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JUNE 12: I Was Accused Of Raising Private Army To Overthrow Abacha — Akhaine

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•‘I didn’t know I will come out of detention in Kebbi alive’Says Tinubu not exhibiting the values of democracy

Of momentous events that have shaped the Nigeria we know today, the June 12 presidential election, of 1993 stands out for good and not for worse or bad. The significance it embodies accounts for why the event still resonates 31 years later.

Reflecting on the import of the poll, which was won by the late Chief MKO Abiola, Prof Odion Akhaine, who was detained for fighting for the revalidation of the election, laments that the ethos of June 12 is not being displayed by the current crop of leaders in Nigeria. He also shares his June 12 story, which explains the price some patriots paid to birth democracy in the country.

Within the context of the significance June 12 has assumed in Nigeria’s history, do you think June 12 has been substantially immortalised?

I think the best way to imortalise June 12 is to actually practice what June 12 represents. It was a day Nigerians voted in a free and fair election.

If you look at Nigerian elections from 1999 to date, we have never had free and fair elections. All elections have actually been disputed. If you recall, in 2007, the elections were brazenly rigged, making the Commonwealth observers say that Nigerians went below standards.

And they observed that there were unique ways of rigging that had never happened before. It means that in terms of what June 12 represents, we have observed it in breach. And every attempt to nudge us towards free and fair elections is often subverted by state actors, especially politicians in the country. That is a tragedy.

But it has another symbolic significance, which is the fact that it reminds us that military rule is not an alternative to democracy. And if we had survived military rule, it reminds us that we have to practice our democracy according to the rules. As Nigerians observe the ritual every year now that June 12 is now the Democracy Day, it throws up all the contradictions of the process since 1999. And we have to resolve these contradictions.

In the last elections, Nigerians voted and expected that results would be transmitted from the polling units, which was what the INEC Result Viewing Portal, IREV, represented, but that was not to be.

We need to work on those recipes by making votes count and not alienating voters. These are the things I think we need to do if we must value June 12 for what it represents.

We have observed June 12 in breach because elections are not free and fair. Even when you organise talk shows, it is significant. If you ask me, the way to mark it is to shame political actors for their non-performance. None of the current actors apart from the President was around when we engaged the military.

All the so-called beneficiaries of June 12 today were nowhere to be found when we fought the military. They were not there, but they are the elements who have perpetuated themselves in power, subverting the proper way of leadership recruitment and nudging our democracy into a kind of dictatorship of a clique. We should remember the veterans, who fought for this democracy and underscore those things they agitated for.

And if you ask me, we haven’t achieved many of those things. What we have is electroless, which means going to the polls at the end of every four years to elect news actors who have already subverted the will of Nigerians. When we were fighting the military, we were talking about restructuring the military and that hasn’t been done.

What the current state actors are doing because they are so ignorant of statecraft, they are even deepening the contradictions of the Nigerian state. For example, the so-called local government autonomy they are talking about, it is true the governors at the level of the state have subverted local governments in terms of financial autonomy.

But the way to do it is not to revive local as state structure, because people don’t understand the difference between local government as a tier of government and tier of the state.

A tier of government is different from a tier of the state. What they are doing now is to reinforce local government as a tier of the states. Nigeria is a federation and it is a covenant among people. It meant that people came together to say they wanted to build a state to advance their mutual interests. Local government is an administrative unit within that context.

So, it is the state government that ought to create local government. 774 local governments were created by the military. Now, they are trying to refer to them as a tier of the Nigerian state and not the government. That is what the autonomy bill seeks to achieve, therefore, deepening the contradictions of the Nigerian state and further units arising from the states.

The first thing to do is to ensure that the local government should remain within the jurisdiction of the state government. The idea of allocating resources to local government from the state account is an anomaly. The revenue at the centre must be shared between the federating states and the centre.

It is left for the federating states, within their local parliament to allocate resources to the local governments, outside the resources that local governments can generate within the schedule of the 1999 Constitution. They have to be aware. But the current Attorney General of the Federation is looking for an activity hype, to be seen to be doing something.

Unfortunately, the state governments do not understand the issue.

They look at it from the point of view that they want to block their access to local government joint accounts. That is not the issue. You don’t resolve a contradiction with another contradiction. For me, these are some of the issues the June 12 struggle represents. We must not forget that the Nigerian state must be restructured from the current skewed federation. The National Assembly has tried to do a few things, but they have also misplaced priorities.

We all saw how they reverted to a colonial anthem they could hardly sing. It is a shame for the nation.

There were issues thrown up by the National Conference, which they have refused to review. For instance, one way of deepening our democracy, if we want good people in government, is by legalising independent candidacy. I think the Ninth Assembly passed that bill but it hasn’t been assented to.

Tinubu should assent to the bill on June 12. Nigerians with integrity should stand for elections whether they have a party or not.

The Buhari administration went a step further by declaring June 12 Nigeria’s Democracy Day. Do you think that is substantial enough and puts an end to the immortalisation of June 12?

I think the argument we should be making is that June 12 must represent substance. If you declare a day as Democracy Day, that is significant enough except people will now say that Abiola should be recognised posthumously as President.

I am not against it if they want to resurrect it. What is more significant is that June 12 has been recognised as Democracy Day. In the country, it is historical unless the lawmakers develop a brainwave and decide to revert it. People who could revert to an old anthem can do anything.

June 12 has its own life now. In America there is something called the Spirit of 1776, which guides Americans on the path of patriotism.

Do you think Nigerians can rightly say there is this spirit of June 12 in how democracy is practiced in the country?

All we have analysed so far shows there’s a vacuum and we are yet to value June 12. If you look at it from the point of view of other sections of the country, you will see Buhari’s action as being driven by national reconciliation. A section of the country was denied the presidency and we needed to right the wrong. In righting the wrong, I have not seen that nationalist vibe to it. For instance, the North, even though some were part of the struggle, did not see it as a national issue the way people in the South-West see it.

For them, it is a reconciliatory gesture, but it has yet to assume that position like the Spirit of 1776 in America.

Most of the current practitioners hardly know anything about June 12. I have not seen any of them who were deeply involved in the struggle. However, we have the current Kaduna State governor, Uba Sani, who worked with Shehu Sani, who was the Vice President of Campaign for Democracy, Kaduna Zone, at the time. President Tinubu was there before he went into exile. All those making noise now were not there.

That is why they don’t value democracy. It is also the reason they only line their pockets while the Nigerian workers can barely feed themselves.

You have a country that produces oil, but citizens cannot access petrol. Now, they are talking about compressed natural gas, CNG. If they do that, who says there won’t be scarcity of gas like petrol? The current state actors do not have a bearing. To make June 12 have a national spirit is to ensure that whoever comes to power must know the direction of the country.

President Tinubu and a few others in this administration were also involved in the June 12 struggles. But there is this feeling out there that these people who were supposed to be the beacons are not living up to the June 12 creed now that they are in government…

When we talk about June 12, we have a way of describing many people as being part of the struggle.

Who are those in government who were part of the struggle? Maybe Bayo Onanuga, who was an Editor at The News. Dele Alake just happened to be in Concord at the time, and Concord belonged to Chief MKO Abiola. That doesn’t make them June 12 activists. All Nigerian journalists at the time were at the barricade. Some journalists like Nosa Igiebor were clear about June 12 and what it represents.

Unfortunately, the President who was there is not exhibiting the values of democracy as far as I am concerned. He needs a think-tank. His policies so far haven’t shown that he has a think-tank or a team that is thinking. It will be a disaster for all of us in that struggle to see a president, who was part of that struggle, derail and engender dictatorship in the country.

The civil society played a major role in the June 12 struggle. When you look at the role of today’s civil society given the perceived maladministration in the country, what comes to your mind?

The point to make is that in terms of the conceptualization of civil society, we often miss the point. When you talk about civil society, there is a difference between social movements and Non-Governmental Organisations, NGOs. What we have today are NGOs with a remit that is often dictated by the funders. Social movement could be a coalition of groups like market women associations, professional associations and others, who come together to pursue basic causes about the transformation of society.

That was what we had when we were fighting the military.

People didn’t know the Campaign for Democracy, CD, didn’t receive any funding from outside during that period. People funded the organisation through their personal pockets. Beko Ransome-Kuti gave us his house to use as an office. We all know what happened to Beko.

He was detained severally and he eventually died. You need a life and death matter to wake people up from slumber to come together to fight bad governance in the country.

The NGOs that are also funded by donor agencies and democracy promoters have their agenda. When Nigeria began the democratization process in 1999, these funding agencies directed their funding to government through the Ministry of Budget and National Planning.

The funds were not given to the civil society to the extent that the civil society was directed to apply for funding through the ministry.

Hardly can you point to any NGO in Nigeria today that has an independent source of funding. We need to rebuild the civil society as fighting organs and not NGOs that are doing creative accounting to their funders.

You were detained severally for the sake of June 12 and had a close shave severally. Can you share your June 12 story?

June 12 reminds me of the crisis of governance in this country. And like veterans, when you look back, you just thank God that you are still alive to even talk about it. I wasn’t sure I was going to come out of detention alive, particularly when I heard that Ken Saro-Wiwa had been hanged by Abacha.

I was in Birnin Kebbi Prison at the time.

Beko Ransome-Kuti and I met Ken Saro-Wiwa on the evening he was returning to Port Harcourt. And we were telling him not to go back and that he would be picked up. He was a stubborn man. He went back and they picked him up. That was the last time Saro-Wiwa saw freedom until the day he was hanged.

I knew that Ken Saro-Wiwa wasn’t in Port Harcourt the day the killings he was accused of instigating took place. When I learnt he was killed, I lost hope because I was accused of seeking foreign assistance to form an army.

I felt that if that was my accusation, mine was finished. What I did was that I started learning Hausa so that in the event that I decided to jump the prison wall, I would be able to speak with the people. The pain is that I haven’t seen all the values we fought for and represent.

In fact, the current elite treat people with integrity as lepers. They are frightened when they see us.

During those periods that you were detained, did you ever think of quitting the struggle?

The reason I am alive was because I was completely innocent. I was committed to the struggle.

At the time, I wasn’t afraid of anything. When you get to that point, you don’t consider death as something you could be scared of. I was driven from Lagos with three armed men to Kebbi. I was first taken to Anka and Arugungu. For six months nobody knew where I was until the late Chief Anthony Enahoro filed a suit in Lagos, asking them to release or charge me to court.

It was within those six months that I managed to smuggle a letter out of the prison, which got to Femi Falana Chambers. That was how the world knew I was in Kebbi. The journey itself was a journey of death. If you believe in a cause, you don’t have a reason to regret it. It is more painful today when you don’t see that kind of commitment anymore.

We were young men at the time who were fresh from school. When you look back today, you don’t find that kind of spirit anymore. Our role now is to inspire hope in Nigeria, and hope is possible. History moves irrespective of our will. The direction this current President is headed, which is impoverishing Nigerians, will lead to a change, but I may not know the colour of that change.


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