June 12: 20 years on


June 12: 20 years on

ON the 20th anniversary of the June 12, 1993 presidential election adjudged the freest and fairest in the history of Nigeria, and which was annulled by the military in a streak of authoritarian madness, the scars are still deep and healing is far from complete. A traumatized nation, poised then for a real taste of joy, still reels in the pain of a cruel and unnecessary abortion. It was probably the most wicked act perpetrated against this nation.

Today, there are bound to be reflections on the disgraceful action of the military administration of General Ibrahim Babangida, which annulled the election and the long-term implication it has had on the polity. It is just enough to say that with that singular action, Nigeria succeeded in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory and the nation’s manifest rendezvous with glory was halted by a mindless dictatorship.

Twenty years on, there is democracy, but true democrats are hard to come by. Elections have been held, but the will of the people has not had the kind of expression it had on June 12, 1993. Leaders have come, but none has come free of religion or ethnic baggage as was the case on June 12, 1993. The result has been a Nigeria still questioned by many Nigerians; a nation full of promise but still in doubt of itself.

‘June 12’ was certainly a milestone in Nigeria’s quest for its true identity. It was the epoch in the struggle against military rule and the return of the country to the path of democracy. It was the manifestation of the hopes and aspirations of all Nigerians to be governed by leaders chosen on the basis of democratic principles. On that day in 1993, Nigerians also said goodbye to parochialism and primordial considerations that had governed the country. A Muslim-Muslim ticket was not seen as an incongruity, instead, the people saw only a Nigerian-Nigerian ticket. They voted for Moshood Abiola and Babagana Kingibe, irrespective of their religious affiliation, in a classic statement of an end to the usual appeal to base instincts and the dawn of a New Nigeria. Indeed, a new nation was being born in which there was one ethnic group: Nigeria and only one religion: Nigeria. But the Nigerian military led by General Babangida annulled that great movement of history and pulled Nigeria into the abyss of despair in which it still gropes today.  Authoritarianism returned to the polity with a vengeance when the people vehemently sought the actualization of their will. A bestial culture of impunity again seized the foreground and in the process, a once united country was bifurcated along Muslim-Christian, North-South and East-West divides.

General Sani Abacha who seized power in the ensuing anomie, placed Nigerians under siege. The rights of the people were trampled upon under the jackboot of military despotism; many Nigerians were jailed and others were extra-judicially executed. A reign of terror was unleashed on the land. Alfred Rewane and Alhaja Kudirat, the wife of M. K. O Abiola, among many others, were felled by assassins’ bullets. Numerous others, among them the founding publisher of this newspaper, Mr. Alex Ibru bore the scars of attempted assassination by state agents. Newspapers, including The Guardian, were forcefully shut by the military for standing for the truth. And the country became a pariah nation, under multilateral sanctions. The ills of military rule were met with a corresponding resistance from a heroic people who demanded that the soldiers should leave the political scene and return the country to democracy.

It was, of course, the struggle to revalidate June 12 and end military rule that ushered in the current civil dispensation in the country. The current rulers who were nowhere near the frontline in the battle for democracy should, therefore, realise with sobriety that it was the epochal struggle, which began on June 12, 1993 that gave birth to the political space which they currently occupy. It is this strong sense of history that has made many Nigerians to continuously mark the June 12, 1993 Presidential election yearly. The same sense and strength of history is behind the call to recognize June 12 as the authentic Democracy Day. Unfortunately, successive governments, reaping from the sacrifice of June 12, have not been imbued with that much sense of history, let alone grace to trace their source to “June 12”.

The Nigerian government, however, cannot continue to labour under a silly illusion. It is high time government moved to immortalise the symbol of June 12, Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, not through such a dubious exercise as the renaming of the University of Lagos after him, but by recognising him as a martyr of democracy and acknowledging him at the very least, as a President-elect. And, in the face of many national challenges, including abject poverty of the majority and insecurity of lives and property, today’s leaders will do well to assuage the desire that won the June 12, 1993 election by running a better government and acting in ways that could earn them the trust of all Nigerians. Else, like the military dictators of old, they too would, sooner or later, be consigned to the ash-heap of history.

Odedina Taofeek