiola of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), against Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC). Unfortunately, military administration of Gen Ibrahim Babangida annulled the election, leading to the ‘June 12 Struggle.’
The struggle was mostly in the South West of Nigeria. We believed that the annulment of the election was a deprivation of our rights. We believed Abiola won the election and we did not know why it was annulled.
“All the like minds in the struggle in the South West then, such as Chief Abraham Adesanya, Otunba Biyi Durojaiye, Ige, Lam Adesina, Chief Ayo Opadokun, Chief Adebayo Adefarati and Pa Reuben Fasoranti made up their minds to fight the then military junta to ensure that the South West was not deprived of its rights of producing the president of Nigeria. I have been with Lam since 1990. I used to go to him when he was operating a bookshop at Popoyemoja, Ibadan.
“I cannot but mention Comrade Ola Oni, because of his active roles in the struggle. He was not a politician, but an activist throughout his lifetime. His life was full of struggles against the atrocities committed by the military junta. He started his activism in 1964. I later met him and Pa Billy Akanji of blessed memory.
“Ola Oni had a group called Egbe Omo Oduduwa, formed to fight for the cause of the Yoruba. I was a member of the group and we used to hold our meetings at his No 6, Odeku Close, Bodija, Ibadan residence. But it was the Egbe Omo Oduduwa that later transformed to Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC). Dr. Frederick Fasheun and Otunba Gani Adams used to be members of Egbe Omo Oduduwa. Fasheun succeeded Ola Oni and Adams was then under Fasheun.
“But when rivalry came, the OPC was factionalised into two, with one supporting Fasheun, and the other supporting Adams, who is now the Aare Ona Kankanfo of Yorubaland. The Egbe Omo Oduduwa had the motive to defend the Yoruba interests. In the days of Abacha, he had his people that were military apologists among us in the South West. Those people were taking money from Abacha. It was the time Abacha wanted to become a civilian president.
“I wouldn’t know if you have heard of ‘Alasalatu kin lewa debi’? It happened on April 18,1998. It was the first attack by the people against the military junta at Adamasingba Stadium. The second one was the one that involved myself, Ola Oni, Lam, Ige, Adeoti, Tokyo and all together, we were 41.
“That was how Egbe Omo Oduduwa was formed to defend the interests of the Yoruba race. But there were some intruders among the Yoruba that made it difficult to defend the interests of the Yoruba because they used to go to Abacha to collect money so that they could convince the masses to support Abacha. But the masses revolted against them.
“I think it is time to confess about my involvement in the June 12 struggle. Ola Oni used to educate us that we should go to our people not to allow the military or the military apologists among us to hijack the cause of the Yoruba. Then, those collecting money from Abacha would gather elderly people, women and those that did not have means of livelihood and would give them N200, N300 and N500, for them to support Abacha.
“Instead, Ola Oni and his co-activists, including Lam Adesina, would tell us to go to our communities and let our people know what would happen to them if they took the money. I used to organise and tell the people the implications of collecting money from the military apologists. But I did it silently. It was imperative to do that in silence because Abacha kept a killer squad then to eliminate people they found anywhere, holding a meeting against him.
With the little knowledge I had, I would do write-ups and print flyers to sensitise people against supporting Abacha. I had a printing press then.
“The day I was arrested, I did not know how my name got to the list of Arisekola. It happened on Monday May 4, 1998. In the morning of that day, I was in my office at Oke-Ado, Ibadan, with one of the people working in my printing press, Segun Agbaje.
“I saw one Maxima car being driven round the premises of the building where my office was located. It did not occur to me that they were looking for me. The car was later parked at a filling station, now Oando, but I can’t remember the name it bore then. The filling station is at junction of College Crescent.
“One of the occupants of the car came down to the building and asked for me. The people he asked also sought to know why he wanted to see me. He said he wanted to give me a printing job. When the people checked the work, they knew it was not the type of job that I do. Then, they told him my whereabouts outside the building.
“He came to me and said: ‘Are you Mr. Adesina?’ and I said: ‘Yes.’ He said he wanted to give me job. Then, we went into the office. When we got to the office, he brought out a gun, saying: ‘You are under arrest.’ I know the name of the man that came to arrest me. He is Isaac Daramola. He’s a policeman, but he was in mufti on that day. I submitted myself.
“As he was leading me into their car outside, he shot into the air. The gunshot drew attention of Chief Akin Olujinmi (SAN), who was upstairs. He’s the one that saved my life. He came down and asked for what happened and he was told that the police came to arrest me.
“I entered the car together with Agbaje and we faced Oke-Ado Market, going through Oke-Bola, taking us to Iyaganku Police Station. They could do anything to us on the road. But all thanks to Olujinmi because he sent one of the lawyers in his law firm, Kunle Sobaloju, to follow us with his car to know where we were being taken.
“It was in detention at the State Criminal Investigation Department (SCID), Iyaganku, that I met Lam Adesina and Uncle Femi Adeoti. Adeoti was the Editor of Sunday Tribune. The reported a detailed story on the protest led by Ola Oni at Agodi Gate, Ibadan. The story was headlined; Genesis of Ibadan bloodbath: The untold story. It was a product of investigative journalism. The protest was staged on Friday and Sunday Tribune reported it two days after. Yet, Adeoti was arrested because he was the editor.
“That was how we started the journey. We were kept at Iyaganku for 13 days. Thereafter, we were charged to the Magistrate Court, Iyaganku. Uncle Bola Ige was transferred to Markudi, Benue State.
They charged us for arson and rioting, which should go to the High Court knowing that a magistrate court did not have jurisdiction on the matter. The Chief Magistrate was Waheed Olaifa. But we must thank Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN) for the role he played. He gave us lawyers to handle the case, apart from our own lawyers. After several adjournments, our lawyer argued
that instead of keeping us in police detention, we should be remanded in Agodi Prisons, Ibadan. Ola Oni often encouraged us that we would come out alive.
“There was this 70-year-old man, Pa Billy Akanji, in detention with us. I think the old man offended Adedibu, who was a friend of Abacha together with Arisekola. They duo would see anyone not in their group as an enemy of Abacha. I think Tokyo offended either Adedibu or Arisekola, that was why his name was mentioned.
“We were still in the prison when we heard of Abacha’s death in 1998. Before his death, Fawehinmi told the lawyer he sent to file a motion for our bail at the High Court that has the jurisdiction to entertain the case of arson and rioting.
“There in the prison, the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and Nigerian Tribune fought for the release of Adeoti. Later, NURTW went to court to fight for the release of Tokyo. On June 15, 1998, our lawyers were to apply for my bail, the bail of Agbaje and Lam Adesina. Unfortunately, my lawyer could not make it. They released Agbaje and Lam. I was released two days after.
“What is painful is that those that did not support the democratic system of government are the ones in the system today. I don’t understand why June 12 would be mentioned and “Prisoners of War” would not be mentioned. It was the then Military Administrator of Oyo State, Col Ahmed Usman, who said we would be treated as prisoners of war. He believed we were fighting the government.”
Life in Agodi prisons
“When we were in detention at SCID, Iyaganku, the police often took us to the court in an open roof lorry. There were long benches in the lorry. The police would force us to lie down under the benches, including Lam, Tokyo, Pa Akanji, Adeoti and myself.
“The mobile policemen would sit on the benches and rest their booths on our bodies. They would raise the legs and marched us with their booths and the lorry would be driven recklessly till we would get to the magistrate court, Iyaganku. It was sad experiences.
“When we were transferred to Agodi Prisons, then the prison officials would take us to and from the court in Black Maria. We were not given any preferential treatment in court. They would take us to the court before 9am and after the proceedings, we would be kept in the court cell till 4pm after which we would be returned to the prison.
In the prison, we were put in the same cell with hardened criminals; the 41 of us, including one lady, her name should be Jaiyeola. But we were able to live peacefully with the hardened criminals because we did
not argue with them and we gave them due respect. The armed robbers, murderers and other criminals we met in the prison were also nice to us because they knew we were victims of circumstances.
“On court days, we would either be leg-chained or hand-chained. We had option to choose the one we preferred. Some of us would at times be leg-chained and hand-chained together to the court.
Prison is a place where discipline is in operation. You cannot do whatever you like in prison. There is time for talking, there is time for eating, there is time for bathing and there is time for sleeping. If it is not time for you to talk and you talk, you will be punished by the leader in that cell, who is also an inmate.
“In every cell, there is a chief justice and a president there. At a time, I was in Cell G2. Adeoti, Lam, Ola Oni and Pa Akanji were also kept in different cells, and at times, they were kept in the same cell.
How was he interviewed when he got to his prison cell? Adesina responded: “The people that already knew us or our names were the majority of the inmates we met in the prison. Of course, they knew Alhaji Tokyo, Alhaji Lam Adesina, Comrade Ola Oni, and a number of us. The inmates already knew that 41 persons fighting government were coming to join them before we got there. They accepted us and we complied with their rules.”
Adesina confessed participating in the riot: “I took part in the protest but I was not arrested on that day. The protesters carried placards with abusive inscriptions against Abacha, and they made bonfire on the road. The leader of the riot, Ola Oni, was arrested by the police during the protest. Some of the inscriptions on the placards were ‘Abacha must go’ ‘Abacha is a thief’ and so on.”
How did he feel on the day he was released from the prison? He explained: “The other inmates already knew we would be released because they told us times that the 41 of us only came to look at the caps of the warders.
“We appreciate God for allowing Abacha to die, otherwise we would have stated longer in the prison. On the day I was released, it was Lam that brought my bail papers. Then, younger brother to Chief Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN), now Ondo State Governor, Kola, brought his car to pick me.
“Our case files were sent to the Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP). When legal advices came, Adeoti, Pa Akanji, myself, Lam, Tokyo, Agbaje, and some others had no case to answer, and that was the end of the cases. But Ola Oni was not released because legal advice said he had a case to answer.”
What kind of recognition from the government would he suggest for the 41 PoWs by the Federal Government? He answered: “We are happy that government recognised and honoured Abiola. But June 12 is not about Abiola alone. The June 12 is for the whole of Nigerians that voted for him massively. It was a decision made by Nigerians, and Nigeria is bigger than anyone, no matter who you are and the position you have attained.
“The situation in the country is not what we fought for. All we need is good governance. If the government wants to honour the ‘prisoners of war’ we would be happy for it.”