LAGOS – Nigerians last week marked the 27th anniversary of the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, an election that continues to be regarded as the freest, fairest, most peaceful and credible ever held in the history of the country. It was an event many observers have described as the most significant in Nigeria’s post-independence political history. Whether another election would hold that would override that of June 12, only time would tell.
On that day, Nigerians disregarded religion, ethnicity, language, class, and several other factors to cast their vote for the late MKO Abiola, a man in whom they had so much belief. They were to choose between Abiola of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC).
In the end, the majority of the electorates went for Abiola, the man who promised HOPE to them. However, he couldn’t deliver on his promises of hope eventually, because the euphoria was short-lived. The results of the election were never released. But unofficial results gathered through the various polling stations by civil society groups across the country indicated broad national support for the presidential candidate of the SDP.
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Consequently, the annulment of the election by the then military government of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, was perceived by most Nigerians as a rude shock, leaving civil society groups, pro-democracy activists and supporters reeling in chagrin and dismay.
According to the military government, the annulment was to stave-off credible security reports of a threat to the enthronement of a democratic government at the time and to avoid a likely military coup d’état.
Nigerians were not convinced by the explanations as nationwide protests followed news of the annulment. Some of these protests, which started peacefully later turned violent, with hundreds of civilians killed by soldiers in the process.
Days later, Babangida was forced to step aside as Head of State after naming Chief Ernest Shonekan, a lawyer and industrialist from Abiola’s Ogun state in the South-west of Nigeria, as President of the Interim National Government.
Shonekan’s three-month administration was toppled in a palace coup d’état on November 17, 1993, by General Sani Abacha, the then Chief of Defence Staff, who became the 10th Head of State of Nigeria. In spite of the military coup, Abiola and his supporters continued the struggle to reclaim his mandate.
Abiola was arrested and imprisoned for declaring himself President. In a fateful twist of events, Abacha died on June 8, 1998 and was replaced by General Abdulsalami Abubakar. On July 7, 1998, Abiola also died as he was about to be released from incarceration. The chain events that followed marked a turning point in Nigeria’s political history.
Finally, Abubakar’s transition reached the climax with the declaration of General Olusegun Obasanjo, who had retired from the military, as the president elect in late February 1999. He was duly sworn in on 29 May 1999.
This explains why May 29 became the official public holiday on which Nigerians celebrated the country’s return to civilian rule.
Democracy Day, until June 6, 2018, was held annually on May 29. It marked the day the military handed over power to an elected civilian government in 1999, marking the beginning of the longest continuous civilian rule since Nigeria’s independence from colonial rule in 1960.
It is a tradition that has been held annually, beginning in year 2000. June 12 was formerly known as Abiola Day, celebrated in Lagos, Nigeria and some south western states of Nigeria.
Shortly after Abiola’s death in detention, a cross section of Nigerians started demanding that the then president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who is his relative and classmate, immortalise him.
Prominent personalities including leader of the pan-Yoruba organisation, Afenifere, late Chief Abraham Adesanya, former Secretary-General of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Chief Frank Ovie-Kokori, Senator Femi Okunrounmu, Chief Mike Ozekhome, former military administrator of Lagos State, Rear Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu (rtd) and Comrade Moshood Erubami mounted pressure on Obasanjo and successive administrations to imortalise Abiola.
With each passing year, there was an increase in the number of apostles of the June 12 agitation (mostly Southerners), demanding that Abiola’s sacrifice must not be swept under the carpet. They never relented in their quest to see Abiola join the league of national heroes. This soon evolved into a demand that encapsulated the South-west’s desire to posthumously celebrate one of their own who was a victim of the military in power.
Perhaps, his handlers understood that honouring Abiola would boost his acceptance in the South-west, hence former president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan disclosed during a nationwide broadcast to celebrate the May 29 Democracy Day in 2012 that the federal government would rename the University of Lagos in honour of Abiola’s contribution to democracy.
The decision was rejected. Students of the university rejected the name Moshood Abiola University. Former Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola said Abiola would have rejected the renaming of the University of Lagos. The Pastor Tunde Bakare-led Save Nigeria Group (SNG) wanted the highest possible honour done to the late politician and deplored the manner Jonathan re-named the University of Lagos.
The defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) said through its former spokesperson that naming UNILAG after Abiola diminished the importance of Chief Abiola.
Worst still, Kola Abiola, the eldest son of the late philanthropist, said on national television that his father was bigger than the honour accorded him by the Jonathan administration, saying, “That was a mistake. They were trying to regionalise MKO, he was more than that.”
Kola who said he begged Jonathan for the award of the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR), hinted that he contacted the former attorney-general of the Federation, Mohammed Adoke and Pastor Tunde Bakare to ask Jonathan to honour his father with the award of the GCFR.
Boxed from all sides, Jonathan reversed the change of name.
However, on June 6, 2018, eight days after May 29, 2018 had been celebrated as Democracy Day, the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government of Nigeria declared June 12 to be the new Democracy Day.
Significantly, President Buhari’s recognition of June 12 as the nation’s Democracy Day, undoubtedly stands out as a bold, just, historic, instructive, symbolic and resonating move to right the wrongs of the past and deepen the country’s democracy.
The passage of the Public Holiday Amendment Bill by the Senate, affirming June 12 as the new Democracy Day and the assent of President Buhari to the Amended Act, are testaments to this.
Pan Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere said Nigeria is currently being run in negation of June 12 values while hopelessness pervades the length and breadth of the country.
In a statement signed by its leader, Pa Reuben Fasoranti, Afenifere said the election was a watershed in our troubled polity.
“As we celebrate another anniversary of June 12, now for the first time, at the national level, it’s perhaps, the most auspicious moment, to do a critical assessment of our journey on the democratic road. This year marks the 27th anniversary of the fairest democratic election in the annals of our national democratic electoral process. That election was a watershed in our troubled polity”.
On his part, the Aare Onakakanfo of Yorubaland, Iba Gani Abiodun Ige Adams said the struggle to free Nigerians from the shackles of bondage will continue until the country is restructured into federating units
In a statement by his Special Assistant on Media, Kehinde Aderemi, Adams expressed joy that part of the dreams of the Oodua Peoples Congress under his leadership has been realised with the celebration of June 12 as the authentic democracy day.
The Yoruba leader, however, regretted that despite the sacrifices of the activists and pro-democracy groups, democracy is yet to take its root in Nigeria. He said Nigeria can only get it right with true federalism, pointing out that the only way out of the political logjam is to let the federating states develop at their own pace.
Aare Adams said: “When the federating units are allowed to develop at their own pace, there will be mutual benefits and progress. The federating states will be geared towards achieving the best for the people at the grassroots. This is possible when there is healthy competitions among the federating units. The issue of security and state police would be taken care of without fair or favour. That is how it is in other climes where democracy thrives”
“It is good that our democracy is evolving, but sadly, it is not yet Uhuru because this is not the kind of democracy we fought for during the June 12 struggle. It is far different from what we are seeing now. The struggle for the actualisation of the June 12 mandate given freely to the late MKO Abiola in a free and fair election then was a long, hard battle to survive the military onslaughts.”
Source : independent.ng