Former Secretary of the pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, and Publicity Secretary of the National Democratic Coalition, Chief Ayo Opadokun, in this interview explains the national mistakes in June 12 and the danger ex-military chiefs pose to Nigeria’s democratic system.
Have you ever been worried that June 12, is being celebrated annually only in the South-West?
A significant number of those who have succeeded in capturing power – those who were military apologists, con-federates, sympathisers and friends – will not understand where the shoe is pinching ordinary Nigerians, since they did not participate in the various campaigns that the National Democratic Coalition established.
They got into political offices through influence peddling and commercialisation of the Nigerian political landscape. They have failed to show a modicum of etiquette and attitude to those who made it possible for the restoration that took place in 1999.
Each time some of those characters tell you that June 12 is just one of those days and there’s nothing more to it, it is not difficult for you to understand where they are coming from. Some of them got into public office too cheaply; they neither bargained nor worked for it. June 12 was a unique day, when Nigerians of all shades of opinion decided to unify their ranks by establishing a pan-Nigerian mandate for Chief Moshood Abiola. Not only that he won massively, he got at least 25 per cent in 28 or 29 states. That was a mandate that would have, for the first time, established a pan-Nigeria.
The military, however, struck and took a very dangerous, unreasonable and criminal action by ignoring the constitutional right of all Nigerians to vote for persons or group of persons to govern them at every point in time. They exhibited the highest form of contempt for the Nigerian people. They stole our money and killed many people in their penchant to capture power. The election was held by the mercy of God because at that time, the immediate constituency of (the then military ruler) Gen. Ibrahim Babangida did not want the election to hold.
The election was held and it produced the June 12 phenomenon. If the military had not subverted the completion of that process and Abiola had governed, it would have established a united Nigeria. By doing what they did, they denied Nigeria and Nigerians a very unique opportunity to create a nation out of the country called Nigeria. You will remember that what Nigeria did on June 12, 1993, was to bury the various dubious national divides – North/South, Christian/Muslim, haves and have-nots.
We were united to establish a modicum of decency for ourselves. But the military did what they did under the leadership of Babangida. It was very unfortunate and we are still suffering the consequence of the annulment of the election.
Today, there’s no cohesion in our country. There’s mutual suspicion all over the land. How do you reconcile a situation where 12 states in the North are now being governed under Sharia law? The Sharia law totally opposes the 1999 Constitution. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo did not do anything about it.
So, Boko Haram that you now find to be objectionable is an enhancement of what Shariah was established for. People should stop shedding crocodile tears. If in early 2001, when those states established Shariah, Obasanjo ensured that the Nigerian constitution prevailed, the chances are that we won’t have Boko Haram.
Would you agree with those who believe the annulment was influenced by the Western World?
I don’t know of any external force that could ask him (Babangida) to frustrate the popular will of the people. In their environment, it is the popular will of the people that prevails. Every government in Western hemisphere has to comply with the public and popular will of the people. That is why they conduct opinion polls regularly to test the popularity of government, persons and policies. In fact, a popular policy must be relevant and satisfy the demands of the people. When that is not done, they know they have lost their popularity and democratic forces will bring them down. We have seen similar things happen in the Arab Spring.
I don’t know of any pressure from any Western power to deny the people the grace of democratic dividends, which is a legitimate right of everybody. In the United States, they say ‘We hold this truth to be sacrosanct.’
Government is form for the greater glory of man and when such government becomes tyrannical, the people have a duty to ensure that it is put down. People are not being honest when they put the blame on external forces. Which external forces? It was clear: First, IBB knew from the first day he came in 1985 that he wanted to remain in power in perpetuity. Not up to one year after he got into office, he dispatched a number of his immediate constituency to visit Middle East and Latin American countries where military despots were governing to get recommendations on how they had sustained themselves in office for a long period of time. He was not prepared or ready to go. He used all the transition processes to fill the time, while he continued with what he was doing.
When the election was held and result was against their expectation, they had to first utilise the judiciary. One Justice Ikpeme, a lady, sat at 9:30pm. You know that was extraordinarily illegal, professionally destructive and morally unfortunate. She wanted to give an exparte order and the defendant was not there, the people to be served were sleeping in their homes.
To make the matter much more revealing, the then Director of Legal Services, Buhari Bello, filed an appeal to get Justice Ikpeme’s order discharged. It was right there in the court, the following morning, when the Federal Court of Appeal in Abuja had already acceded to the request of the electoral commission that the order was treated. It was when Bello left the court room that he heard the announcement at 4pm that the entire electoral commission had been suspended. This is to show the kind of wickedness that took place.
The then Attorney-General of the country, Clement Akpamgbo, was the one who took the exparte order to the National Electoral Commission’s office. The fellow that the government institution ought to report to and who should provide legal cover for the commission was the one who brought the exparte order, and he reportedly told some members of the NEC directorate that ‘you’re on your own if you disobey this order.’
He was not totally in control as of that time. The regime had split into two parallel constituencies. Gen. Sani Abacha and Gen. Oladipo Diya–his immediate lieutenants – were in Lagos stripping him of all his myths. He had to cave in.
What they did to Nigeria was very dangerous and unpleasant, and we are still grappling with the consequences till today.
Now that there’s democracy, can Nigerians bury their hatchets over June 12 and look forward?
Forgiveness is of God. But God says, “He who covers his sin shall not prosper. But he who confesses his sins and turns away from them will obtain mercy from God.” Has Babangida and his constituencies confessed? We have not seen them do so. What they did was for Babangida to say he took responsibility. Which responsibility? ‘Don’t punish my lieutenants, punish me.’ They have not really sought for forgiveness from Nigerians.
One of the greatest errors our people have committed is that we allowed the military men to go back to the barracks on their own terms. Once a country does that, it will continue to suffer the consequence of the military Shenanigans for a long time. Allowing them to go on their own terms has resulted in our inability to establish a well-ordered society. We have not been able to structure what a modern state ought to do for its citizens, in spite of the great resources – human and material – that God has endowed Nigeria with.
In the Latin American states, where military despots governed for between three and four decades, most of the military leaders have been prosecuted and sentenced. One of them, who was the military ruler in Argentina, died not long ago. Many of them have been convicted because they were forced to account for the evils they did in office – killing of people and stealing of public resources. In our case, the military went on their terms and retained their loot, and they are dangling it on our faces.
I’m not sure that it’s possible for Nigeria to get out of the woods we are today, because this military clique and their cohorts have acquired too much wealth through military contracts, inflated contracts that they did not do but which funds had been withdrawn. They are the ones who can take part in monetised and commercialised politics.
The guard of the house forces out the landlord and sends him out. That is the experience we are going through. I restate that since they have done so on their own terms, we have allowed them to take a significant mileage in our national political journey.
As a result of the fact that the military left on their own terms, they have dominated the political landscape since then. You remember that Obasanjo was a military president. His Chief of Staff was Gen. Abdullahi. It didn’t take much time to sack Solomon Lar, who was the founding chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party. They also sacked Audu Ogbeh and brought a military man, Ahmadu Ali. His deputy in South-West, Bode George, was a naval officer. If you are not part of that conclave and circle, you’ll probably have problems emerging to win any significant office. They are still in control and that’s the truth. We had (a former governor of Osun State) Olagunsoye Oyinlola.
It was a costly error on the part of the populace to have allowed the military to go on their own terms. The consequences are what we are bearing today. I hope Nigerians will realise their wrongs and do the right thing.
When Obasanjo got into office in 1999, till today – about 14 years ago – there was no day that Nigeria did not export an average of two million barrels of crude oil at an average of N75 per barrel. Where is the evidence of such earnings in the Federal Government’s coffers? Where is it? Is it not irreconcilable that a country among the largest exporters of crude oil and with huge sums has over three-quarter of its people that cannot feed well, have sound education and its infrastructure totally decayed? How can you reconcile the fact that a country of this nature, with all its endowments, cannot provide power supply to its over 160 million people? We are still grappling to get 3,500 megawatts.
Can you recall your personal experience in the June 12 struggle?
It enabled me to understand and appreciate the power of resilience and commitment towards a particular goal. Nigerians united in several parts of the country to reject the annulment. The then Governor of the Central Bank, Adamu Ciroma, and a former minister, Mamman Daura, said Abiola won squarely and should be given the mandate Nigerians gave to him.
The Eastern Mandate Union, led by a Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Arthur Nwankwo, spoke. The Council for Unity and Understanding under the leadership of Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe, Rear Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu, all of them rose up that the majority of Nigerians voted and their wish should be respected.
For my experience, I saw man in his elements. Some, in obedience to God’s injunction, fought for justice, equity and fairness. Some, for their selfish reasons, became hypocritical as if it never happened. Some of these people have gone beyond this terrestrial divide. Some said the totality of participants in Abacha’s constitution conference – who were less than 300,000 – were superior to Abiola’s victory, in which over 14 million voted. I saw human beings in their natural elements – selfish, wicked, unreasonable, pleasure-lovers, fun-seekers. These were elements who were concerned with only their daily bread and their stomach. They have no regards for any values provided they dominate the atmosphere, ply their trade with useful and formidable instruments in the hand of the military oligarchies.
While I was in detention at the annex office of the State Security Service in Ikoyi, where I spent 24 months, I heard the officials saying, “If they capture power, he would be the secretary to the Federal Government.” They wanted to use oppression to make me cave in. Whatever I suffered is insignificant to me. What Nigerians are going through today is saddening. It is not because we don’t have the resources. Since Obasanjo came into power we have been spending between 75 and 82 per cent of our earnings to run bureaucracy. I read the report that they’re going to collapse about 280 agencies.
The distinguished Chief Obafemi Awolowo, as first Premier of Western Region – now eight states – governed the region with 14 ministers and 14 parliamentary secretaries. Look at the eight states today, how many commissioners, special advisers and special assistants do they have? The allowance of these public office holders is too huge. We spend the valuable resources we have to serve political bureaucracy. That is why there’s no development. Tell me, in the last 14 years, which new road has been built. Before international flights depart, go to the First Class section and see the kind of people you’ll see there; military’s friends, colleagues, associates, loyalists and sympathisers. They stole too much money out of Nigeria and they can afford to waste it.
How true is it that some of Abiola’s kinsmen betrayed him during the struggle and why did they do so?
Betrayal, yes some did. I wasn’t in their minds; I cannot know why they did so except to figure out that they couldn’t have done what they did without selfish advantage. Some of them were hypocritical in their discourse on the matter. The military strongmen – Babangida and Abacha – were able to capture their longings for various positions, offices and money. Look at the characters in Abacha’s government, some of them pretended and lied that it was Afenifere or Abiola that submitted their names to Abacha. They knew they were lying.
Those who became ministers were ready as soon as Abacha declared his leadership, working as civilian counterparts of the military jackboots. I’m not sure any of them is happy with himself today. I don’t want to speak more than that for now.
Insiders in Aso Rock then have accused some prominent Nigerians and the West of knowing what Killed Abiola? What do you think led to his death?
My information is limited. I know it was not accidental that Abacha died the way he died. The implication of that is that there were too many ‘irresolvables.’
What were the ‘irresolvables?’
The key actors will never tell the true story. And because it was a matter that took place in a much hidden place – not open to the general public – it would be difficult for one to be authoritative. Like my earlier explanation, it was not accidental that Abacha died the way he died neither was it accidental that a month thereafter, Abiola equally died the way he died. Some people must have choreographed and perfected what they wanted to do – very wickedly and maddening – to resolve the national question.
Are you saying the two were killed to balance the scale?
I do not know but it is possible. Honestly, we have limited information.
Many people have criticised Obasanjo for not recognising Abiola, being his kinsman, while in power. Do you think the ex-president has a personal grievance against the June 12 election winner?
I would imagine so; otherwise there should be no reason for him not to do so. The little we know of Obasanjo is that he is essentially selfish and uncharitably ungrateful. With the price that MKO paid, the Nigerian political configuration decided to nominate him (Obasanjo), the undeserved beneficiary. Yet, he failed to say anything about Abiola. It should not surprise us. As soon as Abacha took over power, Obasanjo was outside the country attending the inauguration of Nelson Mandela as South African President. He said Abiola was not the kind of Messiah Nigeria needed.
Here was a man from same Egba and they knew each other in high school in Abeokuta, and he could not recognise Abiola’s role and sacrifice. He died a democratic martyr and you benefitted, and you did not say a word. It is unbelievable. That is part of the explanation of the humanity in us.
You once described June 12 as a nemesis to this country. Are you saying the wound has not healed since 20 years?
Certainly not! How can you heal the wound when you have locked up the truth in a cage? And truth, no matter what you do, will one day be exposed. All the strength of falsehood will ultimately be crushed.
This country is suffering from national mistrust, non-cohesion, centrifugal forces and the opposites are at the peak since then. That is why we have come into this irreconcilable position. It is difficult to understand that a country that exports this volume of crude yet have three-quarter of its citizens living below $1; living below the poverty line. You earn very huge resources but your social services are the worst.
What Nigeria offers today as education is a deception; it is a very criminal neglect. Any country that finds it difficult to train its younger generation, who are supposed to be the leaders of tomorrow, is subjecting itself to destruction. It will have to go under.