Osoba: Bamaiyi is only looking for relevance, cheap popularity
NADECO Never Abandoned Abiola
CHIEF Olusegun Osoba, former Ogun State governor was an active member of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) during the difficult days of the military, particularly in the quest for the revalidation of the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential election. In this interview with NIYI BELLO and SEYE OLUMIDE, Osoba reacted to the claims by General Ishaya Bamaiyi, former Chief of Army Staff (COAS) in his recently-launched book.
How would you react to Bamayi’s allegation that NADECO was responsible for Abiola’s death, because the organisation advised him to reject the offered conditional bail?
It is one of the most sweeping statements anyone can make, which I will describe as unkind and most dangerous allegation against a very objective and clean body like NADECO. Bamayi, from what I have read so far, based most of the statements in the excerpts of his book on hearsay. I am aware and I know from the late Publisher of The Guardian Newspaper, Dr. Alex Ibru, about the scenario for the bail condition of Abiola. Those that were involved but not limited to them, in the arrangement of the bail for the acclaimed winner of the June 12 1993 presidential election, were former Chief of General Staff (CGS), Lt. Gen. Oladipo Diya, the former Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Dr. Olu Onagoruwa and of course, Dr. Ibru, who was the then Minister of Internal Affairs. Dr. Ibru briefed me directly on the steps being taken at that time.
It was these three noble people, who worked relentlessly to achieve bail for Abiola. I cannot recall that Bamayi’s name was mentioned. So, he is not qualified to comment on the issue. He is only looking for cheap popularity.
What position did NADECO actually take on the bail? Did the organisation negotiate at all with the government on Abiola’s release?
NADECO, as a group, did not negotiate with the government or meet on the matter, apart from its activities that Abiola’s mandate must be given to him and democracy installed. But I am aware it briefed Chief G.O.K Ajayi, who was the head of Abiola’s legal team, to handle the matter. I boldly admit it was a tactical error for his team to have rejected the conditional bail, but there was no complicity whatsoever on the part of NADECO, as Bamayi claimed.
So, it was regrettable that Abiola rejected that bail?
I admit that, but not the way the former Chief of Army Staff put it during his book launch. We seriously underestimated Abacha’s capacity for ruthlessness and deadliness. We did not know he had such capacity to be very vicious and vindictive, when he offered the conditional bail for Abiola. That was a tactical error on our part. But there was no complicity on NADECO’s part. In the kind of political warfare and the atmosphere the country found itself then, Abiola being held by his enemy, Gen. Abacha was not the best. It put Abiola and NADECO at great disadvantage. I would have wished he got the bail and moved to exile to continue to pursue the realisation of his mandate, instead of being incarcerated where he eventually died.
You said Diya, Onagoruwa and Ibru played remarkable role to secure Abiola’s release, but what role did other prominent Yoruba in the Abacha cabinet play to ensure his freedom?
I knew the role Diya and Onagoruwa played based on the information I gathered from Ibru because of our closeness, so I wouldn’t know the role other Yoruba played to help Abiola regain his freedom. I only recall that Ibru was the one relating with us openly and not in any surreptitious manner to negotiate Abiola’s release.
Ibru, who was then Minister of Internal Affairs, maintained his belief and support for the June 12 presidential election and he did not also interfere in the editorial policy of his paper, The Guardian, which was vocal and critical over the matter. In fact, he openly identified with those of us in the pro-democracy fronts and when Commodore Dan Suleiman (Rtd.) and I were arrested with others and incarcerated, he came in broad daylight to visit us at the prison.
Bamaiyi corroborated his allegation that the coalition tactically abandoned Abiola, when he declared at Epetedo, despite the fact that it was NADECO that encouraged him to do so. What is your comment?
The arrangement for Abiola’s declaration was drafted in confidentiality. Not all the members of the coalition were aware of the plan. I was aware that the declaration was to be made on June 12, 1994, which was a Sunday, but some leaders of the coalition, who were Christians, objected. That was why it was done a day before. The fact that NADECO members were not present on that day does not mean Abiola was abandoned, as claimed by Bamaiyi. Many chieftains of the organisation took part in the planning and execution of the declaration.
NADECO couldn’t secure Abiola’s freedom nor realise the June 12 mandate. It also ceased to function as a force after the return to democracy in 1999. Would you say it failed as a body?
One of the calamities of NADECO was the division within it after Abiola and Abacha died and Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar became the Head of State, and a decision was taken to return the country to democracy. A section of the coalition agreed it should be part of the military administration to use the opportunity to actualise some of its philosophies, while another believed it should not. This was a major decision that wreaked havoc on the organisation.
But the Alliance for Democracy (AD) was able to grow out of NADECO to sweep the South West states in 1999
The roles of the AD, its integrity and reputation were based on the trust of the people in NADECO. The people trusted the leadership of NADECO, who were part of the AD, but unfortunately, we didn’t realise on time that we were fighting the military men in politics, who had made up their mind to install one of their own, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. The military men in politics managed to return to power in civilian garment, using the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
That seems to have corroborated Bamaiyi’s claim that Obasanjo was imposed by the military
I don’t trust Bamaiyi. He made those statements because he lost out among his military peers and that was the reason he has been trying to get back at those senior military officers of that era. The AD didn’t have the kind of assertion that the PDP had in 1999. Bamaiyi was only exposing the kind of dirty politics within the military. For example, the politics and intrigues among the military officers are deadlier than the one among civilians.
If you can recall, the numbers of coups against civilian administrations are not as much as the ones against their fellow military leaders in the country. They were never together and they always deployed all their military training in ambushing and brutal extermination of adversaries into politics to bring one another down. That is what Bamaiyi has only exposed.
How comfortable are you with the incursion of Fulani Herdsmen into the South, particularly Yoruba land with reference to the recent fight between the Hausa and Yoruba communities in Ife, Osun State?
I will not look at the situation of the crisis at Ile-Ife in isolation of the larger picture of the crisis plaguing the Nigerian federation. We in Ogun State are facing similar threat from the Fulani herdsmen. They rape our women, destroy our farms and do all sorts of illegalities on our land. Let me say that I support Most Rev. Ayo Ladigbolu’s philosophy of self-defence. In this situation, any community or group that is placed under threat by the herdsmen should be free to defend itself.
The recurrent of and present incursion of the Fulani herdsmen has historical antecedent in Yoruba land. For instance, the story of Afonja of Ilorin and Alimi would easily come to the memory of any reasonable Yoruba person and, therefore, would want to do anything possible to stop such history from recurring. Afonja of Ilorin thought he could seek the assistance of Alimi to assert himself, but unfortunately Alimi took advantage of that to wipe him (Afonja) out and took over Ilorin. He even betrayed the Alaafin of Oyo. Yoruba must be very alert to the incursion of the herdsmen into their farmlands and should not take kindly to it at all.
Imagine, they come in and invade our farmland, kill our people, rape our women and destroy our farms. The question is: how did the Fulani herdsmen come about the sophisticated AK 47 guns they are wielding? Land is very sacred among the Yoruba and under no circumstance should any group of people come and rob us of our inheritance.
Are you saying ‘no’ to grazing reserves in the South West?
I will never, ever support the ceding of one inch of land to anybody for grazing reserves. Such countries as Argentina, Kenya and United States produce beef, but you can never see their cows being taken along the major roads like we do here. Grazing reserves is like returning to the archaic method of rearing animals. If there should be need for grazing reserves, I will suggest the Northerners stay in their region. It is a shame that even in Abuja, we still see cows being herded along major roads.
Would you agree that South West governors are being cowardly in speaking critically against the demand for grazing reserves?
No. People have short memories. The first governor to reject the idea of Grazing Reserves Bill was Sen. Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State. He rejected the idea of ceding any part of his state for grazing. I don’t believe our governors are timid over the issue. You don’t necessarily have to disclose all your strategies or make noise over what you intend to do.
Imagine, they come in and invade our farmland, kill our people, rape our women and destroy our farm. The question is: how did the Fulani herdsmen come about the sophisticated AK 47 guns they are wielding? Land is very sacred among the Yoruba and under no circumstance should any group of people come and rob us of our inheritance. I will never, ever support the ceding of one inch of land to anybody for grazing reserves
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