AbdulMumuni, one of the sons of the acclaimed winner of the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential election, the late Chief Moshood Abiola, speaks to TOBI AWORINDE on the recognition accorded his father by President Muhammadu Buhari
How do you feel about President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to change the official Democracy Day from May 29 to June 12 to recognise the annulled 1993 presidential election that your father won and confer on him a posthumous Grand Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic award?
I am totally excited. I just want to express my satisfaction with the situation and say thank you to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, for this gesture. There were many before him that saw the matter and pushed it to the side. This is really encouraging. It says a lot not only for the man (Chief Moshood Abiola) and what he stood for, but also for those who voted, who were part of the struggle and those who even died. There were so many (that died). Besides my mother and father, there were countless people who were killed and financially destroyed. It was a strategic move to put people, who were talking about democracy and were clamouring for my father’s actualisation of the mandate, in a quagmire, in a way to intimidate and get them to yield to the pressure.
We thank God. As the saying goes, better late than never. I won’t lie; I never really understood that saying till today. It’s a great day and I am really pleased. I’m just hoping we can use this as a way to push us to do greater things not only for the Abiola family, but for every family no matter where you’re from, whether the East or the North.
If there is anything you can learn from the June 12 election, my father always said he didn’t want violence. I think that is something that should be pushed for and that we should really talk about now because we are seeing the flashpoints. We are hearing about killings all over the place and this is basically based on misunderstandings. What we really need to do is look at one another as brothers and sisters and try to see if we can use words instead of weapons.
Did you have any knowledge of the award before it was announced?
I didn’t have any knowledge at all. As a matter of fact, I was out with a couple of friends. I was so elated; I had to go straight home to take it all in. We were not aware. It was a pleasant surprise.
What does this mean for your father’s legacy?
The truth is that Abiola’s legacy has always been ingrained. That is why I said this is more for the people who are alive who have been pushing for the struggle — the Joe Odumakins of this world, Ola Ogunniyi and Wole Soyinka to name a few. These are people who have been here with us and come every June 12 and June 9 to demand justice from each government and this has been done. In America, they would ask, ‘Are you cute?’ If you say, ‘Yeah, my mum says I’m cute’, well, your mother will always tell you what you want to hear. So, you have to find somebody else from outside to tell you that you’re cute. This is basically that.
In essence, it has vindicated so many other people; you would be shocked, maybe even somebody who was part of the campaign back then that had not benefited like some other people have. You would even have a situation where some people, who were very integral in the June 12 struggle, are nowhere to be found today. Maybe this could even start to address some of these issues as to why some people have been sidelined. Most of the people that were sidelined are those with the most content. Let’s just pray that we can start moving in the right direction. I just pray that Nigeria uses this as a moment to reflect and see that no matter how dire a situation is, as long as you stay the course, God is not asleep.
How do you feel about the reactions of those that think it is a move to woo the South-West ahead of the 2019 elections?
Everything in Nigeria always has a political undertone. Like they say, you don’t throw the baby away with the bath water. For me, the baby is the democracy, the changing of the June 12 day and the acknowledgement of my father in giving him the highest title of the land. Everything else is just water under the bridge. All I know is that this is the right thing to do and it came at the right time. The message we’re trying to send is if you’re really fighting corruption and injustice, then these are the steps the people need to take. If anything, the Federal Government should even go a step further to release the 1993 presidential election results and confirm Abiola as the winner, which we all know he was, and then, let’s see if we can even start picking and choosing.
The problems that my father underscored in 1993 have been magnified today. So, we’re still in that same place. As a matter of fact, it seems like we haven’t even moved from 1993, as far as I’m concerned. So, what we need to do is find time to move and steady the ship, talk about education, security and women’s rights. But everyone, in their own little way, should do their own. So, I thank Mr. President for this. I too will not rest on my laurels and just be happy that my father was given the highest honour. I will also try my best to see how I can be more active in the project called Nigeria because we’re all beneficiaries of this. I always say, ‘Put in your own. Every little counts.’
No matter what the situation is, when you are being oppressed or intimidated, you never give in. My father could easily have let it go, gone back to his mansion in Ikeja or one of his houses in London or Paris, but he refused to. He decided that the people that voted for him are the ones that need the help. He felt that he had already benefited enough from the country that he didn’t need to leave the prison. He believed that was the sacrifice he would have to make so the rest of the 170 million people that are in the country could breathe. When I say ‘breathe’, you know how it is in Nigeria where you have problems but you don’t have any solution.
This is what we need to do now: we need to take this as a beautiful first step and look at how we can now start trying to steady the ship, move in the right direction and lift our people out of poverty. These are the things that my father would say if he was here to accept the award. It was never about his life. It was always about those people who came out in the rain and in the sun and stood there to vote; the ones who, when the election was annulled, came out to the street and were protesting and shouting. People were killed. These are the people that this honour has vindicated.
How do you feel about this milestone in contrast to former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s refusal to recognise June 12?
I always laugh that it is a Yoruba thing. If there are two Yoruba people and one of them says, ‘Mo n gun lada lo si bi kan, ee ti mo ibi ti mo n lo, e ni je ki n de be (I’m climbing a ladder somewhere, you don’t know where I am going but you won’t let me get there)’, the other says, ‘Iro ni, e le de be ki n to de be (It’s a lie, you can’t get there before me)’. They don’t know where you’re going but they don’t want you to get there. One thing I’ll always say is, former President Obasanjo was very close to my father once upon a time. Why would you be angry with someone that has died? The man has been dead for so long. Why are you still fighting him? You can’t be fighting with a dead man.
Like I said, I don’t know his reasons for not doing it. But apparently, he went around saying that my father wasn’t the messiah. So, maybe he was trying to say he is the messiah. My own is very simple: you make a decision and there are going to be consequences. The decisions you make today, you might not know where they will lead you until you get where you’re going. So, if you made a mistake, it’s okay to say, ‘I made a mistake’ and it’s okay to ask for forgiveness. That is the most important thing.
What effect do you think this will have on the legacy of the former military dictator, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, who annulled the election?
For someone who annulled the election in 1993, and just a couple of months ago, he is endorsing the Social Democratic Party, the party that my father was producing, he’s just trying to tell you that ‘it took me 20 years to realise (Abiola’s influence)’. But like I said, this is a time to rejoice. Whatever role anybody played in what has transpired, I am ready to say thank you very much. It could even have been a path on the journey to lead us to a true democracy. They say man proposes, God disposes. My father said he wanted to be president, but God said, ‘No, die’. Then, my father said, ‘Maybe they will honour me after’ and God said (not) until after 25 years. So, I think there is a plan and we should all be prayerful, watchful and protective of our democracy. It doesn’t belong to Abiola alone.
Recently, Buhari praised another military dictator, the late Gen. Sani Abacha, for building roads and hospitals to the chagrin of many Nigerians. What is your reaction in the light of the fact that Abacha was responsible for unjustly imprisoning your father where he was held until he died in 1998?
Like I said, you can be bogged down with the semantics. I was fortunate to meet Buhari during the 2011 elections. He looked to be somebody of principle. One other thing I found is that he will take you at your word. Now, as the president, he is picking up Abacha’s loot here and there. For you to, on the one hand, say he (Abacha) was a saint and that ‘they have started sending that man’s loot’ is a little misleading. But he (Buhari) had a relationship with the former general (Abacha) and I think that he made those statements because he was part of that government. What I would also say concerning this announcement of June 12 is that I don’t think he (Buhari) did this in the sense that he was trying to right a wrong. He was just saying, ‘This is the time to recognise this man for what he stood for’. So, we don’t put them in the same context. If you were taking it all together, you might see it as contradictory, but the message he was trying to send was that, ‘yes, we’ve had Obasanjo.’ He knows that the general (Abacha) is not as innocent as he made himself out to be. But he also knows that there are more people out here who are alive and have done worse, yet are not being spoken about.
The National Assembly urged Buhari to recognise your father as a former president and to release the results as you suggested. How do you react to that?
I totally welcome that. I think that is the way we move forward, by putting everything out there in the open so that people can absorb that information, take whatever they can from it and move on. So, I am totally for it. I believe that he was the winner of the election. After you have given him the title of GCFR, you have basically already (acknowledged him as a former president), so why don’t you just go ahead and say, ‘Yes, he won the election’, release the results and get that in the open? For me, it would just be more like the icing on the cake. It would be exactly what is necessary.
Has the family had a conversation concerning the outcome of the conferment and who will be responsible for receiving the financial benefits on behalf of your father as a former president?
First of all, like any family, you have the head. So, if any of those things will happen, it will be from the top down. If I were to tell you that I’ve waited 25 years for money, then I would be deceiving you. With what the National Assembly has said, obviously, we know it will be a possibility, but I am more excited about the idea that what I believe to be true is what is being said out loud and everyone is hearing it. It’s amazing.
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