June 12, 2009

16 June 12s Ago!

JUNE 12 is at the verge of receding to the memory of a few. Dubious politicians, with a flair for speaking from both sides of their mouths, have applauded and condemned June 12, depending on whether it could buy the next political meal or not.

For them, June 12 was an opportunity – they used it, they abused it, now they disabuse it – all in their chase for a slice of the national pie. Many politicians marked their ascendancy to something, politically speaking, latching on some bare thread strung to June 12.

June 12, 16 years ago, gave birth to the most memorable election that changed political platforms in Nigeria. Chief Moshood Kasimawo Olawale Abiola, who should be a conservative, ran on a socialist platform to win the most credible election in Nigeria to date.

There was more to June 12. Chief Abiola’s running mate was a Muslim, as was Abiola, the only time two people of the same faith ran on the same ticket, and they won, or were winning until the military authorities stopped the announcement of the results, a move that threw Nigeria into years of turmoil.

Nigerians hit the streets in protests, many lost their lives. Chief Abiola went into exile and on his return declared himself President. The military went after him and he was incarcerated for four years, during which every anniversary of June 12 was an occasion to rally support for him, more riots, more loss of lives and further descent of the country into mayhem.

The people were unrelenting, the military authorities would not yield any grounds, until the death of General Sani Abacha created an opening for dialogue, but Chief Abiola died too. General Abdulsalami Abubakar who took over executed a fast one to democratic rule under which many self-acclaimed supporters of June 12 prospered, wearing their June 12 credentials on their foreheads.

In 16 years of June 12, many have profiteered with it. There have been many interpretations of the importance of June 12. Even those disputing the result of the election have not failed to admit June 12 was a landmark election for a country steeped in tribalism and religion.

Does June 12 mean anything? Did Chief Abiola who defended June 12 to death, waste his life? Why have free and fair elections become impossible in Nigeria?

On June 12 Nigerians put to lie all issues about elections and logistics. Determined to see the elections through, they ignored non-provision of shades at polling booths and voted for the candidates of their choice. The elements were in tune – there was no rain, though it was in the middle of the rainy season.

Nigerians expressed their readiness to live together on June 12, electing the duo they deemed best for the job. June 12 made for a free and fair election and a case against politics of tongue and creed.

Sadly, 16 years after, only a thinning tribe of June 12 addict cling to it — mostly without its ideals.