Witnesses speak on MKO Abiola’s Epetedo Declaration
This article was first published on June 12, 2019.
Epetedo was an unassuming locality on Lagos Island. But it was not without historical importance.
Epetedo became home some of the followers of the deposed and exiled Oba Kosoko of Lagos in the late 1800s. Kosoko was sacked by the British colonialists for refusing to end Trans Atlantic Slave Trade and his troops’ faceoff with British forces.
And when Chief MKO Abiola, the candidate of the Social Democratic Party in Nigeria’s general elections of 1993 and the recognised winner of that election decided to stand up to the military juntas that deprived him of his mandate, he chose Epetedo, in the heart of Lagos, to declare himself the president of Africa’s most populous country.
25 years after the famous declaration that catapulted Epetedo from obscurity into global attention, the area seemed to have settled back into its unassuming nature.
The hall where Abiola made the declaration was littered with dirt – plastic bottles and cans – and the roof perforated in multiple places.
Eleganza Centre currently serves as a football playing ground for children in the community.
Sharing the same building with a beer depot a non-Abiola look-alike statue is erected outside the hall.
Not just the Eleganza Centre, infrastructure in the community has seen better days.
The road leading to the community seems to be under construction but evidently abandoned, with no engineers in sight except for construction equipment.
But despite the sign of negligence in such a historic place, MKO Abiola is alive in the hearts of residents of Epetedo.
Abiola’s declaration came a year after he won the June 12, 1993, election under the platform of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) with a majority of 58.36% of the total votes cast, winning 20 out of 30 states against Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC).
But the then-military head of state General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida disagreed with the outcome and annulled the election.
Since then, many have wondered why Abiola, an indigene of Abeokuta, Ogun State declared himself president in a place that is barely related to him.
An elderly man who is the hall security guard entered the community to call two men he said will give us the full details of the events leading to the eventual declaration.
One of the men, Rasheed Aro-Lambo, a man in his 50s, was the master of the ceremony. He told The Guardian that he had no regrets for supporting and voting for Abiola.
“I have always told my children that one day, Epetedo will be remembered for what they did for Abiola and your visit is a sign of that,” he said with an unmissable sense of pride.
Aro-Lambo said Abiola arrived Epetedo that morning in a dirty Mercedes Benz which was like camouflage for him. I didn’t even know it was him because of the car.
He described Abiola as a humble man that influenced people’s respect for him till today, recounted his words when he approached him.
“I remembered what he said to me after I greeted him. He said my younger brother, well done. May God save us from these people (military rulers),” Aro said.
“After we exchanged greetings I ran out to inform the people around that Abiola is here but before I returned the hall was filled up.”
Aro-Lambo pointed at the hall and said: “after Abiola ‘s declaration, we were all still in the hall celebrating and rejoicing when uniform men stormed the community.”
He said his friends told him to run because as the MC of that day his pictures would have circulated and this will make it easy for the police to identify him.
“I left Epetedo for my community brother’s house in Festac. My brother told me to leave and hide somewhere because they are looking for me. I later hid in my farm in Epe for few days till everything went down,” Aro-Lambo said.
He was delighted when President Muhammadu Buhari conferred the posthumous award of the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) on Abiola 26 years after the annulment of the election that is still adjudged most peaceful and fair election in Nigeria’s history.
“It shows our effort didn’t go to waste. Honouring Abiola means they honoured we that participated on that day too,” Aro-Lambo said
“It is what we have been looking and searching for. We like it.”
Regardless, Aro-Lambo said the government immortalisation of Nigeria’s icon of democracy should include Epetedo.
“We need them to immortalise Abiola in this community so that we can proudly tell our children and the generations to come that a great man chose us for our loyalty.”
He noted that other community leaders in Lagos State at that time rejected Abiola and turned down his declaration as president.
“But we the people of Epetedo allowed him because we believed in him.”
Abdul Rasheed Aremu Jawando, who also witnessed the Epetedo declaration, said Abiola chose the location because most of his loyalists and trusted people – including Wahab Dosunmu, Adeniji Adele and himself – were from the community.
Jawando explained that Abiola felt safe in Epetedo and chose to declare himself president there because he knew “the police will not be able to fish him out here and the Epetedo people will stand for him.”
But the support given the late politician landed him and others in jail.
“After Abiola’s’ declaration on that day, uniformed men stormed Epetedo arrested some of us who they believed worked for Abiola. I was arrested and locked up for some days but later released.”
While Abiola has not been recognised as a substantial president by the Nigerian government, June 12 is now a national public holiday and is designated Democracy Day.
The president during the first celebration of the day at the Eagle Square in Abuja also renamed the Abuja Stadium after Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola.
For former Ogun State governor Olusegun Osoba, the designation of June 12 as Democracy Day, a national holiday, is an indirect acceptance that MKO Abiola was a Nigerian ‘president’.
“Here is Buhari who indirectly accepted that Abiola was once past president of this country, so those sacrifices that we also suffered are no more in vain,” he said.
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