By Chioma Gabriel, Editor Special Features
Air Commodore Dan Suleiman was a co-founder and the national vice chairman of the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, a group that fought and resisted Abacha after June 12 1993 election was annulled.
He was a member of the General Murtala Muhammed’s Supreme Military Council between July 1975 and March 1976, and was military governor of Plateau State from March 1976 to July 1978 after it had been created from part of the old Benue Plateau State.
After the return to democracy in 1999, Suleiman became chairman of the Middle Belt Forum (MBF), a socio-political group representing the people of the Middle Belt of Nigeria.
Will you say your purpose for joining NADECO was achieved?
Yes. We achieved our objective of installing democracy but what we have today is not what we agitated for. The politics we are practicing now, the politics of do or die is not it.
Democracy in Nigeria is too vicious and many of us are not happy with what is. It’s really very unfortunate, especially after reading what is happening across Nigeria in the newspapers. We need to do something for things to be better.
This politics of bitterness is not doing Nigeria well at all. That wasn’t our struggle. June 12 stands for free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria, not a do or die as we have it today. June 12 represents the will of Nigerians on how they want to be governed.
But the bitterness, acrimony, sectionalism and religiosity creeping into politics today has shifted the purpose of June 12. So, although we achieved our objective of installing democracy, politicians have ruined the purpose of democracy.
The military was in power during the agitation and the struggle was to push out the military. But they are still the ones in power today.
What we have today is different. Having a retired soldier in power is different from having a serving soldier. All over the world, military men have always come back to serve.
Several times in the United States, their presidents were people with military backgrounds. That is what we have in Nigeria. Democracy is open to all people despite their background. It does not exclude those who were soldiers. It is the voice of people that counts and that is what made June 12 1993 presidential election count. It was the people’s voice and their mandate given in a credible election. Unfortunately, so much water has passed under the bridge in our democracy today.
But you have no regrets being part of that struggle?
No regrets at all. We got what we wanted. We got democracy and we have had 19 years of uninterrupted democracy. The military has been returned to the barracks and that was what we fought for and that was what we got.
Some of the people who fought for democracy in this country especially those who went to exile are still counting their losses…
It happened to all of us. In my own case, I was arrested and charged for treason. My house in Lagos was burnt down and all my businesses were destroyed by the Abacha regime. But I have no regrets being part of the struggle to restore democracy in Nigeria. I’m proud that I participated in it.
After Abiola’s recognition do you think others involved in the struggle should be also recognised?
There is more to life than a national honour . Is it what the Abiola family will eat? It is good to have honoured Abiola but much more is required.
June 12 has been declared Democracy Day by the FG
It’s a good thing to have thought about that. It is long overdue and should be commended. There was no justification in celebrating May 29 as Democracy Day. June 12 is the ideal day and it has happened.
Do you believe President Buhari’s recognition of Abiola’s role was meant to score political points and hit at Obasanjo?
I think there is some substance in that analysis. It is a speculation with some elements of truth in it. It’s also a good thing for him to win the south west again if he is seeking re-election. But I don’t believe the gesture is to win the south west . June 12 is gone and will not change the political equation in Nigeria now. June 12 is not the only thing the south west thinks about, it is not the only thing the south west needs.
Why have you not been politically active since 1999?
I was a member of the PDP and became one of the leaders of the party in Adamawa. I was also the chairman of the Middle Belt Forum, a political pressure group for northern minorities. I was appointed the Nigerian Ambassador to the Russian Federation in June 2007. I also served in the Umaru Yar’Adua regime as chairman of the Rubber Research Institute of Nigeria.
What we need in Nigeria today is somebody that will bring viable leadership through free and fair election. That is what democracy is all about.
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