Chief Ayo Opadokun, a former Secretary of National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) is the Convener of the Coalition of Democrats for Electoral Reforms (CODER). In this interview, Opadokun reacts to allegations by Major Hamza Al- Mustapha (retd), a former Chief Security Officer (CSO) to the late Sani Abacha that he led other Yoruba leaders to Aso Rock where they were bribed to be silent over the circumstances surrounding the death of Bashorun MKO Abiola, acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993, presidential election. The former NADECO scribe also revealed that some Yoruba leaders betrayed Abiola during the June 12 struggle. Excerpts:
By Dapo Akinrefon
On the 24th anniversary of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, Major Al- Mustapha, disclosed that Yoruba leaders led by you, were aware of those who killed the late MKO Abiola but decided to keep quiet after being bribed. What is your reaction to that?
He is a pathological liar and should be ignored. Al- Mustapha was an insolent, disloyal, disobedient and very unruly junior officer to his bosses and so, they couldn’t have allowed anyone close to him to remain in Aso Rock after his boss (Sani) Abacha died. So, to claim that he still has his boys who recorded proceedings of our meeting with Abdulsalami was a lie. It was a closed door meeting that was well guarded. Apart from the five NADECO leaders led by the late Senator Abraham Adesanya, Chief Bola Ige, Senator Francis Okpozo, Dr. Arthur Nwankwo and myself, General Abdulsalami Abubakar and his deputy, the late Mike Akhigbe, the record of the minutes was taken by the Principal Staff Officer to Abdulsalami, Major- General Leo Ajiborisha. So, who else was at that meeting? There was no way anyone could have recorded anything at that meeting especially given the fact that there were no telephones that can record then. Immediately after the meeting, we just proceeded to the airport. It was a lie by Al-Mustapha. He said the same thing in 2011 for which I castigated him and he recanted. He said then that we did not receive any money.
He wants to continue to use June 12 celebration to launch himself into reckoning and make himself relevant. I will not give him that opportunity any longer. He will certainly hear from me. My lawyers will be on duty to do the needful in order to prevent the continuation of the occurrence of the libel and falsehood that he has alleged against me and other Yoruba leaders. He is playing divide and rule game for which they are known. In the story, he said he has great respect for me. I have never been part of those people who will criticise them in the open and go to prostrate for them in the night. If I had wanted to make billions, it is too cheap to become a billionaire in Nigeria. I don’t know of any other place where it is so cheap to become very rich.
This is not the first time he will be talking about the video. Why do you think he is yet to produce it?
It is because he has no video. He is now adding a new dimension to it that the video is in court. What has the video recording of General Abdulslami’s meeting with NADECO leaders got to do with your murder trial? During his trial over Kudirat’s murder, he never mentioned any video. He never did. He is an irritant fellow and I think it is time to put a stop to this nonsense.
Don’t you think this latest allegation by Al- Mustapha is capable of causing disaffection among Yoruba leaders?
That is his mission but I don’t think he can. If you are not talking about people like us, it could have been a different thing. I have sacrificed everything about my life for the development of the society and humanity. I’ve lost everything in that regard. So, it’s clear to people that I am not a kind of person that will run after worldly possessions. Things of this world don’t matter to me much.
By the grace of God, because of my background at home and the training that I received, my Bible tells me that ‘Godliness and contentment is a great gain’. That is what I live by because those who have made such money; plenty of it, when they are called home, what has happened to what they left behind? That is why I am not diplomatic about what I say. I say it as it is. If it is the right thing, even if one million people are at the other side, I am ready to be lonely on the right. I am not in the business of ‘if you can’t beat them, you join them’. I am on my bended knees every day not to disappoint my God. I know it is not by accident that I remain alive. A great number of people didn’t suffer one tenth of what I went through. Many of them are no more today. Some today are in a total wreck. That I am still standing today is by the special grace of God. So, there are purposes He has set me here to fulfill. I am praying to God not to disappoint Him. This world is too temporary and I know I will not remain here forever. I have very limited time to stay here. I am over 70 years. Even if I were 50, the truth of the matter is I have been involved in this struggle since I was in my 30s. I have no regret. I am a professional, a lawyer and a journalist. So, by the grace of God, we may not have money but we are not hungry in my family.
But do you believe that some NADECO leaders betrayed the late Abiola?
It is a big question you are asking me. If you are talking about Yoruba people, I do not know any serious-minded person that you can call a Yoruba leader of a sort who betrayed the late Abiola but there are quite a number of so-called Yoruba, who are elders who betrayed him. Some of them even went beyond the ordinary call of duty.
We trusted them and held meetings in their homes and they taped the recordings of our meetings and went to Aso Rock.
So, there were those ones but it is not the time to talk about things like that. But how did they end up? Some who did other things who were even junior to these ones also did not end well. I know at least about three or four of them that are dead now. After betraying us, they pretended to be part of us, we assigned them duties.
During the course of activities, they betrayed us and got something from the system. But what they got didn’t last long. After making the blood money they made, some of them perished. I am fortified by the very profound advice by Chief Awolowo in his dying days that ‘in any given situation when you have a choice to make between protecting your personal interests and protecting the community interest, you should always prefer to protect the community interests’. He told me quite frankly, I believe it and I found it to be so that if you protect the community interests, in most cases, your own personal interests will be protected. But if you protect your personal interest over the community interests, most likely, you will lose your personal interest.
Al-Mustapha said people like you have forgotten about Abiola but the moment he talks, you will start insulting him. How true is that?
That is another lie from him. What good did he do for the late Abiola during his lifetime? He was a veritable instrument in the hand of Abacha that tortured, humiliated, tyrannised and dehumanized Abiola in solitary confinement. So, it is a lie in his mouth. We have kept the banner flying. We are the ones sustaining the banner of his martyrdom. We are the architect of getting a coalition of people together to celebrate that day (June 12) as the day of our liberation.
That was a pan- Nigerian mandate, never known in Nigeria’s history. It was the day Nigerians, for the first time decided to bury the dubious divide of North and South, Christian and Muslim, and other divides which could have galvanised our country into nationhood but was subverted by Ibrahim Babangida and his cohorts, the military class to which Al- Mustapha belongs. We were the people who kept the flame when others have abandoned the struggle. You can see how unreasonable and pretentious his statement could be. In what manner have we forgotten Abiola? Every day, we still campaign for a national restructuring of the country that if the currently warped, skewed, lopsided structure had been straightened in a representative assembly of our people, a motley crowd of military juggernauts couldn’t have disregarded the popular will of the people as expressed in the June 12 election. Al- Mustapha should not be taken seriously by Nigerians. He is just talking rubbish.
Do you think the implementation of the 2014 Confab recommendations will resolve the issue of restructuring?
To some extent, yes. But for me, we should always remember that there was Babangida conference, there was Abacha conference; there was also Obasanjo’s conference and lately Jonathan’s conference.
My strongly held view is that in a representative assembly of Nigerian ethnic nationalities, which were the building blocks upon which the colonial master, Great Britain constructed what they called Nigeria today, these should be the principal people in that assembly. There could be very few additions of professionals, some modicum of civil society groups.
When the British came, there were no civil society groups in Nigeria. There was no professional group in the country. They signed treaties with our traditional institutions.
For them to be able to take over Lagos, they had to sign a treaty with King Dosunmu of Lagos. They had to sign a treaty with the Alaafin of Oyo for Oyo Empire. They had to sign a treaty with King Jaja of Opobo to take over what was then known as COR states (Cross River, Calabar – Ogoja and Rivers). They also signed a treaty with Attahiru Jega of Sokoto and then signed a treaty with El- kanemi of Borno. So, those are the ethnic nationalities. That is the basis of what is available in Nigeria today. if you want the authentic people to sit down, these are the major people that should come. They are not to be nominated by the government of the day. The different ethnic nationalities have their traditional way of nominating who will represent them and they should sit down to answer just two questions.
Because Nigerians have not been asked to give democratic response to these two questions that is why they become relevant. The first question is: Do you want to be in Nigeria? We have not been asked that question till today. The British forced us into cohabitation in the place they now call Nigeria, which was a name given to us by Lord Lugard’s concubine, Flora Shaw. The ethnic nationalities, like the Yoruba, for example, were not given the free choice to decide whether they want to be part of a place called Nigeria.
The Ijaws, Igbos, Itsekiri, Hausas were also not given that opportunity. That was why the colonial masters were resisted in several places. They fought with the traditional rulers to be able to win. So, that question needs to ask. If we have agreed to be part of Nigeria, the second question which is very key is: If we are going to be together, what are the terms? What will be the rules of engagement? What will be the modus operandi of our mutual existence? That has to be established. In doing that, you will bring your case as to how you want to be governed and you want to relate with others. I will bring my own. It is give and take. Then we come to some agreement. That will be the basis upon which we will write an indigenous constitution called the autochthonous constitution. We don’t have that. We have never had that.