Asiwaju Bola Tinubu was on 29 May 2023 sworn in as President and Commander in Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces. Below the glamour and glitz of the celebrations, Tinubu suffered detention when he and other like minds were fighting for the actualisation of the June 12, 1993, electoral mandate of the late MKO Abiola. He was detained in a wet cell by the Police after he was declared wanted. Tinubu’s road to Aso Villa was rough!
It was the late educationist, Dr Tai Solarin who, in 1964, wrote an article in The Nigerian Tribune, entitled “May Your Road Be Rough.” It presupposes that to eat omelet, one must break eggs. Also, there is no paean without pain. These all apply to Tinubu.
In an interview with TheNEWS, Tinubu narrated:
“On the night the government was to be changed, Abacha outsmarted everyone and installed himself. These people I mentioned are all alive to testify to what I have said. I can say categorically that I was even called to leave my office because, as they claimed, that night was a dangerous night for them and that everyone’s life might be in danger. Abiola was told not to sleep at home until the broadcast had been made. We were all fooled! Big time deception.
When we heard the broadcast the next day, there was no mention of June 12 and no proclamation of Abiola. I was mad but was still determined. I rushed to Diya and he was still saying that there was no problem and that they were planning to announce the cabinet containing eminent June 12 people. Abiola said what? I said no, announce Abiola’s victory.
Diya told me that I didn’t know the military and that things were not done like that in the military. But I insisted that it was deception. I said I know the military. I called Okadigbo to my office in Lagos and I put the plan before him that we had to confront the military and we had to declare Abacha himself illegal. I got members of our group together; we wrote the script declaring Abacha’s government illegal. Since we could not get to the National Assembly, we opted to hold our session at the Tafawa Balewa Square. We had gotten Dele Alake to be the media coordinator. We told him to get CNN and other foreign media ready. I put the coat of arms on a rod! That was the mace. We created our mace.
We reconvened the Senate here in Lagos and declared Abacha illegal before the international media and others. My colleagues had scattered. After we assembled, and drafted the resolution, they still didn’t know where we would hold the session. I told them to relax, this is Lagos. After the broadcast, everybody took off, because the SSS and other security agents were combing everywhere for us. I went underground, using the 090 mobile phones. I was still granting press interviews to foreign media. The military people were mad. I became a thorn in their flesh and they arrested some of my colleagues, including Abu Ibrahim, the late Polycarp Nwite, Ameh Ebute and Okoroafor. I was still underground, holding press conferences. The military declared me wanted.
Suddenly they granted bail to the arrested senators. I thought I would be a beneficiary, but I was not. Then, there was a manhunt for me by the police and the SSS. Meanwhile, my late uncle, K.O Tinubu and the present Oba of Lagos, Oba Akiolu, who was then a police officer, were pressuring me to disclose where I was. My uncle called to ask where exactly I was. I did not disclose my whereabouts. I told Akiolu that even though he is my relative, I would still not tell him where I was since he was a police officer! He said: ‘Ha!’
My uncle advised that the military would kill me if they found me underground and no one would be able to locate my whereabouts. He said it was better I surrendered myself because he wanted me to be alive. I told him that I would call him back, and that I was to hold a press conference at the time. And he shouted in amazement: ‘You are holding a press conference when your life is in danger.’ I told him I would surrender, but would not tell him when.
I disguised perfectly, dressed like a malam, and went to the police at Alagbon. The officers didn’t even know me when they saw me. I went in, and deposited my phone and my charger. Senator Abu Ibrahim was with us. The officers were wondering why I, a Mallam, could not speak Hausa! I removed my turban, showed up at the front desk and declared that I had come to surrender. And there was pandemonium among the officers, as to how I got there.
The AIG then was very nice and they put me in the cell. They poured water into the cell room and said, ‘Sleep there’. That was the nastiest experience I had within the first 48 hours that I was there. It was on a weekend. I told them I would embark on a hunger strike. The late Anthony Enahoro was on the stairway and Beko Ransome-Kuti was at another angle on the stairway. They brought me out repeatedly for interrogation. They asked me to renounce but I said no, I would not recognise Abacha. They took me and my colleagues to court. People who were supposed to meet their bail conditions were stopped from doing so immediately after they saw me. They cancelled everybody’s bail because they could not isolate me.
They gave an order that we should be taken out of court but kept in the police custody at Alagbon. They kept about eight of us in a photocopying room, an eight-by-eight room. We were sleeping across one another. It was a matter of the first to sleep would maintain the position. If your head was this way, your leg would be there and so on. It was a nasty experience.
There were a lot of interrogations, with a lot of carrots and stick. I can never forget the role and determination and sincerity of a compatriot at that particular time. They made an exception to uphold the earlier bail granted to Senator Abu Ibrahim. He was asked to go. He was the only Hausa-Fulani man with us. The late Hassan Katsina had intervened. But Senator Ibrahim said he would rather stay, except every one of us was granted the same bail conditions. He said he would not leave his colleagues behind.
He is a courageous and a detribalised Nigerian, who had a vision of what Nigeria should be. He refused to accept an isolated bail. They started sending emissaries to us in detention, offering us all sorts of appointments and opportunities to renounce our positions, but we refused. The judiciary was still very courageous then. We went to the Court of Appeal. An incident occurred at the lower court. Market women turned out hugely to support us when we were brought to the court. The day they refused my bail, some of the market women appeared naked and so they stopped taking us to the court. The court sessions were usually interesting for us because of the scenes. At Alagbon, we bathed in the open between 4 and 5 a.m.
The condition started improving when they began to bring officials of the failed banks. Those contributed money to repair the generating set at Alagbon and we started enjoying electricity a little longer than we used to. It was during this time that the protest became intense. Nigeria was playing at the World Cup then. Italy defeated Nigeria and the security people lied to us that it was otherwise. Eventually, the Court of Appeal courageously granted us bail in the enforcement of our fundamental human rights. Our passports were confiscated and deposited with the court. Later, the High Court ruled that our passports be released to us. That night, they finally announced our bail and the conditions attached to it. The presiding judge then is today the Emir of Ilorin, Sulu Gambari. We heard that they put so much pressure on him (Clement Akpamgbo was the Attorney-General) not to release us, but he ordered our release. They were going to re-arrest me and I suddenly went underground to continue my protest.
They would throw bombs and say it was us. Mobil called me to come back to my job, but I refused. They bombed my house, but luckily, my wife and children had been evacuated. I would not want to reveal how they were evacuated because there was diplomatic involvement. They told me that my life and those of my family were in clear danger.
Suddenly, they announced that I was wanted again. They alleged that I was going to bomb the NNPC depot at Ejigbo. Ah! I was still being tried for treason, which carries a sentence of life imprisonment, and I was again accused of trying to bomb an NNPC depot. I couldn’t go back because my photograph was all over the place that I wanted. A diplomatic source advised me that I should leave the country if I wanted to continue the struggle. Dan Suleiman, Alani Akinrinade were in danger. We asked Bolaji Akinyemi to leave the country and promote the struggle at the international level.
I was at the forefront of the struggle at that level. When I went to see my uncle, K.O Tinubu, at home, he shed tears that night. He said he didn’t want to lose me and that I was about to be killed. He begged me to leave Nigeria and affirmed that, being a former police officer, he was sure I would be killed.
He said that I couldn’t return to my house since they had bombed it. I went to a friend’s house. Before then, there was an incident that made them believe that I was at Ore Falomo’s hospital. They went to the hospital to look for me. Eventually, I left Nigeria for Benin Republic by NADECO route.
*Adapted from an interview published in Asiwaju: Untold Story of The Leader, a special publication of TheNEWS.