June 12, 1993 remained a watershed in the democratic history of Nigeria till PMB did the inevitable needful this year and the nationwide commendation is a testimony to the mass yearning for such rightness of a perceived wrong. June 12, 1993 is not a mere date but a phenomenon that symbolizes the end of military incursion in the administration of our polity Nigeria. From the look of things, the series of significant events leading to signposting June 12, 1993 as the rightful Democracy day are too numerous and too major to be forgotten 25 years after.
Baba Obasanjo harvested the gains of the struggle of NADECO, CSOs etc because bad conscience wrapped the nation following the death of MKO that compelled the nation to zero-in on two Yoruba candidates in the 1999 presidential election. This is not in the character of Nigeria given her heterogeneous nature. It is common knowledge that Baba Obasanjo in 1999 did not possess the electoral and financial resources to win presidential election in this country. Infact he drew electoral strength from others and failed to deliver his immediate constituency and his region. This is a clear pointer to his electioneering deficits.
Obviously the delay in recognizing the importance of June 12, 1993 in our political history stems out of Baba Obasanjo’s self-interest and his lack of political will. Apparently Baba Obasanjo’s stand-point explains the nonchalance of Late Umar Yar’adua and former President Good Ebele Jonathan on the issue, hence the 25 years delay.
Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola was the winner of the 1993 presidential election that was subsequently annulled by then-military Head of State, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB). He was imprisoned in 1994 by military junta late General Sani Abacha where he died in custody under suspicious circumstances on July 7, 1998, four years after his arrest and a month after Abacha suddenly died 8 June 1998.
In a press statement released on Wednesday, June 6, 2018, President Buhari bestowed the highest honour of the land on MKO to symbolise his contribution to the nation’s democratic history.He also awarded Abiola’s running mate Baba Gana Kingibe with a Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON), an award he also bestowed on the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN) for his human rights agitation for the actualization of the June 12th elections.
In his Wednesday announcement, President Buhari also disclosed that June 12 will replace May 29 as the official Democracy Day because it’s a more symbolic date. Forget the politics, Buhari’s June 12 declaration is a masterstroke,
Buhari said: “June 12, 1993 was the day when Nigerians in millions expressed their democratic will in what was undisputedly the freest, fairest and most peaceful elections since our independence. The fact that the outcome of that election was not upheld by the then military government does not distract from the democratic credentials of that process.
Buhari’s pronouncements are even more heartwarming because for 19 years, the political elite (save for those in the Southwest) carried on as though June 12 never happened.
Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who was the first beneficiary of the June 12 struggle, refused to mention Abiola or the date the nation’s mandate was heartlessly stolen. For 8 years as civilian president, Obasanjo never acknowledged the relevance of June 12 or the supreme price Abiola paid for the actualization of the June 12 mandate.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which governed Nigeria for 16 years, treated June 12 with disdain and silence. It was as though the mere mention of June 12 made members of the PDP cringe. How they hated it!
For some members of the political class in the fourth republic, June 12 was a date they didn’t want to hear or acknowledge. They would rather bury their heads in the sand. Administration after administration passed up the opportunity to commemorate June 12 or drum up its significance.
Yet facts will remain stubborn. On June 12, 1993, Nigerians voted across ethnic and religious lines to elect MKO Abiola their president.
When the National Electoral Commission (NEC) headed by Prof Humphrey Nwosu, began rolling out the results on June 15, 1993, Abiola was winning the election with 60 percent of the votes declared in 14 States.
Abiola’s Social Democratic Party (SDP) was thrashing Bashir Tofa’s National Republican Convention (NRC) across the country. Only in two States, Kebbi and Sokoto, did Abiola fail to obtain at least one third of the votes cast.
Abiola was comprehensively winning the 1993 election in 19 of the nation’s 30 States, including in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) of Abuja. He was a popular politician who ran an infectious and viral campaign. It also helped that Abiola was a philanthropist.
On June 16, 1993, the Abuja High Court ordered Humphrey Nwosu and his NEC to suspend further announcement of the results.
Days later, then military President Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida (IBB) anulled the election.
With the polity becoming too hot for him to handle after the annulment, IBB announced he was “stepping aside” on August 26, 1993. The departing military despot installed Chief Ernest Shonekan to head an interim government whose sole mandate was to midwife Nigeria’s transition to democratic rule.
However, a certain General Sani Abacha had other ideas. On November 17, 1993, Abacha sacked Shonekan and announced himself president. Abacha ruled Nigeria with an iron fist until death came calling on June 8, 1998.
All along, Abiola was languishing in jail for declaring himself president on June 11, 1994 in Epetedo, Lagos. The military government of the day considered that declaration treasonable.
Abiola died in suspicious circumstances on July 7, 1998–the day he was supposed to be released from prison; after a visit from an American delegation led by then Assistant Secretary of State Susan Rice. Reports in the local media suggest Abiola died after sipping from a cup of tea handed him by Rice.
The federal government’s honour of Abiola and recognition of June 12 may have been long in coming, but it’s better late than never, as they say.
MKO Abiola’s mandate wasn’t only mindlessly stolen from him and from millions of Nigerians, he died while refusing to renounce said mandate. Abacha’s then Chief Security Officer (CSO) Hamza Al-Mustapha says Abiola was beaten and tortured in detention. He was told to give it all up, at gun point. But he didn’t. He was traumatised in Abacha’s gulag, but he remained unbowed.
With Abiola in detention, his wife Kudirat Abiola was gunned down in Lagos by Abacha’s goons. Pro-democracy campaigners were hounded across the country and most fled into exile. June 12 protests and peaceful marches were quelled with bullets and teargas canisters; and thousands of people fled Lagos to the hinterlands of the Southeast and South South. The military junta did everything to kill the June 12 spirit and dream.
There are those who hold the view that Buhari’s declaration was politically motivated and aimed at currying favour from the Southwest ahead of the 2019 vote. Whatever his motives, Buhari got this one spot on. At least, he’s honoured a man and a watershed date past governments didn’t even want to be associated with. If anything, we should be hailing the president’s inner circle and political advisers for even thinking this one up. For once, they deserve some accolades. And if the Southwest is appeased by this move and rewards Buhari with more votes in 2019, why should anyone blame them?
Nigeria’s democracy day shouldn’t be the one the military foisted on us (May 29), it should be the one where millions poured out to vote for one man, relegating their religious and ethnic inclinations to the background—for once. So long, May 29. Long live June 12.