Human rights activists on Tuesday seized the opportunity of the June 12 town hall meeting organised by the Ondo State Government to relieve their experiences at the hands of security operatives of the Abacha regime in their struggle to regain the MKO Abiola mandate.
Mr Abiola is the presumed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, which was cancelled by the Ibrahim Babangida administration.
He was later arrested by military dictator, Sani Abacha, after he declared himself as President of Nigeria on the strength of the June 12 mandate. He died in detention shortly after Mr Abacha died, with high speculations that he may have been poisoned.
Leading the panel of discussants at the meeting titled, June 12: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, co-publisher of the Tell Magazine and columnist, Dare Babarinsa, gave historical perspectives of the June 12 saga.
He recalled an interview he had with Mr Abiola on a flight from Senegal, shortly before the 1993 election, where the late politician said he was not interested in participating in politics.
Mr Babarinsa said Mr Abiola had to change his mind after he visited Aso Rock at the behest of the then military president, Ibrahim Babangida, who gave him the indication that he could run for president and win the election.
“We learnt that Chief Abiola went to Abuja and visited his friend, Ibrahim Babaginda, who showed round Aso Rock and told him it would become the place where he would be living,” he said.
“That is how MKO Abiola changed his mind and ran for the election which was eventually cancelled by Babangida.”
He also noted that after the cancellation of the election, and the interim government of Ernest Shonekan was put in place, Mr Abiola was deceived to agree to support the takeover of power by Sani Abacha, on the pretext that he would hand over power to him after a brief stay and after “sanitising” the system.
According to him, it was on the strength of the promise that he allegedly persuaded some Afenifere members to participate in the Abacha government.
In his comments, Bayo Aborisade, renown June 12 agitator and professor at the Federal University of Technology Akure (FUTA), stated that his zeal in the struggle was first inspired by the need “to see the back of the military regime” at the tine.
He said initially, he was not so excited about the candidature of Mr Abiola; but once the election was cancelled, he immediately joined the fight against the antidemocratic forces.
He recalled efforts of him and other activists in Ondo State who put up a number of protests and marches to force the military out. He said it was a lot of risk, but the fight was worth the risk.
Another activists, Ifeanyi Odili, also shared reminiscences of the June 12 struggle, saying it was his initial opinion that Mr Abiola’s move to leave the country at the heat of the crisis was wise.
According to him, he had expected Mr Abiola to remain abroad, while providing the impetus for the struggle at home, but his return changed the face of the struggle.
Mr Odili also recalled that he was 27 years old during the struggle, but said he was willing to make the sacrifice in the interest of democracy.
He urged young people to get serious about their country, instead of resorting to vanity and crime.
The chairman of the occasion, Olu Adegboro, a publisher and technocrat, said he was close to the Abiola family during the struggle.
He narrated an encounter he had with the wife of Mr Abiola, Kudirat Abiola, urging her not to allow her husband to abandon the struggle.
He recalled that Mrs Abiola had said, “they will kill him, they will kill him.” He said the fears of Kudirat came to pass as she and her husband died in the process.
He noted that all the efforts in the past to honour June 12 and the sacrifice of MKO Abiola did not materialise, until President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision came.
He hailed the gesture of the Buhari administration for deeming it fit to honour the memories of the late politician and business mogul.
Mr Buhari on Tuesday in Abuja conferred the title of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic on Mr Abiola. He also honoured Mr Abiola’s then running mate, Babagana Kingibe with the title of Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger.