By Mark Adebayo
“Political assassination is … a primitive way of contending with an opponent”
– Nelson Mandela
Nigeria was shaken. It shook with volcanic volatility. The ship of state floundered violently. The ocean of multifaceted turbulence threatened to consume it whole. Uncertainty conflicted with certainty. Common sense took flight. Death and destruction swung hither and thither like an implacable sword of Damocles. A heavy cloud of precarious savagery bestrode the land. Time stood in time. The tides of centrifugal catastrophe rose and ebbed. Nigeria got caught amidst a pyromaniacal current of gangster leadership exhibiting wonted nihilism irrespective of the apparent predictable values of its dance of death.
On 7th July, 1998, Nigeria slumped into cascades of national anxiety as Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, the president-elect who had been in the captivity of crude power wielders, was pronounced dead! He was killed. The man didn’t just die. Till date, his Wikipedia page reads “assassinated”. This is what is the most acceptable description of Abiola’s death – he was killed, not that he died – to his most ardent aficionados, including yours truly.
In 2006, I wrote a 347-page book entirely dedicated to June 12, MKO Abiola and allied tragedies associated with the putrefaction of the Nigerian project. The book was titled Martyred by Knotty Owls (MKO). Bashorun Abiola’s murder (used advisedly) almost led to the death of Nigeria – it actually killed it partially – a partial paralysis. It is debatable whether Nigeria has totally recovered from that maddening misadventure. It was one murder that the executioners of it dared anything and everything. That is the crux of arrogant power cultism – thoughtlessly nihilistic.
“We will show that we are not only in government, but also in power” carelessly declared Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, a General and military president at the time shortly after the annulment by a way of threats of unimaginable consequences if anyone dared them on the decision to annul the most peaceful, credible and freest presidential election in the history of Nigeria and thereby scuttle the democratic processes already fully activated.
It was never meant to succeed, anyways.
Nigeria has been in the grips of power cultists from inception. As educated, sophisticated and urbane as Nigeria’s pre-independence Southern nationalists were, it is eternally regrettable that they didn’t foresee a Nigeria that was proceeding from European colonial bondage into internal recolonisation or a variant of what historians call overlapping imperialism. Basically, the British were handing over to a group of foster local colonialists who had been effectively tutored in the art and intrigues of power domination. The nationalists, especially from the South, were ambushed and misled into buying a mendacious scheme that was a product of deadly chicanery between the British and Northern Nigerian ‘nationalists’ with permanent Northern political domination in the guise of ‘independence’ as the end result. They were sold a dummy independence that would be dependent on the benefaction and periodic intervention of the British to continue protecting the latter’s postcolonial interests. Several opportunities presented themselves for the South to have bailed out of collective independence negotiations with the North, but the allurement of having the most populous country in Africa and the largest concentration of blacks in the world was too tempting to resist. They saw a large country but didn’t see the larger picture. The error of that era is what is today’s pain in the neck of the South.
They bought the pill of death hook line and sinker. So, Nigeria was a product of organised crime crafted to ensure Northern domination for the main purpose of ensuring continued British manipulation of her internal affairs through malleable internal collaborators. Nigeria’s warped structure was a punishment against the South for kick-starting pro-independence agitations against the colonial overlords.
The North quickly learnt how to use – misuse is more appropriate – power to emasculate the South in whatever engagements that arise till date. When a Southerner is in power, he does everything to ingratiate himself with the North – recent examples were Obasanjo and Jonathan. When a Northener is in power, he consolidates Northern political authority and renders Southerners impotent and dependent on the North in political power game and economic opportunities – that can’t be more vivid than how that the Buhari government has turned Nigeria into a government of the Fulani North since 2015. Even the Southerners who were mostly responsible for his ascendancy to the presidency have been rendered just a little better than caged errand agents. For example, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu who was the cynosure of the power bloc that enthroned Buhari has been reduced to nothing more than an ordinary outlier in a government he staked all to enthrone. He would be extremely lucky not to be in jail by the time Buhari is leaving Aso Rock in 2023 – that’s if he is leaving by then, not certain yet – for all manner of corruption allegations.
That’s been the lot of the South since Nigeria’s contraption. What really aggravated the structural imbalance of the country was the ill-advised ‘unitarisation’ of the country from the erstwhile regional structures by the military government in 1966 headed by a Southerner! Another acute mis-judgement that played straight into the hands of Northern power poachers.
From pre-independence, the highly educated South has always been politically näive and consistently falling victim of the political shrewdness of the less educated North till date. It’s a bewildering irony! That irony extends to the double jeopardy of majority of Northeners remaining poorer than Southerners, far less educated than Southerners and currently being ravaged by avoidable terrorist violence by religious extremists and bandits. Northern power domination has not translated into better lives for the overwhelming majority of Northerners but they aren’t seeing it that way. The day the Northern masses realize that being in power is not an end in itself but only benefits Northern political elites, they will revolt and Nigeria would be the better for it.
Ever since 1966, Nigeria has been floundering on the ocean of defective structural engineering that gives all the power advantages to the North. Until that changes, the South would remain a mere fringe player within Nigeria’s political configuration.
Such was the confidence of local and international power cultists manning Nigeria that they couldn’t care less about what fate would befall Nigeria or what Southern Nigerian reactions would be if MKO Abiola was expired the way he was in 1998. It was an acute demonstration of arrogant domination and what-can-you-do churlishness.
The international conspirators in the summary assassination of MKO had assured their local co-conspirators that should the Southwest choose the option of armed struggle either to sever from Nigeria or capture power at the center, an effective arms embargo would be activated, allegedly. The Southwest would be totally starved of arms and ammunitions and thereby made helplessly vulnerable and incapacitated. Everything leading up to the ultimate liquidation of MKO Abiola was perfectly premeditated.
It remains debatable, but nothing really esoteric, whether a Southern military head-of-state could annul an election so clearly and cleanly won by a Northener. It wouldn’t have happened. And it is unthinkable that a northern political prisoner of the status of MKO Abiola would have been allowed to die in custody under a Southern head-of-state, military or civilian. Imagine Dangote dying in custody under Olusegun Obasanjo’s presidency or Jonathan’s. The country would have gone up in flames within seconds. That’s because the North has an overwhelming population of uneducated, unemployed and mostly unemployable youths who can be easily manipulated to go on killing and destruction sprees at the slightest provocation or, oftentimes, misinformation. They lack the capacity to process information before acting unlike majority of educated also unemployed youths in the South. They are ready armies of spontaneous violence.
Realistically, all factors considered, the North and the South are like water and oil struggling unsuccessfully to mix. At best, we’ve been living in separate togetherness – a forced marriage of convenience that is inconvenient to everyone. But we continue to pretend publicly to be one whilst in the safety of our privacies and in the midst of those of common language and ethnicity as ours we exhibit our true selves and how badly other ethnic groups behave as different from ours and why a person behaves a certain way because of where he comes from. Even if that were valid, why do we then pretend to accommodate one another when, actually, we barely tolerate one another? It’s no rocket science to understand that Nigeria as presently structured is unsustainable and absolutely unworkable. It encourages injustice and domination which is a time bomb ticking with foreboding precision.
MKO was a sacrificial lamb and a victim of organised power criminality. When OBJ was removed from jail to slug it out with a fellow Yoruba man, Olu Falae, in the 1999 presidential election ostensibly to placate the Yoruba, it was also a deliberate choice by the power cultists. The one still naively believed in one, indivisible Nigeria until recently he screamed Fulanisation agenda and had once declared in faraway Zimbabwe in the hot-headed days of June 12 actualisation struggles that MKO Abiola wasn’t Nigeria’s messiah – a major misstatement – and the other who was once part of the military government that annulled the June 12 presidential election. The power cultists were desperately seeking for who they could, at least, trust to maintain the charade of Nigeria’s indivisibility under the same warped structures that guaranteed injustice and imbalance. Despite that, the outcome of the election was manipulated to cause the emergence of their anointed candidate. True to type, Obasanjo didn’t make any attempt at righting the wrongs of the wrong structure. He left it untouched. Now, ex eventu, he is all over the place screaming blue murder!
Curiously, in an unforgivable demonstration of subservience, President Goodluck Jonathan who had the balls to do something about the structure of the country by convening a national conference on it and was presented with a comprehensive report about how this country can function well suddenly lost the balls at the stage of implementation. He naively thought he would do so in his second term which the power cultists ensured he didn’t get. As America was fingered in the assassination of MKO Abiola, so was Obama’s government fingered in what played out that ensured Jonathan’s exit. The ex-president himself alluded to this in his memoir titled “My Transition Hours”. Actually, President Barack Hussein Obama never hid his disdain for Jonathan and his preference for Buhari and his government did more than meets the eye in helping Buhari’s ascendancy to power. Nigeria currently bears the unconscionable burden of Buhari’s ethnoreligious bigotry as the extraordinary purpose of governance since 2015.
I hope and pray that Obama’s conscience convicts him as he sees blood of innocent victims of AK47-wielding killer Fulani herders flowing all over the country daily, especially in South and North Central Nigeria, under full presidential protection and the helplessness of the givernors who have been lamenting and their modest efforts at protecting their people deliberately being frustrated by a presidenct determined to enable the 4th deadliest terrorists in the world according to the Global Terrorism Index. That is the complexion and reality of the politics of power domination.
Buhari is taking no prisoners. He sees himself as the modern Caliph to resume the scuttled 1804 Jihad on the march to dip the Quran in the sea in Lagos and thereby totally claim Nigeria as a Fulani territory. The same language often used by Miyetti Allah, a group which I prefer to refer to as a privileged terrorist organisation under the government of General Muhammadu Buhari.
Today, all the gains and lessons of June 12 and the ultimate sacrifices of Chief MKO Abiola have been lost. Our democracy has been demonized. In fact, Nigeria operates a hostage democracy. The fundamental principles of democracy like freedom of speech and the right to a peaceful protest have been truncated since 2015 that General Buhari became president. I agree with Afenifere that says we are back to Abacha’s era of totalitarian madness. He is absolutely intolerant of opposing views and criticisms. He is impervious to people’s loud complaints about his skewed appointments that heavily favour the Muslim North. He is unrepentantly anti-South and doesn’t hide it.
MKO Abiola’s assassination marked a tragic turning point for Nigeria and an indelible dark mark in its political history. The forces that eliminated Abiola remain active and unrepentantly committed to the subjugation of Southern Nigeria under perpetual political domination of the North. They are vehemently resisting the restructuring of Nigeria because it would upset their power calculus. It’s like Pharaoh not wanting the Israelites to go because they serve the servitude economic purposes for the Egyptian kingdom – cheap labour without political relevance.
However, 23 years after MKO Abiola’s murder, he remains the reference point of Nigeria’s reversion to some modicum of democracy or civil rule. Perhaps the only positive legacy of the Buhari government was the surprising recognition of June 12 as Nigeria’s Democracy Day and the posthumous award of the Grand Commander of The Federal Republic, GCFR, reserved only for current and past presidents, to MKO Abiola. The only person who was not also president to be so awarded was late Chief Obafemi Jeremiah Awolowo who was honoured with the award in 1982 by President Shehu Shagari, also late.
MKO Abiola was a business giant and a political juggernaut of no modest achievements. He did his homework well by building bridges of friendship and relationship across the length and width of Nigeria before gunning for the presidency except that he didn’t take into consideration the atrocities that power cultists are capable of inflicting in their desperation to expropriate power and keep it ad infinitum. He remains a hero to many Nigerians. He remains an icon of democracy and freedom. He remains a motivation for success. MKO Abiola remains a force for good over evil. He lived well and did a lot of philanthropic works that put smiles on the faces of millions of Nigerians.
Abiola, continue to rest peacefully.