June 12 And The Burden Of Memory
The dominant nations of the current global order understand the importance of mobilizing their people using the constructive or disruptive realities of significant experiences to build national character. A ready example is the United States, which has appropriated the national grief occasioned by the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, into nation building capital through an institutionalized pattern of constant remembrance. Every act of remembrance, simultaneously invokes the resilience and strength of the very idea of the United States of America.
All such commemoration equally exert demands of patriotism and commitment to motherland. This same pattern of deploying triumph and tragedy for galvanizing a people, is discernible in many parts of the world, where narrow and primordial considerations do not conflate historic national moments.
If the current lethargic remembrance of the tragic occurrences around the annulled June 12, 1993 Presidential elections is anything to go by, it is apparent that the Nigerian nation is yet to come to terms with the fundamentals of nation building. The June 12, 1993 Presidential election was declared Nigeria’s freest, and fairest, by national and international observers, with Chief MKO Abiola defeating his opponent’s home state. Abiola won over two-thirds of the states. The election was so historic because it changed the configuration of the Nigerian polity in manner that gave other parts of Nigeria a sense of belonging in the national space that had been perceived to be largely dominated by the northern oligarchy.
The fact that Abiola, a Southern Muslim was able to secure a national mandate freely and fairly was unprecedented in Nigeria’s history. The junta of former Military President, Ibrahim Babangida, annulled the outcome of the election. The struggle by a coalition of civil society activists for the validation of the election became protracted, pushing Nigeria to the brink. It was a case of grave injustice against the 14.2 million Nigerians that voted in the election. The annulment became a sore point in Nigeria’s march towards democracy because it negated the will of the people, which according to the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights remains the basis of authority of any government. Nations are built and nurtured on the principles that uphold justice. The absence of justice explains the enduring resentments over age long tragic portions of Nigerian history. Over four decades after the civil war for example, the lacerations are still as fresh as ever because no firm process of national healing ever took place. The most peaceful election ever held in Nigeria since Independence. Other things that made the election significant included the fact that it was a Muslim-Muslim ticket of MKO Abiola and Babagana Kingibe that swept the polls. There were no cases of violence, intimidation, snatching of ballot boxes, multiple voting, and rigging that were later to characterise Nigeria’s electoral process. On top of these, there was no protest from any Part of the country until the election was annulled.
The truncation of the June 12 mandate was so grievous a harm that the nation bore the consequences for a long time. The political crisis did a lot of damage to the weak chord that bound the various groups in the Nigerian federation together. The action of the characters, especially within the military junta, who failed to put the nation, first, put her on a perilous path. They subverted the mandate freely given to a compatriot in an election in which 14.2 million Nigerians voted. In climes were things are normal, those had the nerve to put the nation on such a tailspin would have had to pay for their treasonable actions. The absence of repercussions for such subversion should ordinarily have intensified the push for justice. But restitution can only be done when the infraction is remembered.
That is why it is important that the memory of June 12, as well as other moments defining the Nigerian existence be stridently remembered. It therefore rankles that only a few states in the South West now make efforts every year to remind the rest of Nigeria of that day when a collective national mandate was subverted by enemies of democracy.
This act of self-imposed amnesia again speaks volumes about the vacuity of the national soul. The dangerous inference that a younger, more impressionable generation of Nigerians would make of this, is that impunity, injustice and subterfuge, are acceptable traits of the Nigerian ethos. So, instead of engaging the historic juncture that June 12 represents to push the boundaries of national understanding for better national cohesion, the Nigerian elite has dressed the moment in a sectional garb. What should have been an attempt at of converting a defining moment of national pain to a catalyst for progress, is being willfully derailed. Little wonder, the Nigerian space is littered with potentials enchained by the many injustices bleeding the system.
So pathetic is the national ethos that for over two decades since the unfortunate truncation of the mandate freely given to MKO Abiola, only a few consistent voices from a section of the country have deemed it important to continuously commemorate the most significant event in Nigeria’s democratization.
This apparent absence of a united front has made it impossible to forge a national front to debunk the reasons advanced by the Babangida for the annulment. The junta falsely claimed that to continue with the transition on the basis of the June 12, 1993 election, and to proclaim and swear in a president “who encouraged a campaign of divide and rule among our ethnic groups would have been detrimental to the survival of the Third Republic.”
Another patent falsehood of the Babangida administration was that its action in annulling the election was out of a commitment “to bequeathing to posterity a sound economic and political base in our country.”
In the end, what was handed the by the junta country was a terrible legacy of crisis and instability. It was only the resilience and belief of Nigerians in democracy as their preferred route to achieving their national aspirations that ensured that the nation eventually arrived at civil rule in 1999.
Similarly, some of the most poignant national development issues that Chief MKO Abiola raised remain unattended to till date. 22 years after, Nigeria is still grappling with the debilitating impacts of poverty, unemployment, insecurity and an economy of the verge of collapse. These were some of the same issues Abiola proffered solution to in his well-articulated Hope 93 campaign.
In the end, resolving the age long national questions thrown up by the June 12 debacle would require the creation of a national consensus based on a dialogue to address all the vestiges of injustice that have held the nation back. But beyond the memories of the mandate is the national restructuring aimed at taking care of the structural deficiencies that have plagued Nigeria since independence. A number of those issues were addressed in the recommendations of the National Conference. The limitations of the conference recommendations, notwithstanding it could be a good template to start the task of repositioning Nigeria.
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