by Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, please, let me say it the way it is said in African traditional societies, Chief Moshood Abiola’s head is not sleeping in heaven. The man is as mentally alert as he was on earth. He has refused to let go his mandate which was hijacked in a classic case of daylight robbery. According to Yoruba cosmogony, when a person dies his soul remains very much alive, and as intact as ever. What decays is his body while the soul travels to heaven. Everyman is believed to have come to this world with his own ‘Ori’, or ‘Ayanmo’, known in English as Destiny. But the transliteration of Ori is Head. Some have soft ‘Ori’ while others have tough or hard ‘Ori’. Those with soft ‘Ori’ simply die and perish into oblivion but those with strong heads become even more active and relevant in death.
Abiola must have been one of such persons whose strong head, and aura, is etched into our medulla oblongata. He is a man who did so much to occupy the important parts of our heads and hearts. To forget him is indeed to offend God. A strong manifestation of this strong head is the main reason Nigeria has known no peace after the great injustice he suffered in the hands of those who did not wish Nigeria well. On that mystical day, God gave us peace but we chose discomfort and calamity. We were shown the way to salvation but we headed for the dreaded wilderness. We had unity thrown at us but we grabbed division and disintegration.
Whenever the enemies of June 12 assume, or pretend, or imagine, or day-dream, and fool themselves that they have killed, embalmed and buried the June 12 election and its winner forever, the ghost of June 12 rears its massive head to haunt and scatter them all into total disarray. There are no tricks in the books of magic that have not been conjured to make that supernatural date disappear from world’s calendars, but they have not yet succeeded and in all probability will never succeed because June 12 is bigger than its sworn enemies, known and unknown. In a nation where memories are incredibly short, one would have expected everyone to clearly forget that wonderful day when Nigerians rose from their deep slumber and spoke with one powerful voice. But something always happens to wake us up.
One such mysterious development was the sudden decision by President Goodluck Jonathan to ACKNOWLEDGE the landmark Presidential election held on June 12, 1993; RECOGNISE Chief Moshood Abiola as its winner (even if he made the mistake of calling him the presumed winner rather than the winner, after-all the umpire, Professor Humphrey Nwosu has so declared); HONOUR Chief Abiola as the symbol of the struggle for our liberation and democracy; RENAME the prestigious and great Nigerian brand of the University of Lagos after a global brand, Moshood Abiola, at a time it seemed all hopes of such a momentous occasion and recognition had completely evaporated. Yes, Unilag may have acquired a status as a national brand but MKO Abiola has definitely acquired much international renown and acclamation, as well as permanent status as our symbol of Democracy. Nothing could be bigger than that. Rather than diminish the UNILAG brand it has elevated it to a much higher pedestal. UNILAG has now become iconic by becoming a bastion of Freedom. There is no way an institution can be bigger than national interest. It is a fatal error to have assumed that a university was bigger than a date that has become engraved in people’s minds the world over. It is a privilege that the students, lecturers, non-academic staff and the alumni should embrace, accept and promote with relish. It is Moshood Abiola’s name that will propel Unilag into a greater trajectory that befits its status as one of our nation’s finest tertiary institutions. It takes greatness to appreciate greatness in others. To diminish Abiola’s status and contributions is to devalue our sense of judgment.
To people who think like us, and we are in the majority apparently, President Jonathan’s motive for taking such a humbling decision was irrelevant, immaterial and at the very best secondary. Even if we believe he did so for very obvious and selfish political reasons, it was God at work again. This was not the first time God would intervene in the affairs of Nigeria. God made it possible for a terminally ill person to become Nigeria’s President, ostensibly, to pave the expressway for a weak and ineffectual leader like Goodluck Jonathan to emerge and also create the hitherto impossible chance for an Ijaw Man to become Nigeria’s President. Who knows why Jonathan was chosen? Perhaps, when tomorrow comes Nigerians would discover why and appreciate God better for using Jonathan to make Nigeria stronger or make it become so useless that something has to give. To discerning minds, Jonathan will make or break Nigeria, at the rate things are going.
As for me and my house, we have come to terms with certain realities in our country that have conspired to turn us into incurable fatalists. Those who are kicking against the spontaneous volte face of the PDP should clearly understand that Jonathan is a mere tool in the hands of God and he shall be judged by God only. No man can hide from his Creator. Please, allow me to turn Preacher because the case of Nigeria has gone beyond the ordinary. Not even a dozen doctoral theses can fully research and document all the ailments afflicting us as a people.
The logic of this matter is that even if Jonathan chose to commoditize Abiola for political expediency, it falls within his rights and jurisdiction. If the President failed to follow due process on this occasion, we must all encourage him to do it the right way. We cannot throw away the gesture on account that he would make substantial gains from it. All leaders often cash in on such political capital. What he failed to do has now been done, thanks to our uproar, by laying a Bill for the National Assembly to give full legal efficacy to his audacious declaration. Our Lawmakers should follow the principles of Nelson Mandela by seeking Truth and Reconciliation instead of engaging in petty politicking. Honouring Abiola is securing a better future for everyone who plays heroic roles in any capacity. In my view, Jonathan did no harm in starting the process. It is up to him to go all the way or let fear stop him in his tracks.
I disagree with those who complained about his choice of honour for Abiola. We must resort to logic again. There are a thousand and one national monuments Jonathan could have named after Abiola and he chose one which has the quality of being an enduring legacy. In the same vein those who claim that because UNILAG is located in the southwest it means MKO Abola is being turned into a parochial leader completely miss the point. The simple truth is that UNILAG is a prime national institution and the fact that it is located in the South West where Abiola hails from does not demean Chief Abiola in any way. It is better that Abiola’s name is given to an educational institution which attracted his major interest and investment than a frivolous monument that may fade out in no time. No matter which one he chose there would still have been some controversy. It is difficult if not impossible for a nation of 160 million assertive human beings to agree in one voice. An average Nigerian is opinionated and must always have his say.
The major question to ask is if Abiola deserved to be honoured. No matter how many times it is posed, most Nigerians would always respond in the affirmative but disagree on the mode and modalities. If we mostly agree that Abiola deserves the honour but some of us hate the manner it came and distrust the giver, Abiola should still be protected. Some of the darts we throw at Jonathan will ultimately hit Abiola as well. I’m sure the warriors of Akoka did not consider this collateral damage.
To those angling for other heroes of democracy to be honoured as well, my suggestion is they should wait a little. Every struggle has its dominant force or figure as its symbol. In this instance, Abiola was the man at the centre of it all. All other heroes must queue after him. I am yet to see countries where a multitude of heroes are awarded recognition at once. Indeed for Abiola this honour has come belatedly, but as we say in Nigeria, better late than never. And I expected more to come.
What is important is to learn useful lessons from this horrific experience. No honour is too big for Abiola as our ultimate symbol of martyrdom. What he achieved may appear simple in our eyes today, because a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, but we must remind ourselves that he worked so hard for it. It would be rewarding at a later stage to chronicle the Abiola journey for the sake of those who like to belittle greatness in our country.My belief is that we have not heard the last about June 12. It is only about three days to the 19th anniversary of Nigeria’s freest and fairest Presidential election. The decision to cancel that beautiful election remains a mystery and one of the best kept secrets by those who threw our nation into chaos and set fire to the relative peace we enjoyed. What makes the saga even sadder is the fact that we have never seen a leader as comprehensively prepared and heavily packaged in readiness for power like Abiola. And it is not likely to happen for some time to come. We cannot continue to throw up candidates who are mere products of godfatherism or pure accidents of history and misfortune. We must work assiduously as a nation filled with great human, material and natural resources to have leaders who have worked and prepared themselves for the heavy mantle of leadership that is being thrust upon them.
We as a people must now stand up to demand of our leaders the values which MKO Abiola fought and died for. The realisation and actualisation of democracy, the freedom of our masses from democracy, the emancipation of our people from poverty, the end to parochialism and religious bigotry and, equally important, our right to finally banish incompetence and corruption by choosing leaders of similar ilk who share these ideals and would similarly give up their life for it.
Nigeria is in the throes of a rhythmic macabre dance towards unmitigated disaster. Our failure as a nation to recognise our headlong plummeting into the yawning abyss is worrying. One of the ways in which we will avert the impending doom is by giving befitting recognition to those whom honour is due and by properly appreciating their place in history like Jonathan has done. Jonathan has unwittingly acted like the Statesman that many of his predecessors have sought to be but never became by honouring Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola. It may yet be the only thing that he is favourably remembered for.
Nigerians must stand up as one and salute this great honour to a great man who gave up his freedom and eventually his life in the hope of a better tomorrow for all of us. The sad and unnecessary bickering over the honour bestowed on him must stop. June 12 is nigh once more. We must join hands to celebrate this day by pledging to finally rid our nation of the parasites and who wish to destroy us and by so doing we will be giving full honour to the memory and legacy of MKO Abiola.
The Dana Air Tragedy
It is impossible to end this column without paying tribute to all the victims of the latest plane crash in our country. This further reminds us of the deplorable state of human and infrastructural decay in our land. Unfortunately, we always have the capacity to move on as if nothing happened. We can’t afford to continue along this path of carelessness and mass destruction. I often wonder what on earth would reveal the humanness that we are hiding and suppressing inside us because it seems we have been totally deadened by too many years of exposure to backwardness.
The Dana Air crash could have been prevented if we paid better attention to things that matter. Too many families and friends would have been spared this everlasting torture if we cared a little by doing that which is right.
May their souls rest in peace and may God console the families they left unannounced.