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June 12 And The Unfinished Business

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

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