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Abiola’s Enduring Legacy of Commitment to Democracy

It is a grave assault on Abiola’s (and all others who gave their life for democracy) memory to run the country like a medieval clan or engage in political practices that stoke the embers of division, refusing to act when the life of the citizens are in danger and carrying on as if all is well when indeed, the country is up in smoke with citizens haunted by various terror franchises, ravaged by hunger and openly cursing their fatherland.

M. K. O. Abiola’s name will be on the lips of most informed political commentators and analysts today and perhaps in the next few days. Abiola is more than just an individual; he is a phenomenon, a fiercely determined soul who lived the old adage that it is better to die fighting than live on your knees.

A place in history

Today’s generation may know little about this legendary figure who morphed into the realm of the immortals by his unmatched generosity, business intelligence, daring spirit and an appetite for venturing into unchartered territories. The importance of Abiola’s examples and sacrifices makes it obligatory that on a day like this, we spare some moments to reflect on his agonies, his motivation and most importantly, his legacies.

A few things are already settled: we shall never stop talking about Abiola, June 12 and the heroic refusal of Abiola to renounce the mandate of millions of Nigerians “for peace to reign.” Abiola refused to abandon his mandate, even when many would have considered it the safest thing to do.

But Abiola was a different man, safety wasn’t really a thing of great attraction for him. In the course of his life, he never had any difficulty choosing what is right over what is safe. Many who knew Abiola beyond what others saw in the media were therefore not surprised that he elected to die than make a deal with his jailers.

In the course of fighting to protect the mandate handed him by the Nigerian electorates on June 12 1993, Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola lost his extensive business empire, lost his beloved wife Kudirat and on July 7 1998, paid the supreme price. That Abiola, one of Africa’s richest men elected to trade his luxury homes for dingy detention centres in various parts of Nigeria tells us something about his willpower as a man.

The abortion of a dream

At any rate, we shall be doing little justice to Abiola’s life and times if we make this presentation solely about his losses. Yes, he demonstrated that no price is too much to pay for what one believes in. Even more, there are extensive insights we can glean from the business mogul’s life beyond the things he had to let go.

Abiola victory in the presidential election of June 12, 1993 represented a watershed in Nigeria’s history and politics. His acceptability across the country was almost universal and in electing to let go of all the things that would have weakened the resolve of lesser mortals, Abiola demonstrated that indeed, a man’s true character as Abraham Lincoln opined is known only in moments of great discomfort.

The Ogun State born industrialist was a dreamer and many Nigerians bought into those lofty dreams. They showed their faith in Abiola’s message of a united Nigeria, undivided by tribe, religion or other primordial considerations. They trooped out in thousands at his campaign rallies to have a glimpse of this larger than life personality, to hear him speak and to learn first-hand, how Nigeria can rise from the ashes of a beleaguered past. The fact that Abiola defeated his opponent Bashir Tofa in his hometown of Kano tells the story of how a country can rise to greatness when mobilised sincerely by a man with genuine intentions.

M. K. O Abiola gave Nigerians a reason to believe in their fatherland. While tonnes have been written about his legendary generosity and national appeal, what many may not be aware of was that Abiola saw beyond the challenges of the time to believe that this country had greater potentials that can only be harnessed when our people are offered the platform to throw in their enormous skills and talent into national aspirations. Abiola wanted to be the bridge to Nigeria’s greatness, the key to unlock a glorious future and the guiding light to lead us to our true selves.

Nigeria was the real victims of the June 12 shenanigans

While it is unfortunate that enemies of the country conspired to abort the promises of the Abiola Presidency, nothing they did or would do can ever obliterate Abiola’s significance in our national political and economic discourse. So long as Nigeria continues to exist, historians shall constantly dig in to find out how a child raised in extreme poverty rose to the heights of power, wealth and fame. We shall never stop talking about Abiola’s large heart, his refusal to let religious considerations cloud his judgment and especially at a time like this, his insistence that we are one people, no matter where we were born or what languages we speak or the type of clothes we wear.

Abiola saw immense potentials in every Nigerian and across his chains of companies spanning publishing, real estate, telecom, sports, aviation and a lot more, you found thousands of Nigerians working and contributing their quota to the nation’s economic growth and development.  No qualified individual was ever denied a place in his business because he is from a particular area or on the basis of what his surname was. As one of the largest employers of labour in the country at the time, thousands of families depended on the legendary philanthropist to meet their needs and plot their future.

In detaining and destroying Abiola’s businesses, the individuals responsible for his ordeals did not really hurt Abiola as much as they wounded the families that depended on his industrial empire for employment, income and related economic privileges. These people were from all parts of Nigeria and in cutting off their source of livelihood by detaining their employer unjustly, the masterminds of Abiola’s travails created untold hardship for parents and their children. Would those people who starved on account of Abiola’s long term incarceration and eventual death ever forget the significance of the man who offered them the opportunity to apply their skills and talents to support themselves and build on their dreams?

Abiola Vs. Today’s Elites  

While many have attributed Nigeria’s run of woes to a number of factors, I see things differently. Our current problem stems from the fact that we lack men with Abiola’s unbending conviction, sufficient number of individuals who can stand up to challenge the mess the country has become- even if it means sacrificing their all.

It is a shame that our “big men” prefer to keep quiet while the country burns than rise up like Abiola did and ask a few basic questions about our nation, its future and how we are likely to be remembered by history. M. K. O sacrificed all, what are the present elites sacrificing?

Today offers us a great opportunity to introspect. While we can argue from now till tomorrow as to how an Abiola presidency would have shaped Nigeria, what would never be open to any form of disputation is the injustice done to the man who saw a prosperous Nigeria at a time many of his peers were largely concerned with self enrichment. Abiola’s courage in the midst of great danger shall continue to set the benchmark upon which leadership is judged and it is fitting that a day like this is set aside to celebrate his life and legacies.

Beyond symbolism however, a sincere commitment to nation building is required from today’s office holders who in truth are reaping from Abiola’s sacrifices. This country cannot continue to survive on luck. Africa’s most populous nation has tottered for too long on the edge. The time has come to do things differently. It is a grave assault on Abiola’s (and all others who gave their life for democracy) memory to run the country like a medieval clan or engage in political practices that stoke the embers of division, refusing to act when the life of the citizens are in danger and carrying on as if all is well when indeed, the country is up in smoke with citizens haunted by various terror franchises, ravaged by hunger and openly cursing their fatherland.

The grand betrayal

This is certainly not the democracy (or Nigeria) Abiola and several compatriots gave their lives for. Leadership means responsibility and those who are reaping from Abiola’s unyielding commitment must understand that the positions they occupy today could have been occupied by another had the SDP candidate in the June 12, 1993 presidential election not given his life in pursuit of his conviction.

May Abiola’s legacy endure, may his courage inspire us and even more importantly, may we be as unyielding as he was, when asked to choose between staying true to our patriotic beliefs and the temporary relief of personal comfort.