Buhari cancels benefit to Abiola family despite GCFR recognition

It will be exactly 30 years since the June 12, 1993, presidential election generally believed to have been won by the late Bashorun MKO Abiola but annulled by the then-military government.

Abiola died in the ensuing attempt to reclaim his mandate in 1998, about four weeks after the military ruler who had detained him for declaring himself President, General Sani Abacha, mysteriously passed on in June of that year.

Abiola’s death sparked agitation across the country for his posthumous recognition as a former Nigerian leader immediately after the nation returned to civilian rule in 1999 but this was not achieved until 2018 when former President Muhammadu Buhari moved Democracy Day from May 29, the day Nigeria had returned to civil rule after the June 12, 1993 episode, to June 12.

Buhari did not stop there. He conferred posthumously the highest honour in the land and one usually conferred on Presidents or former Presidents, Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR), on the presumed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election. Earlier, former President Goodluck Jonathan had tried to immortalise Abiola by renaming the University of Lagos (UNILAG) after him but the move was resisted by the UNILAG alumni, forcing Jonathan to beat a retreat.

Abiola’s then-running mate, Alhaji Babagana Kingibe, on his part, got the Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON) honour usually reserved for Vice Presidents or their equivalents from the Buhari administration. The gesture was interpreted in many quarters to mean that Abiola and Kingibe had been recognised as former President and former VP respectively. Whereas it is five years since June 12 was officially recognised, it is 30 years since the historic election.

President Bola Tinubu was a participant in the June 12 episode as he was involved in the then-transition to civil rule as a senator representing Lagos West before teaming up with pro-democracy elements to demand the restoration of the Abiola mandate from the Abacha regime under the aegis of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO).

And this is the first Democracy Day on June 12 under the Tinubu administration. In this interview, one of the children of the late Abiola, Jamiu, speaks on how the family has fared since the detention of their patriarch, the death, the murder of his mother, Kudirat, during the struggle and other issues around June 12.

At a time, stories about disputes resulting from sharing of inheritance were peddled. It was also said that paternity and Deoxyribonucleic Acid, DNA, tests were conducted…

Most of what you have heard is true. When it rains it pours and this is what further exacerbated the tragedy. DNA tests were conducted but this issue was deliberately mishandled to divert attention from my father’s assets. The fact that some had failed the DNA test should never have been published in newspapers. So, there were court cases later used as excuses for stalling the sharing of my father’s assets or diverting their proceeds to fictitious legal charges. The fact that all of this was happening just a few years after my father died was a great disservice to his memory and legacy. But this is in line with something God Himself had mentioned in the Koran when he stated that among our family members, some might be our enemies. It is a lesson from which many people, old and young, should learn. To make matters worse, those who took over his assets have even refused to maintain the house in which he was buried, even though it will not cost more than a tiny fraction of their loot.

There are stories about President Tinubu substantially being of help to the family. How true?

It is true. He was a genuine friend of my father. This can be proven as far back as when he threw his weight behind my father after the annulment when he dared to accompany my father to see General Abacha in Aso Rock just after he had ousted the interim government as evident in the viral picture you have probably seen on the internet. Among many of my father’s friends, he stood out before and after my father died. Chief Olusegun Osoba is also another person. He has been the first port of call for many of our family members when advice or any form of assistance is needed.

By Dickson Omobola