As we mark yet another June 12, there are some simple but important considerations that we, the people of Nigeria within and beyond the borders of the country need to continue to seriously make. Ordinarily, considerations and discussions about a Nigerian June 12 should be general and amongst citizens and scholars on civics and sovereignty of nations. This year’s consideration cannot however be just general; against one’s wishes, recent events in the country have forced us to call the attention of the family of the late M.K.O. Abiola, President-elect of the June 12 1993 elections, to some important issues relating to the citizens of Nigeria and the memory of their late patriarch.
Such events include the recent move by the President of Nigeria to rechristen the University of Lagos (Unilag) and name it after the President-elect of the June 12 1993 elections, the easily predictable and thus avoidable negative reactions of many Nigerians with students, and staff of that university at the forefront, lastly the approving and appreciative reaction of members of the Abiola Family to the decision to rename. One must hasten to add here that the family M.K.O Abiola left behind is a big one and that the ones that reacted are quite few so we should not conclude that we have heard the voice of the whole family.
Just in case those approving and appreciative family members missed it, let us invite them to take a closer look at those saying no to Dr. Jonathan’s decision to change the name of Unilag. They will discover that many of those against the name change of today were day before yesterday at the forefront of the battle for the recognition of the electoral victory of their head of family and yesterday they were leading the request for an appropriate national honour for his name. Rather then being dismissive of these citizens or being irritated by their actions, members of the Abiola family should be asking questions about why and who?
Why are these citizens against the name change today? They are against it for reasons of form and that of substance.
Most people believe that this unilateral act without any form of due and open consultation with those immediately affected shows disregard and smacks of dictatorship unworthy of the honour it professes to bestow. Many people consider the choice of Unilag as a mode of reducing the battle of June 12 to sectional and regional quest: they think a place or a monument in Abuja the FCT would be more befitting for national struggle. Yes and no apologies for it, some students and staff, past and present, think the name of the university should be left intact. They want the name to remain for centuries to come. Some of us even think that Nigerian public officers should not be allowed to rename anything anymore. I am of the opinion that we should have a law that says: if you want to name something whilst in office, then build something, don’t rename what others built.
Why were these citizens clamoring for a national honour for M.K.O. Abiola yesterday and fighting for the recognition of his electoral victory day before yesterday? Many were doing so because the election of June 12 was a moment in the history of Nigeria, in which the people, united regardless of their religion and ethnic differences against the intentions of the rulers, they came together with a clear voice to say military dictators must go and that MKO Abiola is the President they want. Most citizens inside and beyond Nigeria joined the battle for June 12 because it was a clear battle between people and their oppressors. Freedom vs. tyranny, justice vs. injustice.
As the Abiola family might have noticed most of those people were not related to MKO Abiola. As a matter of fact, some of those that fought for Abiola’s name did not even vote for him and many did not share his political history and socioeconomic philosophy. MKO Abiola’s greatest attributes were in his philanthropies, success in business and courage to stand up to those that tried to cheat and bully him not his NPN past nor his romance with the military. He was neither Gani Fawhenmi nor Fela Kuti yet because he won a democratic election on behalf of the people we thus all agree he must remembered.
The Abiola family needs to understand that MKO is a symbol not a hero; he did not spend his life fighting from a weak position for the benefit of the masses or for a just cause for which he was not a direct beneficiary, just on principle. Others did that and many ordinary citizens who never met him or benefitted from his wealth fought for the victory he represented.
The next time members of the Abiola family want to write or talk about June 12 let them remember to include a tribute to all those citizens who just for principle exposed themselves and fought a terrible regime they never dined with. Ordinary citizens voted for MKO and then went on strike and took to the streets to protest for his mandate. Protest and the courage to defy a government action gave us this democracy so no member of the Abiola family should sign a letter in which protesters are called hooligans and rascals.