LAST week’s announcement by President Muhammadu Buhari that as from next year, June 12 will become Nigeria’s Democracy Day, instead of the misfit May 29, which our erstwhile military dictators foisted on us, struck like thunderbolt. Buhari also awarded the highest honour in the land usually reserved for the president, the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR), posthumously to MKO Abiola, the acclaimed winner of the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential election, while the second highest award, usually given to the vice-president, was awarded to his running-mate in that election, Alhaji Babagana Kingibe. The same GCON was also given posthumously to the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi for his dogged and untiring fight for democracy. It must be noted that Gani not only fought for democracy, he fought also against injustice of all kinds and was detained, brutalised, and eventually injected by the military with toxic substances that gave him the lung cancer that killed him.
Buhari’s announcement combined the elements of surprise and shock; in same way, it has received applause and condemnation. It was a potpourri of sorts; the type the Yoruba say farts in your mouth but puts honey as well. While the fart is disagreeable, the honey is sweet. Separating one from the other is tricky. But that is what we shall nonetheless attempt. In doing this, we must apply the caution of a man on whose scrotum perches a dangerous fly. Caution, discretion, wisdom, and painstaking diligence must be applied. Here, then, we go.
Firstly, we must not reject the Buhari recognition but accept it for two reasons. One: It is recognition well deserved. Abiola and Gani even deserve more and it should have come in their life-time. But, as they say, better late than never! Two: What supposedly more reasonable and worthy men failed or refused to do is what Buhari has now done. Buhari is the last person anyone would expect to do this and he is, perhaps, the most disagreeable person any conscionable Nigerian would want to receive such an award or recognition from at this point in time, especially considering the way he has misruled, mismanaged, divided, and polarised this country in the last three-and-half years. But, again, we must be careful not to throw the baby away with the bath water. We must extricate the baby (which, in this case, is the well-deserved recognition given by Buhari) before throwing away the bath water (which, in this case, is the self-serving, devious, and manipulative motive of Buhari). We must also be careful not to allow the bungled case of the renaming of the University of Lagos in honour of Abiola by former President Goodluck Jonathan to re-enact itself. We shall soon return to that.
It is three-and-half years since he came into power. Why did Buhari wait until his last few months in office before doing what he has now done? Why did he not do it when his popularity was soaring, especially in the South-West where Abiola and Gani hailed from? Why is he doing so after he has disappointed and badly treated the Yoruba and will most likely be ditched by the people in the 2019 election, which he has declared his intention to contest? The timing indicates that it was politically-motivated. It was meant to cut the ground from the feet of his erstwhile allies-turned-foes in the South-West to complement his desperate effort to seize the political structure from their control and now appeal above their heads directly to the people of the zone. So, the motive is not entirely altruistic but selfish and self-serving. Before now, who was MKO Abiola to Buhari? Abiola was perceived as foe by Buhari in that Abiola was alleged to have financed the Ibrahim Babangida/Sani Abacha coup that toppled Buhari. Abiola was in cahoots with IBB and Abacha et al. So, when Abiola’s election was annulled by the same IBB, it was “it serves you right” from Buhari. Throughout the Abacha reign of terror when Abiola was in detention and Buhari was the best friend of Abacha and his PTF chairman, what effort did he (Buhari) make to get Abiola off the hook? He made none and could never have made any. The unforgiving Buhari that we all know could not have shed a tear when Abiola died in detention.
Alright, men do change. Has Buhari changed, like he promised during the campaigns but which we have now found out to be fake? In the case of Abiola, has he truly changed to now perceive Abiola and the struggle for June 12 in a new light? Does he now regret that he did nothing to advance the cause of June 12 when he had the ears of Abacha? The facts prove the contrary. What is more plausible is that with this well-aimed masterstroke, Buhari is attempting to kill many birds with just one stone. It is a powerful uppercut masterfully delivered on IBB and his cohorts who annulled the June 12 election. Thank God Abacha is no more; otherwise, it would have been hard for Buhari to do what he has just done as Abacha was also not just as guilty as IBB in the annulment but also its chief beneficiary. With Abacha out of the way, the coast is clear for Buhari to land his deadly jab on IBB. Remember, IBB has parted ways with Buhari. Like Obasanjo, he, too, wrote a scathing, even if controversial, letter to Buhari not long ago, denouncing his rule and advising him to give way for a more competent and acceptable leader.
By recognising Abiola and June 12, Buhari also landed a vicious jab on ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo who, though same Egba man as Abiola, never wanted to hear anything said about the man who laid down his life for democracy. OBJ not only furiously rejected all approaches and suggestions for Abiola to be immortalised, he also rubbished June 12 at every turn and did his best to kill the Alliance for Democracy, the party that stoically kept the June 12 spirit alive. Thank God who gave Senator BolaTinubu, the then governor of Lagos State, the wisdom and courage to withstand OBJ, the ex-president’s intention was to obliterate the memory of Abiola and the June 12 tendency. So, the Buhari recognition of Abiola, June 12, and Gani is a direct and skilfully delivered shot aimed at OBJ’s pot-belly. It is also a killer-punch delivered on IBB’s Minna, Niger State hilltop neighbour and ex-military Head of State, Gen. (rtd.) Abdulsalami Abubakar and his May 29th Democracy Day celebration. Abubakar initiated May 29th as handover and Democracy Day in 1999.
It is an open secret that Tinubu, the engine room of Buhari’s election as president in 2015, has been un-hinged by the cabals surrounding the president. First, they wasted no time in discarding him from the inner sanctuary of power. While the Jagaban Borgu was still luxuriating in the euphoria of APC’s presidential victory, shuffling ideas on how he would exercise authority and influence, he was viciously cast down; rudely awakened to the reality that he would have no such platform. Now he knows he is an unwanted guest. States whose party machineries and political structures he once controlled have been wrested from his grip one after the other. He has lost Ondo, Ekiti, Ogun and now Oyo. Those he helped into positions have become Brutus whose cut is the unkindest of all the cuts Tinubu has received from the many traitors hollering for his head. Technically, Tinubu has even lost his base of Lagos and Osun will soon follow.
Buhari and his handlers are proving better politicians than Tinubu, the famed political tactician and master strategist. The options left now are for him to either accept defeat and quietly slip into political oblivion or quit APC and begin afresh the formation of a new political structure. In doing the latter, time is not on his side. He must start early if he is to make an appreciable impact in 2019 or align with other powerful forces to remain relevant. He must immediately come into the open, especially now that the battle has been taken frontally into his home base by Buhari with this Abiola/June 12 initiative. Will Tinubu be man enough to pick up the gauntlet, as they say? He has the examples of TY Danjuma, OBJ himself, the Senate President, Bukola Saraki; and Senators Dino Melaye and Shehu Sani to let him know what to expect once he steps out against Buhari. He will be roped in; they will take him up; he will be disparaged; they will open his cans of worms; and they may even pick him up and lock him up.
Tinubu used to be a fighter; it remains to be seen if he still has the stomach for a fight. Leaders ought to have the stomach for a fight; they must have fire in their belly, as they say. It is because Jonathan did not have the stomach for a fight that he capitulated severally and, then, finally, in 2015. They deceived him severally. They held his hand and prevented him from doing the needful. His advisers were his worst enemies; some of them deliberately misled him. Imagine the applause, goodwill, and support he would have received if he had given a posthumous award to Dr. Grace Adadevoh, the doctor/woman who sacrificed her life to prevent Ebola from spreading in Nigeria! But they told Jonathan the awards could not be given posthumously and he believed them. Today, the same national awards are not only being given posthumously but also politically. The law is made for man and not man for the law. The South always produced as president/vice-president weaklings and diabolical elements that cannot defend or promote its interests. No more! Never again!
Now back to awards! Kingibe does not deserve to share the same podium with Abiola. He deserted Abiola and traded away June 12. He, indeed, worked against the actualisation of the June 12 mandate in Abiola’s life-time. If he has honour and integrity, he will admit he does not deserve the award and ask to be excused – but we know he is a cabal in the Buhari administration. Otherwise, no conscionable person will consider Kingibe for this award. Here is a man who should forever bury his head in shame for his despicable role in June 12. But should Kingibe want recognition at all costs, he should die first – like Abiola and Gani have done – and await posthumous award.
I also disagree with the suggestion in some quarters that the INEC boss at that time, Prof. Humphrey Nwosu, deserves an award. He was lily-livered; otherwise, he would have completed the announcement of the results and damned the consequences. The result of the June 12 presidential election should now be officially released and announced. We want to know for posterity sake and record purposes. It should be gazetted and kept in the archives. Abiola should be officially declared and announced as president-elect. The salaries and perquisites accruable to that office for at least a term of four years should be paid to his family. The circumstances surrounding the death of Abiola and Gani should be investigated, the findings made public, and the culprits brought to book.
Finally, Buhari should move away from the cosmetic to the substantive need of this country, which is restructuring; he should stop chasing shadows and go after the substance. Abiola promised better life to the masses; the masses today are suffering like never before under Buhari. Gani fought against injustice and trampling of fundamental human rights; today, disobedience to court orders and trampling of fundamental human rights have become the order of the day under Buhari. Buhari is a travesty and mockery of what Abiola and Gani represented. His award is also a charade of what patriots of the June 12 struggle, known and unknown, fought, suffered, and died for. I can speak authoritatively because I was one of them and, by the grace of God, did not compromise. I was Editor of The PUNCH newspapers during the June 12 and we led the struggle. Buhari’s latter-day recognition of our struggle is sweet, coming, as it were, from a section of the country that accused us, the Yoruba, of “ethnic- cizing” the June 12 struggle. Or have you forgotten? But this recognition has only whetted our appetite; it has not satiated our desire for true federalism. Thus, restructuring is now our battle cry. Sadly, Buhari has voiced his opposition to restructuring. That being so, there is no way his measly June 12 gestures will gather the Southwest around him in 2019.
LAST WORD: Where is ex-Ondo State governor Olusegun Mimiko? The former chairman of the PDP Governors’ Forum appears ‘lost in transit’ from governor to ex-governor. He has been too quiet and evasive for comfort. Or was that part of his rumoured deal with the Presidency? And can someone please whisper into the ears of everyone in the corridors of power the Yoruba adage: “a se pamo l’o wa; a se’gbe o si”. What goes around comes around. It is turn by turn, according to Mamman Vatsa. It is Bukola Saraki, Dino Melaye, Shehe Sani etc today; it will be Magu, Ali, Dambazzau, Lai Mohammed, Malami tomorrow. That is real democracy in action!
- This article by Bolanle Bolawole, appeared originally in Nigerian Tribune.