Democracy @ 20: In praise of MD Yusuf (1931 –2015)

Nigeria makes history this Wednesday as it observes June 12th as the new Democracy day.

Undoubtedly the focus would be on the historic role of Chief Moshood Abiola, (the leading star actor of the annulled 1993 presidential elections) in the struggle for democracy. Having paid the supreme sacrifice with his life in the process of actualizing his presumed mandate, Chief Abiola earned a deserved posthumous honour President Muhammadu Buhari commendably conferred on him last year. His running mate Baba Gana Kinkigbe was also honored.

This week many honors would be conferred on some  heroes and heroines of democracy by both the state and non-state pro-democracy actors alike.

However in qualitative terms, few of the democracy honorees actually shared the triple values of “class suicide”, audacity and genuine political commitment with the late Chief  Moshood Abiola like the late Alhaji Muhammadu Dikko Yusufu, popularly called M D Yusuf.

Lest we forget, the late M. D Yusuf  was the third  Inspector General of the Nigerian Police Force, (from 1975 to 1979). He was preceded by the most referred IGP, Alhaji Kam Salem. M D Yusuf in 1994 was also the chairman of the  Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG). With aristocratic background, Alhaji Yusuf by all means was an establishment man like late Chief M K O Abiola, a money bag, a bold face of national and international capitalism.

Yet both MKO and MD committed, (as it were!)  some forms of “class suicide”. Motivated by patriotism, the passion for democracy, passion for the poor and social justice the two courageously challenged the military dictators through open participation in politics. The two also audaciously stood to be counted as candidates for the presidency at the time it was not fashionable and certainly risky to do so. It would be recalled that Alhaji Muhammadu Dikko Yusufu headed the Grassroots Democratic Movement (GDM) in Nigeria during the period of transition to democracy launched by General Sani Abacha in 1997–1998.

The organization which also had late  Dr Tunji Braithwaite as a presidential aspirant proclaimed unapologetically a popular radical left wing programme of socio-political revolution for Nigeria. GDM was one of the five registered political parties during Abacha military dictatorship.

Abacha played the legendary hide-and-seek political game, refused to openly declare interest in the presidential election slated for 1st of August 1998.

However through subterfuge and intimidation, he got the five registered parties to adopt him as their sole candidate. Only GDM was forced to hold a convention to elect its presidential candidate. And only MD Yusuf insisted to contest. Dr Tunji Brauthwaite withdrew on the day of the Emergency Convention.

True to his audacity and insistence on the “Right to Choose”, Alhaji MD Yusuf took far reaching legal and political action against what he described as “a political fraud” by the leadership of GDM to adopt General Sani Abacha as its candidate at the contrived convention in Maiduguri on Sunday 19th of April 1988. He protested in a celebrated letter to the party chairman, Gambo  Lawan.

Not done, he went further and also took a legal action in the court of law challenging the legality of adoption of General Sani Abacha. The General died at the height of  this singular historic resistance of the Late MD Yusuf against dictatorship. MD Yusuf’s political activism continued after the transition in 1999. “After the April 2003 elections, both Muhammadu Buhari of the ANPP and Dikko Yusufu, who had run as presidential candidate of the Movement for Democracy and Justice (MDJ), challenged the election victory by President Obasanjo. However, in June 2003, Muhammadu Dikko Yusufu, said that defeated contestants who were not ready to go to court should accept their defeat in good faith.”

President Buhari, by honoring MKO certainly gave the correct signal that never again would any group of people violate the mandate of Nigerian people through mandate annulment.

However we must also appreciate those few courageous establishment men and women like MD Yusuf who risked everything to raise the banner of democracy during and after military dictatorship era. May his soul and that of others who have passed on rest in  eternal peace.

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