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Between June 12, 1993 and May 29, 2011: The Obligation of Electoral Reforms

By Asiwaju Bola Tinubu – Guest Speaker’s Speech at the 17th Anniversary of June 12, 1993 Presidential Election Organized by Daily Independent  June 10, 2010

THE history of the struggle for democracy, freedom, justice and equity in Nigeria can never be written without that date. June 12, 1993, is second on the Nigerian calendar, only to October 1, 1960. For now, no other day, rivals June 12, 1993 as the second most important node on our national calendar of freedom and democracy.

It was on June 12, 1993, that Nigerians from every part of this country rallied to pronounce that this country can be truly united, truly free, truly democratic, truly just and truly equitable. This was the first time that Nigerians accomplished this unity of purpose since we all came together to win our freedom from colonial rule.

It was on June 12, 1993, that Nigerians first truly validated, through the processes of elections, that important line in our independence national anthem: “Thou tribe and tongue may differ, in brotherhood we stand!” It was one day, when, as another line of the anthem stated, we were all proud to serve, through our votes, “a Sovereign motherland”.

THE mandate of June 12, which was “freely given”, as Basorun MKO Abiola succinctly described his victory at the freest, fairest and most popular election in Nigeria’s history, was a mandate to renew Nigeria and set her on the path of national greatness.  Basorun Abiola affirmed that, “I am the custodian of a sacred mandate”.

HOW cruel, how historically unforgivable, how unimaginable it is that such a day of national re-birth, such a day when Nigeria was to begin her new march toward her manifest destiny, was aborted! Seventeen years after June 12, 1993, we have witnessed the political cruelties, the economic adversities, and the social disasters that can be caused by the annulment of a people’s mandate.

Abiola himself had predicted this. He said that the decision by the military to annul that election was “invidious, unpatriotic, and capable of causing undue and unnecessary confusion in the country”. For almost two decades now, we have lived with the harsh realities of the “undue and unnecessary confusion” that that ruthless action of the military and their collaborators caused Nigeria.

THOSE of us who had the privilege of standing by the “sacred mandate” and working closely with the great custodian of that mandate and the other key persons who not only worked tirelessly to produce that historic mandate, but also made great sacrifices in the resultant struggle to validate the results of the election, are humbled by the opportunity to participate in a race to redeem our race. We can do no less today, or indeed, for the rest of our lives, as participants and witnesses to history, than to honour the memories of those great compatriots who truly and gallantly gave their “yesterday”, that is, their all, including, in some cases, their lives, so that millions of Nigerians will truly have a “tomorrow”.

WE remember today, above all, that humanitarian whose generosity was endless and expansive like the Atlantic Ocean, that egalitarian dynamo and fearless democrat who detonated a democratic bomb in the barracks of autocrats; the man whose symbolic leadership of the most massive democratic force in Nigeria’s history, without firing a shot, made a general to flee in spite of his tanks; the man who reminded us that “you cannot clap with one hand”, and who, even while being kept in a solitary cell unfit for even his gate-keeper for three years, still made the robbers of his mandate uncomfortable throughout their stolen time in power; the one who remains, in death, the symbol of our democratic hope and aspirations as a people, Basorun Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola.

WE also remember that amazing Amazon, Kudirat Abiola, whose gender, rather than being a hindrance, as is traditionally assumed, became the leveraging impetus that strengthened our struggle for freedom and democracy. Even though she fell to assassin’s bullets, Kudirat Abiola’s unconquerable soul remains with us today as part of our democratic inheritance. We can never forget Pa Alfred Rewane, a man who in his late septuagenarian years showed that it was not about age, but about honour and courage. Deploying his personal material resources at every point that they were needed, and providing strategic and ideological barricades to the onslaught of terror and treason, Pa Rewane was in the very core of the vanguard that insisted that this land shall be free. His life was taken at 79, but the life that this great Nigerian gave to our national aspirations for a greater polity could never be taken.

THERE are several living heroes of this struggle for national validation through the electoral sovereignty of the people; some carry the scars of the injustice and cruelties of military dictatorship in their bodies or on their minds. They are too numerous to mention here. Incidentally, most of them are humble soldiers for human freedom who never seek personal recognition for their sacrifices, but only insist on the public recognition of the collective sacrifices to humanize the Nigerian state. It was my special privilege and honour to work with many of these great Nigerians, both at home and in exile, in the successful struggle to expel the military from power. We thank them again for their sacrifices.

HOWEVER, these men and women of honour and valour would be most eager that, on a day such as this, we give the greatest recognition to the unknown civil soldiers for democracy, human freedom and justice. The nameless young men and women who trooped to the streets of Lagos to protest the annulment of the election; the unknown children who were shot, killed and rolled over by General Sani Abacha’s tanks; the unknown mother who had to mourn her child who went to participate in the civil uprising but never came back; the widows and widowers whose wives and husbands became part of the “collateral damage” inflicted by the forces of autocracy and darkness; the mother and father of that lone kid, barely six years old, whose body was found by the side of the Ogunpa River in Ibadan after a series of protests against General Sani Abacha’s dictatorship in that great city; and many who were rounded up in Kaduna, Enugu or Jos, or, detained in Bama, Gushua or Abakaliki Prisons, or summarily executed for direct or indirect involvement in the struggle for freedom. Their names may never be known, their specific sacrifices may not even be noted in the archives; but their general memories will never be erased from the font of our struggle for national salvation.

WE owe it to the memories of these dearly departed, and indeed, to that of the living generations, millions of our compatriots who still wake up daily to inhuman brutalities in a land that was fabled to be “flowing with milk and honey”, and we owe it to the coming generations, to ensure that we continue to make further sacrifices to ensure that we are able to create a country that is worthy of our pride and loyalty as citizens.

There are many angles to this and many ways to ensure that we are able to build such a country. In my own endeavours as a pro-democracy activists and as a politician, and I should add, as a concerned citizen, I have spoken to many dimensions of this struggle.

HOWEVER, the most critical task in this era, the most urgent and most fundamental task that we must address today, to be able to create a country that so many people have lived and died for, is to ensure that every subsequent election in Nigeria is worth that very name.

This is the struggle that has consumed most of my energy in the last one year and half. I have joined with other democratic forces and patriots to mobilize our people to ensure electoral reforms as the basis of re-creating, re-building and sustaining our democratic heritage. Without electoral reforms, which will lead to free and fair elections, what we have now and what we will continue to have, as I stated during the June 12 anniversary last year, is mere “civil rule” and not true democracy.

SEVENTEEN years after the June 12, 1993 election we seem to have lost one of the most critical lessons of that experience. That is the importance of free and fair elections. As the freest and fairest election in Nigeria, June 12, 1993 election remains a model. It produced the most popular mandate and the most legitimate political and social authorization of power since the amalgamation in 1914.

ON the contrary what we have witnessed since the beginning of the Fourth Republic in 1999 show that power without legitimacy is not only a travesty of democracy, but its nemesis. This “House”, as the famous book’s title states, will fall, unless we rebuild it, by paying attention to its structural defects. Without electoral reforms, we are all working towards consolidating, elaborating and providing democratic cover for a grand fraud in 2011. Going for elections in 2011 without the necessary reforms would be similar to freely handing over our country to internal colonialists. Failing to ensure electoral reforms before participating in the 2011 elections will amount to voluntarily surrendering our freedom to the same or a different set of “annulers” such as those who trampled upon our freedom to elect our leaders in 1993.

WHY are electoral reforms the most important methods of saving this house from falling?

FIRST, let me state categorically that, against the backdrop of our national experience, electoral reform is not an option, it is fundamental imperative. In a phrase, I will say that electoral reform is a TASK that must be done. If we look back, starting from the electoral fraud in the First Republic, particularly in the Western Region, which eventually brought down the “House”, the electoral fraud, called “landslide and moon slide victories” that led to the collapse of the Second Republic, and the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential elections which led to the abortion of the Third Republic, we will conclude that the most critical causes of Nigeria’s problems have been the subversion of the people’s will and wishes through electoral fraud.  This has adversely affected our developmental efforts.  It has also encouraged corruption and mismanagement of our resources, which ultimately led to social, political and economic regression.

FEW commentators, analysts and even researchers on Nigeria have recognized the crucial place that this problem occupies in the endless lists of Nigeria’s woes. We can trace most of Nigeria’s problems to the fact that votes do not count. Owing to this fact, we can safely conclude that there are few ills which afflict Nigeria that genuine elections cannot solve. This is why we must devote most of our energies in the months ahead, as we approach 2011, to the important task of ensuring the reforms that will lead to genuine, free and fair elections and the ascension to power of only the true representatives of the people.


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