YOUR Excellency, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari (GCFR), the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo (GCON), Members of the Federal Executive Council present, State Governors present, Legislators present, Awardees, distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen. It gives me great pleasure and honour to stand before you today on this epoch-making occasion to accept this award. I do not stand here alone. I do not stand for myself. I stand for the MKO Abiola family in all its entirety. I also stand for the millions of Nigerians who had almost given up hope that a day like this would ever come. Most importantly, I stand for the Pillar of Sports in Africa, Bobagunwa of Egbaland, the Basorun of Ibadan, the 14th Are Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland, the Magayakin Katsina, the Magayakin Zauzzau of Suleja, the Osemoya of Auchi among over a hundred other titles. I stand here with a huge sense of history and responsibility, for Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola (MKO), Grand Commander of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (GCFR).
My late father used to say: “you can’t shave a man’s head in his absence”. Mr. President, I dare say, with this courageous posthumous honour award being bestowed today, you have just succeeded in shaving MKO’s head behind him. MKO was a man of many parts. He knew and touched every part of this great land of ours. From the North to the South, from the East to the West, he was at home everywhere across Nigeria. He believed that every Nigerian deserved to benefit from the immense endowments of this great land. In his private capacity, he didn’t just invest in businesses across Nigeria, he invested in people and causes. He was a great believer in Nigeria, a detribalised Nigeria and a Pan Africanist. With his uncommon passion and commitment to progress, not many were surprised that he vied for the highest office in the land.
On June 12 1993, Nigerians from all nooks and crannies, from all works of life including the military trooped out to affirm their belief in the future MKO Abiola envisioned for Nigeria. It was beyond ethnicity; beyond religion; beyond all the things “ they” use to keep us divided. To quote Mr. President, “it was undisputedly the freest, fairest and most peaceful election since our Independence.” The pain and anguish that followed in the wake of the cruel annulment of this watershed event in the life of our nation is well known to those of us who witnessed it and had to endure its ugly consequences. The return of democratic rule on May 29, 1999 offered us a chance to face the reality of our recent history. Rather than reconciling ourselves to the truth and righting the wrong, the new democratic government failed the first test by designating the day it came to power as Democracy Day. This singular act indicated a warped reading of history at the Federal level which all South Western states tried to address by commemorating June 12 nonetheless.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission that was inaugurated subsequently became a parade in futility by failing to acknowledge the truth about the pivotal role of June 12 1993 in the rebirth of our democracy. It is for this reason that I never took the exercise serious enough to attend it. Mr. President, today you have not only given June 12 its rightful place in the history of our nation, this brave act of yours is telling the people of Nigeria that voted on June 12 and the millions of Nigerians that have had to bear the brunt of the consequences of the annulment that all hope is not lost. It has taken over two decades, but finally the votes have not gone to waste. I would therefore like to thank the Executive branch of the Federal Government of Nigeria led by Your Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari (GCFR) and the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo (GCON) for genuinely commencing the process required to bring Truth and Reconciliation to our nation and thereby ensure for us all the hope of a peaceful future.
On a day like this, we cannot forget the sacrifices of those Nigerians who paid the ultimate price for our democracy. We remember Pa Alfred Rewane, Chief (Mrs.) Bisoye Tejuosho, Dr Shola Omatsola and Bagauda Kaltho among many others. For our family, we didn’t just lose our patriarch, we also lost our own Alhaja Kudirat Abiola. May God in His infinite mercy bless their souls. Leadership always demands objectivity even at one’s own expense. At certain points in our lives, we all have to make a choice. A choice between what suits our fancy and what works in the interest of the common good. Mr. President, you could have ignored the call of many Nigerians that led to this day. After all, you were not involved in the events that led to the political impasse of June 12 1993. Rather, you chose the path of statesmanship for the sake of posterity. For this, once again, we salute you. Life is all about the choices we make. My father could have chosen to continue living his private life as a businessman and philanthropist. Rather, he chose to serve his fatherland as his way of paying back a nation that had given him a lot of opportunities. While many expected him to buckle in and go back to his former life at the height of the June 12 backlash, he chose to fight on until the very end.
On a personal note, over the years, a lot of people have asked and wondered why I am not visibly involved in politics or any form of agitation. There is really just one reason. At the tender age of 29, I was privileged to lead the Hope ‘93 campaign organisation. Together with SDP, we organised and conducted probably the best campaign to elective office in the history of this country to date cumulating in Nigeria’s undisputed free, fair and most peaceful election to date. I am glad that most of the key players of that era are still around as living witnesses to the humble contributions of our young and dynamic team that worked tirelessly to deliver the ticket. Unfortunately, the results were annulled, leaving me in limbo. As a person, I find it difficult to leave anything unfinished. I made a vow to myself that until this whole matter is resolved, I will not get involved politically in any form or shape. I took on a quiet mission of bringing closure to this sordid chapter in our lives. Mr. President, for me today is Mission Accomplished.
As my father would say, no one can clap with only one hand. Our nation today faces the threat of ethnic and religious divisiveness. From different corners of our nation, there is a growing tribe of people who will stop at nothing to remind us of what makes us different. As a person, I have chosen to think and act otherwise. Our demographics may tell us that we are a nation of 250 ethnic groups and over 400 languages, but our survival in the 21st century and beyond, demands that we see ourselves as one tribe – Tribe Nigeria. This is the cause I have chosen for myself. I am committed to working with like-minded Nigerians to make this day count in the annals of our nation.
Once again, Mr. President, on behalf of our family, I thank you for this great honour you have done my father. I thank you for taking this decisive measure to strengthen the foundation of our democracy and guarantee our future by reconciling our past. Generations to come will honour you for this brave act. May the soul of all our dearly departed for ever Rest in Peace. God bless Federal Republic of Nigeria. Thank you.
- Abiola, first son of the late Chief MKO Abiola, delivered this acceptance speech at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, on June 12.