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Published On: Mon, Jul 30th, 2018

June 12: Who carries the watering can? (2)

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Monday Column by Emmanuel Yawe | 08024565402

“It was because of making amends that Obasanjo was brought out of prison. They worked for him to win, he won. I think it is a question of opinion that what Obasanjo would have done is to say ‘since it is because of this my kinsman that I became president, I was in prison, perhaps I would have died there, let me thank God by immortalizing him. But he didn’t. In fact, the National Stadium in Abuja, when he built it, a lot of people said he should name it MKO Abiola Stadium, but he didn’t do it. So, apparently, he didn’t want to hear anything about Abiola during his presidency.” Prince Tony Momoh, veteran journalist, lawyer and former Minister of Information in an interview with the Independent newspaper, June 21 2018.
What those who accuse President Babangida of singlehandedly annulling the June 12 presidential election fail to recognize is that Chief MKO Abiola and his victory had many powerful enemies both within government and outside; both within the military and the civil populace.
In the last instalment, I quoted Senator Zwingina’s interview with The Point newspaper where he said some elements in the military who were in possession of weapons pressurized Babangida to void Abiola’s victory at the June 12 polls. Anybody who has lived under military rule in Nigeria should know that this section of the military represents what a president and commander in chief, especially a military president could only ignore at his own peril.
From insider accounts as well as those from outside, General Sani Abacha was at the head of those armed military men who opposed a termination of military rule and a return to democracy. We must however give him credit for one thing – expertise in Machiavellian duplicity and deception. While pressing on Babangida not to hand over, at least not to Abiola who was clearly poised for victory, he managed to give Abiola an impression that it was Babangida who wanted to perpetuate himself in office. That he managed to convince an intelligent, wealthy and streetwise man like Abiola that he was a ‘gentleman’ is something of a surprise.
Abiola in turn convinced those on his entourage – a whole lot of intelligent men and women – that Abacha was a gentleman committed to the actualization of June 12. It was a grand deception that made everybody, particularly the June 12 crowd, look foolish when Abacha’s true colours emerged and reality dawned on them. It was convenient and has always been convenient for them to blame Babangida.
Not everybody was taken in by Abacha’s antics though. Simon Kolawole, writing in the June 17 2018 edition of This Day newspaper had this to say. “Lest I forget, Abiola himself visited Abacha at Dodan Barracks and took pictures with him after the November 1993 coup. I watched in horror as Abiola canvassed for support for Abacha.” Unfortunately, supporters of June 12 who like Kolawole remained suspicious of Abacha were in the minority and their views shouted down by many June 12 men, many of whom jumped on board the Abacha train and took juicy offices in his government.
The immediate outcome of the annulment of the June 12 election was the breakdown of law and order especially in Lagos and other parts of South West Nigeria from where Chief MKO Abiola hailed. There were riots everywhere on the streets of Lagos as protesters vented out their anger sometimes on innocent people who had nothing to do with the annulment. Many of the protesters risked their lives; some, their limbs; others, their economic and social well-being; and yet others, their freedom and pleasures of life.
The ordinary men on the streets who were fighting for the enthronement of democracy, which Abiola’s June 12 now represented, needed to be encouraged by the big men who had the means and connections to help out. One of such men in whom they placed their trust was General Olusegun Obasanjo. He had ruled Nigeria from 1976 after the assassination of Murtala Mohammed and implemented the democratization program of his government to the letter, leading to the enthronement of democracy in 1979. He was revered by his military successors who saw his word as Holy Writ.
Obasanjo was seen not only in Nigeria and Africa but in the whole world as a model of the modernizing soldier. At a time like this, when Nigeria was clearly at political crossroads, many looked up to him for a solution. But in 1993, in the far away land of Southern African Nation of Botswana during the epic struggle for the validation of June 12, came the damning verdict by Obasanjo that “Abiola is not the messiah we are waiting for in Nigeria.”
That statement attracted world-wide condemnation from people who reasoned that he would have made a difference by chipping in a word or two in favour of his embattled kinsman, MKO Abiola. That Obasanjo was enemy number one of June 12 became crystal clear when he had a narrow escape from death in the hands of Abacha. His military subordinates with Babangida playing the arrow head installed him as President of Nigeria to pacify the aggrieved South West.
As an elected president of Nigeria, Obasanjo demonstrated very clearly his aversion to June 12. The quotation from Tony Momoh, the veteran journalist, lawyer and former Minister of Information clearly makes this point. Simon Kolawole in an article published by This Day of June 10 2018 makes the point even more succinctly.
“Tragically, President Olusegun Obasanjo, the ultimate beneficiary of Abiola’s struggle and sacrifice, blatantly refused to honour him or give June 12 its place in history. He scoffed at the idea of June 12 becoming democracy day. Yet if Abiola had not insisted on his mandate, if he had not been arrested and detained, if he had not died in custody, Obasanjo would not have been President.”
June 12 thus had many powerful enemies. It is thus intellectually lazy for analyst to sit down and heap the blame on Babangida alone.
In any case, June 12 was worth fighting for because for the first time in Nigerian history, the Federal Government had created an enabling environment by embarking on a social, economic and political reconstruction of Nigeria to such a near perfect state that elections were held in peace with credible and reliable figures as results.
The man at the head of that government was Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida. Concluded.

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