June 12, 2009

June 12: An election like no other

By Dayo Benson, Political Editor
TODAY, pro-democracy activists and human rights groups congregate once again to commemorate the 16th anniversary of the epic June 12 1993 presidential poll. If it had been upheld, perhaps June 12 would have  signposted Nigeria’s journey to popular constitutional democracy.

Rather, a cabal within and outside the military portals of power conspired to annul the people’s will. Custodian of that mandate,  Late Bashorun Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola’s bid to claim his victory earned him an indefinite detetion in late Gen. Sani Abacha gulag. Abiola was eventually brought out in a body bag a month after his captor answered the eternal call under a mysterious circumstance.

Over a decade and half later, a lot of turbulent water has passed under Nigeria’s shaky democratic bridge. Despite assuaging South-West feeling in 1999 by conceding the presidency to the region, it appears June 12 bogey may never eclipse from the nation’s political firmament.

From clamour to actualise the mandate between 1993-1998, the character of the struggle changed from 1999 when there was transition to civil democracy after years of military dictatorship. Obasanjo, a fellow Egba like Abiola was installed by the military after a hurriedly organised general elections.

A combination of wide spread anti-military rule sentiment and an unyielding yearning for democracy made many to overlook palpable imperfections of the 1999 general elections. This is not to discountenance the fact that some June 12 protagonists rode to power on the crest wave of that mood. However, the 2003 general elections did not cure the inadequacies of the previous poll which were overlooked.

This is where the principle of June 12 presidential poll lies.

In several ways, the epoch poll was unique. It was the first time in the political history of the country that a political party would present a muslim-muslim ticket in a highly sectarian society like Nigeria. It was also an election that cracked an age-long ethic barrier between the North and South. Above all, it remains the freest and fairest election in the annals of the nation’s political history.

All these were bungled on the altar of personal ego by the whimsical annulment. Perhaps,  had it  been allowed to stay, June 12 would have cured the cancerous tumor of ethno-religious parochialism in our body polity. More importantly, the sanctity of that election which Alhaji Adamu Ciroma, said, Abiola won ‘fair and square’ would have impacted on the electoral system positively if it had not been voided.

Belatedly last year, the then electoral commission chairman, Prof. Humphery Nwosu publicly announced that Abiola won the election during the launch of his memoir in Abuja. As significant as the event was, Prof. Nwosu at the event merely confirmed what many already knew. There were those who however believe that the election remains inconclusive notwithstanding the results Nwosu announced.

If the 2003 general elections fell short of democratic standard, the 2007 exercise made nonsense of the gains of the past. Some still hold the view that there were no elections in 2007 but allocation of votes.

That probably explains why five governors were sacked by appeal court and re-run election ordered in Sokoto, Adamawa, Kebbi, Kogi, Bayelsa and Ekiti States. In Edo and Ondo, the sitting governors were removed by the same court and their challengers were ordered to be sworn in.  President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, the ultimate beneficiary of the 2007 elections  acknowledged glaring shortcomings in the elections even as the Supreme Court narrowly affirmed his victory.

Justice Mohammed Uwais Electoral Reform Panel which the president set up to recommend reforms in the electoral system has since submitted its report. However, government’s white paper on the recommendation is far from addressing the fundamental issues.

Not a few have argued that as long as the president retains the power to appoint electoral body’s chairman, a free and fair contest cannot be guranteed. This is where June 12 will continue to be relevant and will continue to be remembered by progressive minded Nigerians who cherish the sanctity of elections at al times. Indeed June 12 remains an election like no other and its ideals may never be wished away perhaps for a long time to come.