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June 12: The struggle, lessons

The June 12 struggle was a tortuous one. The historic presidential election was annulled in 1993 by the Military President, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida. The advocacy for the recognition and what the election stands for lasted 25 years. Dove Bulletin examines the lessons and how they may impact positively on the future of the country.

The June 12, 1993 presidential election has become a watershed in Nigeria’s political history. It is a turning point in our political odyssey after the collapse of the first and second republics. It was an election in which Nigerians voted according to the dictates of their conscience, and not along ethnic and religious lines.

On this day, millions of Nigerians from diverse ethnic group and religions voted overwhelmingly for the late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and his running mate, Baba Gana Kingibe, both of them were Muslims. The election was adjudged as the fairest and freest the country has ever had.

The election was widely believed to have been won by Abiola who defeated Basir Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC). The result never declared as the election was annulled by the military President, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida on June 21, 1993 citing electoral irregularities. The annulment led to protests and political unrest that consumed hundreds of lives and properties. The end result was that Babangida was stampeded out of office.

At the height of the June 12 struggle, notable voices were killed in their homes including Pa Alfred Rewane and Mrs Kudirat Abiola who was mauled down on the streets of Lagos for daring to insist on the release of her husband. Till today, Abiola’s death in the hand of the state is still shrouded in official secrecy. He was silenced, betrayed by those he thought he knew too well to distrust.

The struggle by well meaning Nigerians to revalidate Abiola’s annulled mandate demonstrated the resilience and commitment of our people to put an end to military rule in Nigeria and install a democratically elected government. The ideals unarguably continue to live in the minds of the ordinary Nigerians, who for the first time actually exercised their rights to participate in true democracy.

On June 6, 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari recognised June 12, 1993 election and the late Abiola and his running mate, Kingibe as winners. The Buhari administration has also declared June 12 as democracy day in Nigeria. Analysts say the official recognition of June 12 has kick started evolutionary trends in our presidential system of government. They said: “Buhari’s recognition and official designation of June 12 as democracy day is a proof that the matyrs of the June 12 struggle didn’t die in vain. Thus, making June 12 a public holiday in Nigeria is a commendable memorialising our fallen democratic heroes and heroines, who died in the course of defending the popular will and the struggle for the enthronement of democracy in Nigeria. The truth is June 12 has become a guide to where we are coming from, how we got to where we are today, where we are going and what we need to get there”.

To some advocate of true democracy, June 12 election represents Nigerian people’s revolution. It was to the Hausa what it was for the Igbo and Yoruba, Nupe or Ijaw. It soared above religion, tribe social status or personal ambition. The winner of June 12 may have died but left us with lessons of democracy- from what democracy truly means, to the power of joining forces, the power of courage and the fact that Nigerians can overcome their differences to midwife change.

Abiola’s victory demonstrated that Nigerians are more concerned with a true leader and what he stands for rather than his geo-political background and political affiliation. Abiola, a southerner won more votes in the north and even defeated his opponent Tofa in his home state, Kano.

There is another strong lesson to learn from Abiola’s travail in the quest for democracy, that is courage. The ability and preparedness to stand up for one’s right and beliefs even at serious personal cost was amply demonstrated by the symbol of June 12. In the face of his stolen mandate, Abiola was resolute, not minding the risk to his vast business empire and stupendous wealth. While the military bared its fangs, he refused to recant. He stood his ground, safe in the knowledge that he had the backing of Nigerian masses that after all, voted for him.

He dared the bullets of the military, declared himself president and fought until the end.The struggle that follows his demise more than anything else, demonstrated that Nigerians couldn’t be taken for granted by either the military or any civilian dictator for that matter.

The recognition of June 12 presidential election has proved that truth can never be suppressed for life. No matter how long it takes, truth will prevail. As Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka puts it: “Dictators are free to annul the succession of day and night, the succession of drought and rain, but no mortal power either in this world or in any other human habitation, can annul the truth of June 12 election . It was that truth that nerved Moshood Abiola to emerge and re-present himself to the people in the famous declaration of Epetedo to reclaim his mandate”.

The truth of June 12 was amplified when President Buhari tendered apology on behalf of the country to the family of Abiola. The president who tendered the apology during his remarks on the Special National Honours Investiture of Abiola with the award of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR), the highest in the country, said the decision to hold the event was not an attempt to open any wounds but to right the wrongs adding that June 12 produced unity and national cohesion. His speech at the occasion dwelt extensively on lessons of June 12.

Buhari noted that for inexplicable reasons, the then military government of the day cancelled the election when it was clear Chief Abiola was winning. He said Nigerians will no longer tolerate such pervasion of justice and that the decision to recognise June 12 was in the national interest even as he pleaded to Nigerians irrespective of political affiliations to accept the decision in good faith.

“We cannot rewind the past but we can at least assuage our feelings, recognise that a wrong has been committed and resolve to stand firm now and ease the future for the sanctity of free elections. Nigerians will no longer tolerate such perversion of justice. This retrospective and posthumous recognition is only a symbolic token of redress and recompense for the grievous injury done to the peace and unity of the country”.

He explained that “our decision to recognise and honour June 12 and its actors is in the national interest. It is aimed at setting national healing process and reconciliation of the festering wound caused by the annulment of the elections. The move is intended to bury the negative side of June 12, the side of ill-feelings, hate, frustrations and agony. What we are doing is celebrating and appreciating the positive side of June 12; the June 12, which restates democracy and freedom; the June 12 that overcomes our various divide and the June 12 that promote unity and national cohesion. This is the June 12 we are celebrating today and we will nurture it to our next generation.

“As you are all aware, nation building requires the sacrifice of all citizens. We must therefore imbibe the moral rectitude to look into our past with pride and take lessons from our rich history to draw a roadmap for the present and future development of our great country. We must also recognise the efforts of our heroes of democracy. It is in commemoration of this day, the spirit of which should be internalised in the consciousness of Nigerians of all ages and taught to our children and generations of Nigerians yet unborn.”

Many Nigerians had lost hope on June 12 struggle until after 25 years that God used Buhari as instrument to recognise and heal the wounds of June 12. Abiola’s daughter , Hafsat recalled the long wait saying “when Abiola died, we accepted his body and watch Nigeria year after year until 25th year. Who would have ever believed that you (Buhari) would be the instrument God will use to honour this man and bring recognition, and healing to the country.” This was because Buhari and Abiola’s path never crossed while the hero of June 12 was alive. It was widely believed that Abiola sponsored the coup that ousted Buhari from office as military Head of State in December 1983. The irony is that it was the same Babangida that annulled the June 12 presidential election and stopped Abiola from assumption of office as a democratically elected president of Nigeria. Who could have thought that Buhari would have been magnanimous to heal the wound of June 12 and recognise Abiola as the winner of the historic election. If not for Buhari “Hope 93” could have been deferred in perpetuity.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, a Yoruba and Egba man like Abiola ruled from 1999 to 2003. For eight years in office, he didn’t mention June 12 election. Rather he said Abiola was not the messiah that Nigeria needs to impress those who installed him in office. What he failed to do has been corrected by a Fulani man. The lesson here is that a leader should be courageous to do what is right, rather than looking at issues from the perspective of personal interest.

A former June 12 activist, Joe Igbokwe regretted that Abiola was not allowed to rule this country. He argued that if Abiola had been allowed to rule for eight years, Nigeria will not be where it is today. According to him: “Abiola would have brought to bear his cognate and very deep experience in business world to transform Nigeria, he would have brought the hope he promised Nigerians, he would have utilised our oil revenue to transform Nigeria s a chartered accountant and he would have changed for the better Nigeria’s course of history. Denying Chief Abiola his mandated caused Nigeria a great setback. Today, the annulment of the mandate is still haunting us.”

Igbokwe asked other ethnic nationalities in the country to learn lesson of perseverance from the Yoruba people. He recalled that “what happened from June 12, 1993 to July 7, 1998 provoked the Yoruba nation to hate other Nigerians especially the Hausa/Fulani and Igbo for decimating mandate given to their illustrious son and killing him thereafter. But Yoruba didn’t go to war. If Yoruba had gone to war where would they have been today?

“What would have happened if Igbo or Hausa suffered what Yoruba went through? I have no doubt in my mind that they would have gone to war. But see what tact, common sense, education, intelligence, civilisation and power of critical thinking can do in the life of a wise people. The same Yoruba was later to form an alliance with Hausa/Fulani in 2014 to box Igbo and their collaborators in the South-South to a corner in 2015 general elections.

“The lesson here is that there are no permanent foes or friends in politics. If you can wait and not tired of waiting the world and everything in it belong to you. Chief Abiola would have given up his mandate and still be alive but he chose the path of human dignity to liberate his people. Chief Abiola’s supreme sacrifice gave way to Democracy Day we are celebrating today.

“I don’t know any Nigerian multi-billionaire today who will do what Abiola did, yet other people will think Yoruba are cowards. Perish the thought. They are the toughest and most advanced Nigerian I know today. Today, is South West not better than those seek to humiliate and destroy them? Those who seek and decimate others suffer more than their victims. June 12 lives on.”

One major lesson of June 12 which Nigeria is yet to key into is the adoption of a two party system. There were only two parties for the contest: SDP and NRC. Even though the parties were imposed by the military but Nigerians aligned with the one that suits their ideology. The limitation of parties to two accelerated the collation of results.

Today, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has about 60 political parties on its register. Observers say the unwieldy size of registered political parties has made the conduct of elections cumbersome. They even made reference to the example of the United States of America, where Nigeria copied its presidential system of government: the country has two major political parties: the Republican and Democrat. The All Progressive Congress (APC) was able to defeat the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party because several parties came together to form a bigger platform, to give it more leverage at the poll. The formation of APC was made possible through the coming together of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC); the former Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN); the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and a faction of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). The lesson here is that most of the political parties dotting the political landscape are not viable. They should be urged to merge to save INEC the challenges associated with having too many parties on the ballot.

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