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MKO Abiola, Fawehinmi, Kingibe’s posthumous awards and matters arising by Bernard Balogun

MKO Abiola, Fawehinmi, Kingibe’s posthumous awards and matters arising by Bernard Balogun

Editor's note: President Muhammadu Buhari recently honoured the late acclaimed winner of June 12, 1993 presidential election, his running mate, Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe and the late human rights lawyer, Gani Fawehinmi.

The president also went ahead to declare that Democracy Day would be celebrated on June 12 starting from 2019. But while most Nigerians hailed Buhari for this gesture, others believe that it is illegal for the president to change Democracy Day from May 29 to June 12.

In an article sent to, an Abuja based social commentator, Bernard Balogun, in this article, writes about the posthumous award given to MKO, Fawehinmi and Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe and the people's reactions.

Martin Luther King Jr once said: “People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they do not know each other; they do not know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”

The above quote is absolutely true. I concur with it. Let us learn to communicate with each other devoid of emotion, fear and tribal sentiment. In the past weeks, the polity had been unnecessarily exacerbated so much with mutual suspicion, in fact, outright distrust and deliberate falsehood, all in the race to 2019.

In one of my articles titled – The Power-play, Misinformation & Deceit in the Polity ahead of 2019”, I anticipated this sort of indecency in the polity and I called for moderation in our utterances. I believe, we can still play decent politics without the amount of hostility on display and refrain from personal attack.

I am not an alarmist. I have my reason and the reason is germane. By nature, I am a profound and unrepentant optimist. Here are my reasons.

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Recently, the Buhari administration deemed it fit to honour the late MKO Abiola and other patriots, who paid the supreme prize for the attainment of democracy in Nigeria. Though the names of Dr Tai Solarin, Dr Beko Ransome Kuti and a few others were missing on the list, the honour, if you ask me, is indeed a welcome development, commendable and at least a healing process has began. Today, it is soutwest, who knows tomorrow it could be the turn of southeast.

However, some people who are not conversant with the evolution of June 12 and the antecedents of the compatriots so honoured, especially MKO and Gani, shouted foul. They said, “it is not genuine.

It is politics, a Greek presentation to the southwest, that the southwest region must be careful, as it is an inappropriate time for such a honour. I have repeatedly asked “this is not the right time, fine. When will it be the right time?” Nobody has offered an explanation.

They have conveniently ignored the fact that we are in a democratic dispensation, where partisan politics is the main game, to achieve higher numbers of electoral votes. If Buhari thinks such a move would enhance his electoral success, by increased numbers of votes from soutwest and he has the instrument to so do, what is wrong with that?

I will be astonished if he did not, and that will make him a poor or bad “political chess player.”

The way we engage ourselves on national discourse is often time myopic, ridiculing with an “over-dose” of pessimistic expression, tribal sentiment, all of these to the detriment of national consideration that will promote nation-building endeavor.

And that is not the best way to go. In any case, this conversation is not about Buhari per se but about MKO (Money, Kudi, Owo – courtesy the late Ayinde Barrister, the Fuji exponent).

The late MKO Abiola meant so many things to so many people, not necessarily to his kindred and numerous workers but by far the numbers of people he had positively impacted on their lives due largely to his philanthropic gestures which cuts across all tribes and religion and indeed across the political divide.

It will be extremely hard to write about MKO in one article. You need to run a marathon article on him, the type Mike Awoyinfa did in Weekend Concord on the occasion of Kola’s (his son) wedding.

To effectively narrow this narrative, attention shall therefore be on his relationship with the Nigerian people as it pertains to his philanthropy and his business empire, namely – Concord Group of Newspapers, Summit Oil, ITT, Abiola Books, Abiola Bread, Abiola Farms, etc.

For a start, the “Basorun” title was bestowed on him by the late Oba Asanike while the “Aare” title was bestowed on him by Oba Lamidi Adeyemi III. He had uncountable titles bestowed on him by so many communities across Nigeria, but he had the “Basorun” title engraved to the door of his office on the second floor of ITT building in Jibowu, Yaba.

Basorun MKO offered employment to people from all over the country, not based on tribe, or religion but based largely on merit and their capacity and ability to perform. In one of his numerous television interviews, during the campaigns, he said inter-alia

“As president, it is not my business to know what religious colours anybody wears. There are so many people who work for me, whose home town I do not even know. I do not even need to know, it does not matter. We employ people purely based on merit, round peg in a round hole….”

At the occasion of the launch of the University of Technology, Ogbomosho at Adamasingba Stadium in Ibadan, around 1990 or so, MKO donated huge sums of money to all Federal & States’ Universities & Polytechnics in the country.

Today, the beneficiaries of such donation are not only responsible adults, pursuing their respective businesses but are indeed responsible men and women with families. These classes of the individuals will never forget MKO.

The arrival of the Concord group of Newspapers in the media space in 1980 positively changed the face of journalism practice in Nigeria. Concord brought with it passion, style, prestige, respect, dignity and enhanced salaries for all the journalists on its payroll.

There was a time in the history of Nigeria, when journalists and the journalism profession were looked with disdained and made to look so unattractive.

They did not command respect. However, with the coming of electronic media and Concord, as print organisation, in particular, all that changed positively. Editors especially those of the Concord group began to drive clean, respectable and air-conditioned cars – courtesy MKO.

Dr Doyin Abiola (nee Aboaba) was the editor, Daily Concord; the colourful Dele Giwa was editor, Sunday Concord; Yakubu Mohammed was her deputy. Duro Onabule (double chief) was the Deputy to Dele. I think Mr. Sina Adedipe later became deputy to Sunday Editor.

Later, double Chief Duro was seconded to Dodan Barracks as Chief Press Secretary to the Military President – General Ibrahim Babangida. Dr Doyin Abiola (nee Aboaba) and Mr Dele Giwa were senior editorial staff of Daily Times of Nigeria before joining Concord Group at inception

Raymond Ekpu joined the group from Daily Times. Ab nitio, Ray was the editor, Tides Newspapers published by one of the south-southern states, I think, based in Portharcort.

The Management of Daily Times group saw in Ray a bundle of journalistic talent who could positively impact on the organization. He was hired and made Editor, Sunday Times. After sometime, he was re-designated Editor, Business Times.

By every definition, that was a demotion (if you like, de-market his professional skill) and to worsen the matter, he was moved to an office by a toilet. Ray shared his experience with Dele and Yakubu.

They reported the matter to MKO, who in his usual manner approved his immediate employment in Concord with a nomenclature chairman, editorial board. Not long after, Dele, Ray and Yakubu unceremoniously left Concord to establish Newswatch along Oregun in Ikeja. Dan Agbese joined the trio from, I guess, the New Nigerian stable.

At this juncture, I must very respectfully apologise to all the personalities I have mentioned in this narrative. It is not with the intention to demean, demarket or ridicule them in anyway.

It is an endeavor to showcase their respective significant and worthy sacrifices and contributions to the development of journalism practice in Nigeria, all of which have, in no small measure, helped to enrich this narrative on MKO.

The article in itself is to showcase the man, that he richly deserves the honour bestowed on him, Chief Gani Fawehinmi and other patriots by President Mohammed Buhari, for they paid the supreme prize so that the Military could return to the barracks and that will signal the end of Military rule in Nigeria.

Chief Bola Ige, one time Governor of old Oyo State and Minister of Justice in the Obasanjo administration, said “….the worse civilian rule is far better than a benevolent military dictatorship……”

It is also important to remark that the current effort of this administration, in this particular matter, is to obliterate the toga of the Military mentality in our physic, especially the opening remark in our Constitution which says “…..We, the people of Nigeria…bla, bla….” That is deceitful and we all know it.

There must be paradigm shift, conscious and deliberate efforts at attitudinal change in our narrative in the best interest of the nation and our collective self-worth as a people.

As it is today, our attitude does not portray us as a people who have mutual respect for each other and our nation at large. Our conversation, often times, tend to support corruption. That depletes our collective efforts at nation-building.

My last encounter with MKO was at the Hope ’93 Campaign Headquarters on Allen Avenue-Opebi/Toyin round-about.

He had just returned from Jos, where he had secured SDP ticket to run as Presidential flag-bearer of the party. There was a huge crowd to welcome and congratulate him on the successful outing in Jos.

I drove in from Aguda, Surulere, into Ikeja for a different purpose. The moment I got a confirmation that he was within, I endeavoured to see him, at least, to congratulate him too. From afar, he saw me and goggled at me.

Dr Jonathan Zwingina, his director of campaign organisation was there but I did not remember seeing Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, his Vice Presidential candidate. I then struggled to reach him and I quickly said, despite the rowdiness:

“Sir, I have come to congratulate you on your nomination as the presidential flag bearer of SDP”. I said.

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“Oh, thank you, thank you omo onirin. Please tell your friends and family to vote for SDP”, he advised. Did you hear that? He did not say “…vote for Moshood but for SDP….”

I noticed he was very tired and needed rest so badly and I said so.

He slightly bent over to say:

“you see, it is not proper for me to leave these people and go to sleep. They came from all over the country. You see, long, long ago my father used to tell me, however tall a tree is, it has a root, the root is down there in the ground. These people are my root.” He concluded

Did I say MKO called me “omo onirin?. That needs explanation too. Sometime in 1988, one Engr Gbolahan Lawal, Alhaji Abdulrashidi Sanni and I founded a foundry/machine tools Industries, to be located at Ganmo area of Ilorin Kwara State.

Our plan was to use waste products from Ajaokuta Steel to produce simple finished products such as bolts, screws, nuts, wire-nails, shafts and such related simple industrials tools, with supporting auxiliary sections, such as annealing, heat-treatment, metallurgical laboratory, of course, foundry workshop as the base.

We approached, through Kwara Investment Company along Fate Road in Ilorin, the Nigerian Industrial Development Bank, now Bank of Industry, on Broad Street, Lagos.

NIDB, as it was then known, appraised the project and advised us the promoters to come up with counter-part fund. We could not meet that condition. So we decided to approach some notable Nigerians, who would be interested in the project.

In my article titled Nigerian Senate vs IGP – Stop this unnecessary show of Shame, I made a passing reference regarding my meeting with the current Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki at Sarah house on Breadfruit street.

It is as a result of the counter-part sourcing drive that led us to Oloye Dr Olusola Saraki, who in turned referred me to Bukola.

We also approached other known respectable kwarans, now Kogites, at that time but MKO gave us the type of encouragement and support we needed. To confirm the authenticity of our claim, unknown to us, MKO sent one of his EDs in Concord to NIDB on Broad Street on fact-finding mission.

Let me not bore you with what subsequently transpired. However, one remarkable thing about Basorun, he never for once said, “no, I cannot support the project because it is going to be sighted in Kwara and not Ogun.”

In his broad thinking, so long as the project will offer employment to Nigerians, it does not matter where it is located. So because the project was “iron-based”, he naturally gave us (Engr Lawal and I) that name – omo onire.

And that in a nutshell, is a fraction of what Basorun Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola meant or represents in the eyes of so many Nigerians, who had the rare privilege of coming across him during his short but memorable and impactful life-time.

He gleefully brought succor to so many homes and provided employment to Nigerians, many of whom he never knew. A highly detribalized man, non-religious fundamentalist, a philanthropist of the first order with the fear of God.

In fact, this narrative is more of encouragement for us as individuals to believe in our country and to appreciate those individuals who have genuinely contributed to the growth and development of this country.

MKO is certainly one of such individuals, and this award, though long in coming, he, Gani and others so richly deserve it.

In closing, permit me to share this experience.

I am not a football fan. Sometime in May last year, I decided to while-away time, it was a weekend. So I visited a football pitch. There was a football match on-going. I found an empty seat by a young boy of about 11years. As soon as I settled down, I looked at lad and asked

“What is the scores?” I asked.

“They are winning us”, he gleefully replied, smiles still playing around his lip.

“Come again, what did you just say?” I asked again.

“Sir, they are winning us – 2-0.” Still smiling gleefully.

I was astonished, how can they be “winning us” and he is so comfortable, is he happy about it?

The lad studied my face and could see the element of surprise, astonishment, in my face, he add:

“Sir, don’t worry, we will win them”, he confidently added.

I was further astonished and they were just thirty minutes into the game. The first half ended, two-nil against the team of the lad. He looked at me again and assured, “we will win them.” Shortly after the game resumed, less than five minutes, his team scored the first goal.

Ten minutes later, his team equalized. He looked at me, added that reminder – “sir, we will win them.” True, true by the end of 90-minutes of play, his team won the game by 3-2. I was profoundly carried aback by his amount of confidence.

I was curious and wanted to know what gave him such confidence. Sir, I know the coach and the players. They are good people and I know they can deliver. And that is the spirit, the spirit we need to hold onto in Nigeria.

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Let us all therefore draw inspiration from this lad and appropriately apply it to our nation building effort. The spirit to believe in our leaders. Let us all believe in their ability to take us out of the woods.

A sumptuous meal needs serious preparation; it is not comparable to preparing noodles. You need a bigger patience to enjoy a sumptuous meal. It is true this administration may not be meeting our expectations in some areas.

All the same let us optimistically believe in them. There is light at the end of the tunnel with God on our side.

Meanwhile, had previously reported that the ceremony of the investiture of the Grand Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (GCFR) and the Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON) honour on late MKO Abiola and late Gani Fawehinmi respectively was attended by many dignitaries in the country.

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