I tender an upfront apology on behalf of the Nigerian President, to all frayed nerves over the re-christening of the University of Lagos. In his May 29 national broadcast to commemorate his first anniversary in office, President Goodluck Jonathan paid glowing tributes to the late Chief MKO Abiola. A man who contested the 12 June 1993 presidential election, and on the verge of his being declared winner, the then military dictator, Ibrahim Babangida, annulled the polls. In Abiola’s determination and Nigerians’ struggle to get a reversal of the annulment, a lot happened in the political history of the country.
First, IBB, as Babangida is fondly called, was forced to abdicate power hurriedly and this led to the emergence of Ernest Shonekan as Head of the Interim National Government (ING). Shonekan’s regime was short-lived, lasting barely 82 days (August 25 to November 17, 1993).
This was not because the ING was meant to be an interim measure, neither was it because a Lagos High Court, presided over by the Justice Dolapo Akinsanya, had on November 10, 1993, declared the ING illegal; it was because of the coup that brought in the late Sani Abacha as the Military dictator.
Secondly, in the space of one month (08/06/1998 and 07/07/1998), mysterious deaths crept in and claimed the lives of Abacha and MKO Abiola. Consequently, Abdulsalami Abubakar succeeded Abacha and within a year, conducted a multiparty election which Olusegun Obasanjo won.
The emergence of Obasanjo, MKO Abiola’s kinsman, was believed to have been manipulated by the departing military regime to placate the Yoruba nation as Abiola is of the ethnic group.
At the time, prodemocracy supporters and human rights activists targeted their activism at removal of military leadership to oust IBB and military leadership. Lots of lives were lost and many valuable properties were destroyed. Groups such as NADECO, Afenifere, Ohanaeze emerged and cried loudly for justice and a permanent end to military misadventure into the nation’s politics.
Now, back to the advance apology offered on behalf of President Jonathan. In all the years of the struggle Nigeria saw under Babangida, Shonekan, Abacha and Abdulsalami, GEJ was tucked in a backwater village in the Niger Delta doing his thing to earn him a living and probably enough to keep the body and soul together.
He was never involved in the June 12, 1993 struggle in any way and as such may not appreciate the import of the struggle and the place of MKO in the whole of this. While people paid with their blodd, bread winners sacrificed in cold blood, Gej did not so much as sweat over the issue. Shouldn’t we then forgive a man who emerged from the blues to reap abundantly, next to Obasanjo?
June12ism is a struggle! It’s a construct! It’s an ideaology! It’s a phenomenon! It is greater than an individual, not even an MKO will equal the struggle. It was a day Nigerians got united, they put aside their religious and ethnic differences to proclaim an end to the evil of a regime that was toying with their destiny in the name of endless yet outrageously expensive transition plans.
At the centre of such unpatriotic political maneuverings were IBB, the military dictator, and his co-travellers some of whom are holding high political offices as beneficiaries of the struggle today. An example is the Senate President, David Mark.
June12ism symbolises a people’s quest for internal freedom, liberty and a forceful reclaim of their sovereignty in other to enjoy the benefits of civilian democracy. The struggle is symbolised by the Nigerian people and the colour of democracy we try to perfect today.
It is therefore misplaced to equate the struggle with MKO Abiola or limit the entire struggle to attempts by the Nigerian people to have an MKO Abiola president whose place in our national politics may require some x-ray at this point albeit in brief.
Nigerians were not offering themselves to be murdered by the rabid dictators all because of MKO Abiola. Far from it, we trooped out to fight for justice, fairness, equity and freedom from coercive internal oppressors.
Before the National Republican Convention and the Social Democratic Party experiment of 1993 by IBB, Abiola was known more as a businessman and philanthropist. His foray into politics in the second republic and thereafter was without local support from his South-West political leaders of thought.
He was seen as more in the opposition than in alignment with the collective struggle and direction of the zone. In some cases, he was said to have had some unhealthy romance with the military and was often accused of complicity in the waves of coups d’état that ravaged Nigerians in the first 35 years of the country’s independence.
Nonetheless, in recognition of his later day political activism which by accident, fell within the popular disposition of the majority of Nigerians, monuments have been named after him. There’s a state polytechnic, the Moshood Abiola Polytechnic, Abeokuta; there is an MKO Way in Abuja, there is an MKO Stadium in Abeokuta; MKO Garden (a high-class residential estate in the heart of Ikeja), among many others.
His short foray and the circumstances of his death earned him so much, and almost more than what was earned by the founding fathers of the country in the like of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.
Interestingly, the only tribute to the thousands of lives lost in the June 12 struggle has been a cultural centre in Abeokuta named _June 12 Cultural Centre_. Here lies the shame in our appreciation of heroic deeds. And this underscores our sense of value and standard.
Most people talking about the UNILAG name change seem to be as ignorantly guilty as GEJ. GEJ, like most of his critics, cannot see any difference between MKO Abiola and June 12ism. Will GEJ also name monuments after all the heroes of the June 12 struggle, particularly the hundreds who died for the cause? Does MKO represent, for instance, a breadwinner in Cross River who died yesterday because of our today and our tomorrow?
Renaming UNILAG with the reasons adduced by GEJ is the height of ‘unthinkingness’ and crass display of ignorance all in an effort to garner support for future political agenda. A thinking leader with some scintilla of foresight would know that a Moshood Abiola University is already in the making. Most polytechnics and colleges of education are seeking upgrade licence from the National University Commission to award degrees, higher degrees and perhaps transform to full-fledged university.
Not too long ago, the Federal Government approved such upgrade for the Yaba College of Technology and the Kaduna Polytechnic. The same process gave birth to the Tai Solarin University in Ogun State, from the then Tai Solarin College of Education. It would have been history to confer on Abiola a posthumous Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR), the highest national honour reserved for heads of state or presidents, and then name the UNILAG’s Institute of Democratic Studies and Governance after him. We seem to be so bereft of present and potential ‘true’ leaders such that we’re in a hurry to name all our monuments after a few people.
The MauMau revolt against the renaming of UNILAG to MAULAG is thus justified if only properly contextualised and not hinged solely on the brand equity accruable to UNILAG or the denigration of the so called local swagger attached to the university and its stakeholders.