Prisoners of War (PoWs), remember them? Sure, you must. If not, let us risk a quick flashback. Permit me, however, to bore you with the tale again, like I did mention last week. It was unknown to me that June 12 would resurrect that same week.
The story runs like this: On May 1, 1998, the city of Ibadan, Oyo State capital, was shaken to its foundation. Protesters from three different locations invaded the city. It was a bloody Friday like never before.
They were up in arms against the dictatorial government of the despot, General Sani Abacha. He had planned to rule us forever. The rioters vehemently disagreed, and displayed it.
This was one of the violent spillovers from the annulment of the June 12, 1993, presidential election. It was presumedly won by Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, now GCFR. It was a struggle of life and death.
The Ibadan 1998 May Day riots consumed lives and properties. The targets were Abacha cronies and everything associated with them. The city was literally turned upside down and inside out.
The following Sunday, I practically paved the way for my detention. The Sunday Tribune, which I edited, went to town screaming. Its banner headline was fearful. It roared, “Genesis of Ibadan bloodbath: The untold story.” Nobody could ignore it, not even Abacha’s security sycophants!
When the dust settled, 40 of us lost our freedom at different times and locations. We were framed up; clamped into detention.
We were strangely accused of planning to overthrow a military government. Our chief accuser and tormentor was the then Col. Ahmed Usman (rtd.), ex-military administrator of Oyo State. To his greatest delight, we were captured in the warfront. So, he came out publicly and with all the strength in him to recklessly pronounce us PoWs. And it sticks till today.
Sadly enough, none of our members made the list of honours for June 12 Pro-Democracy Heroes. To the compilers and masterminds of that list, we never for once exist. That is the weird thinking of the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (OSGF).
Our team was by no means formidable. We had Chief Bola Ige as our undisputed leader. The last public office he held was Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation. He was murdered in cold blood on December 21, 2001, in his Bodija, Ibadan, residence.
Other members: Alhaji Lam Adesina (late) former governor of Oyo State; Comrade Ola Oni (late), the legendary rights activist; my humble self; Alhaji Lateef Akinsola, aka Tokyo, former state chairman, National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW); Alhaji Billy Akanji, aka Baba 70; and Kehinde Adesina, among others.
None of us spent fewer than 32 days in detention while Abacha had his way. We regained freedom through bail the second day he lost his life. His gross loss was our bountiful gain. Such is life.
But President Muhammadu Buhari ignored the whole pack of us. They left us in the cold; all alone to lick our wounds, all by ourselves. What an unfriendly deal! Is it because we are not government-connected?
We are not alone in the cold. Prominent National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) chieftains were equally and embarrassingly left out. NADECO was one of the major platforms used to fight for June 12.
The affected NADECO chieftains included Chief Abraham Adesanya, SAN (late). He risked his life many times over for the struggle. Abacha’s foot soldiers were always on his trail. We were grateful to God we did not lose him to the struggle. Others were Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Sir Olanihun Ajayi (late) and Air Commodore Dan Suleiman (rtd). There are several other like minds.
None of them could make the list in the reasoning of the compilers. Pity! They are non-APC compliant! Only Chief Bisi Akande in that category made it. He was the first and only interim chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Undoubtedly, the pillar of the struggle was Chief Alfred Rewane (also late). As a matter of fact, he lost his precious life in the thick of the agitation. He was the silent and main financier of NADECO. He was shot down because he strongly believed in the actualisation of the June 12 mandate.
Now that June 12 has been post-humously actualised in a way, Patriot Rewane remains largely unsung in his grave. He was a man of great courage and discipline. He never pretended; he proudly showcased his June 12 belief. And he lived for it. But here we are, he was ignored by those who should know better.
I have very strong conviction that we cannot celebrate June 12 without Patriot Rewane. He struggled with his heart and sweat. He threw everything he had into it. We are forever proud of him.
That arrogant and know-it-all former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, missed the golden chance big time. For eight straight years, he failed to see why he should honour Abiola, his Egba kinsman.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan sheepishly followed suit. He messed it up further due to indecision and lack of political will. The two are confined to the dustbin of history. That is where they rightly belong.
To be sure, no dispute about those “lucky” to be so honoured now. And certainly no feasible grudges against them, not even one. If it took 25 years to recognise MKO & Co, then there is still hope for the PoWs and others. We have clocked 20 years having been detained in May 1998.
We, the PoWs, never ran away. Some of us had ample opportunity to do so. But we refused the urge and the pressure. Yet, we are alive today with those who bolted away. Those of us (PoWs) who are no more died long after we were let off the hook. We never lost a life in the struggle despite the agony and trauma we went through. That is God’s great grace.
Nevertheless, what is sauce for the goose is equally sauce for the gander. There is no half way to it. No half measures either. What is worth doing at all is worth doing well.