“I have not cried for 40 years, but today I did because of the apology tendered to the family of Moshood Abiola, the acclaimed winner of June 12, 1993 election,’’ Mr Bayo Onanuga, one of the guerrilla journalists during the election struggle, has said.
Onanuga, of the News, expressed his sentiments at the investiture of the highest national honours on late MKO Abiola and his running mate, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe as well as human rights lawyer, late Chief Kani Fawehinmi.
MKO was believed to have won the election that was annulled by then military leader Ibrahim Babaginda. The annulment caused a political imbroglio across the country as well as leading to a struggle by democrats.
MKO Abiola died in the process of standing for his mandate, so also his wife, Kidirat and many other pro-democracy activists.
Onanuga, now Managing Director of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), who spoke on behalf of the journalists, said that aside the public apology, the rendition presented by MKO’s daughter, Hafsat, also induced him to cry.
“Today for the first time, President Muhammadu Buhari did something that is earth-shaking. That is re-visiting the injustice done 25 years agos.’’
As a representative of the guerrilla journalists, Onanuga said: “Buhari, you have done the right thing and this will go down well in history. It is never too late and you got the accolades.’’
He said that June 12 was a reflection of opportunity lost and justice denied.
Onanuga, who took time to name some of his colleagues in the struggle, thanked President Buhari for the recognition and for celebrating today, June 12.
He said Buhari has, in his action, brought back justice.
He said he felt highly honoured to speak on behalf of the media “on this great day that we have chosen to right the wrongs and injustice of a quarter of a century’’.
“No matter the commentaries in the social non-media, the negative comments by the same people who betrayed the spirit of June 12, Mr. President, what you have done is massive and earth shaking.
“Some cynical critics have asked, why now? Why are we atoning for the sins committed in 1993? My response is that it is better late than never, never too late to correct the mistakes of history.
“In any way, June 12 has been like a phoenix: buried several times, it kept resurrecting to haunt our collective conscience as a nation.’’
Turning to Buhari, he said: “We thank you immensely for the recognition, after all a major beneficiary of the struggle, spent eight years in Aso Rock and did not for one day remember us.’’
Onanuga said that the guerrillas created by June 12 were not only journalists or editors but there were also the backroom workers, in marketing and administration.
Making references, he said there were printers such as Academy Press, Odufuwa Press, Satellite Press, owned by Jim Nwobodo, a printing Press, owned by Lateef Jakande, who made available their machines to roll out our `’subversive but patriotic products”.
“There were hundreds of vendors too, who at great risks of being arrested were ready to sell our newspapers, as we waged the campaign to right a monumental wrong. Some of those vendors were actually arrested.
“I cannot also forget the contributions of human rights activists, such as Chima Ubani, Olisa Agbakoba, Beko Ransome Kuti, Alao Aka Bashorun academics, religious and political leaders, patriotic operatives of the Police, DSS and DMI, who provided the materials for the campaign, sometimes in the deep of the night and at unlikely meeting points.
He named one of those heroes to include Kunle Ajibade who was jailed for life for a phantom coup; Nosa Igiebor, the editor-in-chief of Tell magazine at the time of the crisis.
Onome Osifo-Whiskey of TELL was a victim. One day as he was returning from the church, with his family, he was kidnapped by security agents. He was held for months. And so were Ayo Akinkuotu and Kola Ilori.
Osa Director, the Kano correspondent of TELL and Dateline was arrested in August 1995, for publishing a story said to be capable of causing disaffection. He was dragged before a magistrate in leg chains and handcuffs, like a common criminal.
There were other journalists in the TELL stable, Dare Babarinsa, Ademola Oyinlola and Dele Omotunde, who used their pens to advance the cause of June 12.
“My own organisation suffered the most in the hands of the junta. At a stage in 1998, 13 members of staff, including non journalists were in detention.
“One of them was Babafemi Ojudu, who now works at the Presidency as the political adviser. He was captured in November 1997, at Seme border, on his return to Nigeria from a trip to the UK. He spent more than nine months in solitary confinement.
“Jerkins Alumona, an editor of TheNEWS, and sports analyst, was picked up at the Studio of NTA in Lagos, where he had gone to discuss sports. Tokunbo Fakeye, our defence correspondent was arrested at Defence Headquarters in Lagos
“A founding member of TheNEWS, Dapo Olorunyomi, who now publishes Premium Times, escaped into exile in 1996 after Ajibade was arrested. Those who picked Ajibade were actually looking for Olorunyomi.
Mrs Ladi Olorunyomi was picked several times in place of her husband and in one instance, was arrested because she refused to lead the security agents to my home.
“I cannot forget Timothy Bonnett from Kaduna and Bagauda Kaltho from Gombe state. Kaltho paid the supreme price in the struggle as he was killed by the agents of the junta sometime in 1996.’’
According to the official results declared in 30 states and Abuja by NEC, Abiola and Kingibe, a muslim-muslim ticket won in 19 states and Abuja, while Tofa and Sylvester Ugoh won in 11 states.
It was thus not surprising when the annulment met with widespread outrage. Civil society erupted in anger.
“As we celebrate June 12, we need to reflect on the opportunities that it presented in the forging of one nation, indivisible by religion and ethnicity, which the military sadly frittered away, setting our country back several decades and sending our people back to the comfort zone of their ethnic enclaves.
“June 12 was an opportunity lost, about the spirit of our nationhood that was grossly violated.’’
In his remarks, rights lawyer Femi Falana, who was also in the struggle, urged President Buhari to order the police to defend the rights of the people.
“Buhari should also put an end to the reckless killings of Nigerians.’’
Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, appealed to Buhari not to forget the unsung heroes and heroines who were also victims of the struggle.
Mr. Fidelis Tapgun, representing governors of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), also thanked Buhari for the gesture “from the unexpected quarters’’ and congratulated Buhari on the event.
He said the election was particularly important because Nigerians came out irrespective of their tribe and religion to vote for a Muslim-Muslim ticket.
Chief Segun Osoba, the then governor of Ogun state, expressed gratitude to God.
“I was an active participant in the struggle,’’ and explained that since the annulment of the election, democracy has not been smooth.
“The decision of Buhari to halt the deceit and the damage of June 12 is most welcomed. It is never too late to correct a wrong.
“We congratulate Buhari and commit him to the guidance of God and pray for him to do more for the sustenance of progress of Nigeria.
`Buhari has done what others found difficult to do.’’