As reported, IBB was reacting to President Goodluck Jonathan‘s acknowledgement of Abiola‘s contributions to the enthronement of civil rule in the country. Though IBB, in his usual blabbering, spoke on a number of issues, his new crusade to get Abiola ”immortalised as a person who fought for democracy”, sounds suspicious and should be taken with a pinch of salt.It is not as if Abiola does not deserve the honour IBB is calling for. In fact, it is tempting to compare Abiola to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the man who, within the space of his 39 years on earth, managed to change the face of American civil rights movement and indeed, its politics for ever.
Yet, like King, Abiola is already immortalised in the minds of the people. As much as some unworthy beneficiaries of June 12 struggle would want us to forget Abiola and the phenomenon he represents in our consciousness, the memories will just not peter out. Worse still, in order to blot out his memory, they have used the ethnic blackmail and failed. They have employed conspiracy theories and failed. Now, they think political rhetoric may help.
This is not surprising. In the last 17 years, IBB and his camp have been attempting to stand the June 12 event on its head. In his broadcast to the nation on June 26, 1993, IBB had given us the reasons why the election was cancelled. Among all the fabrications in that speech, one was particularly nauseating: ”There were cases of documented and confirmed conflict of interest between the government and both presidential aspirants”, he said, ”which would compromise their positions and responsibilities were they to become president”. Since then, because of one man‘s rabid ambition for political power and influence, there has been a systematic distortion of the historical record of June 12 and who Abiola was. As Christians would say, ”the devil is a liar.”
Though the denial game is endless, here are just three examples. In June, 2008, Professor Humphrey Nwosu, who suddenly found his lost voice after 17 years’ mum, blamed the late General Sani Abacha and one-time Attorney-General of the Federation, Chief Clement Akpamgbo, as the principal actors in the nullification of the election. In his controversial book, Nwosu said that Babangida ”allowed the election to be conducted against the wishes of most of his military colleagues”. Again, the devil is a liar.
Even some judicial officers do not want to be left out of the denial mania. For Justice Dahiru Saleh, the judge that assigned the dirty job of stopping the poll to the late Justice Bassey Ikpeme and who later rounded off the plot nicely by stopping the release of the result, ”If anybody caused that, it wasn‘t Justice Ikpeme. It was the executive, which could have gone to the Court of Appeal to get the order reversed before the election.”
And this is the deepest and the crudest cut of all. His decision to annul the election, IBB‘s Special Adviser on Media, Prince Kassim Afegbua, once said, was to save the country from a major crisis. ”There were security reports, which indicated that it was not safe to hand over power to the late Abiola because he lacked the capacity to lead the country.” I find this particular argument both dangerous and bizarre. It is also an insult to MKO‘s memory.
Was it the same Abiola that received First Class Honours from Glasgow University and a Distinction from the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland? Was it the same MKO that rose to the position of Vice-President, Africa and Middle-East of the mighty US multinational, ITT Corporation?
I am deliberately skipping Abiola‘s business acumen because the idea of successful entrepreneurship in this clime could be controversial. But as Dr. Olatunji Dare wrote in June last year when he described Abiola compassion: ”The meanness that has characterised governance this past decade, the utter insensitivity to the plight of the poor and the disconnected and the genuine grievances of teachers charged with the education of our young people would have had no place under an Abiola presidency”. I cannot put it better than that.
Now, let us put history back on its feet. What happened on June 12 was the making of a new Nigeria. Politicians that you would ordinarily classify as ethnic leaders worked tirelessly to make June 12 a reality. And so it was until some brats spoiled it all. After the results from 14 of the then 30 states had already been released, Justice Saleh ordered that it should be stopped. The rest, as they say, is now history.
It was Charles Mackay, the 19th Century Scottish journalist, who observed that men go mad in herds but only come to their senses one by one. Are members of the IBB camp coming to their senses one by one? I so much doubt that. As the annulment of June 12 election was predicated on the morbid ambition of IBB to stay on in power, the attempts to reconstruct history are also being propelled by the same reckless ambition of one man to have another access to the system of reward and patronage.
But as we celebrate another June 12 next week, remember the scores of Nigerians that were literally crushed to death by General Abacha‘s motorcade at Ojuelegba when they were demonstrating against the election annulment. Think about the closure and proscription of newspapers and magazines, especially the Concord Group and the Punch Group of newspapers, closed down for many months. Think of many Nigerians that were assassinated and those that disappeared on the streets of Abuja on account of the June 12 struggle.
The best way to correct past mistakes and ensure they do not repeat themselves is to keep on remembering them. This is why we must continue to remember June 12 despite all attempts to consign it to the ash heap of history. In A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens, the legendary writer might have had the June 12 affair in mind when he wrote, ”It was the best of times; it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity”. Indeed, June 12 was all this and many more. It was the period a new Nigeria was conceived; it was the period the new Nigeria was aborted. June 12 evokes anger and hope.
They may pretend to have forgotten, but we will not forget the General who chastised us with whips. We must not forget the self-styled military president that caused so much harm to the polity, bled the economy white, inflicted incalculable injuries to our bodies and souls and still maintained a conspiratorial silence when his protégé in power, Abacha, was tormenting us with scourges.
Now, the questions to ask are these: when will IBB stop rubbing salt into our wounds? When will he leave Nigeria alone?