June 12 is proof of what is possible
As the battle against the annulment of the June 12 elections raged, it got to a point when fatigue began to set. No surprise. As to be expected, some people moved on with their lives and the fire ebbed in some quarters, for a variety of reasons. But the greatest harm deliberately infused into the waters then was the lie sold that the struggle had been ethnicised. That it had become a Western or Yoruba thing. It was a lie deliberately sold. Lots of unthinking people bought it, even when it was not backed by facts. June 12 was never about any ethnic group. It was never about the Yorubas. As a matter of fact, prior to that period, MKO Abiola was not the most popular man in that part of the country because he had been a part of NPN in the Second Republic in a region where Chief Awolowo of the UPN was deified. MKO transformed himself through a deft use of philanthropy, sports, music, media, religion, etc. and he won hearts across the length and breadth of the country. He simply connected with the people. The powerful advertising campaign he ran resonated with the people.
The feeling of injustice people felt at the annulment was a nationwide affair. It was not a Yoruba thing. But even as I don’t do generalisations, I find it hard to contest the fact that there seems to be a more robust tradition of civil rights advocacy, awareness and tendency to stand up against perceived injustice in the Western part of the country, with Lagos being the heart of advocacy, especially with the major media houses situated here. There is also the tradition of standing up for a cause they believe in, no matter the cost. That is why they were content to stay with Awolowo in opposition, resisting the centre at enormous cost, for several decades. The Yoruba people refused to be appeased by the appointment of Shonekan – proof that June 12 was not about one of their own being in power. They rejected Obasanjo in 1999 on account of his anti-June 12 credentials. Obasanjo was never for June 12. He did everything to render it irrelevant and kill it. For 8 years as President, he would not even mention the name of the man who was murdered for standing for a mandate freely given to him, even when Obasanjo only became President because of the same Abiola.
June 12 was a struggle based on firm principles. That exactly is what played out with June 12. People like Wole Soyinka, Gani Fawehinmi, Beko Ransome-Kuti, Alani Akinrinade and many other Yoruba men and women who led the fight did not do so because MKO Abiola was a Yoruba man. They, like many in the human rights community, did not even see eye to eye with MKO until after the annulment of the elections.
Some of the activists did not even believe in the whole Babangida endless transition programme, as he kept changing dates, rules, banning people and all that. Many of the Activists did not support anyone or participate in the election, But once election held, it was deemed robbery to have sought to truncate it. Injustice to the nation was one to be resisted. That was the point for those who stood up, irrespective of tribe and tongue. It was not a partisan struggle.
Of course, there was Olisa Agbakoba. We had Dan Suleiman, Ndubuisi Kanu, Frank Kokori, among other non-Yoruba who stood to be counted. It was not a Yoruba thing. But that lie was repeatedly sold to the point that some, who were in nappies then, insist on it today. It was fabricated to belittle and discredit the struggle. But it has always been a lie. We have latter-day historians raised on the feeding-bottle of fabrications, telling the story of yesterday to those who participated it its making. They have started again. Stunned by the recognition of both June 12 and MKO Abiola, they have started weaving the same old lie about it being a Yoruba thing again. Some of them are confused. Unhappy with the man who has wisely made the right move we have almost lost our voices clamoring for, they are desperate to desecrate it.
For some, it is outright insult at the Yoruba people for celebrating. One, a Journalist, Chairman of the Editorial Board of a newspaper in Lagos has called Yorubas ‘sophisticated morons’ for celebrating the recognition. We celebrate. June 12 is proof of what is possible. We choose to celebrate, even as we know it irritates some. But that, in fact, is the reason we should celebrate. That in spite of all that they have done to obliterate the day and what it symbolizes from the record, it has continued to stand firm like an Iroko in our history. It is difficult for these ones to understand what it means for a long stand for a good cause to finally yield result, because they have never stood up for one. Some, finally realising that their wishful thinking is up in the air, they have now appointed themselves emergency mouthpieces for Afenifere, seeking to wear their political choices in borrowed garbs, as latter-day saviors of the race. They claim to know what is in the interest of the Yoruba nation than the people and the families directly concerned.
June 12 is not about the Yoruba. If Yoruba people embrace it wholeheartedly, they do so not on the basis of some self-aggrandisement, but in fidelity to the age-long principles that they line up behind a fight for justice. That is what this is about. If it does not resonate with anyone, perhaps it has to do with the clutter in the mind. June 12 is beyond all of these petty machinations. Seeking to ethnicise, trivialise or minimise its significance is a voyage of folly. It failed yesterday. It will fail again. To align with it is to write your name into the right side of history. The lies won’t last. It might take time, but the truth will always overtake falsehood. June 12 is proof of what is possible. As it is with every aspect of our life, people have chosen to craft and fabricate their own versions of history, yet the true story sits pretty in the hearts of the people. Even those who were too young then to personally partake directly in the history-making process have fond and great memories of what the day symbolises. For those whom it continues to rankle, they should take a cue from Abiola’s words – you cannot stop the sun from rising, nor can the sun rise twice a day. There is really nothing you can do about June 12. It has come to stay.
June 12 was not about MKO Abiola. Even then, June 12 was about MKO Abiola. He was fiercely brilliant and intelligent. He was a man of astounding wit and confidence. He would stutter, yet confidently convey his brilliance through a play with words, adages and even songs in his booming voice. He was an enigma. Brave heart – he stood up when many would have easily given up. He made his voice count on all he was passionate about – sports, philanthropy and the cause of the black man. I doubt there was a more influential black man in the world than MKO at the time. He took up the cause of reparations for the black race for the injustice done her on account of long years of slavery. He generously supported the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. He was a giant, many times over. Perhaps it is because June 12 so fiercely burst some of the myths propounded by those who do not mean well for our people and passed around by many ignorant ones that they are so desperate to re-write and suppress the story. All the myths peddled about religion, ethnicity, apathy, lethargy pushed aside by Nigerians when they rightly identified the Man. Perhaps it is the knowledge that when the right person is thrown up in coincidence with the right moment, the people have a way of making the right choice that scares those who will rather hold the nation down.
Everyone has a June 12 story. We should have. It was such a remarkable day. We set aside our prejudices and biases to invest out trust in one man. He had defied the odds. We defied the odds. We made our point. June 12 tells us it is possible. Those who deny the day and what it symbolises waste their time. In the words of the man himself, you cannot abort a pregnancy after the child has been born. We need to stop deceiving ourselves and letting them deceive us. We have all it will take to build this nation and make it great. We must see the marketers of hate for who they are and isolate them. “A cat performing ablution is only planning to steal a piece of the meat,” says MKO Abiola.
We must be wise. We must zero in on the ingredients for successful nation-building and not those things that pull us apart, if we want to prosper. ‘If you build a house roofed with Zinc and you perform the naming ceremony of your child in a thatched house, is that progress?’ Abiola asks. We have a house roofed with zinc. It is our choice whether or not we will have the naming ceremony in a thatched house. If only we will believe. If only we will stand our ground against the pettiness which divides us. June 12 is proof of what is possible.
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