AS Nigerians commemorate the 27th anniversary of the annulled historic June 12, 1993 presidential election won by the Late Bashorun Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola and Democracy Day on Friday, the citizenry should ensure that the contributions made by the heroes and heroines of the political watershed, some of whom paid the supreme sacrifice in the aborted struggle to revalidate the poll, are not in vain.
We demand too, as a matter of national priority, that the ideals which the entrepreneur/politician fought for including restoring hope to the hopeless; abolition of poverty; ensuring socio-economic justice for all, as well as peace, equity and sustainable development in the land should be given seriuos attention by serving public office holders for the benefit of all.
President Muhammadu Buhari, we recall, had directed that effective 2019 Nigeria’s Democracy Day, marked every May 29 since 1999, be shifted to June 12 to honour M.K.O. Abiola. Though Abiola was coasting to victory going by data obtained from the Prof. Humphrey Nwosu then led National Electoral Commission of Nigeria, he was never formally declared winner by the military regime of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida.
Rather and regrettably too, the business mogul was later imprisoned by Babangida’s successor and the late Military Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha, as he fought to actualize his mandate. He died in prison on July 7, 1998 while Abacha also died on June 8, of the same year.
Besides, prior to Abiola’s demise, his wife, Kudirat, and some notable Yoruba leaders and other martyrs of democracy such as Alhaja Suliat Adedeji; Vice Admiral Babatunde Elegbede, and Toyin Onagoruwa, had been murdered in cold blood.
Chieftains of the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, like the late Chief Abraham Adesanya; the late Chief Bola Ige, the late Olaniwun Ajayi; Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Ayo Opadokun and others, were either hounded or incarcerated, while some great minds like the Nobel Laureate Prof. Wole Soyinka, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Dr. Kayode Fayemi were forced into exile
Sadly, however, it is also on record that successive Peoples Democratic Party, PDP- led Federal Government ignored strident calls from Nigerians for Abiola to be given his right of place through a posthumous honour and for the government to recognize June 12 as Democracy Day as against May 29th of every year that was subsisting.
The clarion calls surprisingly found a listening ear in President Buhari, himself a former dictator, who, against expectations, declared that Abiola be conferred with Nigeria’s highest honour, the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic, GCFR, hitherto reserved for sitting and former Presidents.
Similarly, Abiola’s running mate in that election, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, who had betrayed the quest by his principal to retrieve the stolen mandate, was conferred with the second highest award of the Grand Commander of the Niger, GCON. The late Nigeria’s foremost pro-democracy activist, legal luminary and one of the heroes of June 12, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, bagged GCON to the applause of the people.
Justifying the choice of June 12 then as the new watershed in the nation’s turbulent political history, the Presidency declared: “For the past 18 years, Nigerians have been celebrating May 29th as Democracy Day. That was the date when for the second time in our history, an elected civilian administration took over from a military government. The first time this happened was on October 21, 1979.
“But in the view of Nigerians, as shared by this Administration, June 12th, 1993, was far more symbolic of Democracy in the Nigerian context than May 29th or even the October 1st. June 12th, 1993 was the day when Nigerians in millions expressed their democratic will in what was undisputedly the freest, fairest and most peaceful election 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”.
We totally agree with this submission and insist that the current Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and the voters have many positives to take from our past experience by striving always to ensure the integrity of the ballot through credible and violence-free polls devoid of electoral infractions in the future as recorded in 1993.
Apart from strengthening the electoral process, in our view, another take away from the cancelled exercise, is that the average Nigerian voter is much concerned about the credibility, capability of the candidates rather than their ethnic stock or religion considering that both Abiola and his running mate in that election, of the defunct Social Democratic Party, SDP, were both Muslims but defeated a Muslim/Christian ticket of the National Republican Convention, NRC, of Bashir Tofa and Sylvester Ugoh.
That historic election, we further note, saw Abiola defeating his opponent even in his home state, Kano, by a wide margin in a free and fair contest without any shot fired from any quarters, which is a clear difference from what obtained during polls in post- June 12, 1993 whereby electoral contests have been lost and won by the superiority of party manifestoes but pursued as a do-or-die affair.
We implore the political class to imbibe the spirit of sportsmanship and view every election as a game that a winner and loser must emerge and change their current attitude of winning at all cost with members of the same political party due to selfish reasons are at dagger’s drawn just on the mode of primary whether direct or indirect to be adopted like the current tango between Edo State chapter of the All Progressives Congress, APC, and its national leadership.
In our view also and that of believers, divine dimension could not be totally ruled out in the events preceding the election annulment and the fate that befell the major actors which we consider hard evidence that man should first and foremost build his trust and hope in God and not his fellow men who can disappoint and betray him as most Abiola’s close friends did during the travails.
Another lesson for all and posterity is that in politics, like a former President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt, averred, “Nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way” which is also a confirmation of prominent author Patience Johnson, who noted that: “In politics, no permanent friends, no permanent enemies but permanent interest”, or else how can one explain Kingibe’s betrayal of the presidential candidate and the electorate to embrace a military dictator at the time.
Perhaps the life lesson that must be learnt by all we believe, is that truth, however long, shall always prevail over falsehood and there is reward for standing for justice and what is right which, we also believe, influenced the recognition given Chief Fawehinmi, who alongside hundreds of other patriots in the human rights community and pro-democracy activists, stood firm for the revalidation of the cancelled election even at grave personal risk though unsuccessfully.
We challenge the Presidency and members of the National Assembly to see the anniversary as an opportunity to reflect deeply on the challenges of insecurity, poverty, unemployment, epileptic power supply, corruption, high cost of governance, comatose health sector, as well as non-adherence to the federal character principle, the clamor for restructuring and true federalism, among others still confronting Nigeria almost 60 years after the country’s independence in 1960 with a view to proffering permanent workable solutions to them, achieve the dreams of the founding fathers and reinforce the historical significance, the pains, the sacrifices, the losses and the lessons of the annulled election.
For a better society