THURSDAY Column with Mohammed Adamu
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Two days ago the President, Muhammadu Buhari assented to the ‘Public Holiday (Amendment) Bill’ which amended the ‘Public Holiday Act’ to replace May 29 with June 12, as Nigeria’s new ‘Democracy Day’. Meaning that, that bland, uneventful date (May 29) chosen by those who wanted us to forget our democratic history, has now been replaced by a grand, historic date, June 12; -a date filled with the story of democratic sacrifice and martyrdom. At last the rejected stone has become the ‘head corner stone’. May 29 now ceases to be a holiday even though it retains its –yet unearned- status as a ‘handover date’. If you ask me, the Constitution should be amended soonest, to return even this constitutional duty to June 12 so that it also serves as ‘hand-over date’, in addition to being both a holiday and a day to remember the life of that one, MKO Abiola who, not only won Nigeria’s freest and fairest election on that date, but whose tragic State-plotted assassination now symbolizes the struggle which ended military dictatorship and installed a lasting democracy in Nigeria.
Last year also at a grand Special National Honors Investiture at the State House Aso Rock, the late MKO was posthumously conferred with the highest honor reserved only for occupants of the highest office in the land, name the Grand Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic, GCFR. What is now left to complete the national political healing process is to declare him President-elect and to swear him, posthumously again, so that he takes his rightful place as one of the democratically elected leaders of Nigeria. But even if that remains in the realm of future struggle, yesterday’s re-naming of the Abuja National Stadium after the late MKO, is a pleasant omen that puts no cap to what Buhari’s APC Government is willing to give to heal and to make whole again. As I listened to the President make that announcement yesterday, the only comrade-at-arms that came to my mind was my senior colleague and fellow aide to the late MKO, Mr. Lisa Olu Akerele. There are quite few June 12 comrades I know whose daily preoccupation is to see the political ghost of the late MKO fully pacified and its spirit eternally rested. Mr. Akerele is one of them.
THE CAT WITH LINE LIVES
The British writer Mathew Arnold, was the one who described the ‘cat’ in the glowing poetic of an animal that is at once “composed and bland” even as it is always “inscrutable and grand”. But my concern here is more with the ‘composed’ and the ‘inscrutable’ than it is with the ‘bland’ or the ‘grand’. To be composed is not just to be ‘cool, calm and calculated’, but it is also not to be agitated or distracted. These must have been the feline qualities by which the ‘ghost’ of June 12 had tarried all through two decades and six, biding its time as morbid ash and hoping someday to rise from the dead and to take its rightful place in the annals of our democratic history. And which it has now virtually done. Former External Affairs Minister Bolaji Akinyemi two days ago on Channel Television put it as I also see it –that President Buhari has brought June 12 from a distant back-burning issue to the front burner of political discourse in Nigeria.
And although the annulment of the election was callous, and the assassination of the winner tragic, the effort especially by successive PDP regimes to bury the memory of June 12 and to prevent the remembrance of its iconic martyr, Abiola, has been nothing but ludicrous. Only a political administration abandoned by ‘providence’ and rejected by the political gods would fail to have seen the immense political capital inherent in appropriately –even if posthumously- recognizing June 12 and in restoring the late MKO to his rightful place in the political history of Nigeria. Only the politically undiscerning would not have seen that a great electoral watershed such as June 12, no matter how long it tarries like a genie in time forgotten, it is bound someday to come out of the gourd, resurgent. And which is what June 12 has done. It is now self-evident that the ghost of June 12 has not wandered the forest of a thousand demons all this while in the personification of a helpless rotted spirit-person. It has done so as a stealthy cat ‘composed and ‘inscrutable’. It has proved itself the mysterious ‘cat’ with the proverbial ‘nine lives’. Just when you think you have killed it, you have to prepare to kill it all over again.
And so Mathew Arnold’s poetic rendering of the cat as enigmatic reminds of the mystique of June 12 at last rising from the ashes of death to a towering picturesque Eiffel Tower of sort which now commands the attention, reverence and awe of friends and even of foes alike. Once in the checkered history of betrayals and counter betrayals of the June 12 cause, the refrain was either ‘On June 12 We Stand’ (by proud comrades ready always to put their lives on the line) and ‘On June 12 We Sit’ (by those who had given up on the struggle). But the worst thereafter were those who proudly –even if shamelessly- began to proclaim ‘On June 12 We Eat’, suggesting that they had not only abandoned the struggle, they now fed ravenously from betraying it. Some of these included the Afenifere elders that El Mustapha has been threatening to expose.
THE COMRADE’S MILITARY DECREE
No sooner had they created the monster of June 12 than it had to be their abiding preoccupation all through our checkered democratic history to tame its genie and to rewrite the history of our democratic odyssey. Under the contraption which had made a civilian, Ernest Shonekan Head of a so called Interim National Government, ING, and General Sani Abacha the Commander in Chief, the late ‘Comrade’ Uche Chukwumerije who was that government’s Secretary (Minister) for Information, had in fact announced the signing of a one-page Decree outlawing the mere mention of ‘June 12’ in public places. We were almost on the verge of our own version of a McCarthy era, a period in America’s democratic history when its fear of communism led it into a most ridiculous paranoia as a certain Republican Senator, McCarthy, led a mysterious hunt down of alleged communists in the American government. The American playwright, Arthur Miller, caricatured this period of America’s democratic history in a play titled ‘The Crucible’. Nigeria had almost slipped into her own species of ‘communist witch-hunt’ with June-twelvers becoming such pariah that we came short only of being lynched on the streets.
In retrospect after the Shonekan-Abacha decree outlawing the public mention of June 12, I remember writing an unpublished piece titled ‘To Hell With June 12’ in which I satirized Chukwumerije’s Military Decree. I suggested that the best way to erase the memory of June 12 was not just to decree it out of public mention, but to yank it completely off our calendar: “yes, let’s create our own Nigerian calendar so that from June 11 we just jump straight to June 13. Let’s pretend that June 12 never existed. Let it be treasonable henceforth for any printer to produce a calendar bearing June 12. We won’t be the first to rebel against the global calendar. The Julian Calendar authorized by Caesar was replaced by the Gregorian Calendar on the authority of Pope Gregory the XIII because the former, as his scientist claimed, was 11 minutes, 14 seconds too long. Besides, the white man because he is superstitious about the number ‘13’, whenever he numbers –especially hotel rooms- he either jumps ‘13’ to ‘14’ or he simply uses ‘12b’. Someone should tell ‘Comrade’ Chukwumerije that we can have a Nigerian Calendar that either skips June 12 to June 14 or one that has June 11b in its place.
To be continued