Lagos Salutes MKO with a Statue

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The statue of MKO Abiola, the latest public art installation in the city. Image courtesy Adedeji Olalekan

Lagos State will on June 12 unveil a 46-foot statue of MKO Abiola to mark the 25th anniversary of the watershed 1993 elections, widely believed to have been won by the late businessman and philanthropist, who died in July 1998.

The ceremony is scheduled for noon at the MKO Abiola GArden, ALapere. This event  comes only days after the federal government announced that June 12 will henceforth be Nigeria’s official Democracy Day.

“June 12, 1993 was the day millions of Nigerians expressed their Democratic will in the freest, fairest & most peaceful elections since our Independence,” President Buhari announced on his twitter handle on June 6.  “That the outcome of that election was not upheld by the then military Govt does not detract from its democratic credentials.”

The president topped off the new by also announcing that Abiola will be invested posthumously with the country’s highest honours, the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR).

Masterstroke or Politics?

Shortly after the announcement, “MKO Abiola”, “Democracy Day” and “June 12” all trended on social media as Nigerians debated the subject. Some described the announcement as a masterstroke, others labeled it opportunistic.

“Chief Gani Adams, the Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland, while commeding Buhari’s action, said he should take a step further by restructuring the country before the 2019 general elections,” according to The Daily Report, a news and current affairs programme on Star FM 101.5 in Lagos. “Chief Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), a human rights lawyer, also commended Buhari’s action, although he noted its closeness to the 2019 elections.”

While the federal government had always flagged May 29 as Democracy Day, states in the southwest, to keep the significance of the date alive, opted to mark the same event on June 12, declaring the day a public holiday every year since then.

“This posthumous honour done to MKO Abiola means that the Nigerian government at the highest level now acknowledges that there was a travesty of justice over June 12,” says lecturer and presidential aspirant, Oluremi Sonaiya. “Now that the victim is finally getting “justice”, what happens to the perpetrators of the injustice?”

One of Abiola’s daughter’s Hafsat Abiola-Costello says: “President Buhari’s decision to recognise June 12 and my father has restored my hope in this country.”

“We’ve continued to struggle for this thing, that this injustice must be corrected to become part of our history,” says Bola Tinubu, who before and after he was governor (1999-2007) of Lagos State , was of the of the leading lights of the struggle to actualise the June 12 agenda and immortalise the “Icon of Nigeria’s Democracy”.

“The sun rises only once”

The then government agreed “that the presidential election was generally seen to be free, fair and peaceful” but claimed that “there was in fact a huge array of malpractices virtually in all the states of the federation before actual voting began.”

When interviewed after the election was annulled, Chief Abiola, surrounded by dozens of supporters, stood his ground and demanded that the full results be released and that he be sworn in as president on August 27 of the same year.

According to him: “We do not have two sunrises in one day; even in Africa, the sun rises only once a day–that is what it is. That people have made it clear that that is what they want.”

It appears that the people want much else, however. Much of what transpired especially after the elections are still subject to speculation and conspiracy theories.

“It is time for us to demand that the records, the transcriptions of that fateful day that Abiola took that cup of tea be made known–it is overripe for public consumption,” says Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy,” Kehinde Bamigbetan, speaking at the 2018 International Archives Day, in Alausa on June 11.”The international community should come forward to let us know what happened when MKO Abiola took that tea.”