NIGERIAíS CIVIL TO CIVIL TRANSITION:
A transition foretold by MKO Abiola
Friday, April 18, 2003
Then, he was the
Chairman and Chief Executive of the Concord Press of Nigeria
Limited. Chief M. K. O. Abiola was interviewed in the BBC programme Network
Africa on Friday, January 14, 1983, while preparations for Nigeriaís
presidential elections had already engaged over-drive. He discussed his exit
from the National Party of Nigeria, NPN, and partisan politics, his fears for
the 1983 general elections and his hopes for a better Nigeria. He also talks
about a clique within the Nigerian polity and even went to the extent of
admitting to serving the interest of that clique while he deceived himself by
believing that he was serving Nigeria. But he was to make another error of
judgment by playing into the hands of that same clique by another means. A
"The issue of one nation that we kept talking
about is now being
given a double meaning, we all mean different things by that basic foundation
on which the NPN was found and there is no reason why I should continue to
allow people to call a dog a monkey for me."
Below is the text of the interview:
Your resignation from the NPN, as far as we understand, and from political
life came as a shock and a surprise. Your support was in Nigeria and within
Africa generally. Could we ask what influenced your decision to resign from
It was strictly personal at that stage in time. It was on July 15 (1982). The
purpose of being in politics is to serve. That can be the only purpose to
somebody like me to devote my time and take risk. I found that I wasnít really
serving the country as a whole, I was serving the interest of a clique.
Whatever anybody may tell you, politics is about power. Some people saw
themselves as people who must always have some power in Nigeria in one form or
the other - i.e. they see the rest of the country as second-class citizens.
That is against the constitution. I cannot be a party to the thing that is so
pathetically unjust and unfair and unconstitutional. As an individual, I just
canít continue to defend a cause I do not believe in anymore. The issue of one
nation that we kept talking about is now being given a double meaning, we all
mean different things by that basic foundation on which the NPN was found and
there is no reason why I should continue to allow people to call a dog a
monkey for me. A dog is not a moneky.
Can I say you were serving a few individual northerners dominating the party?
No, if it were the northerners it would have been much more understandable.
These are few individuals who do not represent North, if there is anything
called North. And in the context of Nigerian Constitution, there is nothing
called South or North now. But some people, believe they have some God-given
right to stick to power. They have always had power one way or the other,
since the beginning of representative government in Nigeria and by power, I
mean the power over the entire Federal Government of the country and this is
the way they want it to be and they have been able to convince some people
into believing that it is the way it must be. Like the Christian saying that
as it were at the beginning so it is now and so it will be for life for ever,
Amen. I donít accept that.
Political observers in Nigeria and across Nigeria seem to think that you
realised that you donít stand a chance to achieve high political office,
because it has been considered a crime for Yoruba man to be aligned or to be
involved with the NPN.
What you have just said is the type of nonsense that is not only unpatriotic
but a crime, a high treason against Nigeria. What qualifies anybody that
disqualifies Yoruba man from ruling Nigeria; (or an Igbo, or a Tiv; or a
Junkun; or an Ibibio?) It is a bloody insult. When it comes to contributions
to that country, every tribe, every town, every Nigerian has made his
contribution to the best of his ability. Nobody can tell any Nigerian that he
should go no further. Then what have we done, we have replaced whitemen with a
new bunch of neo-colonialists who must tell us that they must continue to
rule, they must have gone to call Sir John Rankine by another name. If we are
fighting apartheid in South Africa, by saying the white should not lord it
over the blacks, why should some black people in Nigeria continue to lord it
over the rest of the blacks over here?
I donít accept that I couldnít get to the top anywhere, if I could get to the
top in my chosen profession, (I am a Chartered Accountant). If I could get to
the top in an alien organisation like ITT, I have been on top for 14 years,
should I accept anybody less competent than myself and anybody who cannot show
that he has contributed more as an individual to Nigeria can tell me that I
should not go beyond a particular level in that country, it should be an
insult. And nobody has ever told me that type of thing. Every Nigerian is
entitled under the law of the land to aspire to the highest office and nobody
should come out openly to say that Presidency is now being made exclusive
preserve of his own tribe or father or relative, that is rubbish.
Anybody that is doing that is engaging in nothing more than wishful thinking.
I told you, it is treason for anybody to say that he is a greater Nigerian by
some rule of thumb rather than one laid down by the Constitution. There is no
controversy about that. Some people may want to read what is not there,
anything that is not in our Constitution can not really be made the law of the
land without some people really hitting their heads against the stone wall.
When you hit your head against wall you know the consequence.
It seems that NPN might have collapsed if you were in position to vie for a
political high office. Some members said they would resign?
Let me tell you, whether they like it or not, power must move round the
country or there would be no country at all. That you quote me, I say there is
no way. How can I and millions of other Nigerians be prepared to sentence
ourselves and children and our childrenís children to become second class
citizens in the country or any country that you claim to be yours? So there is
no question about that, anybody may resign, anybody may go to Mongolia, that
is his own business. So because somebody will resign therefore I should sell
my birth right. I should sell my birth right, I should sell the right of other
Nigerians? To aspire to the highest office of their own country if I aspire to
where I am today in the world, who is that person to come and tell me what I
shouldnít do in my own country what is permissible by the law of the land? I
cannot accept that, I donít think you know who you are talking to, I am a
Nigerian. Equal in all respect with any other Nigerian, I do not tolerate that
anybody should tell me that anybody is superior to me who is a Nigerian; that
is what the laws of the land say, and I am one of those who sat in the
Constituent Assembly for nine months to draw up the final Constitution.
Does it mean that you are out of politics for good?
No the moment I am not in partisan politics, I am in politics, of course. I
find that to be objective. You cannot really be in the present stage Nigerian
politics today so that only the point of view of one political party is the
best, to the exclusion of any other political party, so I am in politics, but
not in party politics and I wonít join any other party now.
It seems there are some disagreement or frustration within NPN
No there is no frustration about it, if there is frustration, it is not with
NPN alone, it is with the entire political system. But I am a Nigerian, I want
to see a planned programme of eradication of poverty, a planned programme for
eradication of total ignorance, a planned programme of improvement of health
services, planned programme for improvement of employment, a planned programme
to give Nigerians the rights, to be masters in their own home, all Nigerians,
to de-emphasise the role of expatriates in the economic life of my country, a
planned programme to ensure that every child who is a Nigerian, the sky, is
well and through to the limit of his ambition, a planned programme that will
give hope for future for every Nigerian. It is part and parcel of what is
guaranteed in our constitution. What I am saying is that the implementation of
the basic principle laid down in Chapter Two of the Constitution, the
fundamental objective and directives of state policy, these things are in the
Do you have disaffection for the principle, methodology and policy of NPN?
NPN, I do not believe, as an individual, I have a right to my opinion, gives
fair share to all Nigerians. A political party is really a people, but should
have a central theme. The theme of NPN that made me to work day and night,
give everything I have, practically all I have, is "One Nigeria,. One nation,"
That concept I believe is betrayed by that party. There are abundant facts
about that; the way appointments were shared, key appointments go only to
particular part of the country, the way contracts are awarded, the way some
people think that they can get away even with murder to do anything they like
and they expect people to just assume that they must be left alone. There is
no equality before law, there is no equal treatment within the party, there is
a deliberate attempt to humiliate some leaders of the party because they come
from one particular area, some people believe within the party that some
people are more equal than others within the party, I donít accept that.
What I think that is wrong with the party was not a case of diarrhoea, it is a
cancer, which can only be cured by sharp incision and very urgent operation.
Are you prepared to carry out the surgery?
The party is not prepared to present itself into the operating theatre. So all
I can do is what I did, to leave a cancerous situation, because the patient
himself does not know how sick he is. But he will soon know, unfortunately, by
the time a cancer patient knows the degree of the seriousness of the disease,
it tends to be too late, but there is a very serious disease.
What do you think about the forth coming election and the structure of the
machinery of the election?
I havenít made any contact with the machinery conducting the election, but one
thing I know for sure is unless FEDECO is allowed to carry out the election
without undue political interference, it would not be a very easy time,
because even when the military conducted the election in 1979, and they have
no direct vested interest in the result, there was a lot of uproar in the
country, in fact majority of Nigerians did not accept the result as fair, and
such a time when the military who were in charge had no personal stake in the
result, now that the incumbent president wants to preside over his own
re-election, which is what is happening, I donít think we have got politically
to a level or a status where generality of opponents, no matter how many
national honours may be given them, they would believe that the incumbent is
true and fair, even if he did so it is a matter of the political strength of
the political class. Even when the army did it majority of Nigerians did not
believe it was fair, how much more when the incumbent president is defeated in
any election? For the incumbent president to be glossed over is piece of
wishful thinking and anybody who is a lover of peace and stability of Nigeria
as these characters claim to be would not really put the president incharge of
his own re-election.
But I think there is a provision that makes it.
Yes, the Constitution is made for all times, American Constitution is about
250 years old with minor amendments. The fact that there is everything in the
Constitution now does not mean that it should be implemented in its totality
now. When they are shouting about that now, didnít the Constitution provide
for the Code of Conduct Bureau? The point that something is in the
Constitution does not mean that it should be done whether the country is ripe
enough for it.
The Constitution we drew up was supposed to outlive my children and my
childrenís children and for all times.
Some Nigerian political observers think you should have raised these questions
before the NPN mini-convention?
What is mini-convention? Have you ever been to a convention? The only agenda
was renomination of Shehu Shagari, no other issues can be raised, look at the
agenda. Because I am a delegate, there are certain things you canít do, this
is what is going on. If you are not pleased, if you donít like the smell of
dog soup you get out of the kitchen. If they are cooking dog and you donít
like the smell of the dog soup you get out of the place, which is what I did .
What type of convention is that? A jamboree, it is like a boxing tournament
with only one boxer in the ring, what type of tournament is that?
All that nonsense you were asking me that I should have raised that during the
convention apparently was spoken by someone who was not even at the
convention. If he is a member of the party, he could have used that occasion
to ask him which ward does he belong to - he is not even a ward leader. All
these are political fair weather friends. They belong to AGIP do you know what
AGIP is in Nigeria (Any Government In Power) or anybody in power they dance
round you, they go to this, they claim to be this and that, occasionally at
state convention, they catch the excitement. After the hulla-balu of the
occasion is over they would appear at the rostrum and donate about N1,000 to
N2,000 so a "who" does not make a man.
He should be a member of the party, you have to go on campaign, you have to be
involved with it, you have to spend your money, your time even your life if
need be for what you believe in not just leaders of the party who just claim
one party or the other on the pages of newspapers. It is easier to do that, it
is not easy to walk about eight miles in some villages and we have to do from
time to time again, if you believe in something you should work hard to
elevate what you believe in. If it is suddenly found out that a dog is in fact
a monkey and you continue to believe that it is a dog then you are a fool. You
are now being fooled.
Some of us went into politics not because we want names for ourselves, not
because we want contracts, the issue for us is about ideas. We have made name,
all for what we believe in. The name we guard very jealously. We would
continue to believe in what we believe is right and continue to fight what we
believe is wrong. So help us God, that is our position.