Abiola: Another anniversary
By Gbenga Omotoso
ELEVEN years after, they just won’t stop talking about him. His strong character, his vision, his wealth and, of course, his women.
The other day, it was a colleague who remembered when he was on a flight with him. He recalled how the exceptional businessman brought out his wallet from his pocket and flashed a photograph of a woman. He smiled, shook his head in excitement and said huskily: “ Every woman wants to be Mrs Abiola; they know it’s a good investment.” The late Chief Moshood Kasimawo Olawale Abiola was referring, according to the journalist returning with him from a soccer match somewhere in East Africa, to a Kenyan professor who fell in love with the accomplished philanthropist.
Abiola’s story is an open copy. He had .a good run. From an unknown drummer boy to a star accountant, frontline businessman, newspaper publisher and a great politician who taught the military a lesson in how to respect the people’s will. He died fighting to reclaim the mandate he was freely given by Nigerians on June 12, 1993. In fact, here lies the paradox of his life; that in dying, he keeps living — in the hearts of all lovers of democracy. It was another anniversary of his July 7, 1998 death on Tuesday.
It is yet another opportunity to recall the essence of the late Abiola. If he had been accessible, MKO, as he is fondly called by his large army of admirers, would surely have loved an update on the political landscape. Ever so vivacious, the late Abiola would always enliven a discussion. But what will MKO say about the polity – if the dead could talk? Let’s just imagine one of his numerous calls to the Concord newsroom. Here we go:
Hello… this is MKO. How’re you?
Ah! Fine; thank you sir (the reporter is shocked).
Good. I trust all is well with you. What’s going on in town?
It’s the anniversary of your passing on sir. A few days ago, it was June 12, the anniversary of your historic election as President.
Oh yes! You’re right. What happened?
There were many events to mark the day. It was a holiday in Lagos where the day is seen as the real democracy day as against the one decreed by some of the forces that stand for everything but democracy.
In Ekiti, Pascal Bafyau (remember him?), the bumpkinish former labour leader, mounted the rostrum to say that your election was annulled because he was not chosen as your running mate. He said you had an agreement with the military to choose him, but that you bowed to pressure from Social Democratic Party (SDP) governors and chose Amb. Baba Gana Kingibe. He said he it was, in fact, who persuaded you to run. Many thought that was gibberish.
Bafyau? Aaaaah! (He laughs). I remember him. I think he is suffering from some horrific hallucinations. I never promised to make him my deputy. In any case, I wasn’t the party; the party decided. Besides, why battling to abort a pregnancy when the child is already born? You can’t do that. No!
Anyway, how is Kingibe, Sai Baba?
He should be fine sir. He was Secretary to the Government of the Federation. Then they kicked him out after allegations – which I learnt he denied strongly- that he couldn’t draw a line between government work and politics. They said he was nursing a big ambition which was not really stated by his traducers. He was alleged to be holding nocturnal meetings and the authorities wasted no time in showing him the door as soon as, so goes the story, a security report nailed him. The last we heard of Kingibe was that he had been elected last month member of the elitist Nigeria Golf Federation (NGF). And, just yesterday, a Lagos television station, TVC, was showing clips of the June 12 struggle. I saw Kingibe sitting beside you as you delivered that indelible tirade at Epetedo. He was one of those hailing you. Sir…are you there?
Oh yes! Oma se o (shaking his head). Poor chap. He should have known that “the bigger the head, the bigger the headache”. Remember he, apparently without any deep thought, abandoned our mandate to join Abacha. Even when we asked our prodigal sons to return home, he stayed put, until…
How are our people in Ogun?
Oh that! It’s all muddled up sir. The leading lights of the state keep fighting one another, with the leadership sulking over an apparent loss of grip on the situation and blaming it all on external forces, like a baby denied of his lollipop.
How? I don’t understand. What’s happening?
The other day, a newspaper published the nude photograph of one of the lawmakers fighting the executive. He was said to be taking an oath to be loyal to the cause of his G15 colleagues. It was degrading in its obscenity and appalling in its conception. Loathsome. But the lawmaker whose photograph was published owned up – many felt there was little else he could have done – and said he was, in fact, photographed with the governor and that the oath was to be loyal to him. Now the public whose voracious appetite for such salacious stories, especially when it borders on sex and nudity, is legendary, won’t stop crying for more. They say the tell-it-all show must go on; the lawmakers should go all the way and cause to be published the photograph of His Excellency at the oath-taking session. The show is, a colleague said yesterday, already sold out, with a flood of bookings that the organisers are battling to cope with.
The state government, apparently confused about the veracity of the threat, is howling that there are plans to manipulate the computer to configure Governor Gbenga Daniel taking the nude oath. But the public would allow no killjoy. The show must go on, they insist, asking: why jump the gun? Let the photograph be published and leave us to judge its authenticity, they say.
In Ogun State? Haba! Where are the elders?
Sir, the elders too are immersed in the mud of intrigues and political chicanery. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the former president, is said to be locked in a bitter quarrel with the governor. On his side are party chiefs and some elected officials.
Oh! Obasanjo. Remember he was the one who said I wasn’t the messiah Nigeria needed after I had won that election. Then, I…I ..I learnt, he became the biggest beneficiary of the sacrifice that I made. Anyway, I told him then: “You can’t abort a pregnancy when the child is already born.” I understand he stood rigidly against suggestions that I should be honoured for the price that I paid. He and many others don’t know the symbolism of that election. Pity. One day, the story will be told in full.
It’s already being told sir. There have been so many confessions, half-truths and pure lies. Humphrey Nwosu, the professor who conducted the election and disappeared when he should have declared the result, showed up recently with a book he promised would let us into the invisible drama that led to the June 12 fiasco. It turned out that the man had not been weaned completely from the lethal phobia that drove him into exile. He failed to tell us whether it was true they put a gun to his head and dared him to announce the result. What did your friend Ibrahim Babangida tell him when he was summoned to the Villa? It was an anti-climax.
What of Ibrahim, the general? You called him my…mmmy friend. That’s true – or so I thought. But, remember that I once said that with a friend like IBB no one needed an enemy. I never knew water would be the one to cook the fish.
Sir, till date, IBB remains unrepentant about his role in the annulment of our freest and fairest ever election. He has refused to name the officers who forced him to take that ignoble step.
The Niger Delta remains Nigeria’s enfant terrible. The President has offered amnesty to militants, but rather than thaw out to allow the oil business go on smoothly, the militants are getting more daring as if to tell the military to go to hell. They say they are fighting poverty amidst wealth.
You see, let them read Farewell to Poverty, my economic blueprint in which I said by the grace of God in five years, no Nigerian child will go to bed hungry.
Thank you and God bless.
(Omotoso is the Commissioner for Information and Strategy in Lagos State)