President Buhari’s plan to beatify president-elect MKO Abiola and human rights activist Gani Fawehinmi eight months to the 2019 general elections is an instantly recognizable vote-catching gambit. The scheme is offensive enough to be bracketed with daylight versions of grave looting. It is a morbid move to hijack and convert the tombstones of two of Nigeria’s most revered icons into a political platform.
On the face of it, Buhari’s declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day, in honour of the ultimate sacrifice Abiola made in a bid to actualize his mandate, is in order.
On that memorable day in 1993, Nigerians summoned their better angels and blended their tribal and religious differences into an orderly, peaceful and harmonious concert. They rose to the democratic ideal and enacted the freest and fairest presidential election in Nigerian history. They voted a ticket that promised hope and an end to the common man’s destiny of lifelong poverty.
Beyond face value, Buhari’s memorialization of June 12 is a screaming opportunistic maneuver. It is an exercise in desperate instrumentalization of national memory for political gain. It is a disingenuous attempt to profit from the reflected glory of history's giants.
Finding himself in danger of losing the ballots of his disillusioned Yoruba voter base, Buhari –who is neither known to have ever been an Abiola supporter nor a positive contributor to the June 12 vanguard–wakes up to the imperative of improving his electability in the South West region. He affects to get religion, erects a shrine to the highly revered son of the soil and unveils himself as the high priest!
Buhari resorted to grave robbery for his political survival. The press statement he personally signed –for dramatic effect! –betrayed his motivation. He said that he took the decision to do the immortalization business ‘’after due consultations.’’ That’s an elliptical short hand for ‘’my strategists advised that my low rating in the South West required me to play the Abiola card to win again.’’
Buhari played the ‘my running mate, Yemi Osibanjo, is Awolowo’s son-in-law’ card in 2015. Though Osibanjo was a competent VP candidate in his own right, the Buhari campaign made hay out of the professor’s marital tie with Awolowo. The thinking in Buhari’s circle is that they need to exploit another folk hero in the coming polls.
If it were not for the sake of winning the next election, Buhari would not have been inclined to officially recognize Abiola’s role and place in the Nigerian story. On May 29, 2015, Buhari ‘’omitted’’ Abiola in his inaugural address, in which he shortlisted those he considered Nigeria’s most consequential leaders. At the next available opportunity 14 days later, Buhari declined to memorialize June 12 even though the campaign for the authentication of that date as the Democracy Day has been running since Obasanjo pronounced May 29, the day he was first sworn as an elected president, the red-latter day. Buhari has been dismissive of the calls until now. His emergency embrace of Abiola's significance happened because he was made to realize that he could use Abiola legacy as a vote bait.
In appearing to canonize Abiola, Buhari is also working to cut the ground under Obasanjo and neutralize the threat that the disenchanted man poses to his re-election. Buhari wants to be seen as settling the historical debt Obasanjo and his successors refused to pay. Buhari views this riposte idea as capable of incommoding Obasanjo’s attempt to rally a viable opposition against his re-election. The credit he would win off Obasanjo’s failure to honour MKO would translate to an inverse discredit of the overweening kingmaker.
There is no discernable good faith in Buhari’s proclamation of the Abiola memorial. His declaration was driven by raw political calculus. His tribute is a hollow exercise forced by fear of loss of power. His strange discovery of Abiola is a phony epiphany. It is a clever bid to create an election magic wand for himself.
Buhari’s offer of posthumous titles of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) to Abiola and Grand Commander of the Niger to Gani does not resemble honour in substance. If anything, it is a self-serving gesture, shorn of respect to the men in question. Buhari wants to use Abiola and Gani as body shield against electoral defeat.
You don’t withhold honour from the dead until you are confronted with a selfish need to make a show of honouring the dead. You don’t disturb the souls of those resting in peace for political capital. You don’t take to necromantic charm offensive just to boost your voter appeal.
The bad faith that informed Buhari’s June 12 stunt is further evidenced by his decision to gift Babagana Kingibe, MKO’s running mate, the GCON title. Kingibe abandoned Abiola when General Ibrahim Babangida annulled the election. Kingibe rushed to serve General Sani Abacha, the holdover dictator who arrested Abiola for insisting on the validity of his election as president of Nigeria, jailed him and assassinated his courageous and outspoken wife, Kudirat.
Kingibe is unworthy of an honour that befits the vice president of the republic. He effectively renounced his right to be accorded the privileges of that office when he betrayed the Abiola/Kingibe ticket and became a Abacha's courtier. He would have been eligible for recognition if his sublime imitation of Judas Iscariot was a patriotic feat!
The great surprise in this absurd farce, though, is that Gani’s family fell for Buhari’s scam. They said ‘’we appreciate it and accept it. ‘’ That would make their patriarch turn in his grave. The Gani we were knew would certainly have felt angrier about his children’s gullibility than the Buhari gift itself.
Gani would never have accepted a national honour from Buhari under the circumstances. Gani was too protective of his dignity to debase himself in exchange of a trifling. He would not have projected himself as a human being with an inner vacuum, waiting to be filled with tokens of external validation.
Gani was a very vociferous June 12 defender. Gani would have been incensed at that Buhari was moving to turn Abiola and himself into campaign mascots. Gani would have railed against the gross idea of yoking him together with Kingibe in the name of GCON. Gani would have sued for defamation. He would have reminded the world that Buhari was an enemy of June 12.
Buhari accepted Abacha's appointment as Chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF). He was part of the power structure that kept president-elect Abiola incarcerated until his death. He was a linchpin of a regime that assassinated Abiola’s outspoken wife, Kudirat, and other June 12 activists.
Buhari has a deplorable human rights record that stretches back to his military dictatorship. In this reincarnation, he has been building on that draconian past. He approved of the extrajudicial killing of 300 Shiites in Zaria, the shooting of Biafra protesters and he has continued to incentivize the slaughter of innocents in the Middle Belt by Fulani herdsmen.
Gani would have shuddered at the invitation to shake Buhari’s blood-soaked hands. He would not have condescended to pollute himself by receiving anything from him.
Buhari is angling to ride on the backs of Abiola and Gani to power. He won’t have his way. Nigerians know the man who is going to be on the ballot in 2019. And they will judge him based on his record.
The path to electoral victory does not necessarily run through the graveyard.