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Heroes and villains By Joe Etokudor

(Nigeria’s path to democratic rule is littered with a lot of frustrations, hiccups but a pocket of triumphs).

Nigeria’s return to full democracy in 1999 was long, tortuous and, at some turns, treacherous, it witnessed the endurance of many long distance runners who serviced the long walk to a democratic dawn. Etched on this path, are the foot prints of legends and heroes as well as scoundrels and villains. The legends and heroes did their best to ensure that democracy thrives in Nigeria, while the scoundrels and villains labored day and night on the opposing side of the spectrum, conniving and conspiring to extinguish the light of democracy.

The golden gallery of the heroes and heroines of the struggle is full of names and faces of this posterity would never forget, people whose heads were bloodied but who refused to bow before tyrants who held the country by the jugular. The first name that readily comes to mind is that of the man that has been widely described as the symbol of the struggle-business mogul and politician- the late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olanbiwonninum Abiola, aka M.K.O. Here was a man who had the world at his beck and call because of his immense wealth, popularity and influence around the globe. However, his foray into politics and his eventual death in the hands of his captors led to a permanent change in the structure and rhythm of politics in Nigeria. He was not alone, his wife, kudirat, also joined the struggle for the restoration of democracy.

She was a woman of sterling qualities who was determined to see her husband assume the position millions of Nigerians entrusted him with on that fateful day, June 12, 1993. And like all martyrs, she did not live to realize this ambition as her, life was cut short by the bullets of military assassins on the streets of Lagos while trying to help Nigerians actualize the democracy dream.

Abubakar Umar, former military governor of old Kaduna state and scion of the royal family, had to sacrifice his commission as a military officer because he felt he could no longer serve an “army of occupation” who see ordinary Nigerians as second-class citizens in their own country. Not to be forgotten are men like the late Beko Ransome-Kuti. His involvement in the struggle was not in any way a surprise because he came from a family of ‘rebels’ who have devoted their lives to fighting societal injustices. This indefatigable human rights activist was charged along with several others with coup plotting. Others in the vanguard of the struggle included the late Abraham Adesanya, a man who could have accused to all the entreaties of the military junta. A respected lawyer and senator of the second Republic, he stood firmly behind the forces of democracy and was almost killed by assassins on the street of Lagos. His car was shot at several times, but he escaped by the skin of his teeth. No less noble in the crusade was the late Adekunle Ajasin, former governor of old Ondo State who was the Chairman of the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO.

It was this group, largely made up of patriots, which brought the struggle to the international arena and made the world aware of the atrocities being committed by the ruling junta.

Lyorchia Ayu, former senate president; Ndubuisi Kanu and Ebitu Ukiwe, both former military officers, later became strong advocates of democracy.

Cornelius Adebayo, former senator and governor of Kwara State, and a host of others were not left out in the titanic struggle to float the ship of democracy. The media also played its role as the fourth estate of the realm. Many journalists and media houses had their own better pills to swallow for sustaining the agitation. Media houses were invaded, shut down or torched as it pleased the powers that be while many journalists were held in detension without trial. Even those who were tried faced Kangaroo military tribunals and were in some cases sentenced to life imprisonment.

The fight to restore Nigeria on the path of democracy was certainly not restricted to Nigerians alone. Among those on this rock of honour is Walter Carrington, United States ambassador to Nigeria during those heady days. Carrington stood like the Rock of Gibralar against anti democratic hounds that were unleashed by the general Sani Abacha junta in particular

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