Alhaji Yakubu Mohammed, veteran Journalist and co-founder of Newswatch Magazine is a former Editor of Concord Newspaper under the late Chief MKO Abiola. He was one of the close associates of Abiola who witnessed the process of June 12 presidential election and the crisis that ensued. In this interview with OLUSESAN LAOYE at his Ikeja residence, Alhaji Mohammed spoke on how June 12 impacted on the nation. He also said that Nigerians should not blame President Muhammadu Buhari if nothing comes out of the report of the National Conference. Excerpts:
It is now 22 years since the June 12, 1993 Presidential election presumably won by the late Chief MKO Abiola was annulled by the military junta and the ensuing crisis. Do you think the political system in the country has done justice to the June 12 struggle for which some of you were persecuted?
In terms of the political environment and what June 12 meant for the country, June 12 was supposed to be a change from conservative perception of government and to a more progressive approach to governance. And when June 12 election which was supposed to have been won by MKO Abiola was annulled, it made progressives to demand for sustainable democracy where there will be rule of law and respect for human rights. I think June 12 had a very effective impact on the nation generally.
In my view, it is not this current political system that corrected the injustice of June 12. The emergence of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo adequately did justice to the issues raised by June 12. Deliberately, those who were seen as the people who fostered June 12 crisis on Nigeria deliberately went for Obasanjo and virtually begged him to run for Presidency of Nigeria. Don’t forget that Obasnjo is from Abeokuta the same town as Abiola, who was the primary victim of June 12. So his emergence went a long way in correcting some of the injustice of June 12.
If those who stood for June 12 can be regarded as progressives with views and stance that are progressives, the formation of a party called All Progressives Congress, APC, I think is the ultimate. And for the first time in the history of this country, the party that has been in opposition by whatever means, AD, ACN, ANPP, CPC, ANPP became an amalgamation of progressives. Now this year they succeeded in defeating a party had been in power for 16 years. So the progressives, both in quote and in reality are in power. To that extent I feel that the issues raised by June 12 have been addressed.
In that respect, do you think the legacy of the late MKO Abiola has been sustained?
Abiola was a Pan Nigerian. He was someone who really believed in this country. He had a home in Zaria. He didn’t believe that you needed to be a Yoruba man to be a Nigerian or to survive in this country. He had his friends all over the country.
Let me talk about myself. In 1980, Chief Abiola came to my house at 11 in the night because he heard I was resigning from New Nigerian Newspaper where I had worked for about five years and rose to the position of Managing Editor. He said he heard that I was leaving New Nigeria and if that was true that I should come and become the editor of National Concord. He didn’t do that because I was Yoruba and he didn’t do that because he was Igala. He is from Ogun state and I am from Kogi state. He didn’t do that because of ethnic or any other affiliation. He did that because he believed that I was competent enough to run his newspaper irrespective of where I came from. That’s just one example. There are more examples of so many relationships that went beyond his tribal land. If he had a choice, he would have jettisoned his name so that he wouldn’t carry the hallmark of being a Yoruba or whatever. Whoever knew Abiola, knew that he was a Pan Nigerian and he was a world figure. To that extent I think we have gone a long way.
For instance if you look at PDP, they believe in zoning, NPN believed in balancing. You have someone from the North, have his deputy from the South and you have somebody from the South…. So this ethnic balancing was there and it eventually became part of our constitution and that is why today we have federal character in our constitution. Almost all the states in the country must be recognized and represented via various positions.
To that extent the legacies of M.K.O Abiola are being sustained by Nigerians irrespective of political parties.
Can you give the full description of the Abiola you know?
The Abiola I knew was larger than life. He was traditionalist. In fact, he was anything to the extreme. When he said he was poor, he told me he was poor to the extreme, when he crossed and became rich, he was rich to the extreme. I cannot remember the number of traditional titles that he had. So I can say he was a traditionalist to the extreme. He married the number of wives that the religion he practiced allowed him. He was a father to so many children. He was a polygamist to the extreme. He was generous and a philanthropist to the extreme. Whatever he believed in doing, he did it to the extreme. If Abiola was in England with his foreign partners, he held his ground, when he is back at home he will be beating drum and be dancing Yoruba dance and you will never know that this is someone that is well educated and well exposed. You can’t really describe Abiola. He used to reel out proverbs to illustrate the things he wanted to say. Not many people can be like Abiola.
People like Abiola come once in a life time and so it is difficult for me to describe him. He believed in hard work. If he had a mission, he didn’t believe anything could stop him. I remember many times, he would call me at 1am and I would go to his house wondering why he called me so late. Instead of saying sorry Yakubu for waking you up at this time, he didn’t care he would talk and sometimes he didn’t remember why he called me. Then we’ll go straight to his bedroom and sit down and talk. He said “Yakubu if you want to go and sleep you can sleep”. Then I can’t ask him why he called me and as I was going down to pick my car he decided to follow me and I thought he couldn’t have been seeing me off and about that time he was entering his car, and I asked him chief where are you going? And he said “I was supposed to meet some people at Ikoyi by 10pm, but visitors did not allow me to leave”.
He was leaving Ikeja for Ikoyi, other occasions we were chasing some documents. If someone had documents that could help National Concord, he would say if I knew where the man was we should go. I drove to his house and he jumped into my car with his security aide and I was driving. By 10pm we were in Surulere pursing a man till 4:30am. If he believed in anything, he did it. To him nothing could hold him back. Except God, nothing could hold him back.
We have just witnessed the election in the House of Representatives and Senate and the election did not actually go the way of the party. What is your take on it?
In my opinion, I would have preferred if things went smoothly without rancour. However, it doesn’t have to go the way of the party all the time. This is democracy in action. The party would normally want to control its men in the National Assembly; the party would want to have loyal supporters so that the bills and anything that can help the smooth running of government would have easy passage in the house. The President himself said, he would work with anybody and I think he meant it. But the party being a party, they would need some trusted people or some people. I am not saying they don’t trust those who won but some people to hold some certain positions. But if it didn’t go that way doesn’t mean that Heavens will fall. The people who are there today are not from Pakistan or India, they are from Nigeria and I believe their interest first and foremost is Nigeria’s interest. I believe they are patriotic enough to have Nigeria’s interest at heart. So for me, I think it is pure democracy in action.
The last general election produced Muhammadu Buhari as President; do you think that Buhari is capable of driving the change Nigerians desire?
What change do we desire? We want to change from bad to good. We want to change from good to better. We want to change from injustice to justice. We want to change from inequity to equity, from unfairness to fairness, from impunity to fear of God and so on. I think President Muhammadu Buhari symbolizes all that. If you look at his lifestyle, he doesn’t believe in pompousness, he doesn’t believe in enormous wealth and you don’t need much wealth to live a decent life in this country. A situation whereby those who are in power would put their finger in your eye and tell you they can do anything does not represent the aspirations of those who fear God. It doesn’t represent the aspirations of Nigerians who look for leadership that is caring and humane. Leaders are supposed to be symbols of fairness, justice and equity.
What has killed us today in this country is corruption. Lack of equity, lack of probity, lack of accountability and if you remember very well in his first coming, these are the things he promoted. He was trying to get a country free of corruption. He tried to instill discipline because without discipline you can steal anyone’s money and go free. You can pervert the course of justice with impunity. If Buhari represents all that, then he is a symbol of change.
What would do you think about the composition of his cabinet with what we have just witnessed at the National Assembly?
The National Assembly has nothing to do with his cabinet. They are not going to debate it neither would they hold election to pick them. He will look for those who can help him deliver the dividends of good governance and to represent all the things he stands for, so I don’t think that it would have any effect. No election for SGF, Chief of Staff or Special Adviser.
We are always talking of dividends of democracy but it has to be dividends of good governance. You would recall that the military ruled this country and almost all the infrastructures we have in this country were put in place by the military and not democracy. It is a misnomer to talk about dividends of democracy. What you will look at as dividends of democracy is rule of law, respect for humans rights, equity and so on and if you take some of the things we have done in this country, I think that we have stood that word on its head. We didn’t promote equity and justice, instead we promoted impunity and yet we say we were delivering dividends of democracy. It was dividends of impunity.
What kind of future do you wish for Nigeria?
A bright future of course, I am a Nigerian I cannot say there is a hopeless situation. There must be hope for the unborn children. The hope is there and the future is bright.
You once aspired to be the governor of Kogi state, and it didn’t work out then. Now we understand some groups are calling on you to run. Do you still nurse the ambition?
If they want me to be governor of Kogi state I will gladly go out and work towards becoming governor because I have my views, and I just expressed some of those views. I want to provide the kind of leadership that people can trust. Leadership that will be humane, that will sympathize with the poor and that would give voice to the voiceless and to give justice to those that have been deprived of it.
The issue of the recommendations of the National Conference and the fears that the report might not see the light of the day is rife. What do you think of it?
It has nothing to do with this present government. Even if Jonathan remained in office for the next four years, I do not personally believe that anything would come out of the conference. Let us not create a situation whereby we think that because Buhari is in power that is why the outcome of the conference is not going to mean anything to Nigerians. Some of us believed from day one that nothing was going to come out of that conference. The conference was not sovereign. They had no powers to make law or take certain decisions on their own and make it binding on Nigerians. We knew that these decisions they were taking would have to be tabled at the National Assembly to debate and make lawful.
If the National Assembly throws it away then that is the end of it. The National Assembly members are duly elected and they are the true representatives of the people. If you handpick people to go and do a constitutional conference that is not sovereign, you are not representing the views of the people. You make them represent government views and other people’s views. Don’t get me wrong. The National conference was a good thing. I won’t call it a jamboree. People went there and exchanged ideas. It is good to talk in this country so people can give expressions to their feeling the way they want to see Nigeria, so we enjoyed it while it lasted.
I am not a pessimist but a realist, frankly some of us knew that the conference had no power to take decisions that are binding on Nigerians. If Buhari wants to do anything about the conference he would throw them to the National Assembly. If they pass any of them into law or throw them away. There is nothing anyone can do. So it has nothing to do with Buhari. I don’t want us to start blaming Buhari if nothing comes out of it.
What do you think is responsible for the moral decadence in the society today?
It has nothing to do with the parents who have made it. It has to do with the push and pull of society. There are what you call higher expectations and higher frustrations. If people aim too high and they don’t get what they are looking for, the result would be frustration. Some people even go berserk. You wake up in the morning and you don’t know how you will feed yourself or your children.
The society itself must cater for the living. Government must create that enabling environment for people to be able to use their hands to earn a living. If they are being denied and deprived by those who have God given rights then they begin to go astray by taking the law into their hands. The point from my experience is that when people are provided decent means of living the temptation to do evil will be reduced. Those of us striving to go into government believe that we must use government machineries to create this enabling environment for people to become decent, so that nobody suffers through a fault of his. Many people suffer today because those who chose to lead us are not leading us well. They are squandering our wealth. With the kind of money they are talking about, you check your bank account or your pockets and you discover that you don’t even have one thousand naira to your name and people are talking about millions and billions of naira. You hear of politicians with so many cars they don’t even use. It is demoralizing.