He called me about 11.58pm on June 11, 2018. Actually, he “flashed” and I called him. He started with an apology: “Sorry, Chief, I had to flash because my credit just finished and Femi is not around to buy me recharge card”. I forgave him. Then, we spoke for a while: President Buhari and I! And, he extended me an invitation to President MKO Abiola’s inauguration!
At the event, Professor Humphrey Nwosu grinned from ear-to-ear. IN fact, his ears grew bigger with pride. Nwosu, the head of the defunct National Electoral Commission (NEC), who conducted the 1993 election, said he was still counting votes won by Abiola – 25years after! Well, actually, the recounting started two days earlier. That was when Buhari announced government’s official recognition of Abiola’s victory at that poll. Besides, with the now stiff typewriters, computer and calculators, the only alternative left are the fingers of the few staff still alive. Anyway, there appeared to be no need to wait for the actual figures. After all, Nwosu was sure Abiola was “the winner of the June 12, presidential election”.
No sane person has argued against the declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day. In fact, may have agreed that May 29 as democracy day was “demonstration of craze”! It should just remain as a day for change of baton between elected governments. No one has, however, said anything about the free ice cream I used to enjoy that day from my wife. One opportunity to enjoy madam’s freebie gone!
Anyway, Abiola’s inauguration was a very exciting one; a speech making day. I felt proud to have been invited. Almost every important Nigerian was there. Well, I can’t remember seeing Babangida, Obasanjo, Arthur Nzeribe and Abacha, sha! Everyone wanted to speak. Surprisingly, all seemed to attend the event with an unusual loyalty to Abiola. Perhaps, the only one who had “double mind” was Buhari. Yea, he recognized Abiola’s worth; but Abacha stands larger in his lenses. Prof Soyinka is my witness! Anyway, everything seemed too well until someone described Abiola as the “spirit of June 12”. In anger, the man of the moment reminded Nigerians that he was not just “spirit” but an “embodiment of June 12”.
Buhari’s eventual apology calmed nerves and for once, even Babagana Kingibe’s nervous grin change to a smile. Then, smiled sheepishly and started dancing like “tolo-tolo” when Abiola sang: “Oni dodo, oni moi moi”! For a minute, he looked like someone who forgot that he once denounced the June 12 mandate. Like others, he praised Abiola for fighting for democracy. “But Abiola encourage and benefitted from the military, too”, shouted one spoiler. The idiot was promptly shouted down. Then, everywhere went quiet!
Time for the inaugural speech and Abiola mounted the rostrum. His presence was felt by all. And when his guttural voice boomed on the speakers, goose pimples spread freely in the hall. “Fe- fe-fellow Ni-ni-ni…“ He couldn’t finish it as his stammering got worse. Instead, he said, “People of Nigerian…Enough is enough!” Abiola spoke of the “hope” he represented, promised and was ready to actualize for the Nigerian people. His disappointment was palpable. Nigerians have been shaved in their absence and MKO didn’t like it one bit. “I am sure that when you cast an eye on the moribund state of Nigeria today, you ask yourselves: ‘What have we done to deserve this…’”
In his early years, Abiola knew poverty by name and was out to ameliorate the experience for many. His manifesto thickened that hope. Long before 1993, he had been doing good by many. He befriended the rich and the poor. He related with the old as with the young. He had friends in high places but sometimes chose the lowly. The first thing he promised to change was our ever dwindling and confusing economy.
Abiola’s speech and ideal sounded so loud in the hall. His aura filled the entire Presidential villa, as he reminded Buhari and future leaders of “the need to ensure that peace continue to reign in our fragile federation”. He urged Buhari to learn to keep his words, though some may try to escape through his wide tooth gap. Yet, ther is need to remember that “only real democracy can move our nation forward towards progress, and earn her the respect she deserves from international community”. In other words, government ought to operate by the rule of law and other tenets of democracy!
Abiola is known for his frankness. Like in giving, he is also known to be generous with advice and goodwill. A devout Muslim, no one was surprised when he prayed for leaders who would “observe Allah’s injunction that they should exhibit justice and fair play in all their dealings with their fellow men”. And he urged Buhari not to resort “to the tactics of divide and rule, bribery and political perfidy, misinformation and (vile) propaganda.”
Mediocrity is one word Abiola would not smile at. You are either good or improve yourself. A fool like me at boiling water should not go near the kitchen. Thus, Abiola cautioned against putting “square pegs in round holes”. “We are sickened to see people who have shown little or no personal achievement, either in building up private businesses, or making success of any tangible thing, being placed in charge of the management of our nation’s economy, by rulers who are not accountable to anyone.” At this point, the MC got closer and whispered something to him. “Sir, please calm down. The current president might think you are referring to him”.
Well, Abiola, though appreciative of the recognition by Buhari, was apparently angry that someone had the guts to describe Nigerian youths as “sit and do nothing”. According to him, “Our youth, in particular, can see no hope in the horizon and many can only dream of escaping from our shores to join the brain drain. Is this the Nigeria we want?”
There were more speeches; frank speeches. No one apologised for my lost pair of shoes on June 12, 1993. I ran barefooted as I tried to navigate bonfires on Ikorodu Road. Or for the suffering I went through trekking across Lagos gathering news stories of that day. Back to the inauguration hall, there were hugs and hand-pumping and patting on the backs. But I was getting restless now. My interest was on “inauguration”.
Suddenly, a tap on the shoulder. And, I woke with an annoying disappointment. The television was on and a news analyst was talking investiture of awards of GCFR to Abiola; GCON to Kingibe and Gani Fawehinmi. Commendable!
But if government recognizes that Abiola won the election, why not say so? Why is he still presumed or acclaimed winner? Is the award for his winning election, or for dying for his mandate? If that higest national award is reserved for presidents, then go the whole hog and swear Abiola in posthumously. And pay all his entitlements, jare! Ah! But won’t Kingibe benefit as vice president? Like Soyinka cautioned Buhari, Kingibe can’t be confusing Nigerians by rejecting the mandate, dinning with Abacha and still enjoying all the “accolades” of June 12, 1993!