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EGGHEADS, ACTIVISTS, OTHERS SET AGENDA FOR ELECTORAL REFORMS

By NBF News
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The memory was still evergreen. And that reflected in the large turnout. From the university campus to the market square; from the villages to the city centre, they all trooped out, bound together by the spirit of June 12.

June 12, 1993 was the day Nigerians set aside their differences and voted for the late business mogul, Basorun Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, a man they believed had the magic wand to lead them to Canaanland. But that gesture was truncated with the annulment of the election, adjudged to be the freest and fairest in the annals of elections in the country, by then military president, General Ibrahim Babangida.

Seventeen years after, that binding spirit was relived again courtesy of the Campaign for Democracy and the Right of the People (CDRP), which organized a three-in-one event to commemorate the June 12, 1993 presidential election. Apart from the lecture, the CDRP added pep to the anniversary by organizing a free medical treatment and free legal services to the indigent at the occasion.

On hand to share the day with the people and relive their memories were notable June 12 actors. They included Professor Omotoye Olorode from University of Abuja (UNIABUJA); former National President, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Dr Dipo Fasina; ace broadcaster and Chairman, Osun State Broadcasting Service (OSBC), Dr. Yemi Farounbi; Comrade Wole Aina, Secretary-General, Omo Yoruba Abroad, among others.

The gathering was jointly presided over by the duo of Farounbi and House of Representatives member representing Osogbo/Orolu/Irepodun Federal Constituency, Hon. Leo Awoyemi while His Royal Highness, Aragbiji of Iragbiji, Oba Rasheed Olabomi, was the royal father of the day.

On hand to deliver the lecture to mark the day was the Deputy Managing Director/Deputy Editor-in-Chief of The Sun Publishing Company, Mr. Femi Adesina. The duo of Olorode and Fasina were also co-speakers on the theme for the anniversary entitled 'Free and Fair Election: A Panacea for National Development'.

Declaring the event open, Olorode, who was a senior lecturer at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) Ile-Ife, when the election was annulled, lamented that those who risked their lives for possible revalidation of the election and succeeded in chasing away the military junta, never benefitted from the present democratic experience.

According to him, those who took over the baton of governance after the exit of the military never participated or shared in the vision and spirit of the June 12 struggle. He pointed out that a similar situation played itself out in the days of the colonialists as those at the forefront of the independence struggle, like the late Pa Michael Imoudu, were never opportune to be at the driver's seat of governance in the country.

While reminiscing on the June 12 struggle, Olorode lamented: 'Many were deformed; many died; many could not be traced while a lot of students had their education truncated due to unjust rustication by university authorities.'

Olorode further regretted that despite those unpalatable experiences by the citizenry, governance has not improved. He was quick to point out the outrageous tuition fees in state-owned universities in Lagos, Edo, Oyo, Ogun, Osun and Ekiti States as well as the precarious treatment and outright persecution of teachers in those states where June 12 struggle was more embraced.

'Go to Edo, Lagos, Ondo, Osun and Ekiti States, although, different political parties are in charge but the policy on education remains the same. Teachers' demands are not met; primary and secondary schools in those states are in precarious situation. In Oyo State, teachers are being threatened on daily basis,' Olorode stated.

He called for a political party that would be formed and controlled by the people and whose manifestoes would be drafted. According to him, June 12 should not be an annual ritual alone. 'We should forge a common front, under one canopy, to demand for a better society.'

Upon questions from the audience on the failure of some progressive politicians at the corridors of power and the pervading effect of poverty among the populace, Olorode cautioned on the maxim of 'join them if you can't beat them'. On the theme of the anniversary, he expressed doubts that a free and fair election could be possible in the country and whether it could translate to national development.

According to him, with the presence of moneybags at strategic positions in government as well as the capitalist leaning of the economy, the quest for a free and fair election would continue to be a mirage. In his own contribution, Fasina lamented the serious mess the country has slipped into with the overbearing influence of political contractors and moneybags in the polity. He cited the case of the Labour Party (LP), which he said was principally formed by the workers to protect their interest, saying that today's LP harbours failed and corrupt politicians.

'Labour Party is owned by the workers but today it has been hijacked by power brokers. Governor Segun Mimiko is a populist and loved by the workers, hence his acceptance in the Labour Party. But we cannot say that of others', Fasina stated. He dismissed the possibility of a free and fair election in the country as long as the political power was out of reach of the people. Corroborating the positions of Olorode and Fasina, ace broadcaster, Yemi Farounbi, pointed out that a free and fair election was not equal to democratic rule. He cited the case of Benito Mussolini in Italy and Adolf Hitler of Germany as two despots produced by free and fair elections but who turned out to be the enemies of the people.

In the case of Nigeria, Farounbi stated that a lot of inequalities, contradictions as well as the people's attitude to public office, constituted a serious threat to good governance and democratic principles and welfare of the citizenry. While bemoaning the dearth of visionary leaders like the crop of politicians that served the country in the First Republic, Farounbi also called for an attitudinal change from the electorate who see public office holders as Father Christmas.

Adding a royal voice to the discussion, Aragbiji of Iragbiji, Oba Rasheed Olabomi, expressed optimism that the nation could still make a repeat of June 12 election in terms of its peaceful and transparent nature if there was a return to the structures that brought about June 12. According to the monarch, if Nigeria should embrace the two-party system and open ballot system through Option A4, the quest for a free, fair and acceptable election would be a reality.

'Let us see what lessons to learn from June 12. How did Abiola emerge? If Abiola were to be alive today, he cannot even emerge a party candidate not to talk of winning election with all this proliferation of political parties. But the two-party system gave him the way out. Let us go back to two-party system and Option A4. That is the way out,' he said. In the lecture presented on his behalf by the Chief Correspondent, The Sun Newspapers, Osogbo, Alhaji Akeeb Alarape, the guest speaker, Mr. Femi Adesina, traced the evolution of the country's elections, lamenting that the masses had suffered untold hardship arising from rigged polls, cold blooded manipulations and several electoral frauds.

Apart from the sad experiences of the electorate, Adesina pointed out that the resultant effects of manipulated election was the bad image the country has among the comity of nations and foreign investors.

'For how long will Nigeria be seen as a land of rogues and rascals who steal votes? A land of scoundrels who stuff ballot boxes, hijack votes and cruelly manipulate the electoral process?

'For as long as this reputation endures, we then cannot hope for any remarkable foreign direct investment (FDI). Which foreign entrepreneur wants to bring funds into a land that may explode and be blown into smithereens at the next elections? Which investor wants to do business with a people who have a reputation for underhand dealings, a people who can't even vote and allow the votes to count?

'Which foreign nation will respect a people that cannot achieve something as elementary as electing their own leaders in a free and fair process? No wonder Nigerians are subjected to such degrading treatments in foreign embassies, both at home and abroad. No wonder the green passport is viewed with such suspicion and antipathy at most points round the world,' Adesina bemoaned.

With these consequences of the nation's flawed elections, Adesina called on Nigerians to make the 2011 general elections a 'do or die' in terms of its fairness. 'We can't afford not to. Granted, there is no perfect election anywhere in the world, but then, there is a minimum acceptable standard. Nigeria has not got near that.

'Free and fair elections must be do or die next year. If it is not free and fair, then it is not elections. This country has suffered enough in the hands of election manipulators and riggers. Our year of jubilee cometh, and it is at the very door. You have a role to play; I have a role to play. We must not only vote, we should ensure that our votes count, and are counted', The Sun DMD stated.

While appreciating the large turnout of people at the event, CDRP President, Mr. Amitolu Shittu, explained that his group was of the view that the memory of the late M.K.O. Abiola must be kept alive as the hero of Nigerian democracy for generations yet unborn. As a close associate of the late human rights lawyer, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, the CDRP boss stated that free medical and legal services were introduced into the anniversary in accordance with the philosophy of Fawehinmi as regard people's welfare.

He urged the electorate to avoid politics of bitterness but rather pray for their leaders so that the 'good and the bad among them will live long enough to reap the reward of his activities while in office'. Goodwill messages were also delivered from pro-democracy activists from Lagos, Ondo, Kwara and Egbe Omo Yoruba in Diaspora while free medical check ups and treatment were administered to those in attendance by medical personnel.