Gbenga Adeniji and Percy Ani feel the pulse of families of heroes of democracy as Nigeria records 22 years of civil rule
Nigeria’s return to democratic rule in 1999 was not attained on a silver platter. Many democrats and progressives endured piercing jackboots of despotic military juntas to the detriment of their lives and family safety.
The military dubiously hinged its incursion into politics on a duty to reverse what it termed the corrupt antics of civilians. But it pathetically ended up like a physician who left an ailment worse than he met it. It exhibited intense anti-democratic acts.
The dark days of the military in the country’s political space was challenged by the finest of Nigeria’s heroes who gave their all for a better Nigeria. They ranged from lawyers, journalists, politicians, labour leaders, activists to academicians among others. The despots dangled three dangerous options before the enigmatic heroes for daring to seek a better deal for the country. They were to choose from exile, prison or grave. While some lost their lives to the struggle for a new Nigeria, others are alive to tell tales of the excruciating moments.
Some of the heroes of the democratic struggle included the late Chief MKO Abiola, acclaimed winner of the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential election and his late wife, Kudirat Abiola, Nobel laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, Chief Frank Kokori, who served as the secretary-general of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers during the period, Colonel Abubakar Umar (retd), who also opposed the annulment despite serving under the military dictator, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, who annulled the election dubbed the freest and fairest in the country’s electoral space, the late Chief Gani Fawehimi, a dogged lawyer, Beko Ransome-Kuti, a human rights defender, National Democratic Coalition chieftain, Chief Ayo Opadokun, and one of Nigeria’s distinguished journalists and ex-governor of Ogun State, Chief Olusegun Osoba.
Other remarkable individuals who were also in the trenches were the late Pa Alfred Rewane, a NADECO financier in the post-June 12 struggle, a former president of the Nigerian Bar Association, Alao Aka-Basorun, the late Pa Abraham Adesanya, who was leader of the Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, the late Dr. Tunji Braithwaite, a lawyer, activist and politician, the late Rear Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu (retd.), who was a NADECO leader, the Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland, Chief Gani Adams, Bolaji Akinyemi, Olisa Agbakoba, Shehu Sani, Yinka and Joe-Oke-Odumakin, Femi Falana, Debo Adeniran, Pa Anthony Enahoro, Dele Momodu, Chima Ubani, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa and James Bagauda-Kaltho among numerous others.
Some of the family members of the dead heroes who spoke with Saturday PUNCHnoted that the country was still sadly entangled in difficulties despite 22 years of democracy and sacrifices of their loved ones for a better and just Nigeria.
22 years of civil rule
The first child of the late Chief Abraham Adesanya, Mr Adebayo Adesanya, said the current democratic experience wasn’t what his father fought for.
He said, “We can’t even call this democracy because devolution of power is missing across the states. The states should be able to control their resources and pay something like royalties to the Federal Government. The Federal Government is currently encumbered with many things. In fact, most of the things it takes unto itself should be for the states and local governments. There ought to be state police. Imagine posting a police officer from the North to be a Divisional Police Officer in Lagos for example. If there is a crisis in an area, it will take time for him to know the dimensions and terrains of the issues in that area. But if it’s through state police, the men would have been familiar with the area and tackle any threats that arise. Each state should control their resources.”
The septuagenarian noted that when he was younger he usually envisioned the height the Western Region would attain considering the developmental strides of the late Premier of the region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
He added, “The late Chief Obafemi Awolowo was prudent and cerebral. If states are not granted what they deserved through federalism, issues affecting the country will not abate.”
He noted that restructuring was a way to have a workable country and solution to the challenges confronting it.
“We must all come together and decide how to restructure the country. We have to restructure Nigeria. That’s the only way,” he stated.
On her part, Mrs Martha Bagauda-Kaltho, said the 22 years of democracy in the country had not in any way deepened her husband’s dream for the country.
She said, “The present democracy is not what my husband fought and died for. The country my husband and his group were pushing for was a thriving country where true democracy will prevail and will be peaceful and secure for all. Instead what we have now is a country where we all live in fear – fear to go about our daily lives and fear to speak up concerning the wrongs in our society.’’
She added that nowhere was safe in the country insurgency, robbery, kidnapping and banditry had taken over everywhere in the country including villages.
Bagauda-Kaltho stated, “”Even the villages are not spared of the horrible development. Kidnapping is now an epidemic in Nigeria. There’s no value for life anymore. My husband and others fought and desired a peaceful and just Nigeria where individuals and their ideals can live and thrive without fear.’’
She said if the dead could return to behold what the country they died for had become, they would weep. The woman said, “They would feel bad that they died for the country in vain. What we currently practise in Nigeria is not democracy. It should be given another name.”
She further said the economic situation in the country was terrible, adding that most families were unable to afford three meals daily.
“”They have to skip certain meals to get by. Nobody wants this. It is not a sign of a country with a healthy democracy,’’ she noted.
She said the elite on the other hand were only fighting for themselves and focussed on how to further enrich themselves.
Bagauda-Kaltho said, “What they do not realise is that the insecurity and type of democracy in the country will eventually get to them one day. No one is exempt from it.”
Noting that it would be hard to attain the ideal democracy people like her husband died for, she stated that everyone must join hands to rebuild the country since it was some Nigerians who stunted its growth.
She stated, “Religious leaders from all divides have a huge role to play. They must all advance the ideals of religious tolerance. I fondly remember my husband every day. I even dreamt of him a few days ago. There’s no time I do not think of him. Unless I am no more, I will always think fondly of him. He is a part of me.”
The late Kanu’s first child, Simone Nenna Abiona, said the current democracy didn’t imbibe her father’s aspirations for Nigeria.
Abiona said,”From my perspective, I don’t think so. He expected and hoped for a more unified Nigeria with a more balanced sharing of power. In my opinion, he would have still been fighting for Nigeria to become a true democracy with actual representation ‘of the people, for the people, by the people’. We are still not at the point of true representation at the federal level. There is no true ‘balance of power’ where each of the groups that make up Nigeria is truly represented.’’
She added that she was of the opinion that her father would have liked to see better representation of all states at the federal level, equitable distribution/allocation of the tools and resources required to make Nigeria a more productive nation.
She noted, “When everyone has a hand in building the country, there is a better chance at achieving a true democracy as everyone- or at least most people will be more interested in working on seeing that Nigeria is unified, and that the government is truly of, for, and by the people.’’
Speaking about Tunji Braithwaite who was a lawyer and firm believer against military oppression, his son, Olumide, said that the democratic ideals that people like his father stood for were not being represented in the country.
He said the ideals of any democracy was the constitution, adding that his father vehemently opposed the 1999 constitution because he felt it was an aberration to the freedom of the people.
Olumide stated, “He felt that the constitution could not deliver true democracy because of the way it was put together by the military.’’
According to him, to judge any country one only needs to examine its dividends to the people. He noted, “What can we say are the dividends of Nigeria’s democracy? All I can see is chaos and poverty. Something has drastically gone wrong with our version of democracy,’’
Olumide stated that in any institution or government, the success or failure of an organisation was hinged primarily on the vision of the leader and the attitude of the followers.
He said, “Good leadership and good followership are the ideals of a thriving and functional democracy. If you have good leadership and bad followers, there is still a lot that can be done to maintain order and even eventually harmonise the two. People are naturally drawn to leaders, especially good leaders. Unfortunately, we have never had good leaders in the country. If you look around the country, people who are not politicians may run the affairs of Nigeria better but for the fear of certain factors, they stay away. My father did not need to go into politics for its monetary rewards. He was doing fine without politics. But when you open your eyes to the sufferings of the common Nigerians, you can never close them again and that was what drove people like my father.’’
He explained that people deserved good leadership, noting that the country had only got self-centred and irresponsible leaders.
He said to reclaim the country, the youth were needed, adding that it was ironic that they had power but hadn’t realised the power they wielded.
Olumide added, “The youth are the future and if they can be better organised like what was witnessed during the #EndSARSprotests, they can achieve anything. I say this all the time that the youth might not have money but they have numbers. They have youthful exuberance and intelligence. If the political parties available are not good for the youth, they can seek alternative ones. This country is too diverse to be ruled by two political parties for the last 22 years.”
He also stated that his foundation had recently launched what he called Braithwaite TV to educate the youth on history and current affairs.
“One of the things we teach them is how to recall a member of the House representing their constituency. There is a procedure for recalling non-performing elected representatives,” he said.
He also urged Nigerians to change the values in their families, arguing that the good values were being eroded. “The fabrics of our societal morals have been eroded; we now have people who do not care how they make money. We can continue blaming leaders for as long as we want, but we have a big role to play in the achievement of an ideal society and democracy,’’ he added.
In an interview with Saturday PUNCH, Jamiu Abiola, a son of the late Chief MKO Abiola and Mrs Kudirat Abiola, said the calls for restructuring were loud, adding that what its advocates should do was to at least recognise that a form of restructuring was taking place. Jamiu said, “As you know, the Federal Government is promoting judicial and local government autonomy. To me, these are steps that should take place before a country can be ready for restructuring. With regard to the state of democracy, I think that the burning of offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission has put it in danger. There is a plan to ensure that no voting takes place in certain parts of the country.’’
Commenting on the issue, a former president of the Campaign for Democracy, Mr Mashood Erubami, said the demands of Nigerians in celebrating Democracy Day should be upgraded to call for genuine democracy and true federalism.
He stated that such fiscal federalism should authenticate control of revenues through a bottom-up approach, creation of state police and allowing states to control agriculture, health, infrastructure, education and security.
“As Nigeria is dangerously moving towards the 2023 general elections, the demands for equity in the de-annulment of June 12 should interrogate the totality of its unmet expectations which reside in the denial of the inherent victories. Chief M.K.O Abiola in his vision before joining the Social Democratic Party, prepared vigorously and identified issues he believed were the bane of the country’s development and was set to ‘uplift, rebuild and restore hopes’ of Nigerians with the purposes of saying ‘farewell to poverty’,’’ he noted.
Erubami further said that painfully the death of Chief M.K.O. Abiola and his wife, Alhaja Kudirat Abiola, including assassinations of many democrats who participated in the June 12 struggles were part of the irreparable losses from the annulment.
“As we celebrate Democracy Day, Nigerians have yet to be satisfied with what had been granted so far because the fundamental frameworks set to be achieved by June 12 in 1993 have yet to be achieved.
1993 was to be a year of hope, fulfilment for the ethnic nationalities, youths, women, and every citizen, when it was planned that hunger and poverty were to be bidden farewell. Astonishingly, the hopes of Nigerians have continuously been dashed,’’ he stated.
Saying Nigeria must be governed under true federalism with unbiased devolution of powers, fiscal federalism, with the centre thoroughly unbundled. Erubami urged Nigerians to demand for true democracy in the ‘country where corruption shall be vigorously and non-selectively fought and defeated.’’
He further added, “We demand the naming of national monuments after those who lost their lives in the June 12 struggles namely, Abiola’s wife, Kudirat, Alfred Rewane, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Beko Ransome Kuti, Alao-Aka Bashorun, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Chima Ubani, Anthony Enahoro, Ola Oni, Baba Omojola and others, while those who annulled the June 12 presidential election should be consigned into the dustbin of history.’’