President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision in 2018 to honour Chief Moshood Abiola as the winner of the June 12, 1993 election was unarguably one of the most profound decisions of his presidency.
Coming in the season leading to the 2019 election, it was also widely seen as an unqualified campaign offer to the pro-democracy movement in the country.
Did it work? Definitely, a critical mass of the population who followed Abiola and the pro-democracy movement with passion did not mind forgiving Buhari of some of his ‘sins’ on account of the historic gesture to Nigeria’s martyr of democracy.
However, the shock in the gesture was that it came from Buhari, a man who until that time had not been known to publicly voice a word in support of the good deeds that Abiola stood for.
Indeed, he was seen more as a collaborator against June 12 given his visible role in the Sanni Abacha government that stifled the mandate and life out of Abiola.
The perception of Buhari’s indifference to the agonies of Abiola during the Abacha regime apparently would not be divorced from the sensitivity of their relationship before the emergence of Abacha as maximum ruler in 1993.
Abiola’s cozy relationship with President Ibrahim Babangida and the insinuations that Abiola provided logistics for the coup that removed Buhari as military ruler in 1985 could have fueled discord between the two men.
Indeed, the fact that the honour came from someone as Buhari who was perceived as antithetical to the aspirations of Abiola gives the honour a profound meaning.
There was nevertheless a common thread between Abiola and Buhari in the political space.
Both men seemed to inspire a kind of following that only many of their contemporaries would only have dreamt of.
Though Abiola and Buhari played civilian politics at different times, the passion with which their followers attached to them was almost the same.
Many, including your correspondent who travelled from Kaduna to Lagos to vote for MKO, were ready to go miles for Abiola in the pursuit of Hope. There were many also like Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, Ralph Obioha and many more who went beyond the shores of Nigeria because of Abiola and his mandate.
When the Buhari phenomenon was at its peak in the period leading to and just after the 2015 General Election, there were also many who trekked miles for Buhari.
While the following between both men was seemingly cultic at their peaks, it, however, would be a great error to equate the two men in terms of political dynamism, operation and sophistication.
Abiola despite having the best political managers like Senator Jonathan Zwingina and Senator Matthew Urhohigide was at the heart of his political operations. He brought colour and verve to the political game whether on television or on the campaign ground.
Despite his speech impediment, his audience was always waiting for his wisecracks. He was also a man gifted with an endless dose of political idioms.
Even more, he was a reporter’s delight going out of his way to seek out reporters to express his views on issues without the prompting of his leg men.
That certainly would not be said for Buhari who as president has been notably aloof from his press entourage and the generality of the Nigerian media.
Another remarkable difference was the reach of the two men. Abiola as an ordinary businessman had reaches in the nook and cranny of the nation. His outgoing personality is a complete difference from Buhari’s introvert dispositions.
17 years after Hope was seemingly swallowed up in the vicious theatrics played out by General Abacha, there is a pull in the emotion when flashes of Abiola appear on television.
It is against the background of these remarkable differences that many including your correspondent were shocked at the deserved honour that Buhari accorded Abiola.
The honour which many still believe was shadowed with politics has nevertheless been accepted even by the harshest critics of the Buhari administration.
What Buhari could learn from this is that a man’s efforts will for long live after him. In that direction, Buhari will do better by leading the citizenry towards a HOPEFUL future. It is by that that those who trekked for him in 2015 but didn’t do so in 2019 will remember him in the positive side of history.
Well, so much for Abiola and Buhari. It is telling that as he ended his 38 minute Democracy Day speech yesterday, that not one word was mentioned about Abiola even if the president tried to dance around what our democracy martyr stood for!