By Louis Odion, FNGE
It is difficult not to read politics to President Muhammadu Buhari’s avowal of June 12 last week. If posthumous awards for MKO and Gani Fawehinmi were truly intended to re-connect the President to the progressive community in an election year, it has turned out a master-stroke indeed, going by the outpouring of goodwill for the general in the past week.
The man likely to be biting his finger this hour discreetly must be Goodluck Janathan. Like many things he attempted in five years, the immediate past president bungled the bid to appropriate some mileage from June 12. His renaming UNILAG “MAU” (or MAU-MAU as traducers cheekily chose to echo in a backhand invocation of Kenya’s notorious coloinial Mau-Mau guerrillas) dried up almost immediately with the ink it was written.
Perhaps, this time, the fakir from Daura was shrewd enough to engage the right medicine man for a better charm. Only that could explain while whereas the Fawehinmi family flung back medal similarly offered posthumously by Jonathan (just the same way Gani had rejected Umar Yar’Adua’s earlier in 2008), Buhari’s has been accepted with both hands in gratitude.
But if we care to look deeper, there is surely a silver lining yet above the cloud of partisan opportunism here. Coming twenty-five years after the fact, the gesture could, in a way, be taken as an act of penance by a penitent member of a military caste that had violated democracy.
As the ululation continues to echo across the nation over Buhari’s proclamation, Ibrahim Babangida must be a sad man today. His melancholy must be compounded by the shame of being finally exposed as nothing but a con man.
Deluded IBB obviously wanted to do what none of his military forebears had done. He coveted eternal power but lacked the courage to come out openly and say so. While attempting to steal MKO’s popular mandate, he not only sold the nation a lie but also sought to cauterize national memory against remembering. Beaten to a corner, the “evil genius” then conceived the devious Interim National Government to wipe the memory of June 12.
The same way OBJ could not be happy that the man, whose huge sacrifice he toiled so hard to deny even as little as a mere mention, is now being festooned with the nation’s highest garland posthumously. Neither could the Ota chicken farmer be amused that Gani who peppered him relentlessly with the worst invectives imaginable as “imperial president” would now be officially addressed as GCON.
Nor could General T Y Danjuma also possibly have any cause to pop champagne at the good tidings. When the old Taraba-born warrior made himself available at one of the early “pro-democracy” summits in Lagos immediately after the annulment, he could barely conceal his impatience for the niceties of democracy. At some point, he was famously quoted as telling off pesky journalists: “Gentlemen, you know I’ve little or no time for all this your long talk about democracy. I’m here simply because I don’t like that man (IBB) there.”
Or can thieving Sani Abacha, memorably dismissed as “intellectual midget trying to bring the nation down to his level” by Professor Wole Soyinka, be mollified for that matter. How depressing it must be for him wherever he is today to hear that MKO chained down for four years till he (the captor) died and who would curiously drop dead exactly a month later after him would now share the honour as fellow GCFR!
Undoubtedly, June 12 annulment was the last act in a concatenation of defilements by two generations of buccaneering generals.
In all its historicity, June 12 was a powerful expression by a nation that would appear to have outgrown the military that had held it down for a decade. By overwhelmingly endorsing a Muslim-Muslim ticket and voting above ethnic cleavages, the people could only be telling the generals the excuse of national fragility they kept retailing for hanging on to power was no longer tenable.
In what must then be a fitting closure to history, it has now taken a general to uproot a lie planted by a fellow general twenty-five years ago. It is in the same spirit that we continue to yearn for a closure to the puzzle over the liquidation by parcel bomb of citizen Dele Giwa 32 years ago when the same general was law-giver. The same way the nation would seek an update on Buhari’s earlier order that the police reopen the murder cases of Bola Ige, Marshal Harry et al during the reign of another general.
Now, let no one downplay the therapeutic benefit of establishing the truth. For that is the first sure step to national healing. Truth may hurt initially, but it heals ultimately.
This moral joint is what is missing in the argument by the likes of former Chief Justice Alfa Belgore who seem obsessed with the letter – rather than the spirit – of law. They had argued that since it is impossible to have MKO and Gani physically present, awarding the honour would be vain.
Not surprising, one Umar Ardo, an OBJ’s barefoot lackey, has floated the laughable idea of going to court to challenge Buhari’s decision.
Though Femi Falana, SAN has done well to shine the light on the portion that might have appeared grey to the nay-sayers, it bears repeating that that is just what the spirit of law could also have envisaged. June 12 is never a speculation. It is a truth. To act or argue otherwise is to continue to dignify the big lie IBB told 25 years ago.
The spirit of fundamentalism is inevitable in those who truly knew June 12 and lived its dark days intimately. I confess my own extremism here, having worked then as a young reporter in Concord Press owned by MKO.
For the nation at large, perhaps what had made the trauma more unbearable was the culture of denial foisted and sustained with state might over the years. That lie first manifested in the specter of Ernest Shonekan who did not consider it dishonorable to seek to exercise power he neither won by ballot or secured by bullet.
When the supremos of the now discredited military finally accepted to relinquish power in 1999, they strategically chose the eve of June 12 to disengage. The culture of denial was sustained by OBJ, ironically the biggest beneficiary of June 12, who now proceeded to indulge in perhaps the worst act of Gregorian incest by proclaiming May 29 (his own inauguration day) as Democracy Day in sheer contempt of the historic day Nigerians truly voted a new nation and in cruel denial of the supreme price paid by MKO and other martyrs.
The Ota-based narcissist probably saw acknowledging June 12 as a favour to MKO, forgetting it was a historic duty to the nation actually violated. What’s more, soon after OBJ took over, the teaching of History was abrogated from our school syllabus, perhaps in order that the young Nigerians would never have the opportunity of knowing such sordid aspects of the nation’s past.
No one put it better than Adams Oshiomhole, labour icon and former Edo governor, in a reaction to Buhari’s offering: “How ironic that over the years, those who emerged the beneficiaries of June 12 would toil real hard to designate their own coronation day falsely as Democracy Day over the moment Nigerians actually voted democracy.”
If nothing at all, with the executive proclamation of June 6, credit must be given to Buhari for somehow bringing integrity back to national award. What further elevates the medals bestowed on MKO and Gani is its exclusivity. This is the first time the administration is awarding national honours since assuming office in 2015. A sharp departure from the past when national medals were dispensed yearly on industrial scale to recipients, many of whom in real life embody anything but honour. So much that at one of such bazaars, President Goodluck Jonathan was left to merely read out names of awardees without handing out commemorative medal or certificate, simply because his people kept updating the list until the last minute!
Later, rumour of a racket began to swirl involving a ranking member of the administration. It was as if “bank alerts” were still pouring in while the brochure was already at the printer’s. In sum, award of national medal must be tied to idea or exertion that truly advances community or country. Only then will it have meaning or value.
As for Baba Gana Kingibe, the fact that he is decorated with GCON being MKO’s running-mate can hardly launder his hands of treachery and perfidy. He has benefited only from the technicality of history. But that will hardly blot the memory of his succumbing to the temptation of the stomach at the defining moment. As revealed by MKO light-heartedly at one of his last public appearances at NIIA, Lagos in June 1994: “When I asked my deputy (Kingibe) what are you doing with the usurper by accepting to be a mere minister, he told me he was hungry. And I said ‘If because of thirst you decide to drink water from the gutter, you’ll only catch cholera’.”
By the way, curiously missing among surviving SDP top brass invited by Aso Rock to the June 12 ceremony was Chief Tony Anenih, ironically the chairman of the winning party. It could not have been an oversight, but an omission borne out of emotional intelligence and due regard for the sensibilities of a nation still haunted by a difficult memory. For the education of Nigerians yet unborn or too young to understand the main issue during that historic decade, Chief Anenih’s moral stamina failed him in the hour of temptation.
Lacking character when it mattered most, Anenih led the colluding faction of SDP leadership that acquiesced to Babangida’s inducement to trade June 12 away. Even while the knife that stabbed MKO in the back politically was still dripping blood, Anenih and co had earnestly begun to position themselves for seats in the ING.
His career of treachery continued when his old political mentor and benefactor, Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, later ended up in Abacha’s gulag in 1995 after valiantly spear-heading the lobby at the 1994 Constitutional Conference that fixed January 1996 as exit day for Abacha.
Without hesitation or shame, jobbing Anenih again made himself available to be used to torpedo the popular motion championed by now incarcerated Tafida Katsina, removing the last obstacle to Abacha’s self-succession circus.
So, had renegades like Anenih dared to gatecrash the June 12 memorial yesterday regardless, it would have been entirely surprising if the ghost of doughty MKO did not haunt them around the gallery relentlessly.
All said, it is a lesson in the value of standing for something. The fruit of treachery is always bitter at the end.