June 12, watershed of Nigeria’s democracy, say Atiku, Kokori
• Family wants Abiola declared slain president
• Low-key celebration in Abeokuta
It may well be the lowest-key celebration of the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential election widely believed to have been won by Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola . The watershed event was not marked yesterday with the fanfare that had come to characterise it for the past 23 years.
But that did not stop the eulogies from the family, and eminent Nigerians including former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, erstwhile secretary- general, National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and member, board of trustees of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Frank Kokori.
In the late Abiola’s hometown, Abeokuta, Ogun State, the only event to remember the day was about a two- kilometre trek organised by the state government from the June 12 Cultural Centre to the late Abiola’s family house at Gbagura, Abeokuta.
Kokori has insisted that June 12 should be the nation’s Democracy Day instead of May 29.
Atiku yesterday described June 12 as “a shining light, a reminder of what is possible — a united Nigeria.”
Those who participated in the trek, led by the Deputy Governor of Ogun State Mrs. Yetunde Onanuga were officials of civil society organisations including the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Plank Sellers Associations and Motorcyclist Associations .
Participants who had gathered at Abiola’s family house for about an hour for Muslim prayers listened as the deputy governor told the audience that the event was put together to honour Abiola whom she described as a leader and hero of Nigeria’s Democracy.
Her words: “Abiola is our hero, son and leader. We all cherish him, not only in Ogun State but all over Nigeria. We will continue to remember him for his sacrifice for the country”.
A brother to the late Abiola, Alhaji Murtitala Abiola , who spoke to journalists regretted that 23 years after his brother’s death, poverty had increased dramatically.
His words: “Poverty in the country is about 90 per cent. I believe if MKO had been allowed to become the president Nigeria would have become Kuwait by now.”
Making a veiled reference to the performance of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government, he said: “ May God help us with the change; maybe there is going to be change but as at now, things are not easy , not only for the Abiola family but the whole country.” Asked if he would like the Federal Government to declare June 12 of every year Democracy Day, he replied: “Yes, even more than that, the first thing the family wants is that, for example Ken Saro Wiwa died over Ogoni oil spill and they are cleaning up Ogoni now.
“So also, since MKO was killed because of election he won, he should be posthumously declared winner of the election.
Maybe it is you journalists or the Nigerian government that call him ‘acclaimed winner’. He is not ‘acclaimed winner.’ They should confirm him as slain president of Nigeria.”
He added: “After all somebody headed an Interim Government for six months and he is still enjoying presidential privileges.
“So MKO should be declared president although slain.”
In an exclusive interview with The Guardian, Kokori also expressed serious concern over the way previous governments handled the June 12 issue.
“June 12 is just a symbolic name for the struggle for democracy and freedom in the country after the military had held sway uninterrupted in the country for 20 to 30 years of our country. So, June 12 was to tell the military that enough was enough; go back to the barracks, especially as an election had been held and someone had won the election. So, we went through that battle and those of us who were the arrowheads of that struggle suffered some deprivation, some paid the supreme sacrifice. I was actually the arrowhead of the struggle because I used the powerful oil unions to fight the military. And at that time it was the only alternative because we don’t have a stock of freedom fighters in this country like the African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa.
“What Nigeria had were just student union people, radical press, civil society groups. There was nothing like a crop of freedom fighters, and NUPENG and the oil unions played that role at that time. When I was going through all these deprivations in my lonely cell at Bama prisons I would say thank God that after this time Nigeria would have been liberated from the military; you just can’t lock me up for four years without taking me to court and disregarding habeas corpus.
“Pope John Paul of blessed memory came here. My name was the second person on his list, M.K.O. Abiola was number one and there were names like Obasanjo and others.
“Mandela came with the same list, but Abacha treated them with contempt; he never released anybody.
“ So June 12 is a watershed and it remains forever. June 12 was supposed to be Democracy Day but for the selfishness of somebody who does not want any other Yoruba man to rise more than him. He treated June 12 with disdain and he never one day commended people like Abiola and those of us who fought for the enthronement of democracy in this country”, he said.
On his part, Atiku said: “On June12, 1993, Nigeria was united in one cause, to defeat tyranny through democracy. We all believed. After 23 years, June12 still remains a shining light, a reminder of what is possible – a united Nigeria. The integrity of the June12 electoral process also shows that we Nigerians can achieve great things, if we are united.
“For many of us who worked with Chief M.K.O. Abiola, his death was painful, but it paved the way for enduring democracy. Our democracy today, is M.K.O. Abiola’s legacy. But we must grow beyond just democracy – our country must work. We must reform our country – restructure our federation for peace, growth and prosperity. We must also fix our political system. We must embrace reforms, and base our democracy on equity and good governance, which helps every Nigerian feel safe and secure. June12 was a victory for Nigeria. It was because we knew we could be better. We can actually achieve that dream if we all work together.”