Gratitude and apologies of June 12

“A bone to the dog is no charity,” so said American novelist and social activist, Jack London. Power elites in all ages know when to pacify howling hounds for them to enjoy their peace. And this has allowed evil to thrive in high places. Nigeria is a conundrum of guilt – and sin. Too many good people are guilty of one heinous crime or the other. It is very difficult to know who really is not guilty among the low and the high. President Muhammadu Buhari last week apologized to the Abiola family for the annulment of the June 12 election. He did so on behalf of the Federal Government which committed the crime 25 years ago. The Abiola family too also expressed gratitude to Buhari for honoring the good man who died in the gaol house of his friends. The grateful family went further to apologize for whatever their father might have done to Buhari while alive. What wrong did Abiola do to Buhari that his family was atoning for? Did Abiola also do any good for Buhari which were repaid with unpleasantness?

Chief Moshood Olawale Abiola was too close to the military. The ascendancy of the military in politics was also his ascendancy in business. He trusted them; he believed they trusted him. Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu in a 1998 interview deconstructed the military clinically. He told The News magazine: “In their professional calling and normal duty, respect them. But in any political arrangement, don’t ever rely on any military friend.” Eternal truth; even today, it is true but man will always make history proud by repeating it. Abiola was wise and smart but he was outfoxed by his friends all through his politics. There were undying rumours of him as kingmaker even with the military. Did Abiola play a role in making Buhari military head of state? Did he play a role in removing him? Is it not true that General Ibrahim Babangida told Abiola of the resolve to sack President Shehu Shagari? When he was told, is it true Abiola asked IBB who would head the resultant government and IBB mentioned Buhari because he was the most senior of the conspirators? Is it true that Abiola told Babangida: “I know you;  I don’t know him” but still proceeded to provide whatever was needed to make the plan work? Was that an investment? Did Buhari not at some point later casually hurt Abiola and his interests? Is it true too that the Buhari military government seized Abiola’s consignment of newsprint and refused to release same even with valid documents shown? Hamza Aminu was the editor-in-chief of Amana, Abiola’s Hausa language newspaper. Buhari’s government jailed him without trial for nine months because of two adversarial editorials the newspaper carried. Did the person who ordered the detention of Aminu for nine months without trial not know he was MKO’s aide? You don’t kill your neighbour’s dog because it misbehaved. Did that system care? It dealt proxy blows on its friend’s agent and moved on to the next victim.

How did MKO take all these? Aminu, a victim of Decree 4, was released a few days after IBB sacked Buhari in 1985. While receiving Aminu on Sunday, September 1, 1985, Abiola in his philosophical best said “God never supports anything bad.” He proceeded to speak on the seizure of his Concord Press’ newsprint by the Buhari government: “Anytime our newsprint is tampered with, God tampers badly with those involved. God has shown His disagreement each time our newsprint is tampered with.” Newsprint here was a metaphor for himself. But if he could see tomorrow, he would have known that the storm which opened his wardrobe that time would one day come for the damask on his shoulders. He moved on from that point for his rainmaker to make more rains for friends and foes. But there is that bird that assists with rains in seasons of drought. Whenever the rains come and the field yields bounteous fruits and tubers, what dividend does it share? Its gain is cold, arrogant ingratitude. The rainmaker is always there outside – in the rains, drenched by its generosity. When the storms came for Abiola, it took everything from him, including his white horse, hoofs and all.

There is so much guilt, so many wrongs, infractions everywhere. If itemised apologies are what we need as propitiation to the gods of justice, the sun would rise and set and rise again and we won’t still do enough justice to the wronged. Chief Ebenezer Babatope was Director of Organization of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). He was not in any government but when the Buhari military came in 1984, they detained him. He was not tried in any court but he was in jail for one year and eight months. His father was gravely ill and he wanted to visit the ailing old man before death could reach him. The junta asked Babatope how he knew his dad was ill. The old man died. And did the government allow the detained son bury his father? The Nigerian Tribune published a back-page Sidelines on April 17, 1984: “Ebenezer Babatope could not visit his late father on his sickbed. Reason: he had been detained since February 9, 1984. It is hoped that in good conscience and in humanity, the Chief of Staff will have the grace and the favour to let Chief Babatope attend his father’s final rites. If he does not have the opportunity now, he will not die in detention and will be free one day to visit his father’s grave.” Babatope was not freed to participate in the funeral rites. But he was lucky. He didn’t die in detention or become blind there like some of his colleagues. He was released by the new sheriff in town, Ibrahim Babangida in September 1985. And in tears, he visited his father’s grave. Babatope deserves an apology.

President Shehu Shagari was favoured. He was detained in 1984 not in a prison but in a guest house. But the windows of the house were screened from the sun throughout the almost two years he stayed there. And what permanent effects did that have on his eyes? He deserves a sorry too – but how many sorry will  be enough to cleanse the land? Fast-forward to August 1985; the man who detained them, Buhari, fell from power. He was detained without trial too in a guest house in Benin. Day after day, month after month, he was there, stoic and utterly resigned to fate. Then his mother died in Daura – and his jailers freed him early enough to bury his mum. Would you say he was luckier than his former victim, Babatope? Does he not deserve an apology too? Some people are more sinned against than sinning. Too many sins across the board.

Who should say sorry to whom now? Folu Olamiti was editor of Sunday Tribune in 1985. He woke up on August 20 feeling very upbeat about going to the office. His wife ran out of her room to tell him she had a bad dream overnight: She saw very many visitors wearing mournful looks in their home. Folu asked her to pray as he sauntered out of his flat. He got to the office and there was nothing to suggest what was about to happen to him. “Five minutes later, two fierce-looking men in mufti walked into my office and asked for the editor of Sunday Tribune. I told them to sit down while I went to fetch the editor. I sneaked out, called Tunji Lardner (Jnr) to take me home. I informed my wife of my possible arrest and detention and asked her to take good care of the children,” he wrote. Folu went back to his office. His editor-in-chief told him to “be consistent” in his statement to his new masters. He then surrendered himself to the state and started a dreary, dark journey to the unknown. His offence: he published “a political statement.” At his detention centre in Lagos, he met “six youngsters, probably in their teens,” wasting away.  He was to learn later that they were Nigerian students abroad “who were picked up at different times at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos on flimsy excuses.” Their parents did not even know they were in detention! Folu met some others as cell mates. These were Bukhari Zarmar who was editor, New Nigerian; Femi Falana who was Fela’s lawyer, and Alhaji Sule Katagum. They were his seniors in that detention facility. Olamiti was, however, lucky. He was in detention for only eight days. A change of government on August 27 came and freed him and others from what had promised to be an indefinite detention. In this season of apologies, who among these people does not deserve a sorry from the Nigerian state?

ALSO READ: Why I want to return to Senate ―Smart Adeyemi

Nigeria has come a long way as a colony of iniquity. The country missed it from the very beginning. If there was no Shagari with the excesses of his men, there probably wouldn’t be a General Buhari and his detention centres. If there were no Buhari/Idiagbon excesses, there probably wouldn’t be a Maradonic IBB and the big headache called June 12. If there was no June 12, maybe there wouldn’t be an Abacha — and maybe MKO Abiola, his wife, Kudirat, and the hundreds who died protesting the injustice would be alive today. If all these did not happen, maybe there wouldn’t be a second coming of Olusegun Obasanjo and a second coming of Muhammadu Buhari – and all the regrets and recriminations we haul at one another today. Maybe there would be food on your table, money in your purse and peace day and night. Maybe.

Nigeria needs a closure from its long years of evil, sin and impunity. Let no one play the ostrich, the saint on this matter. We can have a clean break from the past with a truthful closure. And the closure has to be a national resolve to spread light where there is darkness; apply balm, not salt, on injuries. The June 12 closure with all the apologies, left and right, was good and beautiful. But it had all the trappings of imperialist power strategists throwing salted herrings to baying dogs of resistance.

Truly, the homestead of the coward will always stand to mock the ruins of the brave. Did you not see those who dined and wined with Abacha; those who profited from the annulment beaming with smiles and counting their blessings last week? They sedated the troublesome with sentimental nothings and clinked glasses. However, June 12 may have worked as opium of the Yoruba but throwing bones at howling dogs so that you could enjoy the meat won’t secure the country and the future. It won’t heal the wounds -completely. Doing so (as has been done) will give some relief; it will give some respite for the beleaguered to catch some breath. But the canine will be back; and when it is back, it will howl, even roar. And the powerful will throw more bones to it, to buy distance and buy time and gain more years in power. And the unrestrained master of this realm will inflict fresh wounds for the next generation to nurse and treat. Then the howling will be louder, fiercer. And there will be no closure again – forever.

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