By Banji Ojewale
You cannot shave a man’s head in his absence — M.K.O. Abiola, winner of the 1993 presidential election.
I AM reproducing this piece I did when we were all falling over ourselves as officialdom announced it was, at last and belatedly, embracing June 12 as a national event and not a regional or ethnic phenomenon.
Nothing has changed to alter my stand: federal recognition or not, June 12 derives traction from its own sanctity. It does not require robes of bureaucratic crutches to stand! Here goes:
It is unlikely that a resurrected Bashorun MKO Abiola would hail President Muhammadu Buhari for attempting to honour him and the mandate he received on June 12, 1993 the way most citizens have done.
The applause the Abiola family and a section of the human rights community are giving the recognition is also not sufficient to conclude that they have spoken for MKO. True, the struggle for the fulfillment of June 12 was beyond Abiola, his family and the activists. It was (still is) pan-Nigerian and would appear to require all hands, including government, to give it restitution of some sort.
These, however, are inadequate levers to achieve a sense of closure on our unpleasant experience. We need to address the matter of redeeming that day and the victory it gave the people from a catholic consideration, not merely from the narrow angle of proclamation of a few people as heroes and a day as democracy day.
These may form part of the larger picture we desire. But they pale beside the substance of fundamental recognition that accommodates what Abiola sought: good governance that would in turn deliver the good things of life to the ordinary citizens.
Simplistically settling for a national award for MKO to retrieve June 12 from seeming obloquy amounts to the case of a student who produces the answer to an algebraic puzzle without the arduous, exciting and brain-taxing process of working out the formulae and key to arrive at the solution.
The student would incur the wrath of the teacher and be charged with malpractices that carry heavy penalties. How did he get the correct answer without evincing labour for it? Did he steal it by playing giraffe?
Is he making a mockery of the dignity of scholarship? Is he giving the impression his teacher was so incompetent he wouldn’t guide him through the exciting process of sweating for the QED? As long as these posers crop up with no convincing responses, the society can’t accept what emerges from the exam hall.
If we allowed it to stand we would have compromised and be classed in the same league as the student who sought success without sacrifice. Now these are some of the concerns of those who seem not to be at home with the decision of a president who has given us what we’ve all clamoured for, but with an anti-liberal and undemocratic temperament. Most citizens mistrust his motives.
What most observers insist is that a dignifying rehabilitation of Abiola and his sacrosanct mandate together with the date is only possible if the activists of that history and their successors are at the centre of the restoration move.
Some members of his family, selected June 12 activists, notable politicians across the divide and a good number of persons drawn from the public could be brought together in a committee to discuss these noble objectives. All Nigerians would be encouraged to participate in the debate via the media and town hall meetings.
The late politician’s manifesto and speeches when he campaigned on the platform of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, would be recalled for scrutiny. These were weighty documents that looked beyond June 12.
I recall his My covenant… with my people speech on June 8, 1993, shortly before the historic poll. There were these nuggets out of many he dropped: “I shall renew hope in the Nigerian dream through the articulation of a new vision of a great Nigeria. I am determined to replace doubt with optimism. We must reconstruct our society in all its ramifications to make life easier for our citizens. All Nigeria needs is one transformer to end its endless power interruptions”.
According lasting honour to June 12 and Abiola also entails going the whole hog. We must hear from the horse’s mouth (General Ibrahim Babangida) why the election was cancelled. We must go back to the era of Sani Abacha who arrested Abiola and tortured him till he himself died.
Abubakar Abdulsalami who succeeded Abacha needs to talk to Nigerians. Abiola died in his custody. Next the current central government must itself show strict commitment to the principles of June 12 and the man who symbolised it. Abiola stood for true federalism aka restructuring.
He wanted a better life which a succession of Nigeria’s central administrations didn’t (and still are not presenting) offer the people. He also thirsted for one united nation untrammeled by sectarianism as shown by the Muslim-Muslim ticket he ran with and won.
Not allowing these considerations in seeking to honour Abiola and June 12 can be likened to staging Wole Soyinka’s Kongi’s Harvest without bringing in Kongi himself!
Or better let’s go to the man of the moment: One of his famous sayings is this: You cannot shave a man’s head in his absence. Tragically, what we’re doing now is that of a barber at work on the head of a man not on seat!