President Muhammadu Buhari Tuesday conferred the national honour of the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic, GCFR, (posthumously) on late MKO Abiola, the acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election at a colourful ceremony held at the Conference Centre, State House, Abuja.
It is difficult to try to stand in the shoes of a giant of one of the greatest humans that the world ever had but that is the responsibility of why we are here today. And indeed, even for MKO Abiola it was difficult for him to imagine how he would speak to Nigerians in his inauguration.
My mum told me how he would stand in the mirror he was preparing his speech because the results were coming in, he thought he was going to deliver it. And you know he used to stammer, so he will start… “dear fellow Nigerians” but he never really got passed fellow Nigerians. He would say a few words, he will say not like that and then start again and he kept struggling to say what he will say to Nigerians. Because what MKO wanted to say to the Nigerian people and all that MKO did say to the people of Nigeria is to say, I love you the people of Nigeria, I believe in you the people of Nigeria.
He was born Yoruba but he loved Hausa people, Kanuri, Efik, Igbo people, he loved all. You just needed to be a Nigerian and MKO was your man. If he could help he would do. There is so many things he already did to show and that was why the people of Nigeria rewarded him with the mandate of June 12, 1993. But we know that he was never able to deliver that speech but in many ways, the event that transpired later revealed to Nigerians the eloquence in his heart, the fidelity of his commitment and even his own deep abiding wish that if there was anyway his own actions would in anyway comprise the people of Nigeria, MKO preferred to die, he preferred to leave the earth rather than compromise on you, on your integrity as a people and your sovereignty as a nation.
Which was why even the day before he died when he was still being pressured, he asked the question, how do you shaved the people’s heads in their absence. He knew he was present in the room he was pressured but he knew that so long as he refused to allow his own head to be shaved as a symbolic message to you the people of Nigeria that you will be saved.
And when he died, we accepted his body and have watched in Nigeria as year after year till now the 25th year, you the people have suffered and he was not recognized at all.
President Muhammadu Buhari, Nelson Mandela it was who said, “It always seems impossible until it is down.”
Who would have ever believed given the relationship that you had with Chief MKO Abiola that you would be the instrument God will use to honour this man and to bring recognition and healing to the country.
You apologized to my family and it touched my heart. You know that I also lost my mother in this struggle, so that apology meant so much. Let me use this opportunity, on behalf of the Chief MKO Abiola because I know what he would have done, I use this opportunity to apologize to you, to apologize to your family, anything that he might have done to harm you and to harm your family.
Let me also say at this juncture that Chief MKO Abiola was so committed to us saying farewell to poverty in Nigeria and today we have more people in poverty in Nigeria than we had in 1993.
I read the statement that you made where you said we should prepare now to wage a battle for the defence of the people of Nigeria against those who think of themselves as the landlords of Nigeria. Let me say to you that by recognizing June 12, you awaken so many heroes and heroines of Nigeria’s struggle who have shown because they stood firm on June 12 that money cannot buy them. If there is any match that we need to match, if there is any protest that we need to be present to protest, you have called up your own new own Army for the defence of this country. And President Muhammadu Buhari, this fight will not take you God willing as it has taken MKO but let us fight and bring about the conclusion of MKO struggle that the Nigerian people should be the ones in full control of this country. It is not for a few landlords whoever they maybe, it is for the 200 million people of Nigeria.
Mr. President on behalf of the MKO Abiola family, we accept both the award and the apology. We will like to thank you for the great honour you have done our family. We thank you for taking the decisive measures to strengthen our democracy and guarantee our future by reconciling our past. Thank you very much sir. Generations to come will honour your for this.
My the souls of our dearly departed Rest In Peace. God bless the federal republic of Nigeria.
Your Excellency, I want to congratulate you for this gesture. You are the first sensitive and reasonable head of state that has listened to Nigerians and acted accordingly. June 12 is the foundation of democracy in this country. The recognition of Chief MKO Abiola as president-elect in this country not as presumed winner, I thank God that I have seen today.
I congratulate the family of MKO Abiola, everybody present, I am proud of all of you. I also congratulate all of my family members here present.
These people stood their ground, sacrificed all they had for this country and I thank AGIS that their sacrifices have not been in vain.
Today is symbolic because it shows the entrenchment of unity all citizens of this country regardless of your tribe, ethnic background, religious beliefs because we are all Nigerians.
I want to appeal to all our politicians for God’s sake let us appreciate ourselves as Nigerians. Chief MKO won Hope ‘93 but he was not allowed to govern. President Buhari won and we thank God he was allowed to govern.
We urged all Nigerians to support this man, to stop bickering and trivialities, religion and ethnic background. If you loose take it that way.
We are experiencing problems in Nigeria now because of hatred of values but I know with Oga at the helms of affairs things will be better for Nigeria.
Thank you Mr. President for this honour and we accept it wholeheartedly and we will continue to pray for your.
Prof Wole Soyinka:
Most of what l wanted to say have been actually knocked off my mouth by one singular gesture, the Presidential apology. It is a dimension which l did not expect from today’s ceremony. And l had a lot to say, but unfortunately the words have been taken off my mouth. However, l will like to make a request. Mr. President since we are honoring heroes of democracy today, l like to request that you manage to stop creating confusion in the minds of Nigerians. It is not possible to honour MKO Abiola in one breadth and admire his tormentor in another breadth. Loyalty is all very well but loyalty can become perverse if that loyalty is retained to an individual who if he were alive today would be before the International Court of Crimes against humanity. The one who broke the laws of Nigeria, International laws, pauperized this nation, it is confusing if professional loyalty is carried so far as to be accorded such an individual.
We had a private conversation some time ago and l remember one of the things which l mentioned to you was this …l said you are fighting corruption.. how cometh that a notorious dictator, corrupt ruler, is honored by one of the most important avenues in the capital of Abuja, whereas, individuals like the martyrs of the struggle, philanthropists have not been honored. The answer you gave to me was not too satisfactory. But like let it pass.
Today perhaps is also an opportunity to inaugurate our hall of shame so that as we have our Hall of heroes on the one hand, we can also have our hall of shame, as a lesson to future generation, but your apology has been most touching.
On behalf of the Nigerian people, l accept it. I accept and l am sure that most Nigerians will agree with me.
It is a beginning. l do not agree that this is closure to the event of June 12. There are far too many traumatized individuals walking around the streets, pauperized individuals walking around as a result of the policies and attitudes of one of the most brutal dictator. In fact, the most brutal dictators that this country has ever known.
Closure will come by responding to those traumatized individuals or victims of unspeakable tortures, some of whom were compelled to watch even their beloved ones being tortured, on behalf of a man who was determined not just to demonize, to dominate his environment, but also to dehumanize that environment.
All that is left to me is to plead so that we do not forget the nameless, the unsung heroes and heroines of that struggle. A number of names have already been listed but l will like to include one of the pioneers, the instigators of the physical confrontations with that dictator, Comrade Ola Oni, who mobilized a number of people and fought the goons and slaves and surrogates of that dictator in that auspiciously named stadium in Ibadan, Liberty Stadium.
But above all, l want us always to remember that individual which we are principally celebrating today, the man who reappeared and represented himself, who did not understand the word surrender, saying my name is Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, l am back to reclaim my mandate.
Asiwaju Bola Tinubu:
“I want to particularly salute Mr. President for your courageous determination in issuing the executive order to recognize, bring about the result and further committed to democratic principles in the country. Thank you.
“Nigeria, it’s fair that we have chosen democracy as the form of government. We are totally committed to democracy. It has been furthered and strengthened today.
“The love of our nation, to search previous regimes and correct the errors of the past ….. shows you are a great leader. We thank you.”
“We formed a partnership of very strong democratic principles and you are living up to it. You made a promise that you will be committed to transparency and rule of law…., you have done it.
“I know some of the ex-presidents because of June 12, who threatened to throw me out of the helicopter. But you remained resolute to put Nigeria back on self-discovery, great determination and fidelity with democratic principles. Thank you Mr. President. Thank you for bringing back hope to Nigeria.
“Farewell to poverty. It is the struggle of Africa to banish poverty and you are investing in education, which is a great weapon against poverty, you are feeding our children, we are no longer paying for darkness ….., thank you Mr. President.
“It is not a question of second term, you deserve it. We are going to work for it. No annulment on it, you are going to win it.”
“If this is coming 25 years later, it means one day your your country will remember you because some of us felt when we came out of Abacha’s gulag and we were not recognized, I just felt what sort of country is this. Like my personal experience as one of the most famous prisoner of conscience in the world, I saw that my country did not even appreciate the four years I spent in one of the worst cells in the world. And we did all these for our country and the country did not recognize us.
“So, now we are happy and we are very grateful to our President, the least president we expected who should have done this, Muhammadu Buhari. We thought people like Obasanjo should have done that for us long time ago. There was so much pressure not Muhammadu Buhari, we least expected it, so in doing it for us, he has a great soul and we appreciate it.”