Nineteen years after the death of the acclaimed winner of June 12, 1993 election, Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, the defunct National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) has revealed how he escaped the security cordon of the then Head of State, the late General Sani Abacha, to declare himself president on June 11, 1994.
NADECO was formed by some politicians and rights activists to campaign for the actualisation of the presidential mandate believed to have been given to the late Abiola before the then military President Ibrahim Babangida annulled the election, setting off a chain of reactions that eventually culminated in the return of democracy in 1999 after Abacha’s death.
Speaking Tuesday during the 19th year anniversary colloquium organised to commemorate the historic declaration at Epetedo, Lagos, NADECO Secretary, Chief Ayo Opadokun, said while security operatives were expecting the declaration to coincide with the first anniversary of the June 12 annulment, Abiola carried out the action a day earlier.
In commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the annulled election Wednesday, some states in the South-west, including Lagos, Osun and Ogun have declared the day a public holiday.
According to Opadokun, the decision to do the declaration a day earlier was at the instance of some of the late Abiola’s supporters who prevailed on the late Archbishop of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), Bishop Abiodun Adetiloye, to advise the deceased not to do the declaration on a Sunday.
He said: “Abiola wanted to make the declaration on June 12, 1994 but it was a Sunday; so some of us said since it was on a Sunday, Christians who were his supporters would not turn out so we devised a method to dissuade him.”
Aside the possibility of the late Abiola’s Christian supporters not attending the event, Opadokun added that the deceased and NADECO were aware that the Abacha government had put in place watertight security in Lagos State to prevent such a declaration.
“We were aware that the government had got wind of our programme, so we contacted the late Anglican archbishop who wrote a letter of appeal to Abiola to drop the move on Sunday. When Abiola got it, he respected the wish of the bishop and he shelved the idea,” Opadokun explained.
However, the group sold a dummy by announcing that the declaration would be on Monday, June 13, a move that relaxed the security on ground and which made the declaration possible.
NADECO Chairman, Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu (rtd), however seized the occasion to urge Nigerians to remain steadfast in making positive changes possible in the country.
He encouraged the people to take advantage of democratic institutions to actualise changes in the nation’s body polity.
He eulogised the late Abiola for taking “heroic step” to declare himself winner of the election.
He said by so doing, he took the matter to the people whom he said were the custodians of sovereignty.
He explained that the significance of the Epetedo gathering was to “examine how the unfinished task could be advanced and finished within a peaceful rather than the prevailing increasing non-peaceful advancements”.
Also Tuesday, Oyo State Governor, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, described the June 12, 1993 presidential election as a watershed in the annals of the country, saying that the supreme price paid by the late Abiola can never be forgotten.
Ajimobi, in a statement in Ibadan, by his Special Adviser on Media, Dr. Festus Adedayo, expressed regrets that 20 years after the election adjudged to be the freest and fairest in the history of Nigeria, the ideals, which the late Abiola stood for, were yet to be realised.
While describing the late politician and business mogul as a symbol of democracy, he praised him for his strong conviction that ordinary Nigerians must be freed from the shackles of oppression, poverty, penury and squalor.
“It was this conviction that the masses of this country should be freed from their oppressors and that the destiny of the whole nation should not be held to ransom by a cabal that propelled him to stand by his mandate and to defend it to the last.
“The democracy that we all are enjoying now was made possible by the likes of Chief Abiola, Chief Abraham Adesanya, Chief Anthony Enahoro, Rear Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Senator Bola Tinubu and others too numerous to mention.
“This is why we must not allow any circumstance to wipe out the memory of June 12, the day that Nigerians, irrespective of their ethnic affiliations, decided to take their destinies in their own hands and vote for a man of the masses,” he said.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary Wednesday, the Osun State Government has declared the day a public holiday.
The state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Hon. Sunday Akere, in a statement in Osogbo Tuesday, said Governor Rauf Aregbesola had approved the public holiday as a mark of honour for late Abiola.
He said the state government, in conjunction with civil society groups, had organised various programmes in honour of the late Abiola.
Part of the activities to mark the day is a symposium at which Second Republic Kaduna State Governor, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, and other human rights activists would speak.
Meanwhile, the state chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has kicked against the plan by the state government to name the proposed airport in Ido-Osun after the late Abiola, saying the project is a federal government one, which was awarded during the administration of former Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola.
The state chairman of the party, Alhaji Ganiyu Olaoluwa, warned Aregbesola not to drag the name of the late Abiola into controversy by naming a federal government project after him.