Kola Abiola, the eldest son of late business mogul and winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, Moshood Abiola, has revealed how he pushed for his late father to be honoured, saying he welcomed President Buhari’s decision to do so although the honour was “very political”.
He made this revelation during an interview on Channels Television.
President Muhammadu Buhari had on Tuesday, conferred MKO Abiola with the nation’s highest honour, the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) – an honour exclusively conferred only on presidents and former presidents.
While Mr Abiola was given a posthumous GCFR award, his runningmate, Babagana Kingibe, was awarded the Grand Commander of the Order of Niger (GCON).
Also, late human rights activist and senior lawyer, Gani Fawehinmi, was awarded the GCON.
Election data from the June 1993 presidential poll showed Mr Abiola won but he was not formally declared president-elect and was not sworn into office by the military government of Ibrahim Babangida.
Mr Abiola was later imprisoned by the Sani Abacha military regime as he struggled to actualise his mandate. He died in prison in 1998.
Successive governments brushed aside calls for him to be honoured and for the federal government to recognise June 12 as democracy day.
Kola Abiola said the Buhari administration’s decision to honour his father was the right thing to do even though it was a political decision.
“I think it is very political,” he said.
Lobbying for honour
Mr Abiola, who described the President’ Buharis action as an “unfinished business”, said he had been looking forward to the honour. “I saw it coming,” he said.
He explained how he had made several attempts to get past administrations to honour his father, to no avail.
“I have been through this before and I have seen the roles different people play when it’s about to be done.
“They come up with issues like, ‘it’s posthumous, it can’t be done. It can’t be given to dead people’… and so on,” he said.
He explained how past administrations shut down most if his father’s businesses. “They figured, if we don’t have the means, we can’t fight them,” he said.
Mr Abiola however said he was “a little silent” about the matter during former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration.
“After him (Obasanjo), I approached the late Yar’Adua but unfortunately, he didn’t live long enough. Maybe he would have done it.
“I started talking to people in Jonathan’s administration, but nothing formal came out of it,” he said.
He spoke about how former President Goodluck Jonathan unsuccessfully attempted to honour MKO Abiola by renaming the University of Lagos after him.
Mr Jonathan had in May 2012 in his broadcast to mark the May 29 Democracy Day and one year of his administration, announced that the federal government would change the institution’s name from University of Lagos to Moshood Abiola University.
He said the gesture was to honour the late politician for his contributions to democracy in the country.
“Destiny and circumstances conspired to place upon his shoulders a historic burden, and he rose to the occasion with character and courage. He deserves recognition for his martyrdom, and public-spiritedness and for being the man of history that he was,” he had said.
The renaming of the university however provoked widespread condemnation and protests, including no fewer than three court cases.
Staff and alumni of the University also opposed the renaming of the institution as they claimed they were not consulted.
Students of the University protested on the streets of Lagos against the renaming of the institution.
Some other students sued the former president for the act.
In June of the same year, a Federal High Court in Lagos granted an interim order restraining the Federal Government from renaming the University of Lagos.
According to Mr Abiola, the government did not “go about it the right way.”
He criticised the past administration for not consulting his family before making the announcement.
“At the point they made the announcement, it blew back at their faces.
“That was a mistake, they were trying to regionalise MKO which is wrong because he (MKO) was voted across the region irrespective of tribe or religion,” he said.
He explained how he tried to convince Mr Jonathan and make him see the political benefits involved.
“I told them. I said if it’s just for political reasons, this is the thing to do to help your government and your chances at the election. But we couldn’t get Jonathan to get it done,” he said.
He said with the help of Pastor Tunde Bakare, he approached President Buhari, who finally honoured his late father.
Mr Abiola hailed the president’s action, stating that what Mr Buhari had done was way more than expected.
When asked if he and his family had been adequately compensated by the national recognition, Mr Abiola said he was happy he got what he wanted.
“I went for national recognition, I got that. We got the title – GCFR, we got the public holiday and also an apology. For me, I’m compensated,” he said.
He said it was a humbling action from the president which is also the beginning of truth and reconciliation in Nigeria.