It’s cool by most Nigerians that June 12 has been given its due as Democracy Day.
The current politicians in Nigeria should copy the common touch of Bashorun MKO Abiola, the dogged man who won the June 12, 1993 presidential election that became criminally annulled.
It was a mark of MKO’s appeal that he extended his wealth to all nooks of Nigeria without political considerations.
For instance, the only storey building in the General Hospital at my hometown, Umuchu in Aguata Local Government Area of Anambra State, bears the name: Chief MKO Abiola Ward.
The house was built with money donated by Abiola.
It has to be astounding that a man from Abeokuta in Ogun State should erect an entire hospital building in Anambra State back in the 1980s.
How did it happen?
Abiola was having some problems with the Buhari-Idiagbon regime over the newsprint he imported for his now defunct Concord newspapers.
A townsman of mine who was then serving as a Deputy Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Customs Service, Chief Augustine U. Osuorah (Okwudire Umuchu) helped to release the newsprint to Abiola, knowing from his own independent investigation that the business mogul had committed no crime.
Abiola wanted to show his gratitude to the Customs boss, Osuorah, who stoutly refused any gifts whatsoever, monetary or otherwise.
Abiola was shocked beyond words that there was a Nigerian who could turn his back on money, even when it was an ordinary gift and not a bribe or an inducement.
Of course, Abiola hardly ever took “No” for an answer, so when he learnt that Chief Osuorah was to host the Umuchu women’s group dance in the Customs man’s home in Surulere, Lagos, Abiola told his new friend, Osuorah, that the dance should instead be brought to in his own house in Ikeja.
This way, the dance was staged in Abiola’s Ikeja home where he donated the money for building the hospital as well as other goodies too good to be true!
That is the quintessential Abiola for you, shunning tribe and tongue to do good for the people.
Abiola not only changed the fortunes of entire towns; he made many individuals too numerous to count.
A friend of mine who stands tall today as the most celebrated of celebrity journalists is an outstanding advertisement of the mentorship and benevolence of the great man.
I remember back in the early 1990s when this friend and I were in London, generally being poor but somewhat living big.
We were staying at Arabella Court where we held court with our mutual friends in London such as Professor Adebayo Williams, Jane Bryce, Prof Patrick Heinecke, Odia Ofeimun and so on.
Bashorun Abiola was always passing through London where his magazine African Concord was then based.
It was my friend’s idea that we must “block” the man, but on the day Abiola hit town I had an appointment with BBC London where I had won a short story competition and was needed to read an excerpt from the award-winning story as well as do an interview.
I guess I earned about 500 pounds for my efforts, and I was running back to our place of abode to have some good time with my friend.
The friend I met when I returned to Arabella Court was, to put it mildly, completely knocked out with joy.
“Uzor,” said my friend in that peculiar voice of his that resembled that of Abiola. “I have been waiting for you since. Look at that paper on that drawer.”
I took up the piece of paper, just a plain paper that was not even a business card.
Abiola had scribbled on the paper to his banker in London to open bank accounts for “this my son”, a savings account and a current account in staggering sums that I must not mention here.
Abiola also gave my friend generous cash in hand that instantly made him an instant happening guy.
On top of all that, Abiola told my lucky friend that if he should get married that year he would put up a personal appearance and set him up for life.
The rest, as they say, is history.
What set Abiola apart from the other rich lot was the common touch.
I remember when he was running his football Club, Abiola Babes; he used to stay in the popular stand on occasion.
On a certain day, after his club had ended a match, I asked my younger brother, Isidore, to follow me to the boardroom in the stadium where I planned to talk with the legendary man.
One of Abiola’s courtiers was fanning him when I came in.
“Chief, how do you feel about the match?” I asked.
“Football is not the best way to spend your money,” Abiola answered.
“Is it because of the tension?” I followed up.
“No, it’s not any tension,” Abiola replied. “Do you know I have to travel to Pakistan this night?”
That’s the legend of the man who lived for others, who planned to say farewell to poverty for all Nigerians, who struggled to obtain reparations on slavery for all Africans, a man who had his June 12 presidential which he won fair and square annulled.
He died for his grand efforts.
But June 12 as Democracy Day lives as a testament to his struggle.