Interviews

NIGERIA: June 12, an Unforgettable Injustice

 Last Wednesday marked the 20th anniversary of the great day called June 12 in the political history of Nigeria. For twenty years, all the laudable talks, beautiful adjectives and anecdotes have been used lavishly to describe that exercise. It was a day of liberation. A liberation that never was in the true sense.

Despite his furtive attempt to defend his action in annulling the June 12 presidential election over the years, the burden of guilt still lays heavily on former military president, Gen Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida. It is a cross he will have to bear till breathes last, especially as his name and memory collocate with that great and grave injustice.

It was a day laden with ironies. The June 12 election was supposed to be during the rains. But meteorologists confirmed that all over Nigeria, there was no rain anywhere on that day.  I had looked forward to the day with so much excitement. The sun shone with its own excited blaze. I had covered the Hope 93 Campaign Organisation from the very start. I had traveled with the late MKO on many of the campaign tours, I had reckoned that the volume of reception he got across the country was indeed overwhelming, especially when compared with the pilfered crowd of his counterpart, Alhaji Bashir Tofa, the presidential candidate of the National Republican Convention (NRC). Abiola’s philanthropy, business background, academic background and indeed, his many women, character, etc had all combined to work in his favour. He could connect with every part of the country with homely familiarity. Even his message was enchanting and inspiring. Everything, but the establishment worked in his favour.

His chief strategist, Dr Jonathan Silas Zwingina left nothing to chance. His (MKO’s) sheaves were really upright. Nigerians were not only tired of military rule, the Abiola candidacy chimed well with many of them. There was a bright hope of a new dawn.  A dawn that never broke.

The sign that it will be a frustrated dawn emerged soon as Abiola and his late wife, Kudirat cast their votes. The then National Chairman of the NRC, Chief Tom Ikimi began to make a heavy weather out of the fact that Abiola wore a green agbada on which was emblazoned the imprint of a horse, the emblem of his party, the Social Democratic Party (SDP); seeking to suggest that Abiola was, in a way, continuing his campaign, after campaigns had officially ended. He was already stoking the fire of that issue as the initial results were trickling in. We have always had bad losers amongst us. And it resonates well with the recent Nigerian Governors’Forum election, which was won by Governor Rotimi Amaechi, but because he was not the one they (establishment) wanted to win, they began to (as they say in Warri) “draw rain”. A needless rain! They started looking for excuses and after-thought arguments to discredit the election, just as IBB and his cohorts began to shop for excuses to justify why MKO could not be declared. IBB, like Akpabio and co wanted to abort a baby that had been born.  From the time of Ikimi to the time of Akpabio, we have always had bad losers.

I remember that the National Publicity Secretary of the NRC at the time, Dr Doyin Okupe, (now President Jonathan’s ‘attack dog’) was so angry with the argument of Ikimi so much that he (Okupe) chose to resign from office. Those were days of righteous principles. Not anymore, it seems.
By the end of the first week, when Babangida announced the annulment of the election, the entire result had been known and it was clear MKO won the election landslide.  The latter swore to fight the annulment, and vowed to keep a date with history. He did.

It was such a funny act. A man is made to go through the rigours of an election. He wins and then he is chased out of town. And when he eventually returns, he is thrown into the prison, for daring to proclaim his victory by declaring himself the President. I remember that night, at Epetedo, Lagos, when Abiola was smuggled into the arena by the likes of Wahab Dosunmu (who just died) and Chief Ralph Obioha (whose clothes were torn by the surging crowd). Not even the rain that night deterred the people from listening to the declaration. It was such an awesome night.

At the end of the day, not only was Abiola denied his deserved presidency, he was killed or made to die whilst still in government custody. Before he died, he had become government’s enemy number one! His businesses had been crippled by the establishment. I remember how government agencies or ministries began to treat National Concord Newspaper like a leper. Nobody advertised therein anymore. They were not to even buy or read the paper. Gradually but steadily, the establishment snuffed life out of the paper… all to crush MKO, even after he had obviously fallen. It was an injustice that cries to the heavens. It is unforgettable.

Twenty years after, June 12 refuses to fade away. It refuses to be forgotten. It refuses to be dismissed. It has come to represent more than a metaphor for national deliverance and redemption. It has since become a recommended manual of an electoral model. But how much guide have we got from this manual!

NAMA as the Establishment’s Hammer?

Once it was the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), under former President Olusegun Obasanjo, that was manifestly used to haunt perceived enemies of the presidency. Today, the agency in charge of that brief seems to be the National Airspace Management Authority (NAMA). Between April ánd now, the hitherto quiet agency has been in the news, somewhat for the wrong reasons. The aviation agency has been doing lots of explanation to justify many of its actions which are generally perceived to be driven by political considerations.

It started with Gov Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State in Akure, in April. A plane which had been flying for over seven months in the country was suddenly said to have expired permit, incomplete documentation etc. First, they said the pilot failed to file manifest. Then, the plane got grounded, as NAMA fitfully shopped for classified excuses for its actions. All these came just when the spat between the President and Amaechi broke open. Informed sources say Gov Godswill Akpabio’s plane which had the same documentation process with Amaechi’s, has remained spared by the new Aviation Policies.

Then penultimate Friday, the newspapers had published a report where Dr Sam Ogbemudia granted an interview where he said the Peoples Democratic leadership in Edo State had gone begging Gov Adams Oshiomhole to join the party, but that the latter refused. It was supposed to counter the claim by Olisa Metuh, the PDP spokesman that Oshiomhole had lobbied to be allowed to join the PDP. Ogbemudia’s interview not only cleared the fog, it belied the claim of the PDP. Then the very next day, Oshiomhole’s chartered helicopter which had been allowed to take off from the Benin airport was recalled mid-air and eventually grounded by NAMA, again, on the excuse that the manifest was not filed. If that be true, why was the chopper allowed to take off the first time?

And while the dust from that was yet to settle, NAMA again, last Wednesday diverted the chartered plane carrying the Sokoto State Governor, Aliyu Wamakko (who was recently suspended by the PDP and so a perceived enemy of the power mavens) and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, whom it seems had been in the bad books of the party’s hawks, from landing in Sokoto, to Kaduna. NAMA said the crowd at the Sokoto airport to welcome the suspended governor was “unruly”. So to avert the attendant risk, the plane had to be diverted to Kaduna. Some think is is punishment.
It is difficult to string all of these as mere coincidences. From Amaechi to Oshiomhole, to Wamakko, all perceived enemies of the presidency, who will be the next on NAMA’s anvil?

Would You Burn the Corpse of your Loved One?

Did you hear that they are about turning our state to Mumbai?
Mumbai? Where is that? And who wants to turn our dear Lagos to Mumbai?
You don’t know that popular city in India called Mumbai? Don’t you know how they treat their dead?
Yes, I know. How does that connect us in Lagos?
Did you not hear that there is a new law in Lagos that says dead people will now be burnt to ashes and packed into a bottle? Didn’t you hear this sacrilege? Can you imagine!

What is sacrilegious about burning the dead? Are we more human than those who do it in India? Look, you don’t have to be sentimental about it. It is part of the dynamism of society. A responsible leader has to be proactive and visionary.
You can blow all the grammar you like. But I can tell you it is one law that will be Brought-in-Dead. How can we consciously burn the bodies of our beloved ones?

You don’t seem to understand the underpinning of the new law. When last did you visit any of the public or private cemeteries in Lagos? Can’t you see that even the dead are also having acute accommodation problem? Can you imagine where the dead will be buried in the next ten years in Lagos? Can’t you see the cemeteries are full and over-flowing? Even the private vaults would soon run out of space. In fact, some ancient corpses are being removed to accommodate new ones in the cemeteries. So can’t you understand the essence of the new law is to spare the next generation the trouble of finding space for the dead?
Really? Ok. Let me ask you: would you burn the corpse of your mother or father, just because Ikoyi or Atan cemeteries are full? Would you? Answer me!

Yes, I can. Stop being sentimental on this matter. It is a reality we have to face someday. In any case, of what use is a corpse? Do you ever go back to maintain a corpse after it’s been buried? If it is the memory you need, the ashes in the urn is a good symbol of your beloved one; something you can relate to and feel. It is different from a corpse dug in somewhere far away, sometimes never visited again by the so-called children or family members.

Do you realize it is against our culture? Burn a corpse? Is that the kind of development we are looking for? Is that how American or Britons treat their dead? If corpses are to be burnt, then of what use are tombs and mausoleums?
You are reasoning in analogue way.  The world is going digital. I think the Lagos state government should be commended for thinking ahead of the age.

In any case, the law is not binding. It is voluntary. Those who want to do it are allowed by law. But it is not compulsory. But trust me, it is the way to go.
Ok, when next your uncle or auntie dies, please go to Mushin, buy plenty of firewood and set them ablaze, gather the ashes into empty ragolis can and take it home.

Look, you sound so made up on your thoughts and beliefs. Thank God your opinion on this matter does not count. The law has been signed by Governor Babatunde Fashola. And there is nothing you can do about it.
Hmmmm, you can sign all the laws you want, it is one thing to sign them, it is quite another to implement them. After all, the hullaballoo that trailed the Lagos Traffic laws has settled down now. Have you not been seeing Okada men on Oshodi-Apapa-express way?  Or are landlords not still charging new tenants two and even three year’s rent? Please leave me alone with Lagos laws jare. We know how it all goes.

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