Kayode Fayemi and the June 12 Struggles
History was made in 2018 when President Mohammadu Buhari declared that henceforth, June 12 would replace May 29 as a Democracy Day in Nigeria. He went ahead to institutionalise this by getting the National Assembly to pass it into law. It was therefore a glorious day for the nation on June 12, 2019 when the nation celebrated the maiden nationwide edition of Democracy Day. Hitherto, June 12 had only been celebrated in the South West Nigeria mainly by the progressives whenever they were in charge.
While we celebrate 20th anniversary of an unbroken democratic government in Nigeria and remember with fondness, the sacrifice of the main protagonist of June 12 struggles, Basorun MKO Abiola, we must also celebrate some of the foot soldiers who contributed in no small measure to the eventual return of Nigeria to democracy after an unwinding and interminable transition to nowhere.
Of special mention is Dr Kayode Fayemi, Governor of Ekiti who was one of the young and vibrant foot soldiers who dedicated their talents, career, time, lives and all to get the annulment of the June 12 election reversed and see to the enthronement of MKO Abiola as president. He was arguably the engine room of the exile operatives, especially those in the National Liberation Council of Nigeria (NALICON) and National Democratic Coalition (NADECO). For Dr Fayemi, anti-military rule campaigns and June 12 was the struggle that defined his character as a man who invests his entire energy in whatever he believes in. Right from his University of Lagos days, he had been consistently involved in human rights and democracy agitations. Right from the Epetedo Declaration and like many patriots who had to flee for their lives to exile, Dr Fayemi exhibited valor and bravery of the highest order. The struggle to de-annul June 12 election signalled the steel of character he is made of. He demonstrated uncommon commitment and loyalty to the demilitarization of the Nigerian political space.
While in exile, he, along with others, started the Nigeria Now tabloid which was published a to serve as the voice of the exiles against the brutality of the military rule in Nigeria. He was the vociferous editor who combined studentship with journalism, activism and diplomacy. For example even though he was pursing his PhD in King’s College under an extremely inclement conditions at this time, he was a major protagonist along with other patriots such Tajudeen Abdurahamn and Olu Oguibe in the New Nigeria Forum.
He coordinated and joined in the many protest rallies held on the streets of London to draw international attention to the many atrocities occasioned by the military rule in Nigeria. It must be noted that his pro-democracy struggle preceded the June 12 election, but the annulment of the election gave him a wider space of involvement that went beyond the New Nigerian Forum’s activism. Providence positioned him ahead of a troubling time to serve as a field worker, organiser, consul, diplomat, courier, intelligence officer, reporter, radio manager, journalist and advocate.
For example, in spite of the huge gulf in age difference between him and the heavy weight personalities he had to interact with, Dr. Fayemi remained a singular ally that major stakeholders in both NADECO and NALICON had absolute trust in. For example, it was he, Dr. Olaokun Soyinka, son of Prof. Wole Soyinka and Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi, a renowned Professor of International Affairs and former minister of Foreign Affairs who planned the first international conference of pro-democracy that involved the home-based and exile activists. He was however best known for the establishment and running of Radio Freedom on FM which became the most potent and virulent instrument against the coercive government of Gen. Sani Abacha. The government was able to close down the frequency modulation band and declared the operators wanted but this was just a temporary set back that provided a window into a wider spectrum, as it turned out.
But this adversity did not deter him. His brilliant success at managing what was then known as pirate radio, encouraged Prof. Wole Soyinka who had to throw his weight behind an alternative plan to have a short-wave radio station that could be hosted in a neighbouring country or on the international sea. He made frequent trips to Oslo, Sweden and Stockholm in Norway to meet with who-is-who in the countries’ establishments.
Eventually, through the assistance of World Radio Network and Worldview, the short-wave radio station was born on Jun 12, 1996, the radio broadcast from Central London and was initially named Radio Freedom Nigeria but it later became Radio Democrat International which later became Radio Kudirat Nigeria, named after the wife of MKO Abiola, Mrs Kudirat Abiola who was savagely assassinated by the killing agents of the Abacha government.
Fayemi was also involved in behind-the-scene shuttles mostly on behalf of NALICON and NADECO. He was the link man for the many international diplomatic efforts to get supports from the major nations of the world to mount pressure on the military regime to end their reign and hand over to the winner of June 12 election. In one of such diplomatic shuttles, he nearly got arrested in Benin Republic by the agents of the regime which had identified Benin Republic as the famed NADECO Route and were spying on the movements of those they identify as subversive elements.
In all of this, Erelu Bisi Fayemi was an active inspiration and a strong pillar of support who was also involved in many of the public rallies with their young son in her arms. She also provided the home support and understanding in spite of the inevitable marital absenteeism of the time. So as we remember and celebrate the first nationwide celebration of June 12, we must pay adequate tribute to many heroes of the struggle, living or dead, who contributed in no small measure to ensure the freedom we enjoy today. It is personal fulfilment and a recognition of their sacrifice that the Day has now dotted a prominent position in the chapter of the nation’s evolving history.
Dr. Sunday Aniyi is Senior Special Assistant to Ekiti State Governor.