The ruins, villains and bagmen of June 12

The ruins, villains and bagmen of June 12

Sunday, June 12, 2022 10:00 am


Abacha, left, and Abiola. 

By Festus Adedayo

After last week’s national convention of the All Progressives Congress, (APC) President Muhammadu Buhari wrote, profusely thanking the governor of Kebbi State, Abubakar Bagudu, for his yeoman role in the convention’s success. Buhari’s letter commended Bagudu for the “extraordinary role” he played in ensuring the successful conduct of the convention. Bagudu is the Chairman, Progressives Governors’ Forum, and in this role, conducted the recent national convention that ensured the victory of a man who was the “son” and protégé of the winner of the June 12, 1993 election annulled by General Ibrahim Babangida and whose pallbearer was General Sani Abacha. This man, who later became the Kebbi State governor, was reported to be Abacha’s bagman, serially enfolded into the narrative of the siphon of billions of dollars from Nigeria in the 1990s.

In his Arrows of God, Chinua Achebe said that we often stand in the compound of a coward to point at the ruins where a brave man used to live. So, on May 1, 1998, the city of Ibadan was enveloped by, not an earthquake but a violence-quake. Indeed, some of the bloodiest battles against the June 12, 1993 election annulment were fought in Ibadan. On this day in May, armed policemen and soldiers formed a ring round the heart of Ibadan. In the melee, killings and maiming were foisted on the land. Being the headquarters of agitations against the regime of the infernal military despot, General Sani Abacha, Ibadan boasted of villains and valiant in disproportionate quantity. While Aare Musulumi of Yorubaland, Azeez Arisekola-Alao and his sidekick, Lamidi Adedibu, strongman of Ibadan politics, led the band of the former, Generals – Dr. Ola Oni, ex-Economics teacher at the University of Ibadan and ex-Governor Bola Ige, led the garrison of the latter. Oni and Ige scripted the war against the military for its temerity to ride roughshod on the people by annulling the June, 1993 election.

Today is the 29th anniversary of the June 12, 1993 election annulment. Apart from the token of government finally agreeing to make the day a public holiday, the baffling speed with which Nigerians have consigned the pains, trauma, deaths, maiming and institutional losses of the last 29 years into a pouch of amnesia should be a subject of research for psychologists, political scientists and students of society. South Africa had its, it is March 21, 1960. It was the day of one of the most violent demonstrations against apartheid. It resulted in a massacre in the township of Sharpeville, near Vereeniging, where police shot at a harmless crowd of Black people. In the process, about 250 people were killed and wounded and South African remembrancers still remember the day with awe and trepidation. June 12 is not as lucky. August 6 and 9, 1945 are also luckier. Those were the days atomic bombing raids on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were conducted by the Allied Forces in World War 11.

The eyes of the world had riveted towards Ibadan since Abacha began to make subterranean plots to transmute into a civilian dictator. Being the traditional capital of the Western region, with the stiff resistance to military rule coordinated in Lagos, Abacha looked Oluyole-wards. He then planned a Two Million Man rally slated for the Lekan Salami Stadium in Ibadan. He got the above leading sons of Ibadanland, renowned for being lickspittles of the infernal dictator, Arisekola-Alao and Adedibu, to handle the rally. The former was a contractor to government who became friends with Abacha while he was GOC of the 2 Mechanized Division in Ibadan. Organizers of the march then got an Islamic musical group called Alasalatu to sing to pep up the event. Renowned Ibadan masquerade, Jalaruru was also recruited for a traditional icing on the cake of infamy.

In the process of transforming into a civilian ruler, Abacha had established five political parties, superintended over by his lackeys, as springboard to achieving this aim. He then attempted to get all of them to adopt him as their single leader and presidential candidate. The five parties, Ige, in his cryptic analogy, likened to the five fingers of a leprous hand, a description that riled the dictator.

As a riposte to Abacha, leaders of the south formed what they called the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO and indeed established a radio abroad whose signals became very clear at home. It was handled by Kayode Fayemi, who was to later become the governor of Ekiti State.

The Lekan Salami Stadium in Adamasingba, Ibadan, quaked on this day. Comrade Ola Oni leapt into the engine room of the organization to scuttle Abacha and his hirelings’ plans. They flawed the rally, getting its organizers scampering in a death race outside of the stadium. Members of the Alasalatu group were so thoroughly beaten by the pro-democracy group militants that their songs changed immediately to that of ululation. They sang: “Seb’Alasalatu la ba de bi, a d’ori fidi lo ba d’Abacha, seb’Alasalatu la ba de bi” – We came here as prayer group, only to become hirelings of Abacha. Jalaruru removed his costume and fled when he saw the firepower of the pro-democracy group’s onslaught.

On this day of the protest, the stadium was filled to the brim. I was there to report for my medium, Omega WeeklyFor the Tribune were Dapo Ogunwusi, Tinu Ayanniyi, Lasisi Olagunju and other journalists like Francis Awowole, Vanguard, Yemi Giwa, Punch newspaper, were at the stadium. It was a day of war. Journalists could not enter the stadium as it was filled up. The pro-democracy group protesters soon took over the stadium. They were estimated to be above 5,000 people and were singing acidic songs which demanded that Abacha should relinquish power. They also sang demanding that Generals Oladipo Diya, Olanrewaju, Abdulkareem Adisa and three other south-western region soldiers who had been sentenced to death a month earlier for plotting a coup should have their sentences commuted.

Arisekola-Alao’s property on Ring Road, the Monitor newspaper publishing house and eleven cars parked in the premises were completely set ablaze. Adedibu’s six cars and three houses also got razed while Arisekola’s multi-million flour mill was prevented from being razed.

Words soon got to Arisekola-Alao that some of those who escaped from the burning of Monitor ran into the opposite building which housed a hospital called Lifecare. It was owned by the brother of one of the pro-democracy activists called Niyi Owolade. Gunmen were immediately ordered to storm the hospital. They ransacked the hospital, shooting sporadically at the infirm who were killed in cold blood in their scores. In the process, then editor of Monitor, Chiedu Ezeanah, got shot. Current News Editor of the Tribune, Akin Durodola, escaped death by the whiskers on his way to the office. A gunshot grazed his skin and missed his spine by a hair breadth.

Loquacious Oyo State military administrator, Ahmed Usman, who himself was a marked man by the Abacha regime, having been a protégé of General Olanrewaju, one of the arrested officers of the Abacha phantom coup, seeking to cry more than the bereaved, immediately sprung into action and arrested leaders of the pro-democracy group who he immediately declared “Prisoners of War”. Forty people were said to have been ordered arrested by Usman. They were subsequently charged to court. The list included Femi Adeoti, the Editor of the Sunday Tribune, Ola Oni, Moshood Erubami, Honourable Owolade, Lam Adesina, and Ige himself.

For those who were too young to understand what actually transpired on this day, June 12 marked a turnaround in the political narrative of Nigeria. Since 1966 when those youthful soldiers crashed the pot of Nigeria’s federalism, setting Nigeria on a long tiresome road laced with guns and koboko, June 12 came to confirm that Nigerian elite, rather than ethnicities, were the reason for the Nigerian stagnation. It impeached the arrogance of an ethnic group that it was born to rule, either in khaki or with guns, over 250 other ethnic groups. On this day in 1993, the voting masses demonstrated that the suffering poor of Ayetoro-Gbede was not different from their counterpart in Mbaise or Koko-Bese. What united them was their poverty and what they desired was development. So they voted en masse, according to the dictates of their yearnings, for a better life. However, the military, in connivance with their political elite sidekick, quashed that dream and annulled this election, said to be the freest in Nigerian history, thus setting Nigeria farther on the path of military autocracy.

In the duel between the military, represented by Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha on one side and the democratic patriots on the other side, hundreds of lives were lost, many maimed for life and many others never regained their livelihoods. Most of those who died in the war were southerners. The list is endless but the most prominent was Mrs. Kudirat Abiola, wife of MKO Abiola. She was shot dead on the street of Lagos for daring to peer torchlight into the dilating eyes of the lion of Aso Rock. Toyin, son of Abacha’s Attorney General, Chief Olu Onagoruwa, was also shot dead by persons suspected to have come to even score with his father for protesting inhuman decrees passed by the military government without his imprimatur. Pro-democracy activist, Chima Ubani, was killed in what appeared on the outward to be a road accident, somewhere in Potiskum, Yobe State. General Ndubuisi Kanu also suffered severally for standing by the people; so also General Alani Akinrinade.

In the twilight of Babangida’s days in government, many Nigerians were shot at rallies to protest the annulment of the election. Babangida was still defiant. This was continued by the Abacha military government that literally took over from him. Abacha, who wanted to transmute into a civilian Head of State, brought out various repressive strategies to achieve this. Ibadan, the capital of the Western Region, became a battlefront. Killer squads went round the southern part of Nigeria eliminating voices against his reign of terror. Alex Ibru lost an eye to the shot of these attackers and Suliat Adedeji, an ex-Nurse and political stalwart was shot and killed in Ibadan in the most maniacal manner. Chief Abraham Adesanya survived the onslaught on him due to what many referred to as his having been steeped in the concoctions that served as his metaphysical shield from his Ijebu homestead. The list also included pro-democracy activists and even targeted military non-conformists. Top soldiers were roped into coups, even as the Ikeja Military Cantonment, the Air Force Base, Lagos and a police station in Zaria were bombed.

The media also paid dearly for its siding on the side of democratic activism. Till date, the body of The News magazine journalist, Bagauda Kaltho, is yet to be found. Journalists lost their means of livelihood as their working places were shut down peremptorily by the duo of Babangida and Abacha. Many pro-democracy activists like Professor Wole Soyinka, Kayode Fayemi and nationalist, Chief Anthony Enahoro, fled into exile for their dear lives. Chief Frank Kokori survived by the whiskers, having led many activisms against the continuation of the military.

You may wonder what the purport of this long recent history of Nigerian democratic struggle that I have just recounted is? The cryptic lessons or takeaways are like a two-fold chord. One is that, for the people who suffered various degrees of calamity to bring about this current democratic setting, it is like running from sickness to encounter death in its house, something that Yoruba will express as, “a t’ori ka ma ba ku, a sa lo s’Okuku, a d’Okuku, won l’Olokuku sese ku. Literally translated, in the bid to escape death, we ran to Okuku, only to be told, upon getting to Okuku, that the king of Okuku had just died. Our fate is indeed similar.

Have our situations been better since democratic government was won in Nigeria? Scrutinize the list of those who suffered for the struggle that I mentioned earlier, how many of them, their children or family members, are governors, senators, House of Representatives members and all that today? I dare say that, Prisoner of War, a la Usman, Comrade Ola Oni, died in penury. Does anybody care about the family he left behind today? Only a sprinkle of the heroes of that era and villains of the period are the real beneficiaries of today. They have since melted in the furnace of want and penury. Respected journalist, Kunle Ajibade, was almost executed for alleged coup plotting. Who remembers him and his sacrifices today? Gani Fawehinmi, who must have died progressively from his war against autocracy, got stoned on the streets of same Lagos during a democracy that he helped to midwife, after valiantly challenging the military. His stoning was organized by some “Lagos democrats,” bed bugs busy sucking the blood of democracy. Where is his family in this democracy?

Again, check the list of those who have grown rotund bellies at the helms of affairs of Nigeria today. Many of them are either children of those who fought fighters for democracy to a standstill between June, 1993 and 1998 or their accomplices.

From his adulations for General Abacha, it may not be out of sync to say that even General Buhari provided a convenient pillow for the pall of June 12 to lie in the cemetery. So, are the so-called heroes of that struggle not the fools, the cowards of today who Achebe referred to? Is it worth it to die for any struggle at all? Are the villains of June 12 not pointing at the graves of the fighters of the war and laughing at their foolishness? By the way, let us all thank the hero of democracy, Governor Atiku Bagudu and all other bagmen of democracy.

*Festus Adedayo, journalist and lawyer, writes from Ibadan

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