June 12/Democracy Day: Real reason Obasanjo refused to honour Abiola

Abiola, sitting in the middle and Obasanjo, right, standing. The two were mates at Baptist Boys High School, Abeokuta. Abiola was the editor of the school magazine The Trumpeter, Olusegun Obasanjo was deputy editor

Today is another anniversary of “June 12”, a date to mark the 1993 presidential election in Nigeria, which was annulled by General Ibrahim Babangida, former military President. One of the most painful parts of the matter was that MKO Abiola who won the election died in detention. However, President Muhammadu Buahri did not only honour Abiola last year, he declared June 12 Democracy Day.

In the end, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo became president on the wing of that election cancellation. For eight years that he ruled, he did nothing to honour Abiola.

Below is a piece, published on this platform last year, looking at the two men: Abiola and Obasanjo. It contains reasons that Obasanjo refused to honour Abiola. It is entitled:

News Analysis: June 12 as Democracy Day and Olusegun Obasanjo’s Shame

By Ademola Adegbamigbe

Today, 12 June 2019, Nigerians celebrated Democracy Day, made so by the enabling law signed by President Muhammadu Buhari. It was a day to mark the 12 June 1993 presidential election which was won by the late MKO Abiola, but which was cancelled by military President, Ibrahim Babangida. At the Eagle Square, Abuja, Buhari addressed the nation. Part of what he said was that he renamed an Abuja national monument as Moshood Abiola National Stadium. At the venue with him were his Vice, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo; President of the Senate, Ahmed Lawan; Speaker of the House of Representatives; Femi Gbajabiamila; the Acting Chief Justice, Justice Tanko Mohammed; Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, an old war horse in the actualisation of the struggle to actualise the June 12 electoral mandate of Abiola. Many visiting Heads of State and members of the diplomatic community were also present.

Indeed, all the participants in today’s event were beneficiaries of what Abiola died for. And they, especially, President Buhari, did a great honour to the man. An individual who was conspicuously absent was former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the greatest inheritor of Abiola’s huge sacrificial investment and the struggles of pro-democracy activists, students, human rights lawyers, journalists and many others who died on the streets while the struggle was hot.

For eight years when he was in power as President, Obasanjo who the military brought from prison and made the Nigerian leader to compensate the South West, in a manner of speaking, did nothing to honour Abiola on whose wing he sat on the throne. What could be the reason? Hatred, envy or inferiority complex or a combination of the three? Indeed, Obasanjo must be a classic case of that Bible quote: “The heart of man is deceitful above all things and it is desperately wicked”. His mind will be a great specimen for Psychologists studying how a man ought not to treat his friend!

An explanation was offered by Chief Frank Kokori, a former Secretary-General of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers and a leader of the June 12 movement. He once told The Punch: “We all thought it would happen immediately we were released from prison or detention. At that time, the civil society groups were very strong and we had a militant press. NADECO, Afenifere, NUPENG and others pressurised the government at the time. We thought Abiola would be released and declared winner but when he died, we started the struggle for democracy day. Then, Olusegun Obasanjo became President and then unilaterally declared May 29 as democracy day. So, since then, the battle has been on and we believed Obasanjo should have been able to do it in those eight years but we did not know that Obasanjo had this pathological hatred for people who he felt would be his rivals. He did not want anybody to shine like him. He had that phobia which I call inferiority complex.”


MKO Abiola: Winner of the June 12, 1993 election

Kokori added that Obasanjo behaved that way to “even smaller people like us who went to prison with him. He made many promises which he never fulfilled. We were totally disappointed in him. So, it came as a big news, a shock to us when we heard the news about June 12. It came from nowhere, it came from someone we least expected to do it. I least expected Buhari to do it. I thought maybe President Yar’Adua or Goodluck Jonathan would do it but not Buhari; we thought he was never interested in the June 12 struggle because I have never really seen him talk much about it. I didn’t know he was being calculative. No matter what you say about it, he has done something great and heroic for the country. Thursday (when he made the announcement) was my happiest day.”

Also, Tundun, Abiola’s daughter, told Channels Television on Sunday, 10 June, 2018 that Obasanjo did not honour her father’s memory when he was president because he had always felt inferior to him adding that Obasanjo could not bear the thought of having been a beneficiary of her father’s democratic legacy.

Her words: “Ego is such a problem for most human beings. When you know you were not elected, you know you were selected and just appointed president by the military, it’s kind of galling for him to acknowledge a democratic process and his ego would not allow it. President Obasanjo and my father had a relationship and I think he’s always felt inferior to my father and what happened in their lifetime continues even after my father was dead. He cannot bear the idea of Moshood Abiola. This erasure that he tried to accomplish is so offensive to me. I have nothing to say to President Obasanjo.”

-Watch the video of her interview here

President Muhammadu Buhari confers Late Chief MKO Abiola with the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic – GCFR

“It seems strange that somebody (Obasanjo) who benefited from the death of somebody else (Abiola) would be the one who’s so adamant about trying to completely erase it from history, but it’s actually not. It takes the special grace of God to humble oneself and acknowledge a debt to anybody. To say, ‘I owe this person that. I’m grateful for this’. An egomaniac cannot do that; they’re not capable of doing that. So he has to deny it within himself and other people. He has to tell himself that, ‘This all me. I earned this,’ but he did not.

“We did not have an election in 1999, we had a coronation. My father had been killed. It’s only somebody of his caliber that could die for the military to decide, ‘Enough is enough; we do have to exit the stage,’ and in order to sort of placate the south west region, they brought out President Obasanjo.

“He was appointed the president; he was not elected the president; that was not a free and fair election. He knows all of these facts.”

Abiola and Obasanjo ought not be enemies at all, given that they were secondary school mates. Students at such period always form bonds that last life times. Examples of such schools abound: Barewa College in Zaria; Christ’s School, Ado Ekiti; Ekiti Parapo College, Ido Ekiti (Kiriji!); Hope Waddel Institute, Calabar; Ibadan Boys High School; Muslim College, Ijebu Ode; Igbobi College, King’s College, both in Lagos; Christ the King College, Onitsha; Baptist Boys High School (BBHS), Abeokuta and many others.

Obasanjo and Abiola

At such impressionable age, Obasanjo and Abiola attended the same BBHS. The life stories of the two individuals show that they started together at a young age, went their different ways and later in life, their paths crossed.

MKO Abiola

M. K. O. Abiola, according to Wikipedia, ‘was born in Abeokuta, Ogun State to the family of Salawu and Suliat Wuraola Abiola, his father was a produce trader who primarily traded cocoa and his mom traded in Kolanuts. His name, Kashimawo, means “Let us wait and see”. Moshood Abiola was his father’s 23rd child but the first of his father’s children to survive infancy, hence the name ‘Kashimawo’. It was not until he was 15 years old that he was properly named Moshood, by his parents. Abiola attended African Central School, Abeokuta for his primary education. As a young boy, he assisted his father in the cocoa trade, but by the end of 1946, his father’s business venture was failing precipitated by the destruction of a cocoa consignment declared by a produce inspector to be of poor quality grade and unworthy for export and to be destroyed immediately.

At the age of nine he started his first business selling firewood gathered in the forest at dawn before school, to support his father and siblings. Abiola founded a band at the age of fifteen and would perform at various ceremonies in exchange for food. Abiola was eventually able to require payment for his performances, and used the money to support his family and his secondary education at the Baptist Boys High School Abeokuta. Abiola was the editor of the school magazine The Trumpeter, Olusegun Obasanjo was deputy editor. At the age of 19 he joined the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons ostensibly because of its stronger pan-Nigerian origin compared with the Obafemi Awolowo-led Action Group.

In 1960, he obtained a government scholarship to study at University of Glasgow where he later earned a degree in accountancy and qualified as a chartered accountant. He was also a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria(ICAN). He later jumped into politics and won a presidential election which was annulled. His attempt to claim his mandate landed him in detention.’

Olusegun Obasanjo

Olusegun Obasanjo, as Wikipedia records, was born on 5 March 1937 to his father Amos Adigun Obaluayesanjo “Obasanjo” Bankole and his mother Ashabi in Abeokuta, Ogun State, Nigeria. His mother died in 1958 and his father died in 1959. He became an orphan at the age of 22.

‘In 1948, Obasanjo enrolled into Saint David Ebenezer School at Ibogun, for his primary school education. From 1952 to 1957, he attended Baptist Boys’ High School (BBHS), Abeokuta, for his secondary school education. In the same school he was a member of Literary and Debating Society and the Boys Scouts Movement.

In 1958, Olusegun Obasanjo joined the Nigerian Army. Some of his studies and training included Mons Cadet School, Aldershot, England; Royal College of Military Engineers, Chatham, England; School of Survey, Newbury, England; College of Military Engineering, Poona; and the Royal College of Defence Studies, London.

Obasanjo served in the 5th Battalion of the Nigerian Army in Kaduna and in Cameroon between 1958 and 1959. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Nigerian Army in 1959 and promoted to a lieutenant in 1960.

As lieutenant, Obasanjo served in the Nigerian contingent of the United Nations Force in the Congo (formerly Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo) in 1960, in the same year he was one of the first Fifth Battalion to be selected for the Congo operations on account of its creditable performance in training and internal security exercises earlier in Southern Cameroun. Obasanjo was promoted a temporary Captain in 1962, and went for a course at the Royal College of Military Engineering, Chatham, England. He later joined the then only engineering unit of the Nigerian Army and became its unit commander in 1963.

In 1963, Obasanjo was promoted to the rank of captain in the Nigerian Army. He was attached to the College of Military Engineering at Kirkee, India in 1965. That year, he was promoted to the rank of major.

In 1965, he attended the Defence Services Staff College Wellington, India (In a book, the 40th anniversary book on the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington, India, 1947–1987, Col. R.D. Palsokar (retired) quoted the commandant’s confidential report on the then Major Obasanjo of the 20th staff course set in 1965, as saying that he was “the best officer who was sent up till then from that country (Nigeria) to Wellington. Palsokar also stated: “He was particularly popular in all circles).

Obasanjo was promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1967, appointed commander Second Area command of the Nigerian Army. He was made Commander, Garrison, Ibadan, Nigeria, between 1967 and 1969.

Obasanjo’s colonel promotion came in 1969. He was appointed from 1969–1970, general officer commanding 3rd Infantry Division, Nigerian Army. He was later made the commander, Third Marine Commando Division, South-Eastern State, during the Nigerian Biafran Civil War.

On 12 January 1970, Obasanjo accepted the Biafran surrender ending the Nigerian Civil War.

From 1970 to 1975, he was the commander of the Engineering Corps, Nigerian Army. Earlier in 1972, he was promoted to the rank of brigadier general.

In January 1975 the head of state for the federal republic of Nigeria, General Yakubu Gowon, made Obasanjo the Federal commissioner for works and housing.

On 29 July 1975, when General Murtala Mohammed took power as head of state via a military coup, Obasanjo was appointed as the chief of staff supreme headquarters. In January 1976 he was promoted to lieutenant general.

Following a failed coup by Lt. Col. Buka Suka Dimka in which General Murtala Mohammed was killed, Obasanjo was chosen as head of state by the supreme military council on 13 February 1976.’ He handed over power to President Shehu Shagari in 1979. In 1983, the military took over power. For Nigeria to make the military go back to the barracks, an election was held on 12 June 1993 which was won by Abiola. But Babangida annulled it. Then, hell was let loose on Nigeria. Abiola was arrested and detained. He died in detention. In order to compensate the South West, Obasanjo, a Yoruba man was made President.

When he got there, he looked the other way, forgetting the man who paid the supreme sacrifice for democracy to thrive-until Buhari did the needful.


That is why today, Democracy Day is important. As Asiwaju Tinubu put it in a press statement: “On June 12, we commemorate the country’s emergent democracy in a way that is certainly more spiritually fulfilling and psychologically satisfying than has ever been the case since 1999.

“Without those who stoutly stood on June 12 and sacrificed life, limb, freedom, economic ruin, psychological devastation and more in the battle against tyranny, there would most certainly not have been any May 29, 1999 handover to commemorate.” Tinubu, in the same statement, thanked the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari and the National Assembly for the actualisation of June 12 as the nation’s Democracy Day. He urged Nigerians not to take the democracy presently enjoyed in the country for granted or do anything to threaten its existence as it was not won on a peaceful and comfortable platter of gold.

Abacha, left, and Abiola. Between them at the back is Tinubu.

He added that June 12 should serve as a continual reminder to Nigerians on the imperative of pursuing the cause of justice in all spheres of life as a necessary condition for peace, prosperity and progress. “As we kick off the annual celebration of June 12 as Nigeria’s Democracy Day, let us renew our commitment to utilising democracy as a vehicle for eliminating poverty in our land. It should be used as a vehicle for providing prosperity and life more abundant for the teeming millions of our people. It was indeed his deep aversion to poverty and the avoidable suffering of majority of our people that compelled Chief MKO Abiola to contest Nigeria’s presidency, and thus, his campaign slogan was ‘Farewell to Poverty’. The problem of poverty remains primal and fundamental in our land today. We must make concerted efforts to banish poverty from Nigeria. To rid Nigeria of poverty is indeed a task that must be done. As the historic restoration of June 12 to its proper place by the Buhari administration sets democracy free to soar in our land, let us rededicate ourselves to the challenge of utilising democracy to set Nigeria free from poverty.”