June 12: Was Abiola Beaten To Death? – Reuben Abati

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Sunday, June 01, 2008              

June 12: Was Abiola Beaten To Death?
By Reuben Abati

In less than a fortnight from now, it would be another June 12, for many Nigerians a significant date that reminds us of the Presidential election of 1993 held on the same date, and adjudged to have been a free and fair election but which the Babangida military junta annulled on June 23, 1993. That incident threw the entire nation into a long season of darkness, the exit point of which was the humiliation of the military out of power and the return to democratic rule on May 29, 1999. June 12, its politics and circumstances, is the catalyst for the democratisation process in Nigeria in the last ten years. But unfortunately, the national predilection for forgetfulness, and the politics of convenience/opportunism have blunted its significance.

Now, the day is remembered and celebrated only by the state of Lagos, whereas the struggle against the military, the outcry against the abbreviation of the people’s will by Babangida’s band of dictators was a nationwide concern. Today, June 12 is regarded, more or less, as a South West phenomenon, affecting the political ambitions of a son of the West, whereas the annulment of the people’s will as expressed democratically on June 12, 1993 inspired all progressives and led to the closing of ranks by all democrats who stood up to fight in unison.

Chief MKO Abiola, the Presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party who was denied the mandate that he won, and who ended up as the icon of the struggle may have been a Yoruba man, but the struggle for democracy claimed martyrs from all parts of Nigeria; it pitched the people against the military and drew heroism from all who could not condone tyranny and falsehood. The struggle for democracy provided Nigerians an opportunity to insist on the kind of government that they desired: a government of the people. Fifteen years later, what stands out are the paradoxes. Chief MKO Abiola has more or less been forgotten. The beneficiaries of the sacrifice that Abiola and others made are trapped in a fit of denial.

For eight years, the Obasanjo government, for example, chose to ignore the past, particularly Abiola’s place in the political equations that produced May 29, 1999. In Ogun and Lagos states, there are streets/schools named after MKO Abiola and his wife, Kudirat Abiola who also fell in the course of the struggle, but generally, the nation which ought to remember, has chosen to remain silent on June 12. And yet, all the soldiers of democracy of that era, living and dead deserve national honour and recognition: the journalists that were killed, maimed or jailed, Ken Saro-Wiwa, NADECO chieftains, and the heroes of democracy who have been properly identified in a book of that same title by Joe Igbokwe, including Colonel Abubakar Umar, Wole Soyinka, Gani Fawehinmi, Dr Alex Ekwueme, Chief Anthony Enahoro, Mallam Uba Sani, Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe, Rear Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu (rtd.), Alhaji Abdulkarim Daiyabu, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, Alhaji Yakubu Abdulazeez, Alex Ibru, Alani Akinrinade and so on.

In the past nine years, the main gladiators on the political stage have been persons who betrayed June 12, persons who do not even know or would rather not be bothered about the past. It is a measure of how so easily we forget in this land. The same military that was confronted and eventually forced out of political office is back in the political arena, its officers having exchanged their military fatigues for civilian attires. The democracy that the people sought and voted for has not brought the happiness and the progress that they desired. But try as the revisionists may, the past continues to catch up with us, June 12 continues to steal upon us every year, and we are forced to remember, as more tales about that era are told.

The latest of such tales is the revelation by the former Chief Security Officer to General Sani Abacha, Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, who is standing trial for murder, that Chief MKO Abiola who was detained by General Abacha and who died in detention under the Abdusalami Abubakar government, did not die of natural causes as claimed by the then government and the international experts who conducted his autopsy. Rather, Al-Mustapha insists, that Abiola was beaten to death by Abacha’s security agents. He says the evidence is contained in some Ghana-Must-Go bags which he had kept with a former Director of the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI). He wants the court to grant him access to those bags. Is Mustapha telling the truth?

In the course of his prolonged trial, he has told too many tales, sometimes contradicting himself in the process. His claim that Abiola did not die of natural causes is however not hard to believe. The military was most brutal in its response to the determined opposition to its methods by the Nigerian civil society: whoever offered alternative views was bombed, harassed, detained, murdered, driven into exile or blackmailed into acquiescence. The general conclusion at the time of MKO Abiola’s sudden death in detention is that there must have been some foul play involved; this was also the position of Abiola’s personal physician, Dr Ore Falomo, who insisted that Abiola’s heart was thrice the normal size at the time of his death.. Abiola died within a month after General Abacha’s death; if he had lived, he would have had to be released and the June 12 question would have remained alive. His death was most convenient for the military cabal, the Nigerian state and their agents. Indeed, there had been reports at the Oputa panel that Abiola had to die in order to balance the equation of Abacha’s death.

Al-Mustapha’s claims slightly contradict the testimonies of ASP Theodore Zadok and Brig-Gen Sabo at the Oputa Panel, but still, they are worth investigating. Those tapes should be produced and scrutinized. There had always been fears that some Nigerians were feeding off the June crisis. Al-Mustapha has now told us that some NADECO chieftains were bribed to help prevent an outbreak of crisis in the West on account of Abiola’s death. He should be made to name those NADECO leaders and provide evidence to back up his claims. There were many masquerades involved in the June 12 struggle: it soon became a bandwagon vehicle for relevance. Al-Mustapha who played an invidious role in the affair as Goebbels to Abacha’s Hitler, may not be a witness of truth, but his claims that Abiola was murdered may help to unveil the past further.

The Yar’Adua government has been looking backwards, and seeking to correct what it considers to be the wrongs of that season. On the political front, it should return to the report of the Oputa Panel which had inquired into injustices in the Nigerian society between 1966 and 1999. That panel completed its assignment and there were many revelations before it on the question of June 12 and the abuse of human rights. But for reasons best known to it, the Obasanjo government refused to release or act on that report. The convenient excuse is that there was a December 2003 Supreme court ruling barring the Federal Government from acting on the report. Did the Supreme Court actually give such a ruling? The Nigerian people still need to know the truth. The Oputa panel revealed the pain in the hearts of many; there were open demands for recompense, which the aggrieved did not get.

There is also the issue of MKO Abiola and the other martyrs of June 12. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo conveniently ignored the June 12 progressives: the men and women whose commitment and heroism made democracy possible in 1999. President Obasanjo benefited from this, but he has showed no gratitude. Olusegun Obasanjo, a South Westerner had to be made President, mainly because a South Westerner, MKO Abiola, had died in the struggle. The intention of the architects of the politics of zoning was to pacify the aggrieved West. The Abdusalami Abubakar administration also had no option but to see the political transition programme through because by 1998 when he assumed office, the only way forward was to return political power to the people. President Yar’Adua is also down the line a beneficiary of the June 12 phenomenon. He is now in a position to return to that moment in Nigerian history and put the right mark on its importance. The least that a government with a sense of historical consciousness can do is to grant Abiola national honour and recognition, and to admit officially that the annulment of the election of June 12, 1993 was a mistake.

Fifteen years later, it is difficult not to reflect briefly on MKO Abiola and his essence. He was indeed a phenomenon of his time. Yemi Ogunbiyi and Chidi Amuta refer to him as “the legend of our time” in a book titled Legend of Our Time: The Thoughts of MKO Abiola. Long before he declared his interest in the Presidential office in 1992, Abiola had made his mark as a principal officer of International Telephones and Telecommunications (ITT), as publisher of the Concord newspapers and magazine, as a philanthropist, community leader, pan-Africanist, and foremost sponsor and supporter of sports in Africa.

He had also gained international prominence as a campaigner for reparations, his own way of seeking redress for over 400 years of Western imperialism and the enslavement of Africans. Abiola was a wealthy man, so apparently wealthy he was compared to Croesus. He was the Chairman of a chain of businesses, and he was a well-known repository of jokes and witticisms about his own life and life generally. The people loved him and his money; he too demonstrated a spontaneous gift of the common touch. Musicians courted him; the ruling establishment befriended him. Before he joined the SDP, he had been an active member of the old National Party of Nigeria (NPN), he had also abandoned politics for a while only to return again.

His declaration of interest in the Presidential office brought him much trouble. He was clearly better prepared and better qualified than his opponent, the National Republican Convention’s Alhaji Bashir Tofa who has since disappeared from the public arena. Where is he by the way? Abiola ran a vigorous and exciting campaign. In the June 12, 1993 election, Abiola according to the results of the 14 states and the FCT announced by the then National Electoral Commission (NEC) received majority votes from all parts of Nigeria. He was a Muslim but Christians voted overwhelmingly for him.

He was a Yoruba but Nigerians wanted him as President. Trouble began when a cabal made up of Babangida and his agents decided that they did not want Abiola as President and they chose to impose their will on the people of Nigeria. One lesson that Nigerians have had to learn since then and up till now, is that the violation of the people’s will is like sowing the seeds of destruction. This lesson is clear to the people, but not the politicians who in all elections since then have shown themselves to be just as bad as the military overlords of the past. No one should ever be in a position to dictate to the people who should be their leaders. Those who refuse to learn from history are bound to repeat mistakes and indeed, in Nigeria, we keep repeating old mistakes and re-opening old wounds.

Whatever the new government does, the June 12 phenomenon and the Abiola factor would remain useful referents in the construction of Nigeria’s political history. The only pity in relation to Abiola is how so soon after his transition, his home began to unravel. The man was a prolific polygamist with a compound full of wives and children, legitimate and illegitimate. The House of Abiola has been troubled ever since with the public treated to salacious details about DNA testing, paternity questions, wives fighting sons, sons fighting wives, wives marrying other men, and children complaining about penury, discrimination and neglect.

Abiola was a man of honour but death has served him the very short end of the stick, yet he lives on and all his associates continue to be remembered, in the hearts of those who value the symbolism and practical relevance of democracy and justice.

 

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2 Responses to “June 12: Was Abiola Beaten To Death? – Reuben Abati”

  1. DAPO SHOGBOLA says:

    DR. ABATI
    PEOPLE LIKE YOU, PROFESSOR SHOYINKA, LATE GANI FAWEHINMI, LATE CLAUDE EKE WERE LARGELY RESPONSIBLE FOR THE MESS NIGERIA GOT HER SELF INTO OVER JUNE 12, 1993
    CLAUDE EKE WAS FINALLY QUOTED AS SAYING”PERHAPS NIGERIA SHOULD NOT BE FIGHTING THE MILITARY OVER FOLKS LIKE M . K .O ”
    THAT TO ME WAS MEDICINE AFTER DEATH
    WHY?
    FOLKS LIKE HIM OUGHT TO HAVE REALIZED AND WARNED NIGERIANS THAT A MAN CREATED BY THE MILITARY POLITICAL CLASS THROUGH THEIR MONOPOLISTIC GRIP ON THE NIGERIAN BUSINESS CLIMATE AND GREED WAS NOT A FIT AND PROPER PERSON TO BID FOR THE HIGHEST OFFICE OF THE LAND
    GIVE CREDIT TO MEN LIKE ALHADJI UMARU DIKKO WHO WARNED THAT “THE HIGHEST OFFICE OF THE LAND SHOULD NOT GO TO THE HIGHEST BIDDER”
    ABIOLA AN INTERNATIONAL WHEELER-DEALER HAD NO BUSINESS IN POLITICS
    INTERNATIONAL WHEELER -DEALERS ARE REPUTED TO BE INTERESTED ONLY IN MAKING LARGE SUMS OF MONEY THROUGH MONOPOLISTIC GRIPS ON A COUNTRY’S ECONOMY
    THEY FUND COUPS AND COUNTER COUPS AND DISRUPT THE DEMOCRATIC REGIMES OF THEIR COUNTRIES AND OTHER COUNTRIES ALL IN A BID TO CONNER ALL THE JUICY CONTRACTS AND AMASS MONEY
    PRAY
    WHO FUNDED THE MILITARY TO TAKE OVER FROM THE DEMOCRATICALLY ELECTED ALHADJI SHEHU SHAGARI’S GOVERNMENT AND WHY?
    HOW COME BABANGIDA WAS FINANCED TO TAKE OVER FROM BUHARI
    WHO FINANCED THAT PALACE COUP AND WHY?
    DID ABIOLA ALSO FINANCED A COUP IN UGANDA AND ELSE WHERE ?
    ARE YOU AWARE THAT SINCE BEFORE INDEPENDENCE THERE WAS NEVER A TIME WHEN A GOVERNEMENT IN THIS COUNTRY FLOUTED CIVIL SERVICE RULES / PROCEDURES ON CONTRACTS’ AWARDS AS THE GOVERNMENT OF MURTALA MUHAMMED ?
    WHO WAS THE MAIN BENEFICIARY OF THESES LAPSES ?
    WHY DID DEEP THINKERS OF NIGERIA FAIL TO RESIST IBB WHEN HE FOUNDED / FUNDED TWO POLITICAL PARTIES WITH STATE’S MONEY?
    NO REASONABLE PERSON EXPECTED ANY GOOD TOP COME OUT OF SUCH AN EXERCISE
    WHEN FINALLY CHIEF SHONEKAN WAS RELUCTANTLY ALLOWED TO CORRECT THE ILLS
    HOW COME THESE SO CALLED SOCIAL CRUSADERS FAILED TO SUPPORT HIM AND ASSIST THE NATION ?
    THEY KNEW THE ING DECREE WAS A PLOY TO PAVE WAY FOR ABACHA
    YET
    THEY FAILED TO COLLABORATE WITH CHIEF SHONEKAN TO DISMISS ALL MEMBERS OF MILITARY POLITICAL CLASS FROM THE MILITARY
    A MOVE THAT WOULD HAD FORCED ABACHA TO ATTEND THE ING MEETINGS IN MUFTI
    IF YOU PEOPLE KEPT SILENT THEN, YOU SHOULD KEEP SILENT FOR EVER ON JUNE 12
    AS FAR AS PEOPLE LIKE MY SELF ARE CONCERNED ,: M. K. O . ABIOLA HAD NO BUSINESS IN POLITICS OF NIGERIA

    LATE YINKA ADEYEMI (WHO YOU WOULD RATHER CALL KUDIRAT ABIOLA )
    YOU WOULD RECALL THAT A FEW WEEKS BEFORE HE DIED, FELA ANIKULAPO KUTI SAID ” KUDIRAT WAS ACTING STRANGE BECAUSE SHE WAS UNDER A SPELL PLACED ON HER BY M .K O. ?
    YOU SHOULD INVESTIGATE FELA’S CLAIM
    BECAUSE THOSE WHO KNEW YINKA/ KUDI WELL WOULD TELL YOU FOR FREE SHE WAS NOT A FIRE FIGHTING, RUDE PERSON
    SHE WAS PEACE LOVING QUIET BUSINESS LADY WHO DEVOTED HER LIFE TO THE WELL BEING OF HER CHILDREN
    MANY IN M. K O. ABIOLA”S HOUSE HOLD RECALLED THAT SHE GOT THE BEATING OF HER LIFE IN THE HANDS OF YOUR DARLING M . K O BECAUSE SHE RESISTED HIS ATTEMPT TO RUN FOR OFFICE
    BECAUSE THE PROPHETS WARNED AGAINST IT
    KUDI / YINKA INSISTED THAT HE SPENT HIS MONEY ON THE CHILDREN NOT POLITICS
    BUT TRUST M K O AND HIS ALFAS
    THE REST IS HISTORY
    DAPO SHOGBOLA

  2. amedu omoyebagbe says:

    This is so revealing! But are they based on verifiable facts? It is one thing to write so beautifully and another to back it up with proof.

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