Again, it is the season of memory. One in which the present leadership, so sorely lacking in that memory, both in its instructive and regenerating potentials, will not – and cannot, even – participate. It is a season in which all patriotic elements and formations, in whatever part of this tragic polity that they are based – including even those abroad – join in remembering, or in fact, celebrating, what The News magazine once so appropriately described as ‘A Date Forever!’
June 12, 1993 was that almost impossible day in the horizon of a country that had been written off as a colonially-induced tragedy of the worst kind; a date that happened, as they say in football, against the run of play; a date when a pummelled, surrendering and almost completely impoverished people, betraying comprehensive lack of imagination (like the Liverpool United that played the first half of the UEFA Champions League against a fleet-footed, imaginative, and accomplished AC Milan) suddenly responded to a compelling historic call, validating the fact that, contrary to the way in which that treasonable and murderous military cabal in power had acted for long, Nigeria belongs to the people. And like the sweet victory of a Liverpool team that rediscovered itself in the second half while exhibiting a unity of hope and aspiration and a soccer imagination combined with resounding luck, Nigerians won the cup of national re-invention. But, unlike Liverpool, the vampires in power stole the cup before the people and the man they gave their mandate, Moshood Abiola, could lift it.
And so June 12 entered our national and even personal histories. Therefore, it is understandable that there cannot be just one history of June 12, or even a June 12 History (with a capital ‘H’). There are histories of June 12; different versions of the same reality and even different realities. For some power-besotted formations in this country, June 12 is a date when they were caught napping and almost routed forever. Therefore, it is a date when the people almost recovered from them the national weal which they had stolen from the people and the several spare keys to the Central Bank vault which they keep in their chest drawers. There are those whose perverse tendency towards what the engaging essayist, Adebayo Williams, would describe as ‘Bonarpatist self-monumentalization’ could not – and still cannot – allow them to countenance the emergence of an Abiola as the symbol of the people’s collective and long-deferred dream of national validation.
For the latter, June 12 symbolized and still symbolizes ‘the beginning of Nonsense’, which, thank God, General Ibrahim Babangida’s project of serial sundering of all indices of collective national possibilities, helped to quash – a quashing which General Sani Abacha in the barbarous ignorance that fuelled his project of serial slaughter, helped to consolidate. But, as things go, those in this category, over-represented by President Olusegun Obasanjo, were soon to be caught up in the web they helped to construct. Obasanjo, for example, became one of the biggest targets of that ethnocidal regime that was Sani Abacha’s. But, barely one year after surviving Abacha’s gulag and becoming even the president of the federal republic, Obasanjo, who had firmly promised at his inauguration that the new era will be “a new departure in material prosperity (that) will increase the individual happiness and freedom from oppression and raise the standard of civilization and of comfort of the many millions who inhabit this large country” lost his memory of the recent past. Besides failing to fulfil his promise, he could not even give the political token, either in his inauguration speech or through his actions, of concretely acknowledging the supreme sacrifice that MKO Abiola paid so that we could all be free.
The last six anniversaries of June 12 did not pass without people calling on the recalcitrant president to honour the people – at least the 14 million that went to the polls on June 12, 1993 – by acknowledging the man who symbolizes all that. It is a matter that ought to move noble hearts. Whether Abiola was a messiah or not is completely off the mark. When Nigerians need to vote for Jesus Christ or Prophet Mohammed, they know where to go. It was in a man, deeply flawed and even controversial, that the people, in their wisdom, reposed their confidence on June 12 1993. If at all any man would remind Nigerians that Abiola had few messianic credentials, it could not have been Olusegun Obasanjo – who was even less endowed with such credentials.
This is precisely the reason why it is not only impossible for Obasanjo to countenance the idea of immortalizing Abiola, it is indeed repulsive to him that a man such as Abiola – like every other person of fame and greater popular appeal – will be represented in history as great, let alone greater than he, in Nigeria’s history. This year, the appeal to honour Abiola again preceded the anniversary of June 12. An otherwise inclined president would have asked that Abiola’s image with his hands raised in eternal victory sign be embossed on the coming N1000 note. But, it will be an unlikely political shock if the president were to respond to these appeals. For a president who talks to Nigerians as if he were humouring imbeciles, such a course of action will be a great turn-around indeed. The truth however, is that, if ever Obasanjo honours Abiola, he will only be honouring himself. It is Obasanjo who has something to gain by associating himself with a truly great historical figure that helped in redefining Nigeria’s history, even without taking over the reigns of power. It is Obasanjo who can seek to become great, as they say, by recognizing greatness.
Nothing that his government does, or will do, can reduce the stature of Abiola in the collective memory and history of progressive forces, in Nigeria and beyond. By refusing to do the right thing, this government only consolidates the image of its leadership as one that is in dire need of a broad mind; by refusing to affirm Abiola’s sacrifice, this government further underscores the fact that, at the end of the day, it is an historic error.
In a country that has grown so depressingly habituated to bad governance and ill-mannered, even maniacal, leadership, associating with a popular leader that never was cannot but be a plus for any sitting president. After this year, despite the value of the calls – as a reminder to the depressing absence of valuable leadership in the land – the democratic elements should persuade themselves to stop asking this government to give honour to a man who more than deserves it. The government has already chosen the kind of people it will ‘honour’, many of them knaves which the government then turns round to arrest and prosecute (briefly) for astonishing graft.
What it clear is that some June 12 in the future, when the term of this unpopular, ineffective, resentful and resented government has ended, and when the terms of similarly inclined governments have ended, the people will be able to celebrate their June 12. It will be at that moment when all the progressive and nation-affirming tendencies across Nigeria have triumphed over the ossified, nation-destroying cabals that have run Nigeria up till now. At that precise moment in history, the direction of our national life will not be subsumed under the personal egos of small-minded leaders.
We will reach across and even beyond the River Niger to proclaim and affirm that we are a great and proud people, who had for long been held back by a perilous leadership in khaki, babariga and agbada, as we proclaimed in 1993. Under such a new national resolve, the name of the true symbols of our national-becoming, like Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, will be proclaimed above the name of the current pretenders to popular mandate. Some June 12 – for sure!