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Tinubu's Democracy Day Snub Angers Ibadan

Festus Adedayo

President Bola Tinubu’s Democracy Day broadcast of June 12, 2024, did Ibadan incalculable dishonor. The speech celebrated the heroes of Nigeria’s 25 years of civil rule with a very scant mention of Ibadan’s fight against the tyranny of military rule. Was it an institutional slight on the city of Ogunmola, the great warrior? The angry spirits of Ibadan’s dead must be seeking vengeance. Why does Aso Rock suffer the austerity of official remembrancers?
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela did not allow the comforting breeze of freedom to numb his sense of remembrance. Walking out of the Victor Verster Prison after 27 years in jail, his first post-prison address at the Cape Town City Hall on February 11, 1990, showed that Mandela never forgot Cape Town, the city where the battle against the tyranny of Apartheid was fought and won. “I send special greetings to the people of Cape Town, this city which has been my home for three decades. Your mass marches and other forms of struggle have served as a constant source of strength to all political prisoners,” he said.
In that speech, Mandela recognized the contours of personal and city/town heroism. To him, when you add these to the pathos of elite heroism, it forms an ensemble of struggles of men and women who constitute the corpus of unforgettable people of yesterday. In recognizing that an average person possesses the innate power to act heroically, Mandela cleft his hand firm together, lifted it as a symbol of the anti-Apartheid struggle, and shouted “Amandla! Amandla! I-Africa Mayibuye!” translated to mean, “Power! Power! Africa, it is ours!” He then began an acknowledgement of “Friends, Comrades and fellow South Africans” who “I stand before… not as a prophet, but a humble servant of you, the people.” He then reeled into the names of “millions of my compatriots and those in every corner of the globe who campaigned tirelessly for my release.”
While acknowledging the big fishes of the liberation struggle, Mandela remembered Joe Slovo, a South African Marxist-Leninist Luthanian emigree who died of cancer in 1995. Slovo passed on a few months after the expiration of the white rule he spent a significant portion of his adult life-fighting. Mandela also memorialized ordinary men, “great communists like Moses Kotane, Yusuf Dadoo, Bram Fischer and Moses Mabhida” who he said “will be cherished for generations to come.”
Were inputs of remembrancers sought and got in the drafting of Tinubu’s 25th Democracy Celebration speech, the submission of two American social psychologists, Zeno Franco and Philip Zimbardo, could have struck the drafters. In their ‘The Banality of Heroism’, these two authors concluded that heroism isn’t strictly the preserve of the elite who perform extraordinary actions. They said that heroism can be found in the everyday actions of ordinary individuals faced with challenging situations or moral dilemmas. So, when Tinubu reeled into the extraordinary actions of his elite colleagues in the trenches fighting military rule, he forgot a long list of towns and ordinary Nigerians who suffered and died so that he could be in Aso Rock.
Though Abacha was part of Ibadan city, having been GOC of the Second Mechanized Division, Ibadan rose against him. In his infernal autocratic anger, Abacha responded by mowing down Ibadan, leaving weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth in its trails.
The eyes of the world had riveted towards Ibadan immediately Abacha began to make subterranean plots to transmute into a civilian dictator. To underscore his anger at Ibadan turning itself into the political capital of dissent against the military, Abacha reportedly got his goons to kill Ibadan sons and daughters who were against him. One of them was a retired nurse, Alhaja Suliat Adedeji. Adedeji’s cruel mode of assassination reflected the anger of the mastermind of her killing. He established five political parties, superintended over by his politician lackeys, as a springboard to achieving this aim, then attempted to get them to adopt him as a presidential candidate. The five parties received the flagellating tongue of Bola Ige right from his Ibadan home, where he penned his Uncle Bola’s Column in the Sunday Tribune. In a cryptic analogy, Ige likened Abacha’s five political parties to five fingers of a leprous hand, a description that riled the dictator.
Being the traditional capital of the Western region, it was obvious that any resistance elegy chanted in Ibadan approximated a dirge from the Yoruba people. While Lagos was a mirror of inchoate voices, resistance in Ibadan, where Obafemi Awolowo incubated those developmental projects, was a signifier of dissent of the sons and daughters of Oduduwa. With resistance to military rule effectively curtailed in Lagos, Abacha looked Oluyole-wards. He then planned a two million-man rally slated for a sprawling 130,000 sqm multipurpose center, hitherto named Race Course, now the Lekan Salami Stadium, Adamasingba. On that day, I saw a young man lying in the pool of his blood. He was dead to all the cares of this world. Blood oozed out of him like a broken cistern. Nobody knew his identity. He was one of the about three persons who had just been martyred for democracy to rebirth in Nigeria. They were felled by the irreverent rifles of Abacha’s death squad of policemen and soldiers. The rally was one of those scheduled to etch Abacha’s name in the pantheon of life rulers in the hue of Hastings Kamuzu Banda. A success of the rally would have spelt Yoruba’s approval stamp on Abacha’s transmutation bid.
It must however be known that as resilient and valiant as Ibadan was, it had its stones (kànda) in the rice in Lamidi Adedibu and Alhaji Abdul-Azeez Arisekola-Alao. While the former was a major contractor for the military, the latter was his anvil, the Man Friday. So, Abacha got the above leading sons of Ibadanland, renowned for being lickspittles of the infernal dictator, to handle the rally. They then got an Islamic musical group called Alasalatu to sing to pep up the event. Renowned Ibadan masquerade, Jalaruru, was also recruited for a traditional icing on the cake of the infamy.
The Lekan Salami Stadium quaked on Tuesday, April 14, 1998. The pro-democracy movement, coordinated by Comrade Ola Oni, elder brother of another military apologist, Niyi Oniororo, firmed out plans to scuttle Arisekola-Alao and Adedibu’s Abacha rally. A coalition of groups arrived at strategies to ward off an impending sacrilege of planting autocracy on Ibadan soil.
On D-Day, I was there to report for my medium, Omega Weekly. I had, a few months earlier, resigned from the Tribune to join forces with Segun Olatunji, Wale Adebanwi, Adeolu Akande and Bode Opeseitan who had also left the Tribune. Journalists like Dapo Ogunwusi, Tinu Ayanniyi, and Lasisi Olagunju of the Tribune were also there. It was a day of war. We could not enter the stadium as it was filled to the brim. The pro-democracy group protesters soon took over the outward of the stadium. They were estimated to be above 5,000 people and were singing acidic songs which demanded that Abacha should relinquish power. They also sang demanding that Generals Oladipo Diya, Olanrewaju, Abdulkareem Adisa and three other south-western region soldiers who had been sentenced to death a month earlier for plotting a coup called phantom, should have their sentences commuted. What still astounds me is that, immediately after his release from prison upon Abacha’s death, and current editor of the Tribune, Debo Abdulai, and I interviewed him in his Oja-Iya Road office in Ilorin, Adisa told us, “I don’t know what Boda Diya was saying o. We planned a coup o. May the spirit of Gen Abasa (sic) forgive me.”
On the rostrum, Arisekola-Alao and Adedibu were elated that Abacha must be popping champagne on the impending success of their Satanic endeavor. However, outside the stadium, expletives were being shelled on the maximum ruler. People trekked from all four corners of the metropolis to identify with Ibadan’s anger against Abacha. Abacha’s military administrator, the very loquacious Colonel Ahmed Usman, was also in high spirits, literal or metaphoric. As he addressed the rally, sure his cringing voice would be amplified to Aso Rock, Usman decked his principal in superlatives. All of a sudden, stones and other dangerous objects began to fly into the stadium. This got the people within scampering in a death race out of the stadium. Then, the huge crowd stormed the main bowl of the stadium in maximum anger. A stampede ensued. Jalaruru the masquerade, the Alasalatu crew and other hired crew fled. They all abandoned the instruments of their panegyric craft. Members of the Alasalatu group were so thoroughly beaten by the pro-democracy group militants that their songs changed immediately to that of ululation. They sang: “Sèb’Álásàlátù la bá dé bí, a d’óríi fíìdì ló bá d’Àbáchà, sèb’Álásàl

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Written by Charles Daisi

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