Wednesday 26 June 2019

Abiola’s Contempt: Moshood K. Abiola. Flawed He Was; Flawed Nigeria is. - By Sam Omatseye

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It ennobles the souls of citizens. It does the same also to that of our nation. We can look back and pick out a genuine hero and canonise him. Nobody in our history at once encases the paradox of Nigeria and deserves it like Moshood K. Abiola. Flawed he was. Flawed Nigeria is. And flawed the personages who fought and fell for the cause in those heady years.
Abiola’s daughter carolled the feeling in the tendrils of our hearts. Perhaps the most engaged, but certainly the most cerebral of MKO’s offspring, Hafsat posted a line to President Muhammadu Buhari. She warbled: “if anyone had told the Abiola Family that it is you who would do us this honour, we would never have believed it. You honoured my dad despite the relationship between you and him. You touched my heart. You even apologised for the annulment that you never caused.” She also apologised to President  Buhari on behalf of her family “for whatever sin he might’ve committed against you and your family. Please forgive him.”
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Even those who watched Abiola run did not expect him to fight. He was wealthy. He lounged in luxury. He had never fought a battle in his life except for money for himself. So many thought he was a coward with a big pocket. He was no leader. He was going to sell the nation to international capital. In fact, Falana mocked at the beginning of the struggle. He said Abiola voiced out the proverbs of cowardice. You cannot clap with one hand, etc. He was in IBB’s bosom. He loved the soldiers. He was the army’s candidate. He would surrender once the soldiers said so.  He had financed the hurly-burly of power. He enabled what Fela called “soldier go, soldier, come.”
But as time boiled on, Abiola morphed gradually from the avatar of the peacock class. He never yielded. He wanted his mandate. Few believed he would last. The man had money to make. Some said he had women to mate. He was a world traveller. His private jets were pining for the skies.
Even after IBB yielded, and there was some accommodation of Abacha, some said: “you see, we said it. He has capsized.” But they forgot that he wanted to see if they could coax the goggled brute into a Democrat. Enter Jakande. Enter Ebino Topsy. Enter Olu Onagoruwa. Some others could not agree on terms and declined to be part, not because they did not want it. It was a strategy that Tony Annenih heard from M.K.O. himself after he had asked Abacha to overthrow Shonekan, who was too coy to stand for June 12. M.K.O. said if you are going to Kano, it does not matter whether you fly or go by road. Proverbs like this sounded like cowardice. But it was Abiola the pragmatic.
When the experiment failed, Abiola and others who did not enter the government, recalled the progressives from the cabinet. The morsel had melted in their mouths. They would not vacate power. The die became cast.
Abiola uttered the Epetedo declaration. The battle began that would eventually send many faithful into the trenches. The night battle was fierce, and when lightning flashed in the rain, we saw those who were on the side of the people and those who were not.
The story of June 12 was a narrative of manoeuvres, of cowards and commanders, of traitors and tyrants. But it was a human story. Hence the story of Abiola and Buhari. Buhari never was an Abiola fan. He never was a June 12 fan. He did not like IBB and he wanted him out of power. When meetings roiled in Ota, when OBJ acted a statesman, Buhari went there and made clear all he wanted was to nudge IBB out of power. Once IBB stepped aside, we never heard from Buhari again until he became a player in Abacha’s regime.
That was Hafsat’s point. Abiola was on the side of IBB. They were always friends. When Orkar coup threatened, Abiola was one of those who planned to flee the country. But when it failed, he appeared in rosy visage in Dodan Barracks in a solidarity visit. If IBB overthrew Buhari, it was because Abiola, among other factors, was behind him. Buhari could not be happy with such a man who supped with his foe.
That is why the June 12 holiday came from an unlikely source. Buhari and Abiola are shaking hands across ponds, between the living and dead. While Abiola lived, such warmth was anathema. It is a conversation like the liminal exchanges in the Booker Prize-winning novel, Lincoln in the Bardo. When alive, Abiola thrust his hand from his sheaves of agbada to the khaki men. That spelt his doom. Wisdom, they say, belongs to the dead.
Abiola became a hero not because he wanted it. Dele Giwa became one in spite of himself. Heroes do not come in neat packages. Churchill is perhaps the greatest British leader of all times, but the cigar-chomping, alcohol-friendly dump of a man with the wit of an angel hated Indians for fighting to be free. He even voiced out a racial slur on the great Gandhi, describing him as a “half-naked kafir.” He gave the empire a bear hug. He didn’t want colonialism to end. “I did not become the Queen’s first minister to preside over the dissolution of the British Empire,” he crooned.
Thomas Jefferson penned some of the elegant words of the Declaration of Independence. In his homestead, though, all men were not created equal when they were slaves. He even overpowered a black belle, Sally Hemmings, who sired him a child. Even George Washington, perhaps their greatest leader, only wanted his slaves free after he was dead. De Gaulle had hubris, Napoleon was a nepotist. Even civilisations have Achille’s heels. Greece, the ancestor of democracy, embraced slavery. Ditto their modern icon, the United States. Soyinka famously described Ojukwu a fop, but the bearded rebel is Igbo’s preeminent icon. Paul wasted the Church, but he became its greatest exponent.
“No one’s virtue is complete,” wrote Brecht in his famous play, “the great Galileo loved to eat.” But that was Abiola, the quintessential Nigerian hero. He loved his parties. He loved his money. He clothed himself in the vanity of modern attire. He comforted himself with many women. He even cuckolded “lesser” men. If he was fiery in libido, so was he for justice.
It took June 12 to let us know that. Real heroes do not prepare for it. That is why I disagree with the words of French diplomat and wit, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand. He said, “Love of glory can only create a great hero. Contempt for glory creates a great man.” Abiola was a great hero because he was a great man. True heroes are not idealists of fame. They just want to get things done. Abiola did not want to be a hero. He just wanted to be president. But when he faced the challenge, his principles triumphed over vanity.
So, were others who fought. Men like Kingibe fell by the wayside. Even kola Abiola, who is now voluble, was absent when others like Enahoro, Tinubu, Soyinka, et al sacrificed. Kola should have told us concrete things he did other than “consult.” Where was he when Bagauda kaltho died, when people like Yours Truly were under surveillance for my work for his father’s newspaper, The Concord Press, when men like Alex Kabba escaped the gulag and hid in U.S. embassy before fleeing abroad? Kola was too cosy a creature, hence his father did not even, by his own confession, want him involved. What was his contact with NADECO?
Buhari did not like Abiola, but Buhari hated IBB. He might have allowed hatred to consume him. He didn’t. It might even be that he adopted June 12 to spite IBB. But if IBB is a bigger enemy than Abiola, it is because Abiola was a metaphor of big idea. Here lies Buhari’s big heart. Heroism is never a straightforward tale. Abiola is a hero for his contempt for glory, but a weakness for principle.

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