Thursday, 8th June 2023

Why the Abiola mystique should be recreated for generation next

By Tope Templer Olaiya
12 June 2019   |   1:46 am
After 25 long and brutalising years, President Muhammadu Buhari on June 6, 2018, reflated wind into the sails of the small band of June 12 crusaders in the Southwest that were diminishing as the years went by.

Abiola’s statue at Epetedo

After 25 long and brutalising years, President Muhammadu Buhari on June 6, 2018, reflated wind into the sails of the small band of June 12 crusaders in the Southwest that were diminishing as the years went by. On that day, six days before the 25th anniversary of the 1993 election adjudged the freest and fairest in the nation’s history, President Buhari directed that the nation’s Democracy Day will, henceforth, hold on June 12 of every year as against the current arrangement where the ceremony is observed on May 29.

It has been a long and tortuous journey with several twists and turns. Each passing year, the brush of irrelevance was being tarred on the June 12 crusade. The commemoration reduced its fanfare from a Southwest carnival to a two-state affair – Lagos and Ogun. At a point, even in the two states, the customary June 12 public holiday day was not observed.

Before now, the Federal Government’s lame attempt at immortalizing Abiola failed to fly, noticeably the renaming the National Stadium, Abuja, and the University of Lagos, whose stamp on today’s date will remain unchallenged for years to come.

However, with the passage of time, memory about the man Abiola and his exploits began to fade. In 1993, Nigeria’s population was approximately 102.8 million; 26 years after, the figure has nearly doubled to 200,962,417, which possibly means a lower percentage of the population today were of age and witnessed the historic turning point. As a result, beyond government’s proclamation of a national holiday, there is the urgent need to recreate the heroism of Abiola for the generation now and next.

One community in Lagos Island, Epetedo, got into public reckoning because of the action of today’s hero, Abiola, on June 11, 1994, in what cannot be divorced from the Abiola mystic as the Epetedo Declaration. The Social Democratic Party (SDP) candidate, who won the election that was later annulled, declared himself President of Nigeria at the Eleganza Sport Centre, Epetedo, after waiting a full year for his mandate to be restored.

That momentous event, which eventually led to Abiola’s journey to prison where he never came out alive, has forever placed Epetedo community on the world map and would never be divorced from Nigeria’s history and democratic experience. Epetedo, an area with historic value since the colonial days, is located on Lagos Island, the centre of Lagos State. It is an historical area in Lagos Island where some of the followers of the deposed and exiled Oba of Lagos, Kosoko, settled in the 1860s.

According to Sola Giwa, a member of Lagos State House of Assembly representing Lagos Island constituency II, Epetedo is a community comprising diverse people through which the pulse of average Lagosians can be felt. Some residents of the small-town community still delightfully relive how their appointment with June 12 history has been of immense benefits to the community. They described Abiola as a messiah who would have turned things around, not only for Lagos State, but Nigeria as a whole.

Mr. Funsho Kass, a community leader and activist, said: “I was in my final year at University of Lagos when the push for this journey of democracy started. I made sure I was involved in every aspect of it. “Abiola was a man of honour and remains our hero as the father of modern democracy in Nigeria. He was a man who fully had the interest of the people at heart and would have pushed Nigeria to a greater height in the comity of nations, the same way he pushed his many businesses.”

Kass added that he still benefits from the history that was made that day till date, noting, “I remember going to an event sometime ago, I was allowed entrance immediately I mentioned I was from Epetedo. This community will soon turn out to be a tourist attraction and will aid the community’s future development.”

Another witness of the June 11 speech, Mr. Raymond Afolabi, said: “That day is one of the greatest of all in the history of Nigeria. A lot of people came out to honour Abiola; he was brought here by Dr. Wahab Dosunmu, the NADECO leader then, and Ademola Adeniji Adele, who was the chairman of SDP in Lagos.

“He didn’t go to one of those big events centres, but he came down here to deliver his speech, which was a great honour to us. We are eternally thankful that the president has honoured Abiola and we believe Epetedo will also be transformed because we will push for Abiola’s annual anniversary to be moved to this community, as this was where he made history and we know the community will be more recognised and transformed.”

Mrs. Molara Funsho, a resident, said she witnessed the historic day 25 years ago: “I saw him for the first time that day; he came along with his wife and they promised us a lot for our country, our state and our future. No one like him has come around and it will take a very long time for his like to be born in Nigeria again.”

According to Mr. Femi Agboola, one of the youth leaders in the community, June 12 could never be forgotten in years to come and after Abiola had been honoured, he would forever be remembered alongside Epetedo. He said, “Abiola came in through Third Mainland Bridge that day to the Eleganza Sport Centre. That was the longest motorcade I have ever seen in my life. We all celebrated him that day. It was after he left that soldiers arrested him; it wouldn’t have been possible if they came during his declaration, because we would have stopped them.” 

WITH such strong bond binding Epetedo to June 12, a fitting tourist centre at the declaration site to recreate the image and life of Abiola would be a fitting memorial to June 12. Other items that should be preserved include a few memorabilia like his choice items, trademark caps, the dress he wore on the day he cast his vote and the day he made the Epetedo declaration, objects from his cell, the Bible and Quran he read religiously during his incarceration among other items as lasting legacy and monument in his honour should on display somewhere for the general public.

Also of national importance would be a reawakening of the Abiola legacy through his thoughts, fully captured in Reparations: A Collection of Speeches by M.K.O. Abiola and published in 1992 by Abiola Bookshop Press. It contains his philosophy on various issues like politics and economy, technology, education and culture, media, sports and national unity, which spoke to his broad idea on wealth creation using the Malaysian and Indonesian experience, pan-African agenda, and reparations for the slave trade.

While creating an economy around our national heroes with Abiola as a starting point would institutionalize the government’s much-touted diversification of the economy from oil. Something close to this is the Nigerian Government: Yesterday and Today quarters at the National museum, Lagos.

The small room houses a short profile of Nigerian leaders from pre-independence till date as well as the official vehicle of the assassinated Head of State, Gen. Murtala Mohammed, which is battered with bullet holes. The vehicle is parked in all its majesty in the room, which walls have all been taken up by portraits and profiles of Nigerian leaders.The room, which eagerly begs for attention, is already choked up and would need extra space to display portraits and profiles of Nigerian top three leaders after May 29, 2023, when the current administration would end its tenure.

When The Guardian visited recently, it was observed that no special mention or recognition was reserved for the June 12 hero, Chief MKO Abiola, let alone his picture. On inquiry, the tour guide noted that while the contentious issue of June 12 has been put to rest with the recognition of the day by President Buhari, “as a public servant, if order has not been given by your boss, you cannot carry out any directive. Despite the fact that Abiola has been recognised, we should await the time when directive would be given to the museum to exhibit him in our collection of Nigeria leaders.”

Such tourist site is the lure of national heroes’ enthusiasts in other parts of the world. The Nelson Mandela statue, foundation, day and monument are living brands scattered across South Africa. Tourists in the United States of America are spoilt for choice of national parks to visit like Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park, John F. Kennedy Centre, Abraham Lincoln Centre among other monuments raised for former presidents and war heroes.

The Kigali Genocide Memorial in Rwanda, final resting place for more than 250,000 victims of the genocide against the Tutsi is a place of remembrance and learning for students and those wishing to understand the events leading up to the events of 1994. The same for the Khmer Rouge Killing Fields in Cambodia, a number of sites where collectively more than a million people were killed and buried by the Khmer Rouge regime in the Cambodian genocide. Abiola certainly deserves such honour as the foundation of Nigeria’s current democratic dispensation.