IT WAS a surprise to commemorate 29 years of ‘June 12’, last Sunday.
Just like yesterday, Saturday, June 12, 1993 comes fresh in memory. The duo of long lines of water filed in front of ballot boxes across country as we cast our votes for Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC) and Moshood Kasimawo Olawole (M.K.O.) Abiola of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in that day’s presidential election, across to the Option A4 requirements of the defunct National Electoral Commission (NEC).
IT was clement weather. The Option A4 rule made the voting process fast, and the collation of results even faster. All the ambiguity of sorting ballots, pooling polls in another location, away from the polling stations and keeping voters second-guessing who won in their voting units were absent. Everyone knew the line his neighbour stood in as those for the NRC flag bearer stood in his queue and got counted there while those for the SDP Candidate filed in his line and got clearly identified. Everything was done ‘in the open’ in open space.
As at evening of the day, results have begun to emerge from across Nigeria. Then Chairman of NEC, Prof Humphrey Nwosu announced the numbers as there were collated, state after states in live broadcast on nationwide television network. As the results were reeled out, the likelihood of M.K.O., the SDP flag bearer whose campaign was tagged ‘Hope 93’ winning Tofa by a landslide victory became increasingly evident.
M.K.O. who hailed from Abeokuta, Ogun State defeated Tofa in his native Kano State with cast margin, in the result Nwosu announced. Announcement of the results continued until the next day and M.K.O. was coasting home to resounding victory. Then suddenly, the announcement stopped.
By Monday, June 14, the streets were agog with protests. The Military Administration of the Military President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, in damage control explained that the “annulment” of the election was in national interest. The development further aggravated the angst on the streets, especially in the urban and suburban cities of southern Nigeria.
The role was unprecedented as efforts to talk it over by the then ruling supreme military council headed by IBB or to get M.K.O or anybody who could influence him or sway public opinion was futile.
Nigeria speedily descended into a political imbroglio. The mass media sold the news in huge number of copies with the tag headline, ‘political impasse’. The country lived in political, social, economic and diplomatic quagmire.
The country, overnight became patriarch nation. Bonfires marked the streets. Things boilt like simmering water. When the heat burnt and fluxed like volcano valva, particularly in Lagos and the cities of south west, Nigeria, the nation’s military rulers hurriedly moved the seat of federal government from Lagos to the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja in the relatively calmer Northern part of Nigeria.
Later, IBB vacated power and handed over to an Interim National Government (ING) headed by Ernest Shonekan, an Abeokuta native like M.K.O. but the tension continued. A lot of guerrilla newspapers with bloody print runs and underground broadcast stations that spoke daggers emerged on vendor’s stands. A daily staple of sensational reports that screamed death, doom and doldrums was the norm across country.
The ranks of journalists, activists, and self-serving mediators grew in leaps and bounds. Some diplomats showed undisguised biases for their causes. Initially, M.K.O. fled Nigeria in a short exile that ended in his sudden return to make the Etiosa Declaration in which he declared himself president and said he has returned to assume office. Events moved faster and more frenzied thereafter, and he was incarcerated. A coup de tat happened and the late Gen. Sani Abacha pushed out Chief Shonekan. It was a fisty era.
Nigeria suffered local and global bad press for over six years and nobody coming up with acceptable solution. Within the period, Lagos-based activism overshadowed pro-June 12 protests or sentiments from other parts of Nigeria as Yoruba-nationalism issues rose to mingle and blend with the quest, the cross country condemnation of the annulment of the election got misconstrued as a south-western Nigeria issue instead of the national clamour it was originally.
So, it did not take long before it became erroneously deemed a South-West versus the rest of Nigeria matter. Even with the period of the impasse, there was a mass exodus from South-West by non-Yoruba people living in the zone in 1995.
The ‘Oso Abiola’ (Abiola Exodus) saga as it was tagged in Igbo signalled the keenness in some quarters to totally subsume the June 12 phenomenon in Yoruba nationality agitation which not majority pro-M.K.O. campaigners in Lagos and larger South-West subscribe to, but the move helped sequester some other Nigerians.
The truth is that June 12 was not an exclusive South-West or Yoruba issue. It is a Pan-Nigerian Phenomenon. It is also not an exclusively, human rights activists’, populist lawyers’, vocal South-West politicians’ and then Lagos-based journalists or leftist writers’ venture, there were many more persons who invested all they had in the heady quest to actualise M.K.O’s mandate. Many paid very extreme prices.
As a young reporter, practicing in Lagos and environ during the era, I cannot recount how many deaths, destructions and live-damning dangerous developments that one witnessed. Many very young ones comprising pupils, teenagers, undergraduates and graduate students died on the streets during protests.
Even as trigger-happy soldiers, especially during Abacha’s reign, were busy gunning down or gassing perceived enemies of the military government and renegades as every participant in the street actions (including journalists who were doing their jobs) some lads still did the unimaginable to express their disgust with the development.
One recalls the case of three teenagers, Richard Ogunderu (19), Kabir Adenuga (18) and Kenny Rasaq Lawal (19) and the 20-year-old Benneth Oluwadaisi.
On October 25, 1993 they hijacked a Nigerian Airways Airbus A310, flying from Lagos to the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja and diverted the plane to Niamey, Niger Republic to communicate their dissatisfaction with the annulment of the June 12 polls.
The lads boarded the flight at the Murtala Mohammed Airport (MMA), Ikeja alongside others. As the aircraft made for landing in Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, Abuja they announced: “Ladies and gentlemen, this plane has been taken over by the Movement for the Advancement of Democracy. Remain calm, we will not harm you. You will be told where the plane will land you. You do not move or you die”.
Leader of the operation, Ogunderu, made for the cockpit and ordered the pilot to divert the plane to Germany as they distributed a printed message stating the purpose of their action as quest for overturn of June 12 annulment among passengers but the pilot pleaded that the fuel in the tank was not enough to fly over the Atlantic Ocean and suggested they divert to nearby country, Niger or they would crash and everybody would die.
After intense exchanges, the plane landed in Niamey, Niger Republic. The airport was surrounded by hundreds of armed Nigeriène soldiers at the airport. The hijackers gave the government 72 hours to meet their demands or they would detonate the explosives they had planted all over the plane.
For three days the aircraft stood on the Niamey tarmac and all over the global media space Nigeria was trending for the odd development until the Nigeriène military, under the guise of bringing water and food into the plane for the hijackers, passengers and crew, discovered that the hijackers were neither armed nor had any explosives planted therein and disarmed the group under the cloak of dark night. Nothing has been heard of Ogunderu, Adenuga, Oluwadaisi and Lawal ever since except that they were taken to a Nigeriène prison from the airport that night.
Beyond the very criminal, Robin Hood-like extreme action of the quartet there are many instances of young and old Nigerians who did things to actualise the June 12 from several parts of Nigeria including those that were not reported in press.
From Harry Marshal to Alfred Rewane among others who were not South-West natives but died in the struggle there were those who did not die in it like Ndubuisi Kanu, Ebitu Ukiwe, Anthony Enahoro and many more. June 12 means a lot more to Nigeria and Nigerians than recognition of those fought for the return of democratic rule in Nigeria or those who are current beneficiaries of the democracy by virtue of touting ‘June 12’.
It is also not about where M.K.O. hailed from. It is about Nigerians and their spirit of Nigerianness; the collective suffrage of all Nigerians; and the peoples united resistance of dictatorship, injustice and impunity.