Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin was in the trenches in the struggle to actualise June 12, 1993 election. She reminiscences on this and more in this interview with WALE ELEGBEDE
What is your satisfaction over the June 12 struggle?
My key satisfaction was keeping the military in their barracks since that epic struggle. My disappointment is that we left the political space to professional politicians mostly without a second address. With hind sight, we should have insisted on a new grundnorm. A new constitution. The error is monumental, in hindsight.
Do you think Nigeria has learnt any lesson from the June 12 struggle?
Not much surprises me anymore in Nigeria. The truth is that June 12 remained the authentic Democracy Day. The May 29 scheme was introduced to blunt the edge of June 12 and its entire essence in expended lives and resources. A strategic swindle to rig history and give victory to the losers. The twist was for negative political expediency.
How do you see the declaration by Buhari that Abiola won the election?
The posthumous stature of MKO Abiola would not be enhanced by any State prop, especially not from a President Buhari who admires Abacha greatly and absolves him of blame even as Nigeria continues to use Sani’s ATM card from netherworld. Abiola’s true stature is firm in history and in the consciousness of human beings.
Does June 12 have impact on our democracy?
I do not see the impact of lessons learnt anywhere. Things have gone totally worse. We need to press pause once more and reset. But I feel it would force itself on us as there is no appetite for nation-building right now. A shame.
Does religion really matter in our democracy?
I don’t think the Muslim/Muslim ticket sailed with Abiola because there was national unity. You see, Nigeria has never been in unity. We have always been in a union.
MKO Abiola was from the Yoruba part of the country where all religions are practiced without that acidic resentment elsewhere. For the Yoruba Christian at that point, it was not even an issue. The key issue was the agelong denial of Awolowo and by implication, Yoruba presidency.
Abiola presented an opportunity to break the jinx. Abiola’s network and contacts around the country was also critical. I don’t know if a Muslim/Muslim ticket would fly today because they have made religion so toxic as an instrument of politics that a groundswell of resentment is perceivable.
But this is what I consider a practical take. If you are from the south-West and you want a Yoruba president for instance, that is your slot. The running mate slot does not fall to you. The people who are saying no before it happens are not political strategists seeking to strengthen the ticket. They are people would feel no pain if they put a Christian Northerner and lose the election. Their own mission is religion, not election.
But you must take all the views seriously. I don’t envy those who must take the final decision. You must be practical and sentimental at once. You recall when candidate Buhari said all Moslems should vote for Moslems only? That is toxic in a plural society.
Will you support two -party system for Nigeria?
I don’t believe a two-party system should be forced. It could and should evolve like we see in established democracies around the world.
The USA has Republican and Democratic parties, but you still have the Independent and many others of lesser statures. The UK has Conservative and Labor but also many other less prominent parties. It is not the path of two-party restriction which elevates a nation. It takes more than that. In any case, democracy abhors such compulsion.
Is Nigeria getting its democracy right?
At this moment I don’t even see the tunnel let alone the light. However, I am a firm believer in the possible success of this Nigerian project…if we could achieve 60 per cent restructuring in a matter of months.
If we fail ain doing that, I am afraid. That was the song on my husband’s breath as he went home. It is the only way left to redeem Nigeria. I hope we take it