TWENTY-SIX years after it became a landmark date in the Nigeria’s contemporary political history and twenty years into the fourth republic that the June 12 struggles ushered, Nigeria marked her first national commemoration of the day, yesterday. It was successful but a lot of the hangover of the June 12 thing still linger.
Yesterday, the country recorded her first observation of June 12 as a national democracy day. The date refers to one day in the mid rainy season of 1993 when Nigeria staged a presidential election with a novel voting formular dubbed, Option A4, which brought every voter out to stand behind the candidate of his choice or his agent. Through the Option A4, candidate of defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP), Moshood Kashimawo Olawole Abiola (aka MKO) won against the flag bearer of National Republican Congress (NRC) Bashir Tofa.
Early results from that election showed that the Abeokuta, Ogun State-born billionaire, Alhaji Abiola trumped Tofa, a Kano State born business man in a landslide victory that tended to sweep across the country but the federal military government of the time, headed by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, abruptly stopped the declaration of the result.
The late M.K.O, a devout moslem even won in Tofa’s Kano. Interestingly, the victor ran for the polls with a vice presidential candidate, Alhaji Babagana Kingibe who is also moslem.
Both the ‘moslem-and-moslem’ ticket and the two-party contest were novel developments in Nigeria politics.
Annulment of the general election, midway into the announcement of the results (with the figures from 14 out of the then 30 states of Nigeria already made public) by the chairman of the National Electoral Commission (NEC), Prof. Humphrey Nwosu was unprecedented in Nigeria’s history. Shock of the sudden action of the military government of Babangida sparked off a flurry of protest and unusual media sensation across country.
For seven years, Nigeria boiled and simmered in tension. First reaction of the military, amid the protests was to sacrifice the third republic that was budding then. Everything about the then on-going third republic and civil rule was abruptly ended.
Nothing but bad press came out of Nigeria as the nation suddenly became pariah in the comity of nations. M.K.O. declared himself president in a rally held in Epetedo, Lagos Island, Lagos State and the government went after him. He was jailed. IBB’s reign ended abruptly in 1994 as he handed over to a civilian in an arrangement dubbed Interim Presidency.
Nigeria tinkered with the idea of an interim presidency under Ernest Shonekan – a chattered accountant and technocrat from Abeokuta. Within a couple of months ,the largely unpopular venture failed with a military coup de tat through which the late Gen. Sani Abacha emerged as head of state. He ruled for four years with stern authority but died in power amid curious circumstances.
M.K.O. also died in mysterious conditions within one month of Abacha’s. But Nigeria’s political impasse lingered. Street protests marked by killings, underground media broadcasts and all manner of vexed guerilla publications further corroded the image of the country. Activism and destablising political campaigns rented the air. Many young professionals fled the country to take refuge abroad under the claim that they are fleeing from military and state victimisation. Around the world, Nigeria was everything bad and nothing good.
Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar rose to power in 1998 after Abacha’s sudden death. He promised a transition to democracy in one year which not many believed. But it happened on May 29, 1999, as he handed over to Olusegun Obasanjo who became the founding president of Nigeria’s fourth republic.
Like MKO , OBJ was of the Egba sub-tribe in Yoruba land and Abeokuta-born. Chief Obasanjo was also a retired army general and an ex-military ruler of Nigeria. Given his being vocal during the June 12 struggle, he was jailed. But during the preliminaries of the 1999 presidential election, he was released from prison and sponsored by the powers that be to run for Nigeria’s presidency, under the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) stable. He won. His miraculous emergence from prison to presidency was largely deemed a general agreement by Nigerians to pacify the Ogun (Yoruba) people who bore the major stabs of the annulment of the June 12, 1993 elections.
For eight years, 1999 to 2007, OBJ reigned but June 12 was never recognised. All through the period, the date was largely marked by South West States of Nigeria. Thereafter, it became an event only acknowledged in some of the Yoruba (South Western) States. In the past five years, only Ogun, Lagos, and one or two south western states staged events to mark June 12.
When last year, President Muhammadu Buhari’s government recognised June 12 and proclaimed it Nigeria’s new Democracy Day, many did not believe what they heard. None believed that such a gesture could come from the current Federal Government.
Reasons for the surprise abound. Being Kastina-State-born, Buhari, a retired Army General who was at one time, a military head of state, has a background, like OBJ’s never hinted such tendency. He was not known to have openly commented or supported the June 12 effusions in the past. He also served in the late Abacha’s government of 1994 to 1998.
The characteristic frenzy and caucuses generated by pro-June 12 quests particularly with the emergence of a pro-Yoruba agenda body named NADECO (National Democratic Coalition formed in May 15, 1994) and the vocal media organs as the underground broadcaster, Radio Kudirat tended to turn the June 12 issue into a Yoruba affair.
It was such that when the presidency of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan moved to immortalise M.K.O. by renaming the University of Lagos Moshood Kolawole Abiola University in 2014, the initiative was roundly rejected even with street protests, prompting suspicions that activist and people emotionally attached to the cause would only appreciate or accept such gestures from one of theirs.
Equally, there was already an established national Democracy Day, May 29 that holds less than a fortnight before June 12, which was established since OBJ’s civilian presidency in 1999.
How President Buhari would joggle the two dates, and convince the National Assembly to preserve same was a puzzle then.
With the first edition of Nigeria’s June 12 Democracy Day held successfully yesterday, the hurdles seem scaled. A bold statement to that effect is Mr. President’s naming of National Stadium Abuja after M.K.O. yesterday. Abiola died as Nigeria’s Pillar of Sports. He loved and invested heavily in sports. He owned a prominent football club, Abiola Babes, among other sports philanthropies.
However, the other tasks with the date are still formidable and they have to be surmounted. Given the perception of June 12 as a heavily pro-Yoruba thing, there are needs for the federal government to evolve a very ingenuous initiative that will pacify other vexed parts of the country. This will elevate the initiative from being a palliative or placebo to a cure of at least one of the many ailments of the land – disunity.
Presidential recognition of other victims of the June 12 struggle apart from MKO, Mr. Kingibe and the late Gani Fawehinmi such as the late Chima Ubani, Bamidele Aturu, Olisa Agbakoba, Alfred Rewane, Frank Kokori, among others will draw the party home.
More so, a land that fetes democracy should actively protect democratic norms and institutions. So far, the June 12 as democracy day celebration has not missed step. But the fire it stokes needs a lot of tripod and faggots to provide enough flames that will light up the currently, cold nation.
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