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From Kudi Abiola corner to Dobale for Democracy

“The love that follows us sometime is our trouble which we still thank as love” Shakespeare (Macbeth)

Undaunted by the lingering severity of the separation from our respective families for months and years for some of us, many of us still defied the freezing cold of New York in the United States in the morning of January 25, 1998. All roads literally led to what used to be known as the Nigeria Corner. The main task for the day was the formal public shaming of the Abacha junta with the renaming of the Nigeria Corner to Kudi Abiola Corner. The corner hosted the Nigerian Embassy in New York.

On that historic day, a number of Nigerian pro-democracy and human rights activists as well as journalists of varied cadres who had managed to escape from the country made effort to converge on that corner for the unveiling of the new identity. It was time to register a major international signal of support against the dictators back home. A few of those on ground on that day included Prof. Wole Soyinka, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Pa Anthony Enahoro, The News magazine directors Bayo Onanuga, Dapo Olorunyomi and Babafemi Ojudu as well as Dr. Kayode Fayemi, then of CDD.

Renaming over, in defiant of the rain, elderly Pa Enahoro, reputed to have moved the motion for the independence of Nigeria, was hard pressed to use a bathroom for urination. Baba sauntered to the entrance of the Nigerian Embassy only to be scared back. The staff of the embassy claimed to have been instructed to turn Nigerian patriots away no matter how respectable. All our pleas including the pledge that we meant no harm and that no one else would request any other facility fell on deaf ears. Thus promptly came the idea of resorting to a pizza hut for immediate convenience, now for all.

Before the pizza hut relief, we had all been sober, sunk into pensive mood by the recall of circumstances of the death of the heroine suddenly felled by the bullets of the Abacha goons even as our own fate and future remained so uncertain with the dictator holding tight to power. For how long can we endure remaining in exile, dislodged from our base and enduring sources of sustenance?

Apart from those of us that were Ramadan compliant on that day, the pizza hut bill, I later learnt, was defrayed by Senator Tinubu. Indeed, such was Tinubu’s own struggle with finances that he also had to sell off a gas station that we learnt he owned in some locations in the U.S. because he had to support fellow Nigerian refugees in the U.S., especially those affiliated with NADECO.

Not being sure of who to trust in the gathering, everyone did hushed-tone interactions with those deemed necessary for opportunities, support and the likes. Yours sincerely engaged with Dr. Kayode Fayemi for the better part of our stay, being the only one I had been familiar with from Nigeria. KF, as often affectionately hailed, occupied a frontline position among activists. He was the big masquerade behind Radio Kudirat run by activists in the diaspora. The broadcasts were so well professionally prepared that the military government was always unsettled by the messages.

The Abacha government did all it could to jam the broadcasts but its sophisticated technology damned all the efforts of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC). Indeed, rather than wait for the celebrated Orosanye Report to justify the merger of NBC with the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC), NBC had ceased to be genuinely functional long before now. Radio Kudirat’s broadcasts blossomed by the day to the delight of Nigerians fed up with the murderous regime of Gen. Abacha, which kept on felling innocent souls like they did Kudi Abiola, simply because of their political persuasions.

In the Southwest alone considered the most resistant to the junta, Alhaja Suliyat Adedeji and Pa Alfred Rewane were summarily assassinated, plunging the nation into some bloated fear with everyone losing confidence in the capacity of the state to provide basic security for the citizens. The fear particularly deepened with the attacks on women like Kudi Abiola in Lagos and Alhaja Adedeji in Ibadan, both of them never known to have any record of being violent or sponsoring violence.

Kudi Abiola Corner availed our collective some renewed hope as we rediscovered ourselves to reunite and re-strategise. Before we dispersed, KF offered to invite me to London once done with my programme at Columbia University where I was a Distinguished Visiting Scholar. Beyond sheer promise, I received the invite to London which he signed a couple of weeks later. Promptly, I applied for a British visa and I got it within three hours.

There was no stopping the Kudi Corner effect. Some three weeks later, the School of International and Public Affairs of Columbia University set up a special session on the repressive regime in Nigeria. Widely promoted campus-wide, Babafemi Ojudu (same Senator Ojudu) and yours sincerely were featured as speakers to represent the media and the human rights sectors respectively.

Incidentally, I used to work in the same Concord Press with Ojudu. Ojudu had left with his team to co-found The News Magazine while I later left, following the proscription of the newspaper, to become the Head of Campaigns of Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO).

As was at the Kudi Abiola Corner, the audience comprised some Nigerian pro-democracy and human rights activists as well as journos in exile or on some fellowship programmes with some American institutions. For instance, while I was at Columbia, Sunday Dare, who was Buhari’s Sports and Youths Minister, was running a professional journalism fellowship programme at New York University (NYU).

So much water had run pass the bridge you will say. It’s conspicuously unmistakable that none of those who had emerged Nigerian president since democracy was restored in 1999, poetically speaking, deserved to have come before President Tinubu in view of his pro-democracy campaign profile. Acting the strategist that he is however, he took his time and waited patiently for the right time. Were his rivals in the 2023 election ever near him in this game? But politics could be a game of chance as they may want to rationalise together with their adherents

President Tinubu did well by acknowledging a few of the compatriots in the Democracy Day speech but the economic, social and all other indices in Nigeria far transcend romanticism! Lagos Calabar Coastal Highway, Badagry-Sokoto Express, the Abuja Metro are all quite commendable but it is not time to brag yet like Sheu Sani remarked at the Democracy Day dinner. The President seemed precocious though by declaring his slip on the parade vehicle as dobale for democracy.

Expectedly, the misstep has attracted several reactions. A commentator in one of the television talk shows believed that the president’s security handlers need be reviewed immediately. That was an immediate recipe for the physical blunder. Some of us, like the witty president admitted, (Tinubu: A leader and his wealth of wits – Bola Tinubu Achievements E – Library (tinubustraight.com) feel there must be a thorough overhaul of the president’s team such that his labour as a prodemocracy activist shall not be deemed to be in vain.

The president should know that his keen observers, especially those who at some point shared some critical moments with him, have far higher expectations such as should never give room for forgery at the enviable level of the Presidency as had manifested in recent lists of political appointees.

Just hoping that the dobale for democracy is a sincere atonement so we can all look forward to a greater future for Nigeria. Nigeria we hail thee!
*Tunde Akanni is an Associate Professor of Journalism at the Lagos State University. Follow him via tundeakanni.com and on X (formerly Twitter) @AkintundeAkanni

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