The convener of Coalition of Democrat for Electoral Reform (CODER) and the General Secretary and spokesperson of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), Ayo Opadokun was a frontline actor in the struggle for the June 12 Mandate annulled by former President Ibrahim Babangida. In this interview on TVC monitored in Ilorin by MUMINI ABDULKAREEM, the right activist revealed some of the intrigues and happenings among key personalities in the issue.
What do you make of the action of Presisdent Muhammadu Buhari on this issue?
Aside June 12, there are other concerned that are also as important.
But don’t you think it is almost impossible to select all those involved in the June 12 struggle for honours in one fell swoop?
Yes, I agree on that point but if the government is serious about it, it can set up a committee made up of those of us who were at the controlling heights of the matter so that we can do some justice to it. You know we lost quite a number of young people because of the spontaneous reaction of people against the annulment. The then Head of State, Sani Abacha ordered for shoot at sight on Ikorodu road and about eight of them from the community were among those killed. When they were about to be buried, I, as the General Secretary of NADECO, went around mobilising with the family and when we went for the corpse, they told us we should just take them and go without any ceremony.
Is your organisation on board with President Buhari on this?
We accept the kind and positive gesture of the declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day which we campaigned for from May 15, 1994 before all these latter day June 12ers came on board after years when everything had taken shape.
People who did not work for it are today some of the greatest beneficiaries, what is your take on this?
One can say without any fear of contradictions that revisionists are very much available for the use of the government at all times including this one and they are lurking around to claim the glory. Even in the attendance list of people invited, some have no business on that list. Those of us who were jailed and we lost blood, possession, property and our liberties, they were missing on that list.
But many thought this was a step that was taken with due consultation with the whole democratic coalition?
We were never consulted. For example, there were quite great numbers of objectionable people that are going to be part of the ceremony. Great number of the so called chairmen of the SDP totally signed up to kill June 12 and we have the document. And just like the President’s media aide, Garuba Sheu wrote, there were elite cadres who sold out June 12 because they thought it gave them an opportunity to get them into government.
But the way the President has deployed this particular move, what do you make of it because people has already situating it in the realm of 2019 politics?
For me, politicians will always be politicians and they have a right to criticize. But how do you explain that people are not even mindful of what they say. I know there are tendencies in this land who really hated the gut of MKO Abiola even before he contested. They were totally distabilised when he won. They said he could not win more than 2 or 3 states, some of them and their surrogates are still alive and would not be happy. They are part of those who have criticised Buhari and some of them are extremely powerful after they have stolen the state blind. They have too much money to recruit young men and women who have nothing to do than to engage in spurious writing. But the truth of the matter is that the right thing has been done which is the first part of it. But we are very critical about the other critical matters that affected June 12. NADECO decided to take up the campaign for the revalidation of the mandate after Abiola accepted that if he assumed office, even as the government of national unity, one of his first jobs would be the convocation of a sovereign national conference to right the wrongs that have been done to us through military dictatorship over the years. Nigeria was forcefully coupled together by the British colonial masters by sheer military force and we have not been given the privilege or opportunity to determine what we want.
Is this about the non invitation of NADECO to the programme despite the enormous contribution made?
Not at all, in fact, it could have done us great harm for us to be seated among those characters who really were opportunists. We are for wrongs being corrected but one of the crisis of this nation is that those who acted and paid serious sacrifices are never given due recognition. I don’t believe June 12 issue has been answered substantially. This is just one of the matters the president has dealt with remixing the critical matters. It was because of the deficiencies and inaccuracies of these critical matters that enabled the military jackboot to do what they did.
But talking about history and leaders, President Obasanjo did not…
Obasanjo was one of the greatest beneficiaries of June 12. Many Nigerians particularly the young ones may not know that former President Obasanjo became the choice the military foisted on us because they reasoned that MKO was an Owu man from Ogun state just like Obasanjo. Favouring somebody again from his Ogun would satisfy the community and the Yoruba nation generally. General Abdulsalami Abubakar was subsequently pressured to release and pardon Obasanjo because he had been convicted for treason. But for eight years when he got to the office, he was so heartless and did not even think about taking any step towards this direction. Worse still, when he was asked about the annulment during the inauguration of late Nelson Mandela as the first black president of South Africa, he said MKO Abiola was not the messiah Nigeria was looking for. So you can understand the mindset of such a character. When he got to office, he was not mindful that MKO sacrificed his life in martyrdom to redeem us and make those who then rule Nigeria to decide to give two Yoruba people the choice to run for presidency. He (Obasanjo) was the greatest beneficiary of June 12 but he just ignored it. That is unpardonable. People like that ought to keep silent and not be heard. But he keeps on behaving as if he is the best thing to have happened to Nigeria.
What do you think of the additional request MKO apologists are urging Buhari to do by going further to declare the official results and announced Abiola winner?
I think it is important that justice is done to the martyrdom of Abiola by asking that the final announcement of the remaining results is made and he is addressed now as President elect, no longer assumed winner with his photograph placed among that of former elected presidents. It’s unfortunate that some of those actors who vowed that Abiola will never govern are today enjoying the democracy he died for, people like former Senate President, David Mark, Obasanjo, Babangida and Akilu among others.
What do you make of the inclusion of Babagana Kingibe among those to be honoured?
This is a legalistic thing and I remember in 1998, the political secretary in the United States embassy here in Nigeria, one Mr Young, told us if we were fighting for democracy and revalidation of Abiola’s victory, same must happen to the SDP and NRC governors that were disbanded including NASS members. Legally, the idea might be difficult to fault because it is a joint ticket but I think he (Kingibe) knows himself that he does not deserve it. The day after Abacha took over, there was a meeting in MKO’s house and Kingibe was there. When Abacha invited MKO, he consulted with me, it was on a Thursday and I advised that those who worked with him to make him president needed to be assembled before he can make any response to Abacha and we agreed for 2pm on Sunday because I said some of us will go to church. He was at the meeting, same as Ebitu Ukiwe, Ndubuisi Kanu and quite a lot number of other people. Many of us said we should not join the Abacha military administration but rather stand with June 12. It was one of the Kingibe’s boys who stood and said if we refused, the NRC guys will join and we would be left the losers. When our colleagues of the Council for Unity and Understanding from the South East heard, that is Ukiwe and co, they felt very unhappy and said we should allow them to leave. I followed them and Kingibe followed us outside. He was saying their people are tired and that if they are not part of the Abacha government, they might pay dearly for it. He subsequently became a minister of Foreign Affairs and part of the greatest liars about what was happening in the country then. How could such a person benefit from the June 12 enterprise?
Don’t you wonder what all those actors who served as detractors on this issue will be thinking now?
We appreciate the President for what he had done which has taken care of one principal leg of our struggle especially of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) for which I was the founding General Secretary and spokesman. We suffered humiliation, repression and violence. So I can talk authoritatively on this issue and not based on revisionism. We are saying the antidote to all the noise from different regional groupings that had dominated the polity like the issue of restructuring and the likes is to return to the federal constitutional arrangement upon which we secured independence. Once that is done, all other things will fall into place. Rather than convene another national conference, we can sit together particularly all the chosen representatives of the ethnic nationalities that were the building blocks upon which Nigeria secured its independence, look at all the papers from the different conferences that had been held and take out something that we will all commonly subscribed to from which we can now write a constitution.
As close as some of you are to this issue, did you hear anything before the President’s announcement was made regarding it from any quarters?
No! But you see as acetic as President Buhari is, he is not given to emotions. But I think he has certain people that are close to him who can always tell him the right thing whether or not the other side who for their own personal selfish reasons assist him to execute the advice that had been given is a different thing. For this one, one guess that those who understand the implication of President Buhari tenacity in office today might have been the ones who came up with this improbable and very difficult to handle matter (for his opponent). And they got it right because the image of the government seems to be having a nosedive because of the attacks of the headsmen against the farmers and people were already reading a lot of meanings to it with dampened morals and questions of whether he could still win reelection were being asked. But Buhari came out with a joker which was beyond the imagination of his opponents. However, I have some inkling about some elements in the south west who are very close to him and he consults with regularly. I can give an idea about where the fellow comes from which is from the same Ogun as late MKO and they understands the implications of some of this. His words count very much because of long period of relationship with the President. That is all I can say.
The DG of the Hope 93 movement, Jonathan Zwingina was reported to have denied that Kingibe ever abandoned the struggle but was part of it to the end. How do you react to this?
I was party to the appointment of Zwingina as the DG of MKO Abiola’s campaign and he cannot deny that. But the unassailable truth is that as soon as Abiola was arrested and the military took over, he became a commissioner in Adamawa state before he was sacked just as Kingibe became the minister of Foreign Affairs and then changed to another ministry. So you can understand the falsehood in him and why he is lying. People like that are part of the revisionists and they have ways of emerging because they can always compromised with evil no matter the circumstance.
What do you think is the impact of Buhari, a Katsina man coming to right the wrong of what others who had the opportunity could not do?
I wonder what moral sense some of them have to say some of the things they are saying. Somebody has done what you failed to do, you are now angry because it has totally taken the shine off all the lame excuses earlier given by some past leaders on the June 12. That is why somebody is now crying that they want to frame him up so to silence him. He was just trying to divert attention to kind of water down the impact and significance of President Buhari’s action.