By Charles Kumolu
One of the closest associates of the late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, Chief Dele Momodu, in this interview, reveals the efforts he is making to ensure that key June 12 actors offer apology for their roles, in order to achieve true reconciliation.
The veteran journalist also narrated his encounter with the daughter of the late Gen. Sani Abacha about the latest development and disclosed the impetus that propelled Kola Abiola to seek recognition for MKO Abiola among other issues.
As a close associate of the late Chief MKO Abiola, would you say that his recognition by President Muhammadu Buhari has pacified all aggrieved parties?
For any member of the Abiola family or his political family, it is natural that we are happy because we had to wait for 25 years for someone to recognise that on June 12, 1993, something monumental happened in this country. Chief Abiola won the election and nobody ever contradicted that, not even those who annulled it. They knew that he won, but they just didn’t want him to govern. There was no controversy about the fact that he won, and no one accused him of cheating. He suffered for winning an election. In literature, we call it oxymoron because it is a contradiction.
How can a man win an election and he will not be allowed to take over power? The case of Nigeria is compared to that of a vulture that has been extremely patient with reference to a James Hadley Chase book I read as a student titled: The Vulture is a Patient Bird. However, 25 years after, at God’s appointed time, honour came for Abiola and all those who fought for June 12. We are extremely grateful to Buhari. On this one, Buhari scored a hat trick because it is like scoring three goals at a time. It does not matter whether we agree with his government or not.
Where were you when you heard the news and how did you receive it?
I was in London at the time. A friend called me on phone, and said he had something very urgent to discuss with me. It was in the afternoon of that day. He said something major was about to happen in Nigeria. When I asked further, he said I would hear it later. However, he whispered and said Buhari was about to recognise Abiola. I laughed, and said he can even wake Abiola up if he liked because we were already frustrated about promises that he would be honoured. The nearest to it was former President Jonathan, but it was mismanaged. And somehow, it collapsed.
What do you think happened?
In life, there must be preparation and readiness. After readiness comes victory. President Jonathan didn’t prepare very well. It was a spur of the moment gesture. Even this one that happened; some people think Buhari just woke up and did it. No, there was a process. As far back as last year, Kola Abiola got a legal opinion to know if what they were asking government to do for their father was possible, legally. He spoke to a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, who responded through a letter, saying it was possible to do so, posthumously. And Kola had approached past leaders to honour Abiola, but met a brick wall. Other members of the family might have done so as well, but I know of Kola Abiola. When this finally came, I was very excited. People have called me to ask if the motive was not political.
The motive, for me, is irrelevant. What is important is the fact that we got what we wanted. God has used President Buhari deliberately and frontally to recognise the winner of June 12. And I had advised the President a few weeks before the gesture that the best way to move Nigeria forward was to reconcile Nigerians. Even the issue of the President apologising to the family is the best way to bring a closure to such a monumental and unfortunate event like the June 12 tragedy. It happened in Kenya where Kenyatta called the opposition leader, Odinga to apologise so they can move forward. That is how to move the nation forward. In fact, the greatest mistake the APC made was to start fighting the moment they assumed leadership as if we were under the military. That has been my advice, and they thought we were fighting. It is embarrassing to get to power and start fighting.
What was the problem?
It is because Buhari’s biggest brand is that of a no-nonsense soldier. They felt that if they changed the brand they will lose their core loyalists. I remember telling (Rt. Hon. Rotimi) Amaechi (Transportation Minister) that we should call Buhari the Peoples General. It is the same problem that President Trump is having in America where he carried his base along. Now, his base wants him to destroy the existing system. In Nigeria, people still want Buhari to continue to be seen as a friend of the poor, who will probe corrupt people. And in Nigeria, the poor people see every rich man as their enemy which is a very dangerous mindset. I have warned government about that. The job of government is to promote prosperity and not to project poverty. It is a very delicate balance.
Now they are knocking the head of the poor against the rich. That is why the economy will not pick up because even those who have money are scared of investing because of the fear of being targeted. That is why people are now hiding money outside Nigeria. On the Abiola issue, I want to remind the President that what I have told him on Pendulum has happened. When there is an atmosphere of joy and happiness and peace in the land, he will be the greatest beneficiary. What he has gained in the last one week is greater that whatever could be ascribed to him in the last three years.
You described the gesture as a closure on the June 12 saga but there are still other strands of the matter that are yet to be addressed. For instance, the results have not been officially released. What do you make of that?
I am not saying it has brought a closure because there are still other bridges to cross. I said it should be brought to a closure. By giving Abiola GCFR, it is assumed that he won the election, whether the result is declared or not. I know there are litigations challenging the release of the results. What I know is that symbolically, he has brought a closure to the matter. I believe the courts will declare him winner if such matter comes up in court.
A lot of people are saying that the June 12 political family is bigger than Abiola and Ambassador Babagana Kingibe. This explains the feeling that many who fought for June 12 were supposed to have been honoured alongside Abiola, Kingibe and Gani Fawehinmi.
What do you make out of that argument?
There is nowhere in the world where everyone will take credit for all that has happened in a struggle. I was not even invited for the investiture but I am not bothered because what I did for June 12 was not for personal reasons. I was even in Ghana when the President honoured Abiola in Abuja. Kola Abiola called me on the evening of June 11 that he wanted me to be around for the event, but I was not in the country. I don’t do things because I expect to be compensated. One of my favourite philosophers, Whitehead, said “Blessed are those who expect nothing because they shall never be disappointed.” I don’t waste my time thinking of what I will get from someone. Even when we were following Abiola; a lot of people were following him for different reasons. Some were following him because of houses; some did because of cars; some wanted money, but mine was because of wisdom. And I got it from him. Anytime I wanted to do something, I will consider how Abiola would have handled it. I believe that Abiola, as the leader, should take the credit alone. If he can take the blame, he can as well take the credit alone. Abiola lost his wife, Kudirat, but why are they not talking about her? It goes beyond that because the symbol of the struggle is Abiola. The head of June 12 is the one that has been recognised.
Who was Abiola to you and who was the Abiola you knew?
Abiola was definitely not a saint because I don’t think there is any living saint. But he was close to a saint. Whatever deficiency he had, he made up for in many other areas. I don’t know why anybody would say he sponsored this and that. In life, someone must have friends and every businessman must also have friends. Those friends must cut across all spheres of human endeavour. Abiola had friends in the military and everywhere. Abiola did not say because former Military President, General Babangida, was his friend, he would not campaign. He campaigned more than anybody, and suffered more than anybody. And when he had to fight his friend, he fought on the side of the people. If someone’s friend is in power, it will be wrong to abandon that friend so that you will not be accused of planning a coup. One thing I told the members of his family is that God has made him an everlasting martyr.
When the books would be written, questions would be asked about the real reason the election was annulled. Did Abiola confide in you as regards what he felt was the reason for the annulment?
No. Several times, we tried to discuss that – he would say that Babangida assured him that he was leaving. I remember Dr. Doyin Abiola telling me that he went to see Babangida severally to ask if he was sure of leaving. The general consensus was that Babangida didn’t want to leave, but they asked him and he swore that he would relinquish power. Abiola told me that if he knew Babangida was not ready to go, he would not have wasted his time. He told me that he didn’t like wasting his time. Based on my own private investigation, I found out that apart from the fact that the military didn’t want to go, Babangida didn’t want to go. There were also people who connived with the military and conspired against Abiola.
That was what happened to Abiola. They came together to say that it will not fly. Babangida did not do it alone. Babangida was just a victim. It would have been resolved long ago. All they needed to do was to have apologized the way Buhari did. The Abiola family should be compensated because they lost so much. Abiola was involved in so many businesses, but when the June 12 saga started, all his businesses were destroyed. It is not enough to just honour him, his family should be compensated. For a man who was the richest in his time, some of his children found it difficult to go to school because of what happened. Government owes the company a lot of money. A fraction of that can be released. Abiola’s company, Summit Oil, was the second company to find oil in commercial quantity in Nigeria. I handled their media relations. The license was revoked. I think they have got it back now, but they have not been able to do much. By the time Abiola died, they would have spent in excess of N500 million on that project. That was when our currency had value.
They owned a bakery – Wonder Bakery, in the same compound with Concord Newspapers. By the time all these happened, all the machines went bad. They owned the biggest printing press, Bulk Delivery in Oshodi; Concord Airlines, a farm in Taraba State, Lafiagi, Ogun State, Senegal and other businesses. Government should just find some billions for them so that they can bring closure to all these.
On the failure of former President Obasanjo to honour Abiola, I know that a lot of things would be revealed very soon in Nigeria. For instance, when we talked about those who annulled June 12, I said that IBB did not do it alone. How come he left Abacha behind when he was leaving? I know that one day, IBB will tell us what was remotely responsible for his action, and why he did that. People are going to give different versions of what happened, but the fact remains that Babangida annulled the election.
On IBB, Obasanjo, Abacha families
If I find myself among them, I will tell them to apologise to the Abiola family and Nigerians. I have made overtures already. I am not just a journalist; I am a journalist who is blessed with a lot of contacts. I am reaching out to everybody because that is what Abiola would have done. He was not a vindictive person. Abiola was my adopted father. My father-in-law handed my wife over to Abiola during my wedding in December 1992. I know Abiola well enough.
Even after the annulment, Abiola wrote a letter to Babangida saying ‘let us be friends again’. He said IBB was his friend and that he did not know why he annulled the election. That is statesmanship. The Abacha, Obasanjo and Babangida families should raise their hands and beg God and Nigerians for forgiveness, and it will be over.
I was speaking to Abacha’s daughter, Gumsu, a few days ago and I asked her views about these things happening now. He said the Abacha children and Abiola’s children were friends before. She was mentioning names of the Abiola children, saying that they attended the same school and were very close. She said the Abiolas used to drive Volvo at that time, adding that anytime they saw a Volvo, they would conclude it was the Abiolas.
She said there was a time she saw one of Abiola’s daughters in Abuja and wanted to take her to meet her father (Abacha). But the girl was felt uncomfortable and refused to go. She narrated that if the girl had gone with her, Abacha would have allowed her to see her father (Abiola) in detention. And she stressed that she felt bad that Abiola’s children lost their father in the process, adding that she also lost her father. Abacha’s daughter informed also that her father (Abacha) also had a human side. I was so touched that I wondered what could have made Nigerians to act like that towards one another. Now the children are the ones suffering it. When Abacha’s name is mentioned, nobody wants to listen.
How do they close those gaps? How do we reconcile these Nigerian families because some of the children were so young when these things happened, and they don’t know anything about June 12? We have had the first closure, but the reconciliation of these Nigerian families is also another form of closure. Nigerians should learn to forgive one another. The only way to forgive is to admit wrongdoing. Let these families come out to admit that they were wrong.