Day Abacha came alive in Lagos

As the remains of Dr Beko Ransome-Kuti laid in state at his Imaria residence that fateful evening in 2006, Mr Olisa Agbakoba (SAN) beckoned to me and said: “Beko is cold in there. I recall all our struggles burning tires all over Lagos to have democracy. Now look at what those we handed the fruits of our democracy to are doing to us.”

Some years after, Agbakoba expressed the frustration when, in an interview with a national newspaper, he asked if there was much sense in our fight against the military if it was to have what now presides over us.

He was not being frivolous as he led the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) in those heady days when we confronted the Abacha dictatorship alongside veterans like Chief Gani Fawehimi, Mr Alao Aka-Bashorun, Dr Beko Ransome-Kuti, Comrade Baba Omojola, Dr Osagie Obayuwana and Mr Femi Falana.

There were other worthy crusaders like Senator Tokunbo Afikuyomi, Sina Loremikan, Olusegun Mayegun, Omoyele Sowore, among many others. We confronted tanks, we faced bullets from Abacha troops as we counted over 365 dead bodies on Ikorodu Road in Lagos on July 7, 1993, when the evil General rolled out the tanks against protesters.

It cannot but be a painful experience to now see those who were openly in bed with tyranny or those who pretended to be part of the struggle but were working with Abacha and actually sold his script to MKO Abiola with flourishing deals to Abacha’s Lebanese friends now messing up the democracy we risked our lives for. That is the reason Agbakoba would talk like the mother of the late Dr Tunji Braithwaite, who asked five years into Nigeria’s independence while watching the misbehaviour of politicians: “when will this independence end?”

It was the kind of frustration that made the Malawian workers under the iron rule of Kamuzu Banda to troop out in protests with one placard, screaming: “Better the  colonialists.” A very tragic story of how unintended consequences afflict human affairs at every turn.

Those tragic historical figures always pretend to be what they are not to cash in on the struggles of the people to gain power, only to become who they really are once they get power.

They are like that pastor in one joke whose belief was not in Jesus Christ but was preaching Him only to earn a living. One day he was teaching faith to his congregation, telling them to call on Christ in all situation. As he raised his hand telling his listeners that when tribulation comes they should not fear, the ceiling fan hit his raised fist and the man who was saying “Call on Jeee…” ended up shouting “Sango oooo.”

The above best explained what happened in Lagos last Thursday when the “Free Lagos Movement” scheduled a press conference for Lagos Airport Hotel. Shortly before the commencement of the event, thugs loyal to a political warlord in the state stormed the venue, shooting sporadically into the air. Sadly, the state police command also said citizens of Nigeria who live in Lagos have to seek police permission to hold a press conference in a hall in Lagos, the headquarters of the pro-democracy movement!

Abacha came alive in Lagos again last Thursday. The first time he resurrected in the city was in 1999 when thugs rough-handled Chief Gani Fawehinmi and smashed his car as he left the premises of a court where he had gone to ask for an order that the then Lagos State governor, Senator Bola Tinubu, must be compelled by the court to explain his true academic qualification. The terrible experience did not stop the gadfly from pursuing the matter to the Supreme Court which ruled that Tinubu has questions to answer and that the Inspector-General of Police should arraign him when his immunity is over as a governor.

The Gani spirit is what the “O to ge Lagos” needs ahead of March 9 governorship election. The brutal experience of last Thursday should galvanise the movement to mobilise Lagosians to break the yoke of Bourdiilon in the governorship election.

The message to “Free Lagos Movement” is the same to Ndigbo in Lagos who were largely disenfranchised on February 23 by thugs and vandals loyal to APC in Lagos. They have come under serious harassments in various parts of the state after the presidential polls. I can’t remember the number of calls I had to make to the police to move and save Ndigbo in different areas. In a direct call to the Commissioner of Police in Lagos last Wednesday, I intimated him that we received a report that a serving member of the House of Representatives was allegedly harassing Igbo in Ojodu Area. The CP admitted he already received the report and already asked the area commander to do something. It does not appear that the man has been invited till date, just as those burning Igbo votes in Okota live on television are still free.

I recall in 1999 how Igbo man came to Senator Abraham Adesanya in a bus he owned, branded in AD colour. He said it was his way of expressing gratitude for what his Yoruba neighbours did for him during the Civil War. He ran back to the East only for him to return and his neighbours handed him all the rents they collected on his property during the war. He used that vehicle to campaign for Tinubu’s election, whose alleged agents are now after Igbo for exercising their voting rights.

The challenge before Igbo is not to surrender to this intimidation. They must troop out on Saturday to join other well-meaning Lagosians with their PVCs to say “Enough is Enough.”

That enviable spirit of Lagos which made Chief Obafemi Awolowo to support Chief Ernest Ikoli in the Nigerian Youth Movement election must be preserved.

Why must Lagos be freed? I have read some ignoramuses arguing that Lagos under Tinubu is working and I scorned at their idiocy. A state with an eighth of Nigeria’s budget should today be like Dubai if the last 20 years have been under a people-friendly leader like Alhaji Lateef Jakande who governed the state for four years and have “Jakande schools” and “Jakande estates” named after him by the people all over the state, almost 40 years after leaving office. Twenty years of Tinubu has only about four model schools. Dr Olusegun Mimiko, as governor of Ondo State, in eight years, built 54 world class model schools!

The “change” that has taken place in Lagos in the last 20 years  is the number of personal high-rise buildings one of which was constructed on land that housed the secretariat of Ikoyi-Obalende Local Government. A lot of these buildings have been linked to a man who returned to Lagos in 1998 in the economy cabin of British Airways-seat 30G!

The governorship candidate of the PDP in Lagos on Saturday captured the affliction of Lagos recently when he said: “In the last 20 years, Lagos has spent some N7 trillion and we are asking what have we got for N7 trillion. Are we getting value for money?

“Out of that N7 trillion, there is a private company that takes a percentage of the money and we are asking: for what purpose? There is private company fund collector, Alpha Beta or whatever, which collects that much.

“We don’t even know what the percentage is; it could be 12 per cent, 10 per cent, it could be eight per cent.”

On the legality of the contract between the state government and Alpha Beta, Agbaje stressed that “it is not about being legal; it is about being moral, because if you tell me that of every amount of money that Lagos spends, there is a private company that is collecting, and I am asking, that is taxpayers money, why should it be, for what purpose?

Tinubu, of course, responded to the fundamental issue of freedom in a Baba Suwe fashion: “Those who said they wanted freedom should go and learn tailoring and vulcanising and we will do freedom for them later. They do not have the people. He was in the contest for the first and second times. He is in the contest for the third time. He will fail again.”

Tinubu said Lagos must deliver at least three million votes for the APC during the 2019 polls. The presidential poll came and with hook and crook they couldn’t do 600,000. “Here in Lagos, we must maintain a strong outing for APC, a party of progress, development and economy. We must differentiate between a developmental economy and a container economy. We will not accept to get Nigeria corrupt again. (I almost fainted there),” he had said.

Lagos would develop greatly and Lagosians would live in great happiness if the leakages into private pockets are blocked and Lagos money works for the people of Lagos. The meaning of “freedom” should be loud with all vigilance.

This is the imperative of “O to ge” (Enough is Enough!) on Saturday.