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Our collective selective amnesia

By Yemi Adamolekun
On both sides of the divide, we all agree that we have short memories and easily forget grave injustices. That’s why we are quick to beg for mercy and forgiveness and in the rare case that the aggrieved wants the offender to pay in some way, they are branded ‘evil’, ‘wicked’ or ‘unfair’.

It’s our short memories that allow those who say ‘crucify him’ today to switch to ‘hosanna’ when the price is right and there are no consequences. What then is the value of integrity and character? The flip-flops are most obvious with politicians and government officials, but we all do it. We all have selective amnesia.

In the first two weeks of June we have three significant dates – (1) On June 4, 1996, Alhaja Kudirat Abiola was murdered while defending her husband’s mandate as the duly elected Nigerian President from the June 12, 1993 election. In her words: “I will fight for the actualisation of June 12 with the last pint of my blood.” Her murderers are yet to be sentenced. (2) On June 8, 1998, General Sani Abacha died in Aso Rock.

He had ruled Nigeria as a military dictator for almost five years having assumed power in a bloodless coup overturning the Chief Ernest Shonekan-led Interim National Government. Chief Shonekan’s mandate was to run government and conduct fresh elections after General Ibrahim Babangida stepped down on August 27, 1993 due to domestic and international pressure. (3) On June 12, 1993, Chief M.K.O Abiola, businessman and philanthropist, won what has been described as the freest, fairest and most credible election in Nigeria’s history.

What was special about the 1993 elections was that voting patterns cut across religious and ethnic lines. Old and young stood in line for hours in the sun to cast their votes. In addition, it was conducted using the Open Ballot System, OBS, popularly known as ‘Option A4’. With this system, voters lined up behind the ballot box of their preferred candidate. As such, if you were voting based on conviction or inducement, you had to be bold enough to defend your vote publicly.

Sadly, Chief Abiola died in the custody of the Nigerian government on July 7, 1998 after a visit from the US Assistant Secretary of State. It was the 1993 elections that triggered the other two events and Nigeria’s return to democracy on May 29, 1999 – the Fourth Republic.

Abiola’s campaign slogan was ‘Hope ‘93: Farewell to Poverty’. In 1998, 72.3 million Nigerians representing 64.2 per cent of the population lived below the poverty line (less than N155 a day). In 2013, that number is 121.6 million representing 71.5 per cent of the population. Nigerians will go to the polls again in 2015, what is our hope for 2015?

Fifty per cent of Nigerians are between 18 and 35 years old. Eighteen-year olds today had not been born during the historic 1993 elections; 35-year olds were 15 and ineligible to vote. In the last 20 years, we have become even more divided along ethnic and religious lines. The Hope ’93 team was a Muslim-Muslim ticket; that would be a herculean task in today’s Nigeria.

Our voting pattern in 2011 clearly showed that Buhari dominated in the North, while Jonathan dominated in the South. Some in the North have declared that a Southerner can never rule Nigeria again. Some Southerners have responded that a Northern president is impossible. Unsaid is that the Northerner is assumed to be Muslim and the Southerner a Christian. And where does that leave the Nigerian who grew up in Yola, born to Yoruba parents speaking fluent Hausa, now married to a man from Kaduna living in Port-Harcourt with her family?

Chief Obafemi Awolowo famously said Nigeria is a mere geographic expression. From militancy in the Niger Delta to terrorist threats in the North, we probably have not been more divided since the civil war. However, the issues are still very much the same – access to resources, opportunities and information.

Our population and diversity are our greatest assets and instead of dealing with these issues head on, deciding on what structure provides the best opportunity for each Nigerian to maximise his potential, we either have selective amnesia or play ostrich wishing they would go away.

But they will not go away. Deep wounds fester and cause more damage when covered up. We need to have frank discussions about what it means to be a Nigerian today; acknowledge atrocities committed and prosecute people accordingly so we can all heal and move on to achieve the potential that we all keep talking about in the ‘Giant of Africa’.


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