Human rights activist, Omoyele Sowore has narrated his first personal encounter with Chief Moshood Abiola, popularly known as MKO Abiola, and why he chose on August 29, 1993 to stand by the politician following the annulment of the June 12, 1993, presidential election by the Ibrahim Babangida-led military junta.
Sowore, who was a student leader during the political struggle that followed the annulment, on Sunday, recalled how he bravely encouraged Abiola exactly 28 years ago, telling him to ignore politicians urging him to abandon the June 12 mandate despite glaringly winning the election.
He said, "The real story: Inside his expansive living room on Toyin Street in Ikeja, we were ushered into a gathering of politicians holding a 'strategy session' to ask MKO Abiola to tone down his challenge against General Ibrahim Babangida and his military cohorts after they annulled Nigeria’s freest election held on June 12, 1993. I was obviously the 'poorest' person in the room on that fateful day (I had on bathroom slippers).
"It was my first time meeting Chief Abiola in person but he recognised me and said 'oh Student leader, welcome to our meeting, what should we do now as my friends have annulled the People’s mandate?
"I quickly took the opportunity to lambast the politicians seated. I told Chief Abiola his real enemies are right there in the room with him and that they were just busy collecting his money but not fighting for the restoration of his mandate. Chief Abiola was uncomfortable and tried changing the topic by praising my organising efforts in fighting for the restoration of his June 12 mandate. He quickly dragged a massive bag containing cash and proceeded to give our team N800,000, saying it was a token for our 'transportation'.
"I politely rejected the cash haul telling him, jocularly, that first, we didn’t come to visit him in a jumbo jet so the issue of a jumbo transportation fund won’t arise, in fact, I doubt that the SUG (Students' Union Government) bus we took there was worth N300,000 in those days, I was firm in telling him our struggle wasn’t for his sake and that our fight was not for him but the future of Nigeria.
"The National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) did not even believe in Babangida’s transition programme but our position regarding democratic rule though was sacrosanct hence our position on the criminal annulment of the June 12 elections.
"Having done my little damage to the greedy politicians in Abiola’s living room (don’t forget so many of them were clutching to cash hauls collected from Abiola right there), our team decided to leave but something rare happened, Chief Anthony Enahoro who was also in attendance angrily got up and told Chief Abiola he too was leaving that he shared the position of the students. In a split second, Abiola stood up and decided he would escort us to our bus, a decision that left his guests bewildered.
"When we got outside, ChannelsTV owner, John Momoh and one of his reporters, Kingsley Uranta were outside waiting for an interview. Abiola asked that I hang around and hear what he wants to say and I said, “that’s good Chief, if you’re now ready to fight, I will stand behind you!”