June 12, True Day for Democracy
In the political development of Nigeria, there may be quite a number of iconic days but June 12, 1993 stands atop them all and this happens to be non-negotiable. It is note worthy that the 4th republic we are currently enjoying, with over 21years of existence is a direct gain from June 12,1993. The National Electoral Commission (NEC) conducted presidential elections in Nigeria with the leading candidates from the South and the North, Late Chief MKO Abiola of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) was from the south and Bashir Othman Tofa of National Republican Convention (NRC) from the North. Nigerians and foreign observers describe the elections as the freest, fairest and best the country has ever experienced. Nigerians had defiled bad weather and trooped out en masses to cast their votes in an election that is to bring an end to military dictatorship in the country.
Earlier, June 10, same year an Abuja High Court presided over by Justice Bassey Ikpeme had issue an order restraining National Electoral Commission (NEC) from conducting the presidential election on June 12, 1993. Chief Arthur Nzeribe had filed a suit to stop the election following his disqualification from the presidential race. NEC had gone ahead with the election even with the restraining order and Nigerians too had shown readiness to bring a quick end to military dictatorship and tyranny.
By June 14, 1993 NEC had published results from 15 states showing that M.K.O Abiola was leading in all regions of the country with the icing been the fact that He led in his opponent's, Bashir Tofa's home state, Kano. There was a wild euphoria of happiness all over the country because of the definition of the personalty of the late sage, MKO Abiola. A philanthropist, a businessman, a friend to many, a politician, he made connections all over the nation, he connected well with everyone,both young and old were admirers of the late sage. As a politician, he brought a new perspective to the table and was able to connect a lot of politicians together across cultural backgrounds and regions.
The Government had sworn in a seven-member presidential election tribunal to see to the issues that might arise in the post election Era. By June 15, 1993, the euphoria of joy that accompanied the former results announced was dented by the news that an interim order by an Abuja Court had restrained NEC from releasing the results of the presidential elections in which it was clear the late aristocrat of the yoruba Egba clan was already coasting to victory. The NEC, were helpless and by June 16,1993, they shelved the release of the final results of the election because of actions pending in courts until further notice. From this point onward, the atmosphere of the country became so tensed.
The military had underestimated the personalty of the late sage, they were stunned on election day as over 14million Nigerians against all odds came out en masse to elect a democratically elected president and bring an end to 8years of military dictatorship. Unconfirmed result by civil society groups showed the late sage won by wide margin, even in the North, where Bashir Tofa was expected to be stronger, the late sage won over 50% of the total votes cast in that region, this showed his wide acceptability across the country.
By June 22, 1993, NEC went to the Court of Appeal to challenge the interim injunction by the Abuja High Court restraining it from completing its National assignment but before this could be decided, the unforeseen happened, The military government led by Ibrahim Babaginda in a National broadcast on June 23,1993 annulled the results of the June 12 elections in the most bizarre manner, nullifies all the relevant court decisions, suspends NEC through an unsigned terse statement, claiming he needed to save the nation as the preceding political activities in the country after the election was a threat to national peace and unity.
Nigerians took to the street to protest the annulment, different civil right organizations and Campaign organization began to call for nationwide protest in all part of the nation. The pressure on the military government kept inflating each passing day, by July 31, 1993 the National Defence and Security Council (NDSC) announced that an Interim National Government comprising of representatives of the NRC, the SDP, and leading military officers would be put in place to be headed by Chief Ernest Shonekan from Ogun state, the home state of the late sage, MKO Abiola. Alot of citizens were opposed to this move, they called on the Military government to instead declare the winner of the June 12 elections, at a point in time, a group of 30 senators signed a joint motion asking the government to declare the winner of the June 12 election.
There were Clamp down on activists by government across the country. The interim government met a very huge political lacuna coupled with the fact that they lack public acceptability, they couldn't feel the space, the political will was absent, this gave room for the then Minister for defense General Sani Abacha to take control of government. On the early hours of November 17,1993 just three months into the interim government, General Sanni Abacha quietly deposed the interim government and then establish another round of military dictatorship in the country in what many tagged as a palace coup.
The change in political atmosphere was met with stiff reactions from the citizens, the awareness of another military government was something the people never wanted to experience again. By January 7, 1994, Gen Abacha formally moved his administration to Abuja to avoid growing opposition in Lagos and other South-west states and from the new seat of power, he ruled the nation with might and authority.
Fast forward to 1994,June 11 to be precise late Chief M.K.O Abiola declared himself president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on the eve of the first anniversary of his annulled election, in an attempt to claim his June 12, 1993 presidential mandate. He went into hiding immediately, fearing the military leadership at that time wasn't a friendly one. June 23 that same year,the Federal Military Government arrested Chief M.K.O Abiola and charged him for treason. Riots broke out across the country, there were calls from different sectors of the country calling for the immediate release of the late sage. Justice Abdullahi Mustapha even granted him an unsolicited conditional bail. Late Chief Lamidi Adedibu, one of Ibadan strongest ever politician went as far as organizing a pro--
Abacha rally but unfortunately it turned bloody, life were lost, property were damaged, it wasn't a good site to behold.
Four years down the line the Military government of General Sani Abacha was brought to a sudden end by a never to be imagined scenario, General Abacha died. June 8 became another historic date, his death was attributed to cardiac arrest. Same day, another military government came on board with General Abdulsalam Abubakar emerging as Nigeria's new military head of state. That wasn't the end, July 7, 1998 was initially supposed to be a happy day as Abiola was expected to be released from prison but turned sour when according to the press release from the office of the chief press secretary to the head states chief David Attah at about 4pm in the afternoon, Abiola was pronounced DEAD. Abiola was said to have died of cardiac arrest, official autopsy later released showed Abiola died of natural cause. The days that followed saw widespread highway riots and protest as a result of the news of Abiola's death.
The military government of Abdulsalam Abubakar yielded to different pleas from different sectors to return to civilian rule and by Feb 27,1999 Nigerians elected another democratic government headed by Chief Olusegun Aremu Obasanjo. Who happens to come from the same state as the late sage Chief MKO Abiola.
The Abubakar military administration came to climax on May 29, 1999 when President-Elect Olusegun Obasanjo was sworn in as Nigeria first Democratically elected president in the fourth republic. This established May 29 as Nigeria's Democracy Day. Before now, June as always been a public holiday in most South West state, whose son was denied the presidency.
Kudos to the President Buhari's advicers during his first tenure, they did a good job convincing him to declare June 12, as the new date for Democracy day celebration. Many saw the move as a politically motivated one with the 2019 general elections in sight in which the President was himself seeking reelection. Many said he used that to appeal to South Westerners who were the major victims of the June 12,1993 annulment yet, even if that was the motive behind the move atleast the right thing was done
Honouring MKO Abiola with the highest honor in the land, truly sold out and in no doubt added some electoral gains to the camp of the President back in 2019, His the foot soldiers and social media warriors had added advantage to brag, some even claimed when South West had their chance as GCFR, even their own son failed to immortalize the late sage.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan once tried to immortalize him by changing the name of the highly revered University of Lagos (UNILAG) to Moshod Abiola University, this was met with wide condemnation from different quarters as many saw that as demining of the status and impact the late sage played for the survival of the fourth republic he enjoyed as president. He, like is predesesor also failed to do the needful until President Buhari did in 2018.
Many reaction followed Buhari's declaration in 2018 A Pan-Yoruba socio-political organization Afenifere hailed the declaration as a step in the right direction and further said they would want the President to not just honor Abiola with the highest honor in the land GCFR, but he Should instead declare him President-Elect. Afenifere's National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, stated that "Though he was honoured with the highest honour in the land, we want Abiola to be formally recognised as a former elected President of Nigeria.
The Abiola's family also were full of thanks to the president to doing the right thing, in a letter dated June 6, 2018, and signed by Kola Abiola, Abiola's eldest son on behalf of the family, the family thanked Buhari and the government for his decision.
It is visible to the blind and well audible to the deaf that the democracy we enjoy today in Nigeria remains the direct result of one man's undying, unwavering and strong believe in his mandate to serve the nation and provide lasting solutions to issues of governance in Nigeria. Many students of history who are very conversant with the happenings in Nigeria and South Africa at the beginning of the 90's have continued to argue that, if Nigeria had been allowed to thrive under late MKO Abiola who until his death was a great philanthropist and humanitarian just has late Nelson Mandela was allowed in the 1994 elections of South Africa probably the narrative may be different for our dear nation today.
Comparing the two National Heroes side by side, late Nelson Mandela after his freedom pushed for negotiations with the governing National party and many other political organizations in South Africa then, he was able to connect a lot of people together, he was like a long lost bridge, he brought a lot of them back on board and together they were able to put an end to apartheid and form a multiracial government, MKO Abiola wasn't far from this too, a businessman, a publisher, a politician and an aristocrat of the Yoruba Egba clan, and it was well evidential in the 1993 elections, as he was well voted for all over the nation. It wasn't a regional or sectional victory, all and sundry were happy to be rooting for the late sage, but unfortunately, he never got to rule our dear nation.
Forever in history will it be recorded that June 12,1993 remains the only true and authentic day of true democracy in Nigeria, for it was devoid of rigging and vote buying, devoid of electoral malpractices, devoid of manipulation which has characterised most of the elections conducted in the country today, it was a true reflection of the peoples wish. We all owe it as a duty to continue to fight and push for true democracy to thrive in Nigeria. It is never a one man's job, it is never a day job, it is a long walk to achieving true dividends of democracy for all citizens of the most populated black nation on planet earth. 21years of Democracy, Four Democratically elected President in successions, but the question still remains "Are we getting it right or we need a complete overhaul of the system"
Happy Democracy Day Nigerians
God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.