The last decade of the twentieth century welcomed our country to its warts and all- the decline of the purchase value of military dictatorship, of one party rule, of the culture of personalization of power which defined the African decade of the last century, the end of the Cold War, the collapse of the global super power alliances shaped by hegemony of power, the economic relations of “overlordism”, and the clash of culture and identity.
The decade was supposed to signal the end of history, if we believe the thesis put forward by Francis Fukuyama. But, we are still here- as witnesses to the making of history and participants of the process of remaking our own history, even today.
That decade was well and truly enthralling for those who were active witnesses and participants just as it was a bittersweet decade for those who gained their freedoms from the barrels of guns and lost their homelands, those who their homelands lost to exile and death. From Capetown to Cape Verde, Timbuktu to Samarkand, the low plains of the savannah to the marshlands of the delta, lovers of freedom, liberty, equality and justice staked their claims to the homeland and confronted military autarchs and one party rulers in the open streets of towns and cities.
The struggles weren’t pretty. The outcomes were prettier and nastier. Depends.
Bones were broken in the streets, limbs were severed from their joints in the torture chambers of heartless dictators and torturers, husbands were snatched from the beds of new brides in the dead of nights- never to be seen again- and the sun was clobbered by sun gods.
The last decade of the twentieth century heralded a certain Renaissance, the post-colonial movement for a new rebirth, renewal of the very ideals that drove and deepened independence movements everywhere.
There was hope and this hope was rekindled by furnaces, bonfires that lit up the African skies. Everywhere yesterday’s men of power were flung from their Olympian heights. Many kissed the dust.
Across the continent, Kerekou was shoved out of the presidential palace in Cotonou. Mobutu was rendered powerless by the people. Eyadema stumbled and fumbled as the voices of the Togolese thundered against the walls of his hideous chambers. Boigny wasn’t spared either in Côte d’Ivoire.
The century old apartheid government in Pretoria succumbed to the relentless attacks of Umkhoto We Sizwe. The voices of people morphed into the rainbow skies of Soweto, Johannesburg and Kwa-Zulu Natal. At last, at last, fear was banished to the back of beyond by a generation of citizens who desired freedom as much as they desired the good life, free of want and despair.
The 1990’s decade birthed patriots who like Alan Paton cried their beloved countries, for the unborn children that were the inheritors of their freed homelands.
Here, in our country, patriots confronted our yesterday’s men of power in the streets until they stepped aside into the court of history. Today, they stand in that court neither rendering pleas of allocution, nor confessing guilt from the dock of shame.
Allocution and confessions cannot change the judgment of history- they stand condemned by their consciences.
The struggles to rid our country of parasites and leeches weren’t pretty as well.
While the parasites and leeches feasted, every conceivable opposition force was smashed at its infancy, our country grew anemic as it struggled to clutch to the last straw of hope that the 1990’s envisioned for those who nurtured the belief that reinventing the homeland was possible, a new Nigeria could be reborn from the ashes of fires of the streets of Lagos, Benin, Ibadan, Jos, Enugu, Port-Harcourt, Kaduna and Kano.
For those who nurtured the belief in the homeland’s rebirth, fear didn’t rob them of their strengths- they gave everything they could muster, including their freedoms and liberties, lives, to the cause they believed in.
The bayonets of their oppressors could not clobber their dreams, the oppressive decrees of the time could not shackle their hope of a brighter today. They remained unbowed by brute and power. They were simply the forged in fire champions of the freedom, liberties and democracy we all enjoy today.
In our 1990’s decade, history held its bloodied form in the blood of the streets and in the pains of those who fought.
History became the witness and the judge of those whose hands were smeared by the blood of those who fought, those, who, twice and thick as, and much denser than, Humpty Dumpty, onlookers, sat on the wall to discover their mission, fulfill or betray it.
Those who sat on the wall are today the head gods of the pantheon of sun gods- the divine gods of our wretched beings, through which power, pomp and influence emanate.
How sad that those who stayed away from the battles of the streets, those who sat on the wall, fearing fall and death, are the ones slamming our heads against the wall of power, putting our heads together, like Humpty Dumpty. How sad.
Last week the twentieth anniversary of the death of that amazing Amazon, Alhaja Kudirat Abiola, passed almost unmarked and unnoticed by a country that forgets its heroes and heroines.
For those born after the year of her murder, or those who were too young to know who Alhaja Kudirat Abiola was, here is a glimpse into the portrait of her remarkable life.
Kudi, as she was fondly called by her admirers, was the slain wife of the winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential poll, Chief Abiola.
At a time that a section of the progressive political movement capitulated, Kudi threw her body, heart and soul into the dwindling campaigns for the revalidation of the results of the June 12 1993 poll. With a heart steeled by love for her husband who was in detention at the time, she emerged as the rallying figure of a nation held captive by bandits and putschists. She took her fight to the streets and walked with defiance in her beautiful eyes and feet. Her gaze cut the barbed cordons thrown by Abacha and his goons to halt the marches of the people. Her feet dared hot water canons deployed to the streets to rain on the people’s parade. She endeared herself to those whose convictions and courage didn’t wane as the powers of the junta waned. She assaulted the consciences of her husband’s jailers. She ensured that those who murdered the people’s sleep did not find sleep.
She was defiance personified. Her defiance discomforted Abacha and his goons, so they conspired to get rid of her, silence her, or kill her.
And they did.
On the 4th day of June 1996, Kudi was ambushed by Abacha’s agents at the intersection of a Lagos road. They double-crossed her car, cutting out any means of her escape from the assassins. They pumped hot leads into her. She didn’t survive the dastardly attacks on her life.
In the broad daylight of Lagos, the leading light of the people’s struggle was killed by sinister forces bent on holding our country down to the hemlines of darkness.
The voice of a profoundly engaging woman was silenced by agents of darkness; but the ideals of freedom, liberty and justice she voiced great support for were never silenced!
Efiaan. My Urhobo folks would say. Or gweke nu mho, my Ukwani friends scream!
How could our people forget their heroine so soon? Efiaan.
I am caught between screaming Efiaan and “gweke nu mho”, I am caught between shock, surprise, and more shocks, with the syllables of sadness stuck in my throat.
Not knowing which is preferable- forgetting, shock or surprise, sadness- which suits my feelings, my thoughts, this remembering- which makes this remembering of Kudi memorable- this memorial of an amazing Amazon.
Twenty years ago that evanescent Amazon, paragon of beautiful, woman with the most beautiful eyes, Kudi Abiola, was murdered in the street of Lagos because she dared the beasts- those who seized the thumb printed ballots of our people and turned them into leads, bullets- just anything that snuffed life out of our compatriots- they sprayed on our people. Yes, twenty years of the non-remembering of that woman of valour, who sacrificed her yesterday so we could have a better today and tomorrow.
We are a people that forget our past. With no sense of yesterday, people who do not remember where the sun bids them goodbye will not remember when the rain begins to pour on them. We are a people that forget the Udala tree that shelters us when the rain pours on us.
Twenty years have gone by: I remember Kudi- the woman whose bravery and courage steeled our feet, whose hearts armed our hands as we marched to rescue the soul of our country from bandits. Was it not Sayyid Qutb who said that the tree of principle is watered by the blood of martyrs?
I remember Kudi- the martyr whose blood still waters the tree of principle, freedom and liberty that shelters us.
Tomorrow I shall mark an anniversary of my own! Twenty years ago, I was taken from my office at the Civil Liberties Organization (CLO) by operatives of the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) who tried to pin the dastardly killing of Kudi Abiola on me.
One day soon I will write my story.
May those who killed Kudi live with their consciences.