MKO Abiola: The Politics Of Immortalisation


The late business mogul, Chief MKO Abiola, played a crucial role in Nigeria’s return to democratic rule and there has always been a clamour for him to be immortalised. But it took the Federal Government 19 years to acknowledge his place and contribution as the symbol of June 12, the day Nigeria held the fairest and freest election in its democratic evolution.

June 12, 1993, was a day of great significance to all Nigerians. It was the climax of a convoluted, tortuous and complicated seven years transition programme. It later turned out to be historic, a watershed and an epic event and tragic.

That fateful Saturday, Nigerians trooped out, jettisoning age-long primordial sentiments that had always nearly kept them divided, and voted overwhelmingly, in a presidential election, for the late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, a business mogul, first class philanthropist, sports promoter and pan-Africanist.

But for some inexplicable reasons the electoral mandate was annulled by the then  Head of State, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida.

As the news broke, an ominous pall descended on the hitherto vibrant and effervescent political landscape in the country.

The heat generated by the tango forced Gen. Babangida to, in his own words, “step aside” just as he installed the Government of National Unity (GNU) headed by Chief Earnest Shonekan. The contraption soon collapsed and General Sani Abacha installed himself as the new Head of State after a palace coup.

The opposition continued and on June 11, 1994, exactly a year after the historic election, MKO Abiola in a statement titled: “Enough is Enough”, declared himself president at Epetedo in Lagos.

He was subsequently declared wanted for charges of treason. On June 23, 1994, he was arrested by the government which had sent about 200 police vehicles to bring him to Aso Rock Villa. MKO Abiola was detained for four years and on July 7, 1998, the day he was to be released, he died in very controversial circumstances.

Less than a year later, precisely on May 29, 1999, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, then Head of State who took over from the late Gen. Abacha who had died earlier on June 8, 1998, allegedly atop some oriental women of easy virtue in Aso Rock Villa, returned the country to the path of democratic governance by handing over to the President-elect, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.

Today, everybody is in agreement that without the tragic but ironic importance of June 12, Nigerians could still have been reeling under the jackboots of military dictatorship. Whereas the Federal Government has come to terms with May 29, which it has regarded as Democracy Day, it has all along sidelined and overlooked June 12 and the symbol of that day, the late MKO Abiola by deliberately refusing to acknowledge his contributions to the return to democratic rule and even the significance of that date by appropriately honouring and immortalising him.

The refusal of the Federal Government to acknowledge the significance of June 12 made many states in the South West to establish the practice of observing June 12 as a holiday in their states. But even then, many people are of the view that it would command greater respect if the Federal Government treats the day the way many pro-democracy activists across the country want it done.

But at last, as a step in that direction, the Federal Government few weeks ago re-named the University of Lagos as Moshood Abiola University. The announcement was contained in President Goodluck Jonathan’s address to the nation on the occasion of the 13th year of uninterrupted democracy in Nigeria.   wwwThe gesture was, however, criticised largely for its “attempt to localize Abiola” and being “mere tokenism” of what Abiola represents.

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Besides, it was criticised for taking the form of military fiat as it appeared that the announcement was made without thorough consultation, particularly, the legal import of the renaming of the University of Lagos.

In a bid to correct the anomaly, the President has since sent a bill to the Senate for the change of the institution’s name.

The national leader of the Action Congress of Nigeria, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, said renaming  University of Lagos, UNILAG, Moshood Abiola University, Lagos,was no longer unique, adding that the choice of UNILAG gives an impression that Abiola was a sectional leader.

He said that mandate was a national mandate, and he supports the call that since the President has known the result of the annulled election, Abiola should be recognised post-humously as the nation’s second democratically elected president  and declare either his birthday or June 12, a national holiday as was done for Martin Luther King in the United States.

‘’This is a man who struggled and died for this country. That is the minimum that we will demand from the Federal Government,” he intoned.

Lagos State Governor, Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola, said there was need for Nigerians to have hope and exhibit patriotism towards changing things that presently stand against our collective will. “Let me remind us too that at that stage our laws were full of decrees that we could not even go to court but Abiola stood up in those difficult times and we can afford to do no less today. We can afford to be no less patriotic than he was if we must change those things that we do not accept,” he said.

Alhaji Balarabe Musa,who chaired the occasion, noted that since the beginning of the on July 7, 1998 anniversary of the annulment of the elections, the statement of Chief Humphrey Nwosu, the electoral umpire of the June 12 elections admitting that MKO Abiola clearly won  and the recent move by President Goodluck Jonathan to rename the University of Lagos after Abiola has justified the continuation of such remembrance.

But the former Kaduna governor said the late Abiola deserved more than getting a university renamed after him . He called on the Federal Government to establish a judicial commission of enquiry to find out the circumstances that led to the annulment of the elections and punish those responsible for it.

“This is the only way we can ensure that this does not happen in the country again. The Federal Government should also establish a national monument to preserve the legacies of the late philanthropist”, Musa said.

Founder of the Oodua Peoples Congress, OPC, Chief Fredrick Fasheun, in his remarks suggested that the N2,000 note the Federal Government plans to introduce should carry the portrait of the late MKO Abiola as well as rename the Abuja National Stadium after him.

By Yisa Jamiu

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