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Once upon a June 12

By Mike Ebonugwo
NIGERIANS, especially the pro-democracy elements, once again marked another June 12 last Friday.

The significance of the day derives from the fact that it was on June 12, 1993 that what has come to be known as Nigeria’s freest and fairest election was conducted, although it was annulled on June 23 by the then ruling military government headed by General Ibrahim Babangida.

The winner of that landmark election, Chief MKO Abiola later died in detention following his arrest by the late Gen. Sani Abacha when he tried to re-validate his mandate by declaring himself the duly elected president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Though Abiola died, his historic election victory has refused to die courtesy of pro-democracy groups who ensure that it is kept alive through a yearly remembrance programme of activities.

Last Friday was no different as they gathered as usual in Lagos to mark the day and its significance. As usual, it provided bus-stop parliamentarians an opportunity to take another look at June 12 and its relevance or otherwise in Nigeria’s history.

This was the case at the Ikeja Bus-stop in Lagos where parliamentarians engaged themselves in a lively discussion on the matter. It all began when a parliamentarian, Rufus Esele expressed appreciation to the governments of Lagos and Ogun states for declaring last Friday June 12 a public holiday to commemorate the late Abiola’s victory.

“Honestly, I appreciate the fact that Lagos State and Ogun State have declared today a public holiday because of the election that Abiola won on June 12, 1993 which Babangida and his military gang cancelled without any genuine reason. At least as we continue to celebrate June 12 every year, those who cancelled the election will continue to hide their faces in shame, knowing that Nigerians have not forgotten the wrong and injustice they committed against Abiola and against democracy,” he stated with feeling.

Parliamentarian Oliver Ike readily agreed with him as he said: “Yes, it will be difficult for us to forget June 12 again in this country because it has come to represent to us what true democracy really means.

Abiola was a Yoruba man who got majority votes in different parts of the country. June 12 was the first time in the history of this country that Igbos, Yorubas, Hausas and other tribes in this country put aside ethnic sentiment to popularly  vote for an individual who they believed was the best person for the position of the office of president regardless of where the man came from.

Before Abiola came Nigerians usually voted on the basis of where somebody came from, whether from the North, the East or the West.June 12 changed all that.

But because Babangida and Abacha did not understand what democracy means they went ahead to cancel the election even though Nigerians and foreigners alike declared the election the best that has ever been conducted in Nigeria”.

Parliamentarian Toye Farounbi took it up from there by making a strong case for June 12 instead of May 29 to be recognised as the real Democracy Day. “Nobody can take away the importance of June 12 in this country. That is why I praise the efforts of those who make sure it’s remembered every year.

But beyond that, June 12 should be declared the real Democracy Day in Nigeria instead of May 29. What is May 29 sef? A day that a civilian government came into office through an election that was rigged. So, how can we say that day is our Democracy Day knowing that it did not meet the standard of democracy…?”he queried heatedly just as he was interrupted by a parliamentarian identified as Moses Odion.

Moses’ point of objection was based his conviction that May 29 deserved to be marked as Nigeria’s democracy day.

“Look, if you argue that we should continue to remember June 12 every year, there’s no problem with that. But to say that we should use it to replace May 29 as Democracy Day, I will say that one wouldn’t jell at all.

The fact of the case is that it was on May 29 that the military people eventually handed over to an elected civilian government after they have been in power for many years. In other words, it’s a fact of history that May 29, 1999 was the day we were finally liberated from military rule.

Before then, we tried on June 12, 1993 to free ourselves but it didn’t work because the military refused to let go.

What I’m saying is that it’s the day we succeeded that we should recognise as the Democracy Day and not the day we tried and failed,” he argued with conviction.

But Toye dismissed the argument with a wave of the hand. “Honestly what you’re saying does not make sense.

Have you forgotten that May 29 is a product of June 12? In other words, without June 12 there won’t have been a May 29? Everybody knows that but because Obasanjo likes reaping where he did not sow, he now declared on his own that May 29, 1999 when he  was sworn into office as an elected civilian president has suddenly become our Democracy Day.

How can that be possible? And come to think of it, is he(Obasanjo) really a civilian? As far as I’m concerned he is military man who came to rule as a civilian.

He is an opportunist who came and hijacked the glory that belongs to Abiola as the man who paid the price for democracy to take root in Nigeria,” he submitted with heat.

Most of the other parliamentarians nodded their assent to this and Moses suddenly realised he was alone in his opposition and gave up the argument.


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