Columns & Opinion



It is always emotionally draining and physically incapacitating to write about failed dreams and shattered great expectations.
In essence, perpetual analysis of what ought to be, and what is, especially as it is with the case of Nigeria, is a daunting task that makes any reasonable person weakened, if not disillusioned.

The Nigerian state and project is massively great on potential, but brief and stunted on deliverables.
Hence, when I read the opinion article written by Emma Ochuko Arodovwe, which he titled: Troubling thoughts from Chief Frank Kokoris funeral event, I screamed to myself, saying, here we go again!
Using the funeral events at Frank Kokoris burial, Arodovwe dialectically brought to fore the lacunae in our social struggles, the gulf between expectations and realities.

The bitter end, rejection and abandonment of our true heroes, especially those of the immediate past, who ensured the birthing of democracy on May 29, 1999. He asked the question without asking, are the efforts of our heroes past not in vain?

I felt emotionally mutilated and psychologically inebriated after reading through the article. Yes, I am one of those who didnt know that the great man, Frank Kokori, was buried on 8th March, 2024. Yes, I am one of those who went about on that day with business as usual attitude.
Truly, I am guilty of not paying tributes and my last respects to an authentic hero of the struggle for democracy in Nigeria!

But I didnt slack because I abandoned Kokori, or because I did not appreciate and recognise his worth and indelible contributions to the birthing of democracy, and by extension national development and progress.
I did what I did because Kokori was abandoned! He was betrayed and abandoned in life, and in death mostly.

He was forgotten by those who became the major beneficiaries of his struggles against military dictatorship, alongside other patriots of courage. Although, a few comrades and beneficiaries of the struggle for democracy reached out to him, but in fits and starts! Kokori was an icon. He deserved better, in life and in death.

If Kokori was not abandoned, the Television, Radio and the Newspapers and Social Media platforms would have been buzzing with adverts carried by governors, senators, and top members of the business community, reminding us of the passing and planned burial ceremonies of an icon of democracy!

Indeed, if Kokori was appreciated by the beneficiaries of todays democratic experiment in Nigeria, those who control the levers of power at the state and federal levels would have been struggling to outdo themselves in the provisions of free flights to the venue of Kokoris funeral.

Unfortunately, he was not a member of their social class. He was only a tool in the realisation of the political dreams for this class of oppressors and political overlords. Incidentally, the political position ultimately guarantees them easy access to free-flowing national wealth, which made them to look down on lesser mortals.

If Kokori had compromised with the military by collecting all the carrots dangled before him, he would have become an automatic member of the parasitic elite class.

Sadly, the military would have still been holding political power in Nigeria today. May be, Late General Sani Abacha would still have been serving as a life president!
If not for NUPENG, which Kokori led as Secretary-General, the struggle to terminate military rule would have been largely restricted to a few courageous civil society activists demonstrating on the streets and getting arrested, maimed and killed.

This would be supported by the radical wing of the media, especially TELL and The News/TEMPO Magazines writing terse articles, exposing the under belly of the military, and getting arrested and sometimes proscribed by the military junta in the process. Yet, the vice grip on power by the military would tighten with no sign of letting off!

As the African National Congress, ANC, realised in the apartheid struggle in South Africa that until it embraces armed struggle, the oppressive white supremacists regime would not let go of power to embrace majority rule. Similarly, the Nigerian patriots who rallied to fight military tyranny reckoned with the fact that the desperate arm of the military would be unwilling to surrender political power except a blow is dealt at its functional arteries.

A bloodless revolution of economic sabotage was recommended. One major way to kick out the military was by crippling the oil sector – the economic livewire of the military junta.
This tactic was strengthened by the ravaging economic sanctions imposed by the West on the rapacious military junta, led by General Abacha, who took over from the toothy benevolent military dictator, General Ibrahim Babangida.

Therefore, Kokoris leadership of NUPENG played a pivotal role in rattling the military dictatorship of General Abacha, when it practically shut down the oil industry until he was betrayed by moles within the NUPENG system, arrested and thrown into the gulag in the searing sun of Bama prisons, in Borno State.
Kokoris actions were akin to arms struggle, which gave a significant bite to the battle to end military rule in Nigeria.

His activities were a significant departure from the general labour unions, especially the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, where the late Pascal Bafyau was president with Adams Oshiomhole as deputy.
After the annulment of June 12, 1993, Presidential Election, the general uproar in the country and calls for de-annulment were not supported by the NLC.

Rather, the NLC under the leadership of Bafyau and Oshiomhole issued a press statement supporting the annulment of June 12 presidential election. How sad! Ironically, today Oshiomhole is a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, having served eight years as governor of Edo State.
Yet, Kokori, a true advocate of democracy was consigned to the historical dustbin of irrelevance on account of his material status and unwillingness to cut deals with those who cornered our collective patrimony.

Nigeria is always a paradox. Those who fought for political independence of the country did not inherit power post-independence.
Similarly, those who fought military dictatorship in order to birth our present democratic experience never inherited the dividends of democracy.

As in spectacular circus, politics in Nigeria is dominated by the mentally indolent, professionally weak and ideologically vacuous, to the extent that once they grab power, they begin to initiate policies and programmes to constrict the political space in order to prevent genuine democrats and patriots from getting a seat at the table. They even mistreat them.

I remember running into Kokori, waiting in the ante room of a former governor renowned for public posturing about his allegiance to labour unionism and civil society activism.

Seeing Kokori looking so tired, I asked one of the ex-governors aides, for how long has this great man been kept waiting? He smiled, and said, you know my Oga na (the ex-governor). He has kept Kokori waiting for hours now.
When Kokori eventually was ushered in, he came out as briefly as he went, not more than a three-minute encounter. After waiting for several hours! I was told Kokoris suggestions for the ex-governor were treated with levity, if not disdain.
The former governor also refused to extend any courtesy of accommodation and logistics to Kokori, a privilege he graciously and usually extended to his numerous courtesans.

Rewind to 1996 when General Abacha dictatorship was rampaging through the nation. Only a few brave men and women could speak to challenge the order.
Many of those parading themselves as defenders of democracy today were nowhere near the scene. Some of them were collaborators with the military. Former senate president, David Mark, a retired Brigadier General in an interview swore that M.K.O Abiola would only be president over his dead body.
In essence, he said a resounding No to democracy. In a twist of irony, Mark became one of the biggest beneficiaries of the return to civilian rule. He was in the senate for 16 years and served as the longest serving senate president for eight years!

Back to the mistreatment of the true heroes of democracy by those who had their palm kernel cracked for them. By 1995, former president Olusegun Obasanjo had transformed into a global speaker and statesman. Therefore, he was one of the few Nigerians who openly criticized and cautioned General Abacha not to take Nigeria down in ruins.

TELL Magazine regularly interviewed Obasanjo. On this particular occasion Obasanjo was far away in Copenhagen, Denmark, giving lectures about good governance and democracy.
Meanwhile, at home General Abacha had arrested prominent serving military officers, and a former second in command to Obasanjo while he was Head of state, Major General Shehu Musa YarAdua.

When TELL editors had an encounter with an Ambassador from one of the Scandinavian countries, they were told to inform Obasanjo of a genuine intelligence report that the military junta of Abacha intends to arrest and jail him once he sets foot in Nigeria, on his return from Copenhagen. He was advised to stay back abroad.
When Obasanjo was reached abroad, in his usual braggadocio and god-playing antics, he retorted, they have not given birth to the dictator who will arrest me in Nigeria!

He was dead wrong! The dictator was since born. His name is General Sani Abacha, the dark goggle wearing military dictator.
However, reality enveloped Obasanjo when security agents on the orders of General Abacha picked him up when he arrived in the country. Thus, began, his long and tortuous ordeal in jail, as he was found guilty of planning a phantom coup by the Patrick Aziza panel, which was set up by General Abacha to try him and others, including four journalists.

While in jail, attempts were also made at his life. But TELL and The News/Tempo Magazines kept him a step ahead of his traducers with their weekly exposé of the juntas plots. It was the efforts of these media soldiers of democracy that notified Obasanjo in jail not to allow himself to be injected by the famous Dr. Death, Col. Ibrahim Yakasai, who was alleged to have given a lethal injection that killed Major General Shehu YarAdua in prison. That was how the media helped in preserving Obasanjos life.

But when Obasanjo was railroaded from prison to the Presidency on May 29, 1999, he denigrated the pro-democracy media and civil society activists who fought his course. Throughout his eight years as civilian president, Obasanjo never met with any civil society activist in person or as a group.
It was easier for an ordinary desk officer from foreign NGOs like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, etc., to see Obasanjo than for the doyens of civil society in Nigeria, such as late Gani Fawehinmi, Olisa Agbakoba, late Beko Ransom Kuti, Femi Falana, etc., to see him.
Obasanjo preferred the company of lowly-rated foreign journalists to media Generals in Nigeria, who fought for the termination of military rule. After several efforts, TELL was able to secure an interview appointment with Obasanjo as president.

Before the interview commenced, as a preamble one of the editors extended the usual courtesies, saying, Congratulations on your election. But he was rudely cut short by Obasanjo who said, please you have 45 minutes for this interview and your time has started running. So go straight to your questions. What arrogance! What impudence! What ingratitude from a man saved from the hangman”s noose by the efforts of TELL and others.

That is why Kokori got the treatment he got. The beneficiaries of the struggle for democracy have not executed any strategic plan to ensure that those who fought the military should and must be encouraged to implement those visions they had under a democratic dispensation.

Till date, no founding editor of TELL or The News/Tempo had been given a national award. Not even the least of national awards. This is not to mention the younger generation of journalists who did most of the leg work for their brave founding editors.
Unfortunately, every year the list of national honorees is rolled out, it is more or less like a gallery of rogues.

But we cannot continue like this. How do we call on the younger generation to be honourable and patriotic when before their very eyes the labours of our heroes past are subjected to vain glory, when authentic heroes that they heard, read about, and admired are reduced to nothingness and not celebrated? When they see daily that authentic heroes of our national life are easily forgotten, while the crooked with access to material resources are celebrated without qualms.

Since President Bola Tinubu is a product of the struggle against military dictatorship, a veritable member of the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, he knows where the shoe pinches.
Tinubu must change the drifting narrative and act differently by producing a marshal plan to integrate pro-democracy activists in the national rescue plans.
Most especially, at this time when the nation is in a dire situation. Only then will the labours of our heroes past shall never be in vain. That would be an honour to Kokoris memory and all pro-democracy heroes gone by.

*Osa, a Journalist and Lawyer, lives in Lagos. He can be reached on @Directorosa on x (Twitter)

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