‘Nigeria poorer 22 years after voiding of Abiola’s presidential election win’
• Citizens seek his immortalisation, Lagos declares holiday
•‘Democracy Day should be June 12, not May 29’
TWENTY-TWO years after the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential election, it is arguable if any long-term lessons learnt from what was no doubt, one of the epochal post-civil war events in Nigeria, survived or took deep roots.
One of such lessons was what the election popularly referred to as ‘June 12’ and widely regarded as the freest and fairest polls in the country before then, revealed about the unity of the nation.
Meanwhile, the Lagos State government has declared today public holiday to commemorate the election presumed to have been won by Chief Moshood Kasimawo Olawale Abiola.
At present, the jury is still out as to whether or not June 12 lessons, including its unequivocal affirmation on Nigeria’s unity, have not been frittered away as demonstrated by current national political developments.
Unlike the outcome of the annulled exercise, which portrayed a nation that had risen beyond the dictates of its centrifugal elements, the current political scenario is one in which such dividing factors play dominant roles.
During the election, which, in the words of Alhaji Adamu Ciroma, was won “fairly and squarely” by the late business mogul, Chief Abiola, religious and ethnic barriers were demolished and for the first time in its history, Nigeria appeared a truly united country.
Abiola, candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), contested the election with a fellow Muslim, Alhaji Babagana Kingibe, as his running mate and yet Nigerians were easily convinced of the imperative of voting for them.
The candidate of the National Republican Convention (NRC), Alhaji Bashir Tofa, was defeated in his home state of Kano by Abiola, an indigene of Ogun.
The exercise drew a political map for the country that spread the influence of the two political parties, foisted by the military on Nigerians in the transition programme, almost evenly across all the geo-political zones.
At the conclusion of vote-count, Abiola had garnered 8,341,309 or 58.36 per cent against Tofa’s 5,952,087 or 41.61 per cent of total votes cast.
For a country that has a history of political support along sectional and regional parties, the results of the 1993 exercise were refreshingly different.
But rather than build on the foundation of unity laid by Nigerian voters through June 12, the military cabal and their civilian collaborators, annulled the election and engaged in appealing to these same religious, regional and ethnic sentiments, to sustain the anti-democratic act.
More than two decades after a protracted struggle for the restoration of the mandate during which many Nigerians lost lives and limbs and some political figures fled into exile, the echoes of religion and ethnic dichotomy still reverberate across the landscape.
It took the determination of Nigerians, appeal to the delicate balancing of the country’s constituents and the sense to say ‘never again,’ for the nation to pick up the fragments of unity.
This fabric of unity is so worn out that during the build-up to the last presidential elections, dividing factors especially religion, were brought to the fore such that former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who also played a major role during the June 12 debacle, had to counsel the All Progressives Congress (APC) not to make the mistake of not considering religious balancing in its presidential ticket.
Apart from bringing out the fragile nature of the soft underbelly of Nigeria as a political entity, the circumstances of the cancelled election also exposed the propensity of selfish interest and promotion of personal aggrandisement among the country’s political class.
While the mass of Nigerians across the divides were united in calling for the restoration of the mandate, and the winner and many compatriots have been clamped into jail, the political class was busy trading it to promote personal interests.
Although Prof. Humphrey Nwosu, who conducted the election as the chairman of the national electoral body, came out, 15 years after, to shed some light on the annulment, the circumstances surrounding it are still mostly shrouded in mystery.
A pointer to the “forgiving spirit” of Nigerians, or what another front-line activist during the struggle, Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, called the peoples’ collective amnesia, is the fact that many of all those who were fingered in the annulment continue to play dominant roles in the nation’s politics.
The list of the collaborators, which of course included the then Military President, Ibrahim Babangida, who fell short of apologising to Nigerians when he assumed responsibility for the annulment and its aftermath, is a peep into who is who in the country’s military and political circles.
Curiously, many of those on the list, in a manner that showed the peculiarity of Nigeria’s political space and the ability of the senior citizens to continue being relevant despite space and time, are still walking the inner corridors of power.
This has put a big question on the possibility of the country’s authorities in recognising those who suffered for the cause of June 12, particularly Abiola and his wife, Kudirat who was gunned down in the streets of Lagos by suspected agents of the regime of the late Gen. Sani Abacha which sustained the annulment.
All requests to recognise Abiola and confer on him, posthumously, the status of a former President, and name a national monument to immortalise him, have met a brickwall, no thanks to the effects of the negative propaganda of the collaborating elite, to dress June 12 in the garb of a sectional struggle.
Despite the stumbling block, Nigerians continue to agitate for that state recognition and the promotion of the ideal of June 12, which has come to mean removal of ethnic and religious sentiments in the conduct of the country’s affairs.
As the nation celebrates another anniversary of the election today, many Nigerians have again spoken along that line especially as the new administration of President Muhammadu Buhari is settling down.
Reacting on the relevance of the event to the present democratic setting, former Senate Minority Leader, Dr. Olorunimbe Mamora, said the pan-Nigeria mandate given to Abiola was tantamount to what Buhari got during the last general elections.
According to him, “it was in the same line Nigerians overwhelmingly voted for Abiola in order to end the long time reign of military administration in the country that we all voted for Buhari to oust former President Goodluck Jonathan and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from power.
“It is true that the situation in 1993 was entirely different from what we have in the country today. It is however important to know that the collective decisions, will and determination of Nigerians that culminated into Abiola’s victory, despite the fact that his mandate was a Muslim/Muslim ticket also played out in the Buhari’s victory.”
Secretary of the United Niger Delta Energy Development Security Strategy (UNDEDSS), Mr. Tony Uranta, said June 12 stood for justice, equity and unity and as far as those things were done in the Nigeria polity; the spirit of the annulled election would have been fulfilled.
He, however, called on the Buhari administration to declare June 12 as the Democracy Day and not May 29 and Abiola as elected president of the country and accord him all the necessary benefits.
National Coordinator, Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), Otunba Gani Adams said the 1993 election laid a solid foundation that should have been followed by subsequent polls but for the absolute failure of politicians to develop and embrace a nationalistic formula that creates an overall appeal in practically all the states and regions of the country.
He contended that it was more of the money politics as against the all-embracing formula that would almost guarantee some level of acceptance across board.
He also joined in the call on Buhari to honour June 12 and the acclaimed winner of the election, adding: “Whatever honour or recognition given to June 12 is not only about Abiola but to all Nigerians and particularly those that lost their lives and relatives during the election.”
Comparing the June 12 polls with the 2015 exercise, Adams said the former still has its unique aspect, which is not yet matched by any other election held after or before it.
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