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Opinions of Saturday, 12 June 2021

Columnist: Emmanuel Oladesu

June 12 and vanity of struggle

June 12 protest June 12 protest

June 12, 1993, was a historic day. For the first time, Nigerians were united by the resolve to make the country a nation, contrary to its inherent contradiction as a plural social formation forcefully amalgamated in 1914 to serve the interest of the British.

The presidential election meant a lot to the electorate. They were in one accord. It was a moment of cardinal decision making. People trooped out to vote for the late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, the presidential candidate of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP). He defeated his rival, Othman Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC).

Today, those who participated at the poll recall that they voted in vain. They nurse the pain of an illusion of hope and wasted expectation.

Abiola had an impressive and irrepressible national outlook. Thus, he was endorsed at the poll by millions of people across the over 250 ethnic groups. The mandate given to him was to liberate the country from the yoke of militocracy. Unlike the elections before and after it, the June 12, 1993 election was not shaped by tribalism, religious animosity and ethnic suspicion. Unfortunately, the dream was aborted by the military President, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, the greatest obstacle to the democratic transfer of power.

Consequently, the mandate became Abiola’s undoing. The president-elect was arrested and hounded into detention like a criminal. He never returned alive. The death of his wife, Kudirat, who sustained the struggle when he was in detention, was also gruesome. The Amazon was killed along Seven-Up Junction, Toll Gate, Oregun, Lagos, when she was on her way to the American Embassy.

Abiola was a man of valour. He was harassed, abused and blackmailed. But, he refused to desert the battlefield. The circumstances surrounding his death have been in the realm of conjecture. People have also waited in vain for an elusive autopsy.

Abiola’s slogan was the abolition of poverty. He was the hero of the masses who suffered from want and misery. The military dangled carrots at him. But, the billionaire businessman refused to trade the people’s mandate for big contracts and mundane economic gains. His life was a lesson in determination, consistency and dedication to principles.

Abiola outlived his tormentor, Gen. Sani Abacha. But, his last goal-the assumption of office was not fulfilled. Thus, he lacked self-actualisation. He died a martyr. His death marked the end of an era. His ghost is still haunting his alleged killers. His memory has endured. So were his grace, act of giving, the mettle of speech, the force of character, and love for the common man.

Abiola was mourned by the beneficiaries of his philanthropic activities, the universities where he instituted endowment funds, the churches and mosques he assisted, the indigent students he sponsored, the workers in his various industries and companies, the poor and the needy he courted, his political associates and the masses that voted for him to liberate them from poverty.

Remarkably, Abiola had led the fight for reparations in Africa. He said the descendants of the poorest of the poor; the hewers of wood and fetchers of water; deserved compensation for slavery in Europe and America.

Twenty-eight years after the annulment, the agony of the annulment lingers. On the day the results were cancelled, there was confusion, outrage and condemnation of the barbaric act. But, the military was adamant. Democracy was subjugated by the barrel of a gun. The hope of a peaceful transfer of power to the democratically elected President was dashed. The rest is history.

Successive elections have been tainted with fraud. Pro-democracy groups believe that, if the historic poll had been affirmed, Nigeria would have laid a solid foundation for the sanctity of the ballot box.

The June 12 poll was peaceful nationwide. There were no malpractices, thuggery and violence. God was kind to Nigeria on poll day. The weather was benevolent. To domestic and foreign observers, Nigeria was coming of age. Voters issued a red card to the soldiers of fortune. But, the sit tight military rulers resisted the change, caged the symbol and consequently, the victor became the villain.

Babangida, the Maradona, dribbled himself into the dark corner of history, thereby missing a glorious opportunity to imprint his name in gold. Every year, he is remembered in connection with the history of treachery and betrayal, which will be narrated from generation to generation. Lamentably, he lacks the opportunity to correct the costly mistake.

The wise man saw it coming. The handwriting was visible on the wall. The ignorant and gullible ignored the signs. When Babangida unfolded his transition programme, the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, cautioned against the illusion of hope. Weary of the prevailing political situation, he warned that when Nigerians imagined that the new order had arrived, they would be terribly disappointed. Awo also urged his followers to learn to eat and wine with the devil with a long spoon.

Babangida was a political gambler. He started to toy with the transition timetable very early. He shifted the poll twice. The third attempt was resisted by the human rights community. Voters overcame the hurdles of Option A4 at the primary and long queues under the sun.

The National Electoral Commission (NEC) chaired by Prof. Humphrey Nwosu said 14 million voters participated in the exercise. The military had underrated Abiola. According to the poll results, the SDP candidate scored 8,341, 309 votes, representing 58.36 per cent of the total votes cast. Tofa, sources said, was ready to concede victory. In fact, the NRC National Publicity Secretary, Dr Doyin Okupe, declared that the poll was free and fair, affirming that Abiola won a popular mandate.

Former military Vice President Admiral Augustus Aikhomu’s media aide Nduka Iraboh offered a feeble and spurious explanation for the annulment.  He said: “In view of the litigation pending in the various courts, the Federal Government is compelled to take appropriate steps to rescue the judiciary. These steps are taken to protect our legal system and the judiciary from being ridiculed and politicised, both nationally and internationally.

“In an attempt to end this ridiculous charade, which may culminate in judicial anarchy, the Federal Military Government has decided to: stop forthwith all court proceedings pending or to be instituted and appeals thereon in respect of any matter touching, relating or concerning the presidential election held on June 12, 1993, the Transition to Civil Rule Political Programme (Amendment No 3, Decree No 52 of 1992 and the presidential election.

Irabor added: “Basic Constitutional and Transitional Provision Decree No 13 of 1993 is hereby repealed. All acts or omissions done or purportedly to have been done, or to be done by any person, authority etc, under the above-named decrees are hereby declared invalid. The National Electoral Commission is hereby suspended. All acts or omission done or purported to have been done by itself, its officers or agents under the repealed Decree No 13, 1993, are hereby nullified.”

Later, Babangida said the process of authentication and clearance of the presidential candidates was not thorough. Intoxicated by power, he declared that although he knew those who would not succeed him, he did not know those who would succeed him. Nigerians were taken aback when the military President boasted that “we are not only in government, we are in power.”

With the cancellation of the results, Abiola’s vision for Nigeria died. Rejecting the annulment, Abiola declared himself as the custodian of a sacred mandate. He said, having voted for him, the people of Nigerian expected him to assume the reins on August 27, 1993. “ I intend to keep that date with history,” he said.

Babangida knew the ability of his friend, Abiola. He could not underrate his gut. Courage and the resolve to succeed were the hallmarks of Abiola’s life.  In a birthday message to him in 1992, Babangida acknowledged the rare virtue, saying: “A major feature of your life, so far, is the doggedness and determination with which you pursue any venture embarked upon.”

Abiola fought gallantly as an inexperienced politician. His strength was his mass following. When the military turned the heat on him, he left the country. Former Information Minister Comrade Uche Chukwumerije yelled at him, saying that MKO had gone down in history as the first Aare Ona Kankanfo of Yoruba to have deserted the battlefield. As June 12 divided the polity, associates were changing allegiance. The Association for Better Nigeria (ABN), led by Senator Arthur Nzeribe, engaged in the infamous deformation of the struggle, collating imaginary signatures of people against the election. The late Admiral  Aikhomu also said that Abiola was not fit to rule, explaining that the rich are not necessarily philosophical kings.

For Abiola, history merely repeated itself on June 12, 1993.  On June 12 1982, he could not even collect the presidential nomination form from the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) National Secretariat. The gate of the party secretariat was shot against him. The former Transport Minister, the late Dr Umaru Dikko, told Abiola that “the Presidency is not for the highest bidder”. Two years before, he had also aspired to lead the NPN. But, he was defeated by the more experienced Chief Adisa Akinloye.

However, in the aborted Third Republic, President Babangida became a formidable stumbling block. As military president, IBB, as he was fondly called, had assumed full executive powers, without the accompanying checks and balances.

But, Abiola was ready to rub shoulders with a friend who betrayed him. In his famous Epe Declaration, the President-elect said: “Never before has there been such a cynical and contemptuous abrogation of solemn commitment and fixed programme.”

However, the collective resistance by pro-democracy groups failed. When Babangida stepped aside, he did not hand over to Abiola, but an interim government headed by Chief Ernest Shonekan. Rationalising the option,  Obasanjo said it was regrettable but understandable.

The interim contraption was short-lived. On November 10, 1993, Justice Dolapo Akinsanya of the Lagos High Court dismantled the interim apparatus, saying that it was illegal, unconstitutional, null and void.

On November 18, 1993, the interim government was shoved aside by Gen. Sani Abacha, who proclaimed himself as the Head of State.

To the consternation of pro-democracy crusaders, Abacha abolished all democratic structures at the state and federal levels, disbanded the National Electoral Commission (NEC), banned the two political parties and set up the Provisional Ruling Council (PRC). Then, he promised to hand over to Abiola.

In their naivety, credible politicians were cajoled to serve under the administration as ministers, thereby mocking their antecedents as June 12 travellers. The military Head of State later initiated a self-succession plan, which collapsed when he mysteriously passed on.

Few days after Abacha died, Abiola also died in detention in controversial circumstances. His death in detention provoked outrage and condemnation. Human rights activists alleged that he was killed in detention.

The struggle was in vain. On May 29, 1999, the military Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, who succeeded Abacha, handed over to Obasanjo, who was thrown up by a rainbow coalition of rich and influential soldiers, military apologists and confederates.

The rest, again, as it is often said, is history.