Encounters with MKO, IBB and OBJ

By Niyi Egbe

It appeared unbelievable that he would dare the den of the former University of Ife aka Great Ife. But then he did! What would scare Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola the then Aare Ona Kankanfo of Yoruba land? If he remotely or directly had the bloods of the original people who were Aare Ona Kankanfo, great warlords of the Old Oyo Empire, flowing through his veins, then he should know no fears. Bows, arrows, machetes, charms… were mince meat for the famed Aares. Tales about their bravery are well documented in the annals of Yoruba history. Naturally, then, much would be expected of any of their ilk, and Chief MKO, who was installed an Aare was definitely brave and didn't go down without fighting.

Great Ife in my times - the late seventies and early eighties somewhat prided itself as the turf for not merely ventilating ideas, but for enshrining progressive ones. The Ife Varsity community was fixated on not only merely making progress in the academic frontiers, but was ever determined to chart the course of national progress through philosophizing, restiveness and activism. For the reason, Politicians dreaded the place like plague. Should you be guest of the Great Ife community, especially within the famed Oduduwa Hall, you could predict that you would be grilled.

Bring your ideas and you could be sure that they would be critically examined, thoroughly analysed, and as necessary, would be stringently criticized by lecturer and students. At the end, there would be some guidance and direction to a more balanced and well-thought perspective to the idea. No one dared Great Ife unprepared.

What else would you expect from colleagues and students of die hard progressive minds as the Great Wole Soyinka, Biodun Jeyifo, Itse Sagay, Dipo Fashina and students leaders like Wole Olaoye and L'Enfant terrible Femi Falana! Most Great Ifes of my generation are not surprised at the activities of Femi Falana. As Public Relations Officer of the Students' Union, Falana's executive led by Wole Olaoye were frequent guests of the then General Olusegun Aremu Okiki Obasanjo led junta at Dodan Barracks, Lagos, ever protesting perceived wrong public policies or direction.

MKO must have been scared about that journey to Great Ife for evident reasons. He was not in the good books of the Ife community, largely because of his utterances against their idol – the late Political icon – Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Added to that, far before the untold political circus maneuvering of IBB, he had belonged to the defunct National Party of Nigeria which as far as Ife campus was concerned had no progressive vision for the Nigerian nation state. Added to that were questions about the source of his wealth. Then, there was the constant reminder through the lyrics of the late music icon, Fela Anikulapo Kuti in the album on ITT Telecoms that two of his Egba kinsmen were "International Thief Thief".

Worse still, the Aare flaunted his wealth recklessly. If we recall, those were times when Justice Ovie Whiskey, boss of the defunct Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECCO), faulted claims that he received gratification in order to manipulate election results. The Lord Judge was positive that he would faint if he saw a million naira. But then, Abiola was busy donating millions all over the country. He donated to mosques, churches; social clubs, to Ezes, to Kabiyesis, Emirs, schools, institutions. Women …name it! Even when people were advising him to be cautious, so as not to jeopardize his wealth, it is claimed that the poet in him quipped that if agabana (a devourer) entered his wealth, it will chop, chop and chop tire and yet leave his wealth unscathed.

MKO was guest of the Ife Students Union. The Eddy Olafeso led Students Union Executive, needed to calm nerves and impress the student community. Despite his eventual victory, not a few Ife students believed that Olusoji Omole a fellow contestant deserved winning the well fought and controversial Students' Union Presidential election. The school was at a standstill over election petitions. Students organized court processes exposed the brilliance of neophyte lawyers like Tony Idigbe now a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Uyoko Uyoko, Ernest Ojukwu, Umeh I.O and others.

Olafeso's Students' Union government initiated the Self Help Students Hostel later built behind Obafemi Awolowo Hall. In those days when naira was as scarce as precious metal, the Union executive thought up someone who would be generous enough to help actualize their vision of ameliorating the students' accommodation woes. Ever heard Fela song – "49 seating, 99 standing….suffering and smiling"? In those days, Ife students were packed like sardines in their rooms – especially where each landlord also had a pirate (squatter) to his small space. Living and learning were tortuous. Trust Ife students, they simply reinvented the school motto from "For learning and culture" to "For learning and torture".

MKO was there live at Ife, made his donation, and had Ju'maat (Muslim prayers) at Awolowo Hall – I guess to thank Allah for the safety and to pray to escape further harassment from the students. Fresh from Allah's presence, he reached his velvet, large and thick palms to lots of students including yours truly and made for his sleek ash darkish grey BMW car.

However, there was an interesting side to MKO's visit. When a war general makes a conquest, he enjoys the spoils of war. Students were taken aback by the sight of some ladies presumably students who were tightly packed in a waiting station wagon. Their male counterparts read the mission of the ladies. In their view, the dames had heard much about the generosity of citizen MKO, particularly so when he met the opposite sex and were determined to seize the "golden opportunity". Ife students were angered by these women of easy virtue and pelted them with insults. The acada ladies didn't care a hoot. As soon as MKO entered his car, the driver of the Peugeot ferried the ladies unto MKO's escort, safe from the increasingly agitated and angered students.

Beyond the earlier encounter at Ife, I also sighted MKO on my arrival from a trip to Kenya at Murtala Mohammed airport in 1991. He had arrived Nigeria via British Airways and was worried that the conveyor belts were not working and couldn't sight some baggage. Besides, the airport was steaming as the air-conditioning systems went to sleep. Despite his frustration, MKO still explored available opportunity to respond to pleasantries from admirers. The interesting and easy going man was later denied a legitimate aspiration to lead his country. He was downed mysteriously just when fate seemed to be bringing his dream to fruition. Abacha the only available Presidential candidate, had according to a handbill I saw at the University of Lagos had been so good that he was adopted by death as its Presidential candidate – virtually leaving the way for an MKO presidency.

Any discussion about MKO would hardly be complete without a mention of June 12, 1993. I, alongside the majority of our fellow countrymen filled out that Saturday morning to make a choice between Alhaji Bashir Tofa and Chief MKO Abiola respectively candidates of the defunct National Republican Party and the Social Democratic Party – the two political parties that evolved from the political abracadabra of Comrade Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida. My choice was clear between the duo - simply MKO.

My decision to cast a vote at the election was frenzied. I was determined to exercise a constitutional duty, at least to free the nation from the stranglehold of zombies. I was mistaken and the heavens did warn me that my exercise was going to be in futility. Here is how. I have a divine gifting of sometimes discerning the mind of God and on that June 12, I received a caution not to go to the polls. It was clear and I just wondered why? I was still lost in thoughts when a neighbour working with Concord Press Limited urged me to go to the polls. I tried explaining that I had a divine leading not to go, but being of a different faith, he couldn't come to terms with what I was saying. He simply urged me on and I followed him reluctantly.

What I saw at the Okeira, Lagos Polling centre surprised me. People were there in droves, quite excited at the prospect of freeing the nation from the shackles of military dictatorship. Somewhat, the two political parties that IBB's machination had foisted on the nation had quite succeeded in stifling voting along ethnic lines. This time it was not a case of each of the three major ethnic blocks – Yorubas, Hausas and Igbos evolving its political party and voting for it. For the first time, Nigerians were going to have a President who was neither of the North, South, East or West, but truly national.

At the polling station, alongside neighbours, I helped ensure that the voting processes were complied with to the admiration of some of the politicians around. Unknown to us, our exercise was mere futility. The God in me knew that IBB had ulterior motives and had forewarned me against wasting my time. Like millions of Nigerian and indeed, the international community, we watched to our chagrin, days growing into weeks and months awaiting the results of the June 12, Presidential elections. I was part of the massive demonstrations that literarily forced IBB to step aside for that dark goggled stone hearted Lilliputian called Abacha - who made Nigeria see red.

Of the encounter with the trio, that with Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida was more formal. I was privileged to receive the National Youths Service Corps National Honours award as the best corps member to have served in Lagos state in the 1984 service year. The ceremony which took place at the National Arts Theatre had him donning me with the prestigious award. I was thankful that he decided to honour the awards ceremony. He shook my hands, decorated me with the medal and gave me a signed shield which I really treasure. It was a great privilege to my young mind – meeting the number one citizen of the nation under klieg lights at the impressive ceremony organized by NYSC who later happened to have employed me to close to a decade.

Ironically, despite the short lived limelight that IBB exposed one to, there is hardly any way I can wish away the hardship that his regime implied to my generation and the nation state. IBB and his Apostles of the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), Chiefs Olu Falaye and Kalu Idika Kalu threw the nation into socio – economic quagmire. Before our very eyes, life became unbearable. Telephones were the exclusive reserves of the rich – and the likes of David Mark ensured we didn't nurse the inordinate ambition of aspiring for them. Prices of goods hit the roof tops. Living became virtually meaningless. As a young agricultural officer, I saw the cost of tractors and implements sky rocket from close to N24, 000 to about N300, 000. Strange things happened. The financial sector burbled and the service sector was glamorized over the productive sector. Academicians were a shadow of themselves. When it became unbearable, there was a mass exodus of the nation's brightest minds to lands that were relatively sane. Till date, the nation has not reversed the pains and losses of the IBB times. IBB has so many odds against him and he alongside Comrade Muhammadu Buhari were wrong to have scorned the invitation by the Justice Oputa panel to present their defenses or at least plea forgiveness.

My encounter with OBJ was in his coven at Ota in the late 1980s. As a young Agricultural officer, with the National Youth Service Corps, I was in search of Day Old Chicks to raise against the December market. I had combed different hatcheries and poultry farms in Lagos to no avail. Upon an advice, I headed for Obasanjo Farm Nigeria (OFN) Limited in Sango Ota. If Nigerians scorned his pet idea that we were capable of feeding the nation, he decided demonstrating how to do it.

I was lucky that Baba OBJ was in court the day I visited. Those needing anything from his farm we were told, had to receive his permission. I was glad at the possibility of meeting the legendary OBJ. That day Baba Iyabo was in casual wears. There seemed to be a good contest between the caftan top he donned and his belly. The caftan barely had its way, keeping the belly in check but the contours really obvious. One by one each mentioned his request to him. Some received his consent; some like me were not successful.

I tried explaining that I was an officer with the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and that I needed Day Old Chicks to stock our farms. I guess he didn't really listen. In my opinion, he was more predisposed to having some fun and had no room for stories. Then, the least I expected happened. OBJ shoved me aside and gave me a thud at my back. It was beyond mild, and since I didn't expect it, I almost tripped. He announced that he was turning me down simply …"Youth Corper, no chicks for you" and went on to the next man. That was it. That encounter had me appreciate his disposition to make life as casual as possible. And honestly, I think he has a plus for demystifying position of power.

The trip to the Ota farm was really interesting. I was amazed at its spiraling size. In my young mind, I kept wondering how a single man could corner such a large expanse of land from a people. The sizes of the poultry houses and their sophistry were another issue all together - they were simply breath-taking. I had a classmate then in the employ of the General, who was magnanimous enough to help me see more of the sophistry of Ota farms. I was quite impressed at the organization of the farm and the possibilities in the agricultural sector that were demonstrable at Ota.

Call them villain, actors and states men, the trio left impressions in my mind which I am glad, I have now documented.

Niyi Egbe

A Media and Marketing Practitioner lives in Lagos Nigeria

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