By Tope Templer Olaiya, Assistant Lagos City Editor
JUNE 12 was yesterday elevated to an industry as five southwestern states, comprising Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun and Ekiti declared the day a public holiday to mark the 20 years of the annulled mandate of late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, who died in detention on July 7, 1998.
Commemoration of the historic date, preserved in Nigeria’s history as the freest and fairest election ever conducted in the country, took centre stage in Lagos as the June 12 movement and pro-democracy activists took over popular event centres in Lagos to reminisce on Abiola’s struggle to reclaim his mandate and sacrifice his life for democracy.
Those who wanted to be reminded of Abiola’s place in history were spoilt for choice as June 12 events organized by different pro-democracy groups, held at Airport Hotel, Ikeja; Sheraton Hotel, Ikeja; Blue Roof Hall of Lagos Television, Ikeja; Excellence Hotel, Ogba; Freedom Park, Lagos Island; Tafawa Balewa Square, Lagos; and most importantly, Abiola’s residence in Ikeja.
At his residence on MKO Abiola Crescent, it was a solemn assembly of students, activists and politicians who gathered to pay tribute to the memory of Abiola. Held in his ground floor sitting room, which has been converted into a hall, the gathering coordinated by Olawale Okunniyi under the chairmanship of Chief Ayo Adebayo, took turns to make speeches about the June 12 struggle and life and times of Abiola.
At the end of the symposium, where members of the Abiola family were conspicuously absent, wreaths of honour were laid at Abiola’s tomb by dignitaries in attendance, which included the Commissioner for Information, Akwa Ibom State, Aniekan Umanah, who represented Governor Godswill Akpabio.
Once upon a time, MKO Abiola Crescent, tucked in the hearts of Ikeja, was paved literary with gold, as it served as a Mecca of sorts to the unending crowd of those who visited the man with a large heart to curry favours and tap from his wealth of knowledge and resources.
He was indeed, a man of the people and the pillar of strength not only for individuals, but also for groups, organizations and critical sectors of the country, most especially in sports and education. This was long before he won the hearts of the whole nation in the historic election that has become a benchmark in Nigeria’s history.
Twenty years after, as memories fade away and with pockets of democratic activists still gathering in remembrance of their hero, the family residence was stealthily quiet yesterday. Against the clatter from the streets, particularly Toyin Street and Allen Avenue, which encircle the expansive residence, the highbrow crescent was an illustration of tranquility with no unusual movement.