Tuesday, June 13, 2017 9:30 am
By Lanre Arogundade
Under the editorship of Nsikak Essien, the Features desk of National Concord newspapers regularly contributed to the front page news by way of Newsfeatures – a unique blend of flowing news in features style. It was this unique arrangement that led to the decision that as the then Features Editor, I would lead the reportorial crew that would cover the casting of the ballot by Bashorun MKO Abiola, our Publisher and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) presidential candidate.
In those days at Concord, MKO’s assingments were called grade A and no margin of error was allowed. We barely slept and by 6am we were already at MKO’s Ikeja palatial residence. We followed from behind when he emerged with Kudirat by his side beaming with smiles. At the polling booth, we took positions as he cast his ballot, still beaming with smiles, and speaking of victory assured.
As much detail as possible was captured in the news feature that came out the following day including the fact that MKO donned a flowing green agbada with the symbol of the SDP – a horse – boldly inscribed on it.
We were proud of our story. But by the evening of June 13, there was some worrisome look on the face of the Editors. And it was Hadji Liad Tella, the Deputy Editor, who I think, first asked me why I had mentioned the bit about SDP symbol or logo in my story.
The apprehension was that doing so amounted to campaigning on election day and MKO might be disqualified on that account. We were relieved that that didn’t happen as the results trickled in days after but it was an ominous warning that all might not be well with June 12 given the maradonic character of the evil genius pulling the strings as military president.
It had even been a battle to reach the June 12 milestone as Babangida turned the country into a big laboratory of political experiments that led to a prolonged and wasteful transition during which parties were banned and unbanned before National Republican Convention and SDP were imposed on the political elite that not unsurprisingly flocked into military created parties.
A year earlier in 1992, the IBB-must-go campaign had reached some crescendo with trade unions, nascent pro-democracy movements, socialists, etc picking the gauntlet.
I do recall how my Concord official Volkswagen Jetta car, came in handy when labour militant comrades- the precursor of Democratic Socialist Movement – decided to participate in the mass pasting of GO IBB GO posters in that period in Lagos. My group was handed the popular Oshodi bus stop and market. Armed with buckets of gums, brushes, etc we went to work but got arrested around 1am. The Police Inspector who led the team that arrested us was still communicating with headquarters when he got a radio message that a group of armed robbers were headed to Oshodi from Shogunle side. “Let us quickly leave here o. They said armed robbers are coming” he hurriedly announced.
To avoid the robbers, he caused us to be driven through the International Airport road and Mafoluku to Area F in Ikeja. Soon we were joined by the Segun Sango group who had been arrested in the Agege area for the same offence. Trust Sango, he became our defence counsel at the police station. It was a shouting match. We polemicised. We told the policemen that we were also fighting for them ass everybody was suffering under the military. We wrote statements and the DPO warned that they would come for us should our posters set the nation on fire the next day. In my case, they also wanted to know if I had my employers permission to use the official vehicle for the posters pasting. I said no and they threatened to report me.
Invariably it was IBB and the clique around him that set the Nation on fire with the eventual annulment of the June 12 elections that he never wanted to hold but for which 14 million Nigerians turned up seeing it as the best option to get rid of the military.
Events that followed were macabre. Politicians moved from standing on June 12, to standing by it, standing aside it and then standing away from it. This was one of the major reasons that MKO got isolated.
But the labour movement, the students and youth movement, the socialist movement and the broad pro-democracy movement fought courageously against IBB, the Shonekan contraption and Abacha before civil rule was restored in 1999.
There were many casualties on the way. And back to National Concord. The fact that the Editor, Nsikak Essien, ensured the paper towed the professional line by not being turned into the political organ of SDP, did not save it from the sledge hammer of the military. The newspaper never recovered from the Abacha shutdown of 1994 which sent us into unexpected unemployment market. And Abiola’s death in detention became a double death knell for the National Concord family.