Democracy Day naturally concentrates the mind. So many thoughts are running through my mind. The sheer idealism, which the day connotes, registers vividly. But even then, thoughts on idealism have a way of yielding to thoughts in the other direction – reality. And the reality is a grim one. So grim that one cannot but remember that so many heroes of democracy have virtually been consigned to the limbo of amnesia; in other words, forgotten. On this note, I am not just thinking of stock heroes like Awolowo, Zik, Raji, Abdallah Mokwugo, Okoye and other compatriots across the land. I am also remembering others, who today are not even in the footnotes of our history. Here I am remembering one of those forgotten eras in our history i.e. the King’s College Strike of 1944. It was in the course of that famous episode that the colonial authorities decided to conscript some King’s College students into the Second World War. Sadly enough, at least, one of the students did not return alive. That is one hero of our democracy.
The reader may begin to wonder why this is so. It is so because it was in the wake of the King’s College Strike that the famous political party, National Convention of Nigerian Citizens, was formed. Its aim was to combat colonial rule with a view to giving Nigeria and Nigerians political independence. Even then, there was also another man from Abagana. As narrated by Kole Omotoso in one of his books, ‘Just Before Dawn’, the man was incensed by the relative privileges and opulent lifestyles of the colonialists. He therefore decided to teach one of them a bitter lesson. For his patriotic efforts, he was prosecuted and put away for life! On this note, I am also remembering the famous Anthony Enahoro. Amongst all the old nationalists, this gentleman stands out. All the way from the colonial era through the subsequent civil rule and later military rule, he was at the barricades. Certainly, he does not share this distinction with any of his colleagues. Indeed, on the platforms of these major phases of our history, Enahoro was jailed and hounded.
On this note, it is pertinent to remember here that during colonial rule, Enahoro was jailed by the colonialists. His offence was that he dared to chair a lecture in which the colonialists and colonialism were taken to the cleaners. For his efforts, the white men put him away. His rendition of this episode was very poignant. In his book, titled ‘The Fugitive Offender’, he narrated how as Nigeria attained independence, he was nowhere to be seen among the leaders who took over the reins of power from the British. The probable explanation for this is that the perfidious British, as usual, had carefully crafted a transition to civilian rule. Specifically, a pliable fraction of the ruling class was able to take over Nigeria in 1960. But even then, his woes with the status quo forces did not end. Under the new dispensation, he was jailed again by the new order in post independent Nigeria.
In the next major phase of our national life i.e. under the military, he was at the barricades again. This time under Abacha, he was standing with progressive forces on the platform of NADECO. But he was now an old man. Eventually he fled into exile as he initially did during the First Republic. Had he stayed back in the country, chances are that he would have been jailed again, or even killed as was the pattern on the platform of that dark-goggled maximum ruler – Sani Abacha. Even then, we may wish to fast forward here to remember that one of our own Bagauda Kaltho, a journalist, simply disappeared during the Abacha era, never to be seen again till date. The human side of this sad narrative was revealed sometime ago by his widow. According to her, as Democracy Day was being celebrated in a particular year, no one remembered someone like her husband, Kaltho, who was made a sacrificial lamb on the altar of the June 12 struggles.
In a very limited sense, one can even consider Kaltho to be lucky. This is because at least a press centre has been named after him, somewhere in the grounds of Government House, Alausa in Lagos. At the risk of being proved wrong, I cannot remember that any monument has been named after a proven patriot and nationalist like Enahoro. Indeed, one can safely say here that the present controllers of the Nigerian state, like the famous Bourbon Kings, have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing. Indeed, so wilful are the omissions and commissions in the current order that the Democracy Day, which we celebrated recently, is only meaningful for the politicians in power at various levels of government. The rest of the populace has been consigned to the backwaters of economic brutalisation and marginalisation as well as primordial agitations.
Our contentions here continue to be seen in the way the Nigerian Project has been monumentally mismanaged. It can also be seen in the one hundred million naira bazaar. It can also be seen in a perverse and perfidious consistency like the repeated collapse of the national grid. Till date, and again by way of reminder, the Nigerian ruling class has eaten up major structures like the airline, shipping line, and our universities, which continue to be hallmarked by closures more than anything else. The icing on the cake here happens to be the stratospheric and world-record salaries and allowances of the National Assembly members.
Certainly therefore, when we talk about Democracy Day, it is safe to qualify this important date by saying that it is their Democracy. It is not that of the millions of Nigerians out there. Indeed and at the risk of being contradicted, many of these hapless Nigerians may even be wishing for the return of colonial rule. As things stand, one can safely say here that the likes of Enahoro, the Abagana man and Kaltho will be wondering in their graves whether their efforts did not just go down the drain.