Otunba Abimbola Davies -My june 12 Story
Even though june 12 has become a footnote in our collective National history,the effects still resonate even several years after the unfortunate incident,during the fighjt and agitation for recovery of late MKO Abiola's mandate,there were many active whose names were synonymous with the incident and one of them is Abimbola Davies one of the arrow heads for the defunct Association for Better Nigeria (ABN) that was used to halt the Presidential elections which was widely believed to have been won by the late MKO Abiola.In this lenghty interview he narrates his experience and some of the previously unknown about the whole period.
Otunba, you have become silent these days. What has been happening to you?
It is the same thing that has been happening to you that has been happening to me, nothing serious. I have been concentrating on my business and my life, maybe. That is it.
What have you been doing and what are you doing right now?
I’ve been doing quite a lot of things, I’ve been busy. You know I represent a section of the royal family of Dubai in West Africa, consulting for them in both the business and political angles and my company, Capital 3 has been doing a lot of consultancy services, what we call structural consultancy and we have been developing businesses for a couple of organizations as in retail businesses. That’s all.
The name Otunba Abimbola Davies is one that comes to mind any time the June 12 1993 election is spoken about. When you cast your mind back, how do you feel about the actions you took back then?
The same way! Nothing is bad and nothing is good, things are the same. It depends on the way you see them.
What was actually on your mind back then? What did you have against the conduct of the election?
Not the conduct of the election. You have actually mixed records. I had nothing against the election, I had something to do with the process entirely and the project itself is whether I wanted the election to happen or whether I wanted it not to happen. It had nothing to do with Abiola so you have to get that straight.
Otunba, can you shed more light on what happened?
How did you come about what happened, when somebody was telling about the history now? Go and find out what happened
So that the records can be set straight…
There are many ways to tell a story. Let’s put it this way, the first question asked is what I had against and I was trying to tell you that I had nothing against the elections. Abiola was not even in the picture. ABN was just about looking at Nigeria, looking at the politicians. I don’t know if you are comfortable and happy with what the politicians are doing in the country today. So if you have to juxtapose that with what happened then, then you will now justify whether we were right to say the military should go on then.
Now, I don’t want the military again but the point is that you had people that were just not reliable. You had people there that were not out to do something good for the country and we were saying we don’t want these people. Apart from the personal ambition of General Badamasi Babangida or my own personal ambition, the truth remains that one was just not comfortable with the events of that period. Simple.
Abiola came in and Abiola was just a child of circumstance. And even at that period that we are talking about, you have to realize and remember that primary elections of two parties actually took place and those two were cancelled and the same Abiola was actually out supporting the military as at that time. He went to France, he was doing that. It was Late Chief Gani Fawehinmi and Femi Falana that even attacked him at that period that he, Abiola shouldn’t have been doing that. And when Abiola came out everybody believed that he was actually Babangida’s lackey because they were friends and even recently in the book written by Dan Agbese about Babangida, that fact was further established. Babangida said he gave Abiola N35 million. Who is supporting who really? Who really was the betrayer? Was it Babangida or was it Abiola? There are so many things both of them should shed light on. Abiola is not in the position to talk about them now but there is quite a lot that IBB needs to talk about that he has really been shying away from. So the truth that I will say clearly here is that nobody was against Abiola or the election. It was against the process. But the process consumed every other thing.
Now, back to your question about what happened during June 12, I will advise our youths to try and study this part of Nigerian history, because some of them don’t even know, they should check it on Google. They will have more facts about that. Otherwise, they should wait till next month when my book on June 12 will be out.
Do you regret any role you played then?
I am a man, I am also human. It is only someone with no feelings that will tell you there is nothing he regrets. I have certain things I will repeat all over again, yet I have certain things I will pray to God not to happen again. When you look at the issue of June 12, it was a court process and everybody expected you to go back to court even if you feel otherwise about a particular group’s action.
Now, when people took to the streets and they were burning things, fighting here and there, some people lost their lives, some people were maimed, and then it became regrettable. That is my thinking. It was not meant to be something everybody would go all out and start fighting for, kill each other. Like I said in my book, I have taken up one or two lawyers on, even a judge – at one time that a judgment was given by a High Court in Abuja and a court of equal jurisdiction took another position on the same thing. I now asked ‘is that the normal thing that ought to happen?’ He said ‘no’ that was not supposed to have happened. They were supposed to have gone to a court of higher jurisdiction to set that judgment aside. But they did not and I remember very well that day that it was not the judge that wanted to give judgment that day. It was actually Femi Falana and Late Chief Fani-Kayode who appeared as amicus curiae in the court that day that requested the judge to actually give the judgment no matter how late so that they would be able to file an appeal in case one of the parties loses. That was when Justice Bassey Ita-Ikpeme decided to give her judgment. The judgment was given around 7.30 p.m. That is to show you the little clique that controls the media, the way they can use it for or against. Then they called the woman “the Midnight Judge”. The woman that was turned to a midnight judge was the creation of Late Chief Fani-Kayode SAN and Femi Falana who is my friend and brother.
The power and the influence you wielded back then led to insinuations that you were ‘being used’ by the powers that be. Who were you fronting for then?
I will answer you this way; I will rather be an errand boy to a king than an errand boy to my peers. It has answered it.
Who were your peers that time?
Ah, think about my age mates (general laughter). I will rather be an errand boy to a President than to a Commissioner. It is a very simple point. If that is what you are saying that I was being used by Babangida, you better come straight. I will rather be an errand boy to Buhari than to anybody I know I am more brilliant than, or someone I have been more blessed than in all faculties. So I will now be an errand boy to the person because he has money? No. I will rather be an errand boy to the President, not to a Governor anyway.
At a time, you left Nigeria. Where did you go? Why did you come back?
Is Nigeria not my country? Or what are you asking me? Good you have also traveled out of the country at one time or the other, so why did you come back? (asks reporter)
Okay, where did you go and why did you leave? I mean when you went on exile?
Oh, you should have said when I went on exile, they believe it was only people like Tinubu that went on exile and Tinubu was abroad before he was met in exile by others but people always believed it was only people like that that went on exile. Why did I go on exile in the first instance? Because I decided to support MKO Abiola like any other person and it was a risk. My life was at stake; so many people were arrested after I left. So I was in the Republic of Benin where Chief Alao-Aka Bashorun was and I traveled outside the country once in a while just monitoring. Then at a stage I felt that the agreement between me and Abiola was not being followed. What Abiola ought to have done, what we agreed upon was not being followed. You will read all of them in my book. What he was supposed to have done at that time, he ought to have declared himself the President earlier, during Babangida’s time.
Babangida wouldn’t have arrested him. That would have empowered him. That was the promise he made. He didn’t fulfill it. Then when I was in exile, so many things started happening. I was in constant contact with two people, MKO Abiola and Kudirat Abiola and in the course of that, I told them, look what you are doing is still wrong. There are ways you can still go about it.
So I told them, look, I will come to Nigeria because I am going to take another risk and I said that risk is like a sacrifice. She, that is, Kudirat said what is it? I said I will not say it on phone. So I came to Nigeria. Isiaka Adeleke was the Governor in Osun State then, he lodged me at their Liaison Office at Cooper Road and I went to see Chief Gani Fawehinmi the following day. Beko was there, Seye Kehinde was there, Seye was then with Tempo Magazine. Seye was the only one that I allowed to interview me later and that is why I still trust him because Seye made a promise saying ‘I will not disclose your location, but I will tell them I interviewed you in Nigeria’. If Seye had wanted to fix me, he would have fixed me easily. But Seye kept that part of the bargain. That is why till today, I still see him as my good junior brother. I now came in, I told Gani Fawehinmi why I came back to Nigeria because Gani was shocked, he said ‘ah ah! Why are you here? Have you swallowed a crystal ball or what?’ I said no, Egbon, I am here because this battle is not being fought the right way and you have lost so much. Now I will do something, I am ready to go back to court, file a paper that all the documents we used then were fake, that we were tricked into doing it. The moment that happens, you fix it in a court in Lagos, get judgment, I will stand by it, then Abiola can declare himself President. If you are using a court of equal jurisdiction, let’s use it, this is a new case entirely, not that particular one.
He asked if I had discussed it with Abiola, I said no. So I went to see Abiola. Abiola was totally against it. He said ‘your life is at risk, I still want you, when I become the President, I want you to be an Ambassador, I have discussed with people severally and I know you are very intelligent. I need somebody like you around. I said sir, let me do it. We didn’t resolve it, but by the time I met with Chief Gani Fawehinmi, maybe Abiola had told him not to do it, I realized Chief Gani Fawehinmi at his Anthony Village office was already like this, like that. At the end of the day, I left. As at that time, Shonekan was in government, Isiaka Adeleke told me they were making some moves and that before the end of the week, something would happen. So I came to Ibadan. He also asked me to stay at the Premier Hotel; he was paying for where I was so they didn’t take anybody for the whole of the wing of that floor. So while I was there, when I realized that Chief Gani Fawehinmi was not moving forward, I went to Baba Afe Babalola. I was in Baba Afe Babalola’s office, we were perfecting our discussion when I got a call and the person told me, ‘don’t go back to the hotel, Abacha has just taken over’. As I was dropping the phone to tell Baba, his phone also rang and they told him what was happening. I left.
Instead of going away, I went to the same hotel. Where they said I should not go, I did not run. I went to the hotel and I called Kudirat. We always joked, I said ‘my sis, see what is happening o’ . She said ‘ah, we are aware now’. I said ‘if you have not reached any serious understanding with this man, declare now. Don’t allow Abacha to settle down. The moment he settles down, you will lose. There is no military man that will take over government and hand over to you. She said to me ‘ah, Bimbola, if they try, this country will be divided into six regions’. I said ‘I will call you after this time’. Then Alhaji Adedibu came to my hotel, we had a discussion, he felt the same way I was feeling that that was the right thing. At the end of the day, a decision was taken; it was late before Abiola could do what he did. And by the time he was doing it, the man had settled down. So the purpose for which I came to the country was also defeated.
Come to think of it, after that period, so many people have asked me to join politics. There are so many ABN men in Nigerian government. What are we even talking about? There are quite a lot of them. How many ABN have been created after that period? Even in the name of so called political parties.
I was going to ask sir that a lot of people that identified with Chief Abiola have been compensated…
(Cuts in) Even those who were very close to Abacha. Who was Baba Gana Kingibe close to? Didn’t Baba Gana Kingibe write a letter to Abiola that he should relinquish that post? I can give you a copy of the letter if you want. He wrote it that he should relinquish and forget about it. Who was he working for? Who was Anenih working for? Iyorchia Ayu, I think it was Iyorchia that really faced some problems. What about the House of Assembly that passed a resolution that Babangida should stay back? What about the governors that wrote a letter and said ‘our dear father’ to Abacha?
Let a Governor come out and tell me that he was not part of that plot letter. ‘Our dear father’. When a Governor is calling the President ‘dear father’. Some of them were older than him.
Where were you and how did you feel when you heard that Chief Abiola died?
I was actually in Lagos and when I heard that Abiola was dead, I was like that, it is not possible, because I used to speak to Jamiu (Kudirat’s son) often. Everybody was expecting him to come back when it happened and we were just like what is all this? To be honest, I became very close to Abiola, closer than many people claiming to be Abiola’s friends today. He discussed tough things with me during that period, he availed me his diary, he spoke to me about individuals.
When you climb his wing of the house, after the staircase, when you enter, there is this private room he has by the left, like a study. It is not the one in which he has all these awards everywhere. This one is a bit dark. We would sit down there and talk for long periods of time. At times he would just call like that and say “Bimbola, moferi e o”(Bimbola, I want to see you) because I would tell him what he was not ready to hear as it was. I remember one of such things was that Primate Olabayo predicted that he would win but he would lose, except he could pray so that he would not die. So I drew his attention to it and he said ‘okay, I will think about it’. As soon as I got to Ibadan, he called me, ‘Bimbola omooba, come back, I need to see you’. So I had to turn back to Lagos. I got to his place around 9 O’clock that night. So many people were there at the end of the day he said I should just go somewhere. I saw him around 2am, so he told me I should see him the following day by 4. I saw him; he said I should find a way of bringing Primate Olabayo, so I went to Primate Olabayo. He can confirm this, he lived at Ilupeju then. I went to him, I knelt down, he prayed and he even predicted some things about me that came to pass and he said ‘the Lord I serve has not directed me to go to any politician’s house or any billionaire’s house”, that he has predicted, he has told him what God asked him to tell him. He said if he thinks it is important, he should come to either his church or his house. I went back, I told Alhaja Kudirat, Kudi said ‘how do we get Bashorun to do it?’ I said we have to do it. I went to Bashorun again and said this is what the man said we should do. He said ‘okay, we will find time to do it.’ He never did.
I was the one who moved the Agbekoyas in Ibadan. All those things you heard aboutAgbekoya in Ibadan, I was the one behind it then. Some people will be talking about June 12, I might have been against first, just as there were people in PDP that crossed to APC. So what is different about me crossing from anti to pro? That is the truth.
You haven’t pointed out how you felt when you heard that Abiola died.
I was sad that Abiola died. I just told you how close I was to Abiola and how close I was to Kudirat. We were so close that when Abiola was in detention, I was actually taking food to Kudirat’s house. I would buy food in bulk and take it there. The popular designer, David Kolawole, Dakova’s mum can confirm this. I used to meet the woman there.Few weeks before Kudirat died, I actually warned her. In front of people, I said ‘many people that sit down here, they only come to hear information. What are they contributing? Be careful.’ I didn’t know that she was going to die.
You proposed a substitute to the transition process then, how would you have felt if that substitute had scaled through?
That would have been a subsidy (laughs). Everything anybody does, we should always believe there is one interest or the other. I had my own interest, I believed it was what was good for the country, I believed strongly that the politicians then were not ready, they were not prepared, they were not together. But what happened then was far better than what happened thereafter, the way politicians were behaving and all that. Then you will thank God that you had the politicians of that time instead of these ones because they didn’t steal with impunity. Even when they stole, they were careful because the military could pick them. So they were very careful.
I think with time, because everything is about learning. I think it is a learning process. With the change that has just happened, I believe if we could vote a sitting President out of office, then our democracy is actually developing and I believe at one time or the other, it will have a firm root.
Now that you have delved into it, let’s have your assessment of the Nigerian democracy over the last 16 years.
It’s growing. I think democracy is growing.
You just said the politicians then were not ready. Can you say today’s politicians are ready?
They are ready now for their pockets! They are very ready now. It is even paying, they are getting the dividends. You see, we have a country that at times when you look at it, you will feel sorry for the people in it, you will feel sorry for yourself.
And I realized that Nigerians, they might have suffered for 10 years, not eating, managing rubbish and suddenly, when they get food for one day that should last for another ten or twenty years, they will forget about the twenty years and eat it at a go. That is what is happening in Nigeria. It is not as if we don’t have intelligent people but we don’t give room for people that are intelligent to operate.
Then at times, one would want to trust the military because when they say ‘we will do’, they will do. I remember Baba Adedibu told me a story, he said during the First Republic, if a politician gives you a note to a Minister that they had two types of notes. One is ‘the bearer is from me’, that immediately you take it to him, they know that they are not to waste their time. But there is also one that says “and please revert back”. He said that means they want you to do something.
It is only in Nigeria that you have the Ade Bendels and those other people and you are ready to kill them because they are 419, then you have a pen robber that has stolen billions and has devised so many things including the lawyers that can go technical to ensure that the judgment is not delivered through technicalities and the lawyers will tell you that they are doing their jobs. And the truth is they are doing their jobs.
You said earlier that you were invited to join politics. Why aren’t you into active politics now?
Why must all of us be in politics? I don’t think it is right. I met a pastor and he told me everybody has his own ministry. You have your ministry in the church. Maybe because you are a journalist, you can propagate the gospel in the papers through writing about salvation. Yours is to develop the choir, contribute to them, yours is for the children’s church, everybody has his ministry whereas the Pastor is the Governor of that place. The trustees form the commissioners.
The only thing that is lacking is for the government to realize the importance of the ability to discover that this person is brilliant and this person can assist the government whether he is part of the government or not.
I read Baba Obasanjo’s book, My Watch, as much as everybody can say he was talking about this and talking about that, I saw so much positivity in that book and I learnt a great deal from it. I don’t have to care if he has attacked this or attacked that person but there are some facts that are in the book. He spoke about his coming into government. When he was to establish his cabinet, he thought about spreading it to other people who he believed could do it, regardless of their party affiliation. I think that is the only problem we have in this country, the ability to recognize that somebody is intelligent or somebody is talking from a good angle. By then maybe we will not be owing eight months salaries or eighteen months salaries.
You are not actively involved in politics but you definitely belong to a side. Which side are you on politically?
The winning team.
You got married recently, let’s talk about her.
You have said I got married recently, what do you want me to say again? What is your problem? (general laughter). I married a beautiful woman, an intelligent woman, a supportive woman. Maybe I married late but the good thing is that I got married and I have been happy since. It is one of the conditions of God that you must be married.
It is usually said, especially among those who know you well that Otunba Abimbola Davis knows how to get whatever he wants anytime he does, even a court injunction at 7 p.m. How powerful are you?
Did I get a court injunction by 7 p.m? (general laughter). That is blackmail. I never (general laughter) I told you about the circumstances surrounding that. It was Femi Falana and Late Chief Fani Kayode who insisted the judge should deliver her judgment that day. How can you say that I got judgment at that period? I did not.
But let’s be humble here, I think I should thank God that there has been nothing I focused my mind on that God has not done and I think it has to do with being positive. It has to do with you thinking thoroughly believing in yourself and being ready to face challenges. As long as all those things are there, it may delay but you will always achieve it. Just like you were talking about my wife, the first day I saw her, I said you are going to be my wife. She said ‘me?’ I said you, you will soon be my wife o. And very soon she will be coming to me, ‘hello darling’ and I too will go to her and say iyawo. That is the greatest achievement so far. But to be honest, being humble, being positive and above all, trusting in God is the main thing.
Let me just joke about this, Baba Obasanjo said when he heard about Atiku wanting to be the President, that after he has said every other thing, the only thing that came to his head was that he has not said he wants to be President because he has God in the plan. Whereas Obasanjo said before he decided to contest at all, he called Pastor Adeboye and said ‘Pastor, please let us fast for three months for God to direct me’. It’s in the book, he said because Pastor has been fasting for 100 days before this period, before it was made public and they did it.
When you look back, would you say you are fulfilled?
I hate when they describe a man and they say he is a contented man. They are telling you that the man lacks ambition. Every human wants to aspire to be something. You want to aspire as far as your hands can go. But for what God has done, I am very happy but I want to say I’ll be more fulfilled when I can sit down one day and somebody will say to me how many people has God used you to uplift, I will say I don’t know the number again. Then I will know I am fulfilled but for now, I thank God for what He has done.
What was it like when you were growing up, how did you grow up and where did you grow up?
Ah! I was rascally, no doubt (general laughter). I grew up on two streets, business street and real local street. I grew up in Oniyanrin in Ibadan, Inalende area, OopoYeosa was on one side, Beere was on the other side. I am from Ibadan, born in Ibadan and I know quite a lot about growing up around that area. That time, the country was peaceful. At the back of our house, you had the Catholic Seminary College, the first Ibadan Grammar School was there, the Rediffusion at the back, then towards the right if you are facing the east, you had the Nigerian Telecommunications, that’s the telephone company at Nalende. It was a good place, that is where you have the Adebisis, the Lanlehins that is the area you have the Agbajes. I grew up in a headmaster’s house. The house was built in 1944; I am talking about an aristocratic house with nine porticos. I went to public schools. In Ibadan then, there were only two private schools, Omolewa and Alaafia or something like that. So I went to United Modern School, Inalende, Ibadan then. It was fantastic and growing up was quite exciting.
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