The late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola was the acclaimed, legitimate winner of the 1993 Presidential election, which was conducted, purportedly, to usher in a Democratic Administration, after Ibrahim Babangida’s eight years in power, as Nigeria’s sole military President till date!

Inexplicably however, Babangida, annulled the same election, even though he readily admitted, in his broadcast to the nation, that the conduct of the election was widely accepted as “free, fair and peaceful” even when the victorious presidential ticket comprised two Muslim faithfuls!

In retrospect, it is arguable that the 1993 Presidential election results, probably remain the least controversial, in almost 6 decades of Nigeria’s post colonial history. The Quixotic annulment, however, provoked angry public protests and nationwide labour strikes, particularly in Lagos and the South West, while precious life, was regrettably snuffed out of hundreds of Nigerians, by the murderous, tyrannic response of an unrepentant military Dictator.

In the ensuing intrigues, Babangida, in his own words, agreed to “step aside” for Sanni Abacha, his Chief co-conspirator, who quickly eased out Ernest Shonekan, whom IBB had selected as Interim Head of State, from office after 4 months. However, Abiola’s insistence on the legitimate mandate, of his popular, nationwide, landslide victory, posed a threat to Abacha’s hold on power. 

Ultimately, the die was cast, when Abiola returned, from an extended oversees drive for support and declared himself as the legitimate President, in a non-descript location in Epetedo, on Lagos Island. To cut a long story short, Abacha, thereafter, unleashed battle-ready Soldiers, who forcefully took away Abiola in the dead of night, when the usual human shield that swarmed MKO’s residence and adjoining streets in Ikeja, daily, to prevent his arrest, had retired after their usual ‘daylight’ vigil. Thereafter, the goggled General ruled with an iron fist, while Abiola spent the remaining 4 years of his life in incarceration, with no contact from the outside world, except for strictly regulated access for medical interventions. 

Sadly, Kudirat, MKO’s wife, who remained very vocal in the quest for justice for her husband, was brutally shot and killed, close to Oregun /Ibadan Express bye-pass, by Abacha’s Strike Force, on her way to a meeting on the Island. Although, oppressive dictators can wield the power of life and death over their subjects, nonetheless, by divine contrivance, these seemingly invincible despots do not have immunity to death itself. 

Ultimately, Abacha suddenly died, totally unexpectedly, as he appeared to be in good health when he saw off the late Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, at Abuja airport, just hours before his reported death. Expectedly, with Abacha’s death, speculations became rife that Abiola’s release was imminent; regrettably, however, days after Abacha passed on, the acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993 election, ‘mysteriously’ choked and died, while sharing tea with a team of United States’ Government Peace brokers, led by one, Susan Rice.

In retrospect, Nigeria’s return to civil rule in 1999 was undeniably, facilitated by Abiola’s martyrdom. Consequently, Olusegun Obasanjo, who was elected civilian President in 1999, and indeed, other Presidents after him, are undeniably beneficiaries of Abiola’s supreme sacrifice. Arguably, Nigeria’s freedom from arbitrary military dictatorship and the subsequent reality of a nascent and fledgling democracy, were triggered by Abiola’s refusal to give up the mandate freely given, without rancor, by the Nigeria people. 

Abiola, clearly, recognized the oppressive impact of the naira exchange rate, on mass poverty and our shackled economy, and therefore, vowed to set up an economic process that would strengthen the Naira, so that more Nigerians may exit poverty. Abiola was certainly, not your puny local champion, as he deployed his immense wealth to lift Nigerians from diverse regions from poverty and he was certainly, also, the most vocal advocate, ever, for erstwhile Colonial Masters to make reparations, for the deliberate oppression and unfettered exploitation of Africa and Africans, in the process of resource evacuation, as well as the social dislocation and economic retrogression that the very lucrative Atlantic Slave Trade, has caused in Africa for over three hundred years and still counting. 

Understandably, Abiola was not popular with his military oppressors, and he was also not a favorite of our erstwhile colonial overlords. Sadly, since his death, no African has summoned the courage, nor possessed the burning will, to redress the economic inequity and injustice that the inhabitants of the African Continent continue to endure, under the guise of trade terms, with clearly unfavourable Colonial antecedents.

Consequently, President Buhari’s recent decision to recognize the 1993 Presidential election results as valid, is probably, Buhari’s most popular political decision, since he became President three years ago. Indeed, even if PMB’s validation is 3 years late, and perceived as mischievously self serving, it is still welcome, as it may help to heal a  wound that has festered and challenged our hope of a unified nation, with full respect for the ‘rule of law’ and personal liberty. 

Thankfully, the uneasy feeling of celebrating Democracy Day on May 29, especially, when June 12 always looms so close on the horizon, is dead for good! Nonetheless, Buhari should forestall any ambivalence, in future, between the 2 dates, with another Executive order, which shifts and aligns Democracy day with the more symbolic and popular June 12!

The late ‘President’ Abiola could probably be alive today, if he had considered the enjoyment of his immense social equity and wealth, in the comfort, love and safety of his well known very large family. Indeed we are stronger today as a nation because Abiola stood up for Justice and the Nigerian project rather than self-preservation and aggrandisement. 

The foregoing narrative would probably refresh the memories of our older citizens, however, Nigerians born after 1990, particularly after the relegation of Civics and History in Schools’ curriculum, will probably be enriched by above summary. Millennials are, however, certainly, familiar with the more recent tribulations of a 16 year old girl, called Leah Sharibu, who was amongst 110 girls captured from Dapchi, in Yobe State, by the seemingly invincible Boko Haram Sect. Happily, 104 girls were quickly released after Government intervention, however, Leah remains in captivity because she bluntly refused to denounce her Christian faith, as demanded by her captors. 

Now, Leah may not be in the same ball park, as the obviously more matured, wealthy and celebrated politician and juggernaut that Abiola was, nonetheless, by Leah’s unflinching adherence to her faith, despite her continued incarceration and the possible threat of death, the young lady can certainly rub shoulders with the evidently more illustrious MKO, and can certainly also be celebrated for standing on the principle, that she has a right, as a human being, to choose her own faith without causing harm to anyone. Consequently, in this regard Leah stands for every Nigerian or indeed everyone, anywhere in the world whether Christian, Muslim or Atheist, who also cherishes the right to choose their religious path. Thus, Leah is us and we are all Leah! We must all fear for our safety if we cannot freely choose our faith without coercion from any quarter.

Thus, like Abiola and other celebrated prisoners of conscience worldwide, Leah extols and preserves our humanity. 

However, Leah must not also die in detention, like Abiola, for holding tight to her inalienable human right to choose her faith. Indeed, for as long as any Nigerian, like Leah and the rest of the Chibok and Dapchi children, still remain in Captivity, we cannot really celebrate our own freedom. 

Post-script: We must also express our common human values of compassion by recognizing and commending Leah’s parents Mr. and Mrs. Sharibu, who nurtured such a noble spirit as Leah, despite their clearly challenged material status. Religious groups (Christian & Muslims etc) and other Charitable Nigerians should also express their humanity and solidarity with the Sharibus, to assuage their pains in these trying times.