Twenty-five years after the military dictator, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida (retd.), annulled the June 12, 1993 presidential election won by the late Chief Moshood Abiola, President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday formally apologised to the family of the deceased who died in custody while struggling to reclaim his mandate.
In turn, the family of the deceased politician also apologised to the President for the wrongs Abiola did to him while he was still alive.
This played out at the Presidential Villa, Abuja where Buhari posthumously conferred the highest national honour of the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic on Abiola.
Also, Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka told Buhari to stop showing loyalty to “Abiola’s tormentor.”
At the well-attended ceremony, Buhari also conferred the second highest national honour, Grand Commander of the Order of Niger, on Abiola’s running mate in the election, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe; while he also honoured the late human rights activist, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, with the same award posthumously.
Buhari said his decision to revisit the annulled election was not an attempt to open old wounds but to put right what had been done wrongly.
He said it was clear that Abiola was already winning the election when the government of the day inexplicably cancelled it.
He said Nigerians would no longer tolerate such perversion of justice.
Soyinka also commended Buhari for apologising to Abiola’s family.
He described the presidential apology as a dimension which he did not expect from the ceremony.
Soyinka, however, urged Buhari to stop confusing Nigerians by showing loyalty to an unnamed individual whom he referred to as Abiola’s tormentor.
There is the general belief that he must be referring to the late Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha (retd.), who detained the business mogul for about five years until he died in detention.
Although Soyinka did not mention Abacha’s name specifically, the Nobel laureate said it was confusing for Buhari to honour Abiola on one hand, and be admiring the late politician’s tormentor on the other hand.
Soyinka said, in a private meeting with Buhari, he had also raised concern over how the President could be saying his administration was fighting corruption, whereas a major road in the Federal Capital Territory had been named after a corrupt former leader.
He said he was not satisfied with the response he got from Buhari.
Soyinka said, “Most of what l wanted to say have been actually knocked off my mouth by one singular gesture: the presidential apology. It is a dimension which l did not expect from today’s ceremony.
“l had a lot to say, but fortunately the words have been taken off my mouth. However, l will like to make a request. Mr. President, since we are honouring heroes of democracy today, l will like to request that you manage to stop creating confusion in the minds of Nigerians.
“It is not possible to honour MKO Abiola in one breadth and admire his tormentor in another breadth. Loyalty is all very well but loyalty can become perverse if that loyalty is retained to an individual who if he were alive today would be before the International Court of Crimes against Humanity.
“The one who broke the laws of Nigeria, international laws, pauperised this nation, it is confusing if professional loyalty is carried so far as to be accorded such an individual.
“We had a private conversation some time ago and l remember one of the things which l mentioned to you. l said you are fighting corruption, how come that a notorious dictator, corrupt ruler, is honoured by one of the most important avenues in the capital of Abuja, whereas, individuals like the martyrs of the struggle, philanthropists have not been honoured?
“The answer you gave to me was not too satisfactory, but I let it pass.
“Today, perhaps is also an opportunity to inaugurate our Hall of Shame so that as we have our Hall of Heroes on the one hand, we can also have our Hall of Shame, as a lesson to future generation.
“But your apology has been most touching. On behalf of the Nigerian people, l accept it. I accept and l am sure that most Nigerians will agree with me.”
He also backed the call by the National Assembly that the June 12 poll result be formally released and Abiola declared as the winner, while the Abuja National Stadium be named after him as earlier suggested.
Soyinka added that the event itself should be seen as the beginning and not the closure to the event of June 12.
He said a closure to the event could only come after all the victims of the struggle had been honoured.
Soyinka added, “It is a beginning. l do not agree that this is closure to the event of June 12. There are far too many traumatised individuals walking around the streets, pauperised individuals walking around as a result of the policies and attitudes of one of the most brutal dictators. In fact, the most brutal dictator that this country has ever known.
“Closure will come by responding to those traumatised individuals or victims of unspeakable tortures, some of whom were compelled to watch even their beloved ones being tortured, on behalf of a man who was determined not just to demonise, to dominate his environment, but also to dehumanise that environment.
“All that is left for me is to plead so that we do not forget the nameless, the unsung heroes and heroines of that struggle.
“A number of names have already been listed but l will like to include one of the pioneers, the instigators of the physical confrontations with that dictator, Comrade Ola Oni, who mobilised a number of people and fought the goons and slaves and surrogates of that dictator in that auspiciously named stadium in Ibadan, Liberty Stadium.
“But above all, l want us always to remember that individual which we are principally celebrating today, the man who reappeared and represented himself, who did not understand the word ‘surrender’, saying ‘my name is Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, l am back to reclaim my mandate.’”