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Abiola was the best person to unite Nigeria, says Edebiri

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Edebiri

Chief Solomon Edebiri is the Esogban of Benin. He was an active member of the Zikist Movement and later worked closely with the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo in the Action Group. He was active in politics until few years ago when he bowed out to become an elder statesman. He spoke to Alemma-Ozioruva Aliu on the declaration of June 12 as Nigeria’s Democracy Day.

What will you say about the recent declaration of June 12 as the Democracy Day for Nigeria?

I regard this pronouncement as the best thing the Buhari administration has done since its inception.

He has listened to what people have been saying, there have been agitations here and there over this issue and to some of us, I have refused personally to acknowledge May 29 as Democracy Day in Nigeria.

I have never celebrated it, I have never given holiday to my workers on that day because I do not regard that day as the authentic democracy day in Nigeria.

Consequently, what Buhari has done meets the yearnings and aspirations of vast majority of Nigerians who were present, who knew what happened and who appreciated the sacrifices made by Nigerians for the actualisation of June 12 after it has been destroyed by the military people who were in power then so it is a very god decision and it has come at a very good time in our political history.

There are some who are saying that Buhari did it for political reasons?    


Those are people who are having their own personal issues with Buhari as individuals; it is the view of the majority of the people. June 12 itself is a political issue, it is a political landmark so if they say it is a political issue, there is nothing bad about it but it has come at the very right time.

Why did Jonathan, why did Obasanjo not do it? So if he has used it for whatever reason, I regard it as a masterstroke and it is going to win the hearts of many Nigerians.

That is the truth. Some of us were very close to the late Moshod Abiola, some of us were very close to him, personally, I was very close to him, politically, I was very close.

In fact he was like a family friend so everything that happened then, we were all witnesses and unless this action now taken by Buhari was taken, there can be no end to the grief of those who felt injured by what Babangida did by annulling that election that was adjudged to be the freest and most credible in the annals of Nigerian political history.

It was an election where money was not the issue, it was an election where tribal differences or tribal affiliation, religious affiliation were not considered.

Can you imagine that Abiola and Kingibe came from the same religious background but Nigerians did not take notice of that?

The man who contested against Abiola (Tofa) lost his own polling booth in the heart of the north. So it was an election that no one can push aside in the history of Nigeria.

All Nigerians came out and gave their votes freely to Abiola but because of whatever reason they had, the military oligarchy that was in power annulled that election, not only that, they killed the man, they killed his wife, they destroyed so many people so I do not agree with those who are talking all these type of things.

But why did it take so long to take this action? 


The unfortunate thing about our country is that when we left the military regime, the party that took over power, that ruled this country for sixteen years was an offshoot of the military, it was formed by the military; that is the PDP.

Those who retired from the military were the founders of the PDP so how can they come and undo what they have done wrong? That was the reason.

So for sixteen years, you can’t expect the PDP to have done it because they were part and parcel of what happened and as a matter of fact, it was widely rumoured that Babangida did what he did because some prominent Yoruba people even came to tell the military not to give power to Abiola or to release him from prison.

They told Abacha not to release him from detention, we heard all these, it was in the public domain that some prominent Yoruba lobbied that Abiola should not be released from detention and that was how Abacha made it possible that he died in detention. The reason is that the PDP was an off-shot of the military.

What is your view that he should be declared as President posthumously and all entitlements paid?

I entirely agree with this view. Buhari has started it, he should finish it. The photograph of MKO Abiola should be hung where al those who have ruled Nigeria from the time of Lord Lugard, the photograph of Abiola should be hung among those that have governed Nigeria.

It should be so declared so that children who are coming behind will know why there is a Democracy Day because after this time, many people will not know why that day is named Democracy Day.

It should be so stated that he was a president of Nigeria then all his entitlements whether in salary, allowances or whatever that was due a president should be posthumously paid to the family.

 
I want to further appeal to President Buhari, we have said this before but unfortunately he was away on medical vacation last year when we held a remembrance rally the late Chief Anthony Enahoro. I am also happy that this honour was extended to Kingibe and Gani Fawehinmi, the only omission is Chief Tony Enahoro.

I am calling President Buhari to as a matter of urgency immortalise the name of Tony Enahoro.

First as a nationalist who sacrificed his entire life this country, who as a young man went to jail several times because of Nigeria and when the question of MKO Abiola came he again took up the leadership of the vanguard that fought for the restoration of democracy.

So a man like that should not be forgotten. It is instructive to note that when Nigeria was 50, the country named some people as the founders of modern Nigeria and Tony Enahoro was one of them.

Of all these people, Tony Enahoro is the only one who has not been honoured by naming any university after him in this country. Tony Enahoro is the only one who has no broad road or street named after him in the federal capital territory.

Tony Enahoro is the only one who has not got any federal institution named after him to immortalise him.

So we are calling on Buhari to please give Chief Tony Enahoro his pride of place posthumously and this is very necessary now.

When we held a meeting here March 25th last year with old nationalists coming from north west south and all over the country in Benin here, we made a similar call but unfortunately the president was away then so I am now calling on President Buhari to, as a matter of pride and necessity, immortalise Chief Tony Enahoro for what he has done for this country. 
 

What is your personal opinion of MKO? 


From political friends we became family friends. Many people have described him variously but to me, he was the best that I have ever worked with.

I started my politics at a very early age as a follower of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, the Zikist Movement to the NCNC, I left Zik and in 1958, I joined the Action Group.

I left the NCNC for the AG; I also worked with Awolowo at close quarters. I know the virtues of these gentlemen both Zik and Awolowo.

The only person who could have provided a leadership that could have been accepted by the whole country was MKO Abiola.

As good as Zik was, the West did not accept him.

As good as Awolowo was, a genius, a political worker of no mean order, he was never accepted by the northern people and of course Sir Ahmadu Bello did not even leave the northern region.

So the only man who was accepted by the whole country was MKO Abiola. I used to meet him in his bedroom.

Anytime I went to Lagos to see him, he has not woken, up, he will ask me to come straight to his bedroom and then I organised a party for him here in Benin City, at that time political parties were banned under a powerful group in the Midwest, I led it preparatory for his coming to contest for the presidency.

I escorted him to Dodan Barracks when he was going to America to give a lecture to go and clear with Babangida the speech he was going to deliver there. He trusted Babangida as a friend.

He thought he was a friend. He was the best Nigerian that could have unified this country because he had no boundary whatsoever.

Everybody was free with him. We used go out with Abiola in the morning, when we were coming back in the night, the whole of his compound would be lined up by people waiting for money and no matter how late in the night, he will give everyone.

He was a gentleman and he had the brain and he had the personality, he could get to anywhere.

There was nothing Abiola wanted to get that he could not get so he was the best man that could have unified this country.


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